Closing the China Channel

After four thrilling years, our run has come to an end

Ed: Please note this site is no longer active, but is archived here in full. – Alec Ash

In September 2017 we launched the Los Angeles Review of Books China Channel, “for the sinophile and the sinocurious,” to fill in the white space of China coverage. Since then we have published nearly 600 essays, reviews, dispatches, podcasts and more on Chinese society, politics, culture and history, from a range of trusted voices. We’ve been amazed at the success of the site, in terms of audience (20k+ monthly unique readers) and contributions (from hundreds of China experts, including Yu Hua, Julia Lovell and Geremie Barmé) over the years.

Yet all good things come to an end. After four years of generous support from grants and donors, we were unable to secure sustainable funding for the future. Already, limits on funds had brought our posting down from four or five posts a week to two or three. The coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn makes funding for nonprofit media particularly tricky at this moment in history, which we fully understand. And so it’s time to close the gates.



Staff Picks

Staff Picks: China Sources

One more round of recommendations for the road, from our editors

Since the launch of the Los Angeles Review of Books China Channel in September 2017, we have occasionally featured a staff picks column of recommendations from our masthead of editors and advising editors – from new China works to overlooked gems (even rice crackers and Finnish saunas). We’re resurrecting the feature for one final hurrah: recommendations of China sources of knowledge, from websites to podcasts, new newsletters to online collections of photography and translation. - The Editors

Jeffrey Wasserstrom (Founder)

I was torn between suggesting a site that features engaging writing, a site that features a podcast, or a site that was useful as a different sort of resource relating to China. Then I realized that there was a recommendation that would not mean having to choose: the NüVoices site is all those things and more. There you'll find a magazine, a podcast, and an ‘expert directory’ that includes the names of hundreds of women with expertise on different China-related topics. Readers of the China Channel will find many familiar names among those involved.



Follow the Living Buddha

Seeking enlightenment and energy drinks in Shangri-la – Alec Ash

Listen to Kaiser Kuo read an audio version of this story

The plane juddered in a stomach-turning lurch as it banked steeply to the left, clearing a hilly ridge to reveal Shangri-la. It was a moment we have all had: a sudden jolt of turbulence, or drop in altitude, that reminds us we are in a metal box miles above the hard ground – before a safe landing makes us feel like milksops for ever doubting. Yet here the irony was too delicious. The town of Shangri-la in southwest China, after all, was named for a fictional lamasery stumbled upon after a plane-crash landed a group of Europeans in a Tibetan mountain valley. Now it has become a Chinese tourist town in the East Himalayan foothills, served by half a dozen flights a day. A crash landing would be grimly poetic.

This township in northwest Yunnan wasn’t called Shangri-la (Xianggelila 香格里拉in the Chinese phonetic rendering) at all until 2001, when the nondescript Tibetan county of Zhongdian won a bid to retitle itself after the fictional paradise. Investment and tourist renminbi followed the same illusion, and soon the place was unrecognisable. Five-star hotels sprung up, where once there were wooden country homes. Yak hotpot restaurants, Buddhist trinket shops and ‘ethnic’ dancing performances entertained guests looking for Tibetan flavor. The nearby Songzanlin monastery was refurbished, alloted a field-size carpark and fitted with electronic turnstiles. Paradise, indeed – for the local economy. I didn’t find enlightenment, but my wallet was certainly enlightened.



Bad Elements

Robert Foyle Hunwick reviews Behaving Badly in Early and Medieval China

Behaving Badly in Early and Medieval China, edited by Harry Rothschild and Leslie Wallace, is a dirty baker’s dozen of essays featuring the kind of “impious monks, cutthroat underlings, ill-bred offspring, depraved poet-literati, devious scofflaws, and disloyal officials” needed for a broad study of medieval mischief.

The period under scrutiny is fairly broad, beginning with the violent unification of China by Qin Shihuangdi (221 BCE) to the more mellow vibes of the early Song dynasty (960 CE onward), allowing for some diverse and compelling accounts of what constituted bad behaviour in the bad old days, as well as meditations on feudal “cancel culture” – generally involving the loss of body parts, along with positions. The book is split into three, beginning with small-fry family infractions, ramping up to courtly misdemeanors and concluding with military massacres, torture and cannibalism.



Missing Lei Feng

My accidental connection with Mao’s good soldier – Andrea Worden

Each year, as March 5 – known in China as “Learn from Lei Feng” Day – approaches, I feel 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.

In the fall of 1989, as I began a PhD program in Chinese history at Stanford, I was still reeling from the events that spring. I had been living in Changsha, Hunan Province at the time, finishing up a two-year fellowship with the Yale-China Association. One day in early February 1990 I got a call from a Chinese friend at Stanford. After confirming that Wu Yuting was my Chinese name and that had I taught English in Hunan, she said in Mandarin, “Lei Feng belongs to the world.”