The Banished Immortal

Rui Zhong reads Ha Jin’s biography of Li Bai

The rumors of how Li Bai (also known as Li Po) met his end are greatly exaggerated. The specifics are murky, ranging from alcohol poisoning to drowning while chasing after the moon’s reflection on the surface of a river. It may seem troubling how easily the pertinent details of one of China’s best-known literary icons are lost. However, given that Li often embellished his speech and never liked to stay in one place for too long, his multiple-accounts demise is oddly appropriate.


China in Africa; Africa in China

Ilaria Maria Sala reviews two books on China’s global reach and appeal

Nearly two decades after the first Forum in China-African Cooperation (FOCAC) took place in Beijing in 2000 – and many years into China’s renewed commitment to expanding abroad both economically and politically – Sino-African relations has become one of the hottest topics in Chinese studies. Initially, the bulk of studies were general overviews, often trying to analyze the relationship China had with the whole continent in one fell swoop. Now, increasingly fascinating case studies are coming to press, providing sharper analytical tools and making a larger body of knowledge available to scholars.

Two new books from University of Chicago Press offer an in-depth look at two highly relevant aspects of this political and economic relationship: The World in Guangzhou: Africans and Other Foreigners in South China’s Global Marketplace by Hong Kong anthropologist Gordon Mathews, and The Specter of Global China: Politics, Labor, and Foreign Investment in Africa by labor scholar Ching Kwan Lee. 


The Personal over the Political

Jia Zhangke scales down in his new film – Amanda Walencewicz

Jia Zhangke, whose cinema has been acclaimed for its social criticism of contemporary China, is contemplating his own oeuvre. The Chinese director’s latest film, Ash is Purest White – which premiered at Cannes in 2018 and was released in the US this March – is sprinkled with references to his previous work. A member of the so-called “sixth generation” of Chinese filmmakers (those born during the Cultural Revolution, now in their fifties), Jia has been making independent features since the mid-1990s, and 1997’s Xiao Wu – about a small-town pickpocket – established him on the global film scene. A former breakdancer from the northeastern city of Fenyang and a graduate of the Beijing Film Academy, Jia’s films have focused on his generation and their milieu, recreating their lives with documentary-like fidelity.


Three’s a Crowd

Ai Weiwei makes a splash in Los Angeles’ art world – Zandie Brockett

Cruising down Santa Monica Boulevard on a sunny fall day, palm fronds flashed across my sunroof just as Kanye and Kim made a brief appearance at a stoplight. It was a fitting start to a day of star-studded art hopping across three Angeleno exhibitions – Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s new shows at Jeffrey Deitch’s brand new mid-city gallery, United Talent Agency (UTA)’s Beverly Hills Artist Space, and the Marciano Art Foundation, housed in the former LA Masonic temple.

Riding on the coattails of Ai Weiwei’s first Hollywood-produced feature film, Human Flow (Participant Media, 2017), the three exhibitions continue his inquiry into the global refugee crisis. 


Art at the Edge

Renée Reynolds reviews The Phoenix Years

On a sunny early September afternoon in 2014, I arrived at the steps of a spired building on Nanjing West Road in central Shanghai. First known as The Sino-Soviet Friendship Building and since renamed the Shanghai Exhibition Centre, the grand hall was set to host a highly anticipated (and sold-out) International Photography Exhibit – and a friend who was “Almost there!” had tickets.

Waiting alone on the Stalin-era steps, I was beginning to wonder if I was in the right place. Where were the people?