All Quiet on the Campus Front

Contrasting student action in the 1910s and 80s with silence in the 2010s – Jeffrey Wasserstrom

When news broke that Xi Jinping would not be limited to serving just two terms as President, while some commentators turned to international ruler-for-life comparisons, others looked to China’s past for illuminating parallels and contrasts. As someone who began his career studying student-led activism and remains interested in the subject, I was struck immediately by references to two decades that figure centrally in the history of that topic: the 1910s and the 1980s. The former was the decade of the May 4th movement, which took its name from the date in 1919 when a rowdy student protest took place in the heart of Beijing, triggering a struggle that reached its peak with a general strike that shut down the city of Shanghai. The 1980s witnessed the massive 1989 gatherings in Tiananmen Square that preceded the June 4th massacre.

1919 and 1989 were not, moreover, the only years in the second and second to last decades of the twentieth century when campus activism mattered. The May 4th movement was preceded by and built on the foundation laid during a 1918 protest wave, while the Tiananmen protests also had a dress rehearsal in the 1986-87 struggles, whose biggest marches took place in Shanghai.

Chinese Literature Podcast

Rebel Rebel

Rob Moore and Lee Moore read Zhang Yingyu's Book of Swindles

No matter how law-abiding we all are, there's always that part of us that wishes we didn't have to be. It turns out that just about every culture has its stories that celebrate that. Robin Hood, anyone? How about Ocean's 11 and its sequels? China has its own long history of outlaw stories, and we talk about one on this podcast: Zhang Yingyu's late-Ming classic, The Book of Swindles, available now in English thanks to a superb translation by Christopher Rea and Bruce Rusk. Join us as we talk about shady Daoist priests, idiot university students, and how a 500 year-old guide to thieves is still a page-turner:


Left Out

Grace Jackson reviews Leftover in China by Roseann Lake

First coined in the Chinese media over a decade ago, “leftover women” (剩女 shengnü) is the epithet in China for those women who have failed to attract a husband by their mid-to-late twenties and early thirties, and are considered by their parents and Chinese society at large to be flirting perilously with spinsterhood. Much ink has been spilled in the Anglophone sinosphere over this invented category, and the latest addition – plagued by accusations of using uncredited inspiration from an earlier work – is Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower by Roseann Lake. A vibrant survey of marriage and dating in contemporary Beijing, the book is supported with research and interviews, and peppered with personal insights into the romantic lives of China’s educated, urban and doggedly unwed young women.

Chinese Corner

Nine Tones of Hell

How to be toneful in Cantonese – Rosalyn Shih

If you are intimidated by the prospect of learning Mandarin because it’s a tonal language, you might as well give up on Cantonese right now. I’ve directed my share of hope-dashing hyperbole towards Mandarin-learning friends, but perhaps the exaggeration is warranted:

“There are tones that the Cantonese use only when they argue.”

“There are some Cantonese tones that only dogs can hear.”


Missing Lei Feng

My life with Mao’s good soldier – Andrea Worden

Each year, as March 5 – known in China as “Learn from Lei Feng” Day – approaches, I feel sort of nostalgic. In the early 1990s, Lei Feng and I became inseparable. I’ve kept an eye on him ever since. China’s model hero of selfless service to the people and unwavering loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party has been used over the years as a tool to stoke the legitimacy of the Party. In 1990, Lei Feng, Mao’s “good soldier,” had a singularly important mission: seeing the Party through the first anniversary of the June 4 massacre in Beijing without incident. He rose to the occasion, and I did my part, inadvertently, to help.