The Thugs of Tiananmen

Grace Jackson reviews Bullets and Opium by Liao Yiwu

“Thugs” was how Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo described demonstrators who gathered in historic numbers on June 9 to protest against a bill that would allow for extradition to China, at the outset of a wave of protests that have roiled the city ever since. That word is one of several threads connecting Hong Kong in 2019 to Beijing thirty years earlier. Prior to this year, the last time Hong Kongers took to the streets in such numbers was in solidarity with the student protestors who gathered in Tiananmen Square in 1989. In the aftermath of that democracy movement in Beijing, “thugs” (baotu 暴徒) became a buzzword too. It was the PRC government’s designation for all non-student protestors: the workers, shopkeepers and bystanders who felt compelled to put their bodies between soldiers and students.


Tough Questions

Grace Jackson reviews The China Questions, from Harvard University Press

In 1955, Professor John King Fairbank established the Center for Asian Research at Harvard not to train scholars per se, but to educate and prepare a new generation of public servants for engagement with Chairman Mao’s China. Sinology was already an established academic discipline in Europe and the United States, tracing a lineage from the Jesuit missionaries through to the great nineteenth century translators such as James Legge, Thomas Wade and Herbert Giles. But unlike the Sinologists, who approached Chinese civilization through its ancient texts, the China Hands that Fairbank would train at Harvard were multidisciplinary men – in those days, it was primarily men – of the world: aspiring journalists, diplomats and policymakers.


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.