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.

Staff Picks

Christmas Staff Picks

Your holiday shopping sorted – by the China Channel editors

That time of year is rolling around again, like an old yule log. ‘Tis the season to shop, and however you celebrate the festivities or don’t, it’s a good moment for another round of recommendations with a China twist. So here they are, from the China Channel extended family with warm wishes for a happy holidays and speedy Amazon delivery:

Alec AshChinese Philosophy comic strips

Ancient Chinese philosophy is one of those inviting mysteries that is both inscrutable and gives the illusion of simplicity. So I was delighted to discover a series of Taiwanese comic books that make it easy to follow the thought of the old masters, plus with funny pictures to boot.