Too Many Homelands

To be Chinese in Vietnam, and Asian American out of Asia – Gladys Mac

One day in second grade, Mrs. L demonstrated Chinese calligraphy for my class, explaining that it’s an important part of Chinese culture. But I am Chinese too, I wondered – so how come I had no idea what she was talking about?

My family has always self-identified as Chinese, even though they lived in Vietnam for at least two to three generations. Some of my grandparents were born in Vietnam, while others migrated from Southern China. My great-grandparents had arrived in Vietnam after fleeing the Japanese occupation of China. My parents were both born in present-day Ho Chi Minh City, but they were educated in Taiwanese-founded private schools during their early school days; they did not receive a Vietnamese education until after the north and south were united. My dad’s side of the family owned a bustling Chinese restaurant; my mom’s side owned a lumber yard.


A Day in the Life of Rural China

Tea pickers and country medicine in farflung Yunnan – Matthew Chitwood

Bangdong village, Yunnan – Wo-wo! Wo-wo-wo-wo-wo! The cock-a-doodle-doos of Chinese roosters echo across the mountainsides as Li Guojun rises in the dark. He limps up a hillside to his flock and tosses out handfuls of corn. The delicate light in the eastern sky warms to a rich orange until it spills over the horizon and rolls down the blue mountains toward the Mekong River. The roosters intensify their crowing. Although there are few constants in this remote village in southwest China, this morning chorus is a daily certainty. So too is Li Guojun’s morning routine. He hacks down a banana palm with his machete and shoulders it back home. It will be dinner for his cattle.

Li Guojun is a cowherd. Every day for the last 15 years, he has led a dozen or so cattle down into the valley to drink from the cool streams that flow into the Mekong. And every evening he brings them home to eat banana palm in his stable. Today will be no exception.


Support the China Channel’s Future for Christmas

A year of anniversaries for China has passed, and the China Channel celebrates its third year as we break for Christmas. We’d like to take this opportunity to ask you to support our future by donating – however small an amount – on Patreon. Whereas we have been funded by grants in the past, we rely on your support to directly fund our translations of Chinese essays and stories into English. The money that you give is set aside and goes expressly for this purpose; all those small gifts tot up to pay translators, authors and publishing partners we work with, so as to bring writings into English that would not otherwise be possible to read.

We won’t keep asking after this, promise. But do consider donating the price of a pint this holiday season to bring Chinese voices to a wider readership (and if any generous souls want to support at a higher level to fund the future of the site as a whole, feel free to reach out directly.) Below is a selection of a dozen translations we have published over the last year, funded by your generosity, for which we thank you. – The Editors


20 China books to read (and 5 to avoid)

Essential reads for your China library

'Tis the season of merriment and listicles. Before we break for Christmas, we've updated our list of essential China books, in case our latest staff picks weren't enough for you. We’ve split this into five lists of five: books on contemporary China; books on Chinese history; books from Chinese voices; Chinese classics; and a new fifth section, China books to avoid. (We don't mean that these books have no value – they are all informative – but that they are ultimately misleading and so you should avoid them in favour of others.)

We hope this is useful as an open sesame for new China watchers, or for old China hands to plug holes in their bookshelf. The lists are designed as all-you-need to pack your bag/Kindle to grasp that aspect or perspective of China, without being overwhelming. Naturally, we have missed out a plethora of wonderful books. But, we hope, this is only the beginning of your reading. See also our lists of 12 must-read Chinese fiction books, and a dozen Chinese films to watch.

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.”