Chinese Corner


Chinese Corner exam results are in

Editor’s note: Welcome back, Sinophone enthusiasts! Good work to all of the readers who took the final exam in December. This was not an easy test – and it had a few trick questions. But the median and average scores were both 6 out of 10. Well done, everyone!

We have not one but two students who scored 100%. They will each receive a free book of Chinese short stories in the original and English translation: both will receive copies of Short Stories in Chinese, a bilingual text edited by John Balcom (Penguin 2013). Check out the results for each question below and read the Chinese Corner posts that inspired each question. We’ll have more linguistic adventures in the new year, on a roughly monthly basis.


Out of the Ger

Joshua Bird reviews Ulaanbaatar Beyond Water and Grass by Michael Aldrich

For much of recent Asian history, Mongolia has been an afterthought. An entry point into China, or a convenient stopping point on the Trans-Siberian railway. While hundreds of new books on China and its mega-cities hit the shelves every year, the number of tomes dedicated to its neighbor to the north can be counted on one hand. Even where Mongolia is the primary subject of writing, it is the grasslands and open plains that capture the western imagination. Ulaanbataar (UB), Mongolia’s capital and largest city, where mentioned at all, is depicted as a tainted place that one must escape as quickly as possible on the journey to the “real” Mongolia – compromised, ugly, a foreshadowing of the disappearance of rural Mongolia. It is therefore surprising to find a travel guide dedicated to the city.


Follow the Signs

In Search of Chinatown in Panama City – Susan Blumberg-Kason

My mother is one of the most worldly travelers I know. Mention any city or country around the world, and she’s either been there or is game for going. “What about Panama City?” I asked. She agreed immediately.

Panama City had been on my mind since reading Cristina Henriquez’s The World in Half and Come Together, Fall Apart. Both books are set in the city. Panama City also boasts one of only six or seven Chinatowns in Latin America. I’d been to the Chinatown in Havana 14 years earlier, had spent most of the 1990s in Hong Kong, and am interested in the Chinese diaspora. Plus, my oldest son from my first marriage is Chinese, so I’m raising all of my kids with Chinese culture and working out what that means along the way. Cristina Henriquez had told me the Chinese community in Panama arrived long before the construction of the canal (both the French and United States’ iterations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries).

Hidden History

Oasis State

Kashgaria and the British Great Game – Christopher DeCou

The Great Game sounds like the title of popular reality game show, but instead describes the chess-like match of the British, Russian, Ottoman and Qing governments in Central Asia during the mid to late 19th century. One of its more interesting episodes involved Kashgaria, a short-lived independent state, covering much of today's Xinjiang province in western China. It inspired British explorer and diplomat Robert Shaw to cross treacherous mountain passes to open communication with its leaders, efforts that resulted in an official mission. But by the mid 1870s, even though the British were concerned about their northern borders, the economy defeated expediency and support for “Oriental” leadership. Soon afterward, Kashgaria collapsed and was absorbed back into the Chinese Empire.


Crime and the Chinese Dream

Joanna Chiu talks to Børge Bakken

In southern China, the rural town of Fang pulled itself out of poverty thanks to a simple scam. “Cake uncles” approached bakeries outside their hometown to deliver cakes, then faked the receipts and billed for more cakes than they actually sold.

According to Crime and the Chinese Dream, edited by a leading criminologist on China, Børge Bakken, cake uncles and other working class people have turned to illicit schemes in pursuit of the "Chinese Dream” – a modern fixation with economic success, intertwined with nationalism. The collection is a collaboration between Bakken and some of his former top doctoral students at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). (Bakken was Director of the Criminology Program at HKU from 2008 to 2013, and is currently a visiting fellow at the Department of Social and Political Change at Australian National University.) Researchers spent many months, in one case over a year, in mainland China conducting field work, immersed among the country’s most marginalized people.