Staff Picks

Christmas Staff Picks

It’s not too late for some last minute Christmas shopping – so the editors of the China Channel are stepping in with the third installment of our winter staff picks. From books to films to music and audiobooks, these recommendations are of the overlooked fringes of Chinese society – junk, gangsters, domestic workers, Turkic beats – and so not your traditional festive fare. But who needs It’s a Wonderful Life when you can watch a slapstick Sino-Russo romcom instead?  – The Editors

Recommended by Jeff Wasserstrom (founder):
Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale, by Adam Minter

I’ll begin this recommendation with a disclosure and a confession. The disclosure: Adam Minter is a friend whom I have enjoyed meeting up with and talking to about China since the scrap metal beat, of all things, took him to Shanghai about a decade ago. The confession: I’ve only had the chance so far to read the first part of his second book. There are three reasons, though, while I still feel confident suggesting Secondhand as a gift. One: it is written in the same unpretentious yet informative, personal yet knowledgeable style as his debut book. Two: that first book, Junkyard Planet, on a similar topic of China’s trash and recycling, was excellent. Third: while blurbs should always be taken with a grain of salt, climate-change writer Elizabeth Kolbert’s endorsement speaks volumes: “Minter’s travels through the afterlife of stuff are revelatory, terrifying, but ultimately hopeful.”

Staff Picks

End of Summer Reading

Staff picks from the masthead of the China Channel

Another year behind us, and a second year of the China Channel. It has been a full and exciting year, and we’re taking a summer break next week before returning in September. First, another round of staff picks to kickstart your back-to-school reading list, from Chinese characters to Chinese cooking. Thanks for following us, and do become a patron if you want to see us continuing to publish in 2020. – Alec Ash


Anne Henochowicz – Contributing Editor
The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy
John DeFrancis (University of Hawaii Press, 1984)

Whenever I hear a cringe-worthy comment about “pictographic” Chinese characters or on the “dialect” of Cantonese, I summon the spirit of the late John DeFrancis and begin my counterpoint. I first encountered Professor DeFrancis, one of the most innovative and influential modern scholars of the Chinese language, through his book The Chinese Language: part primer on spoken and written Chinese, and how the writing system spread across East Asia; part take-down of every myth and mystical notion about the language.

Staff Picks

Christmas Staff Picks

Editor’s note: Dragging your feet on Christmas shopping? You still have two weeks to stuff those stockings with some of our eclectic, China-themed recommendations – food for thought to match any turkey feast.

Paul French: Coffee-table China photography books

Christmas – guests are coming, and it’s time to refresh that tired looking pile on the coffee table. What a vintage year for coffee table books with a Chinese angle. Top of the pile should be Paul Fonoff’s beautiful Chinese Movie Magazines: From Charlie Chaplin to Chairman Mao 1921-1951 (Thames & Hudson). A gargantuan Technicolor feast of Shanghai starlets and stylish movie posters. Then, like the thick slice of juicy turkey in a Boxing Day sandwich, Sunset Survivors (Blacksmith Books) by Lindsay Varty and Gary Jones, documenting Hong Kong’s last traditional tradesmen and women.

Staff Picks

Legend of the Purple Hairpin

Jason Y. Ng recommends a classic Cantonese opera

Cantonese opera is a traditional art form that originated in Guangdong Province, including Hong Kong and Macau. It differs from other forms of Chinese opera mainly in the language used, namely Cantonese. Compared to other Chinese theatre genres, such as Peking opera and its sibling Kunqu opera, Cantonese opera typically features fewer elaborate acrobatic and dance elements, while putting a stronger emphasis on scores and lyrics. The 1950s and 60s were the heyday of Cantonese opera, as the massive influx of immigrants from China provided both a new audience and an ample supply of creative talent.

Legend of the Purple Hairpin by playwright Tang Ti-sheng is one of the best known and most performed Cantonese operas ever written.

Staff Picks

Back-to-School Staff Picks

Another round of recommendations from the China Channel

After our previous fall and winter staff picks, we bring you a summer selection of reading, watching and listening from our extended masthead, in time for the new academic year. From a book about unfairly forgotten China hands, to contemporary Chinese music and a documentary about Buddhist mountain hermits, we hope it inspires you to widen your cultural horizon. – The Editors

Jeffrey Wasserstrom: Eve of a Hundred Midnights by Bill Lascher

China in the middle of the 20th century attracted a large number of extraordinary Western writers.