A Fortune Teller in a Modern Metropolis

An old profession out of place in new China – nonfiction by Liang Hong, translated by Michael Day

This is a translation of a Chinese-language article from One-Way Street magazine, with their support, translated by and published in collaboration with Paper Republic; it was made possible by Sinocism and individual supporters of China Channel on Patreon.

Xian Yi wears brown-framed glasses and a permanent smile, holding a strand of prayer beads in his hand. While he talks, eats and walks, the beads slip silently through his fingers. Something in the arch of his brow exudes peace. I am curious, sensing in him something artificial, something affected, yet his tranquil expression can’t be a put-on.

It seems unbelievable, but Xian Yi is a fortune teller. I’ve never really shaken off the shock of it. I can’t quite convince myself that Xian Yi has taken up a folksy, out-of-its-time occupation rejected by the modern world. If you’re anything like me, you envision a fortune teller as a dark, slender figure with a black skullcap and fingers like dry twigs, an old man with a whiff of black magic about him. That’s the image I saw instinctively when I heard Xian Yi was a fortune teller. But as far as I can see Xian Yi is cheerful, cultured, understated, good at conversation, his looks and mannerisms exuding intelligence. Only when I watch the prayer beads sliding rhythmically through his fingers do I catch a glimpse of the occult.


How I “Grew” My Business

Numbers aren’t always what they seem, says Mou Zongyou – translated by Yakexi

Jack Ma, the richest man in China as of 2018, once asked: “Do accurate statistics even exist in China?” In 2007, Li Keqiang, then vice premier, said that China’s GDP numbers, as reported by China’s National Bureau of Statistics, are man-made and not trustworthy. In 2017 and 2018, the authorities in Liaoning, Inner Mongolia and Tianjin all acknowledged that they had made up their GDP data. As a small business owner, I’ve had personal experience with “Chinese numbers.”


The Besieged Rainbow

Dispatches from an ally of China’s LGBT movement – Xiaoyu Lu


The phone call came in at seven or eight in the night. After saying hello, the voice paused. As I was about to hang up,  the voice asked whether I worked for the UN. Yes, I answered. He explained that he was calling from the hotel which we booked for the conference participants. He hesitated again. Is there anything wrong? I asked.

There had been a group of strangely dressed people at the reception, he said, and the hotel would like to confirm whether I had really invited them. I could have started a lengthy lecture about the term “strangely dressed people,” but I did not. Yes, we invited them, I confirmed. I detected a tone of embarrassment in his next question. He asked what kind of conference we were holding, and whether it had been registered with the Public Security Bureau. I raised my voice, and in a solemn manner said it was a UN conference on public health, and there was neither need nor obligation to register. He couldn’t come up with a reply, and hung up.

Dispatch, Translation

A Foreigner in Beijing

Reflections of a returnee – Liuyu Ivy Chen

When I arrived in Beijing in January, I paused on the sidewalk and looked up: the sky was blue, cloudless, immense. I went to college in this city, and often visited after graduation. Back then, Beijing’s sky was typically a murky palette, a mix of smog, dust and sand from carbon emissions, courtyard demolitions, subway construction and northwestern storms. I soon learned that the government had shut down the city’s coal-burning heating systems during a recent eviction campaign which targeted low-skilled migrants. This controversial operation was vaguely documented in the Chinese media, but its result was clearly reflected on the sky.