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.”


The Selden Map of China

How a Ming-era map reveals China’s ancient trade connections – Hannah Theaker

There is a joke among China watchers: what is the best way for a company to market itself in China? Publish a map of it. All you have to do is tint Taiwan a different color to the mainland, or fail to include the nine-dash line that marks territorial China’s claims in the South China Sea. Or else, gift India the disputed land of Aksai Chin, a desolate but strategic pass between Ladakh and Xinjiang. No matter which one you ‘accidentally’ choose, the result will be an instant flamewar that sends your company trending across Chinese social media. The required public apology and resignations might prove too a high price to pay – but your brand recognition in China will be unparalleled.

Maps are inherently political. They demarcate space, and ways of imagining it. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) knows this all too well, which is why the most detailed maps of China are still considered state secrets. Old maps, in turn, have a status akin to holy documents in China. The CCP often defines its claims to disputed territory in terms of historical relationships and patterns of dominion, and draws on historical analogies in its pursuit of modern geopolitical relationships. As such, old maps provide vivid, apparently incontrovertible proof of its historical claims. Or at least, they are supposed to.



Racism with Chinese Characteristics

How China’s imperial legacy underpins state racism and violence in Xinjiang – Magnus Fiskesjö

Due to incidents last year in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, where Africans were evicted and forced to sleep on the street simply because they are African, there is a growing realization around the world that Chinese racism exists. Despite the government's denials, racism against Africans in China is often blatant. In one widely circulated clip, one can see a white and a black woman both trying to enter a shopping mall: only the white woman is permitted, and both leave in disgust. Just as in the West's past, in China contempt for Africans is also often mixed up with patronizing exoticization. Chinese comedians wear blackface on state TV. In Shenzhen's Windows on the World theme park, dark-skinned ethnic minority people are choreographed to perform either as primitive Africans, or as primitive themselves.

All such racism is serious, as are incidents of street racism against Muslims in India and against Asians in Western countries that have taken place in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. This is to say nothing of the continued racism and police brutality in the United States. But as for China, we must also include the ongoing mass racist campaign run by the Chinese government, in Xinjiang, western China (or East Turkestan depending on whom you ask). Millions of people are being targeted solely because of their ethnicity – textbook racism. These are Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minority people: over 12 million people who are not foreigners, but native inhabitants in their own land. They are also citizens of China, who on paper have a constitutional right to be culturally different. Yet since 2017, their nations have been put under a draconian program of racist profiling which discriminates and denigrates their ethnicity, culture, language and religion. The Chinese state deploys ominously biologistic terminology directly recalling the Nazis, and has detained at least one million people in extra-legal mass camps for “re-education” (that is, brainwashing). Many have perished inside; able-bodied ones are sent to forced labor.



The Trouble with (the Lack of) Accents

How accent reveals identity politics in Hong Kong cinema – Gladys Mac

In the Anglophone media, the incorporation of accents is an essential element to defining a time period, an ethnicity, a culture, or any other type of identity. While it may be difficult to imagine a James Bond with a non-British accent, it would be ridiculous if Queen Elizabeth II did not have a British accent in The Crown. Yet in the Sinophone world, accents are a much more complicated issue, making sound the most revolutionary technological change in Chinese cinematic history.

It is well known that there are numerous Chinese dialects, each region with a specific accent. For those who are overseas, these accents not only take on a dialectal flavor, but are also influenced by the local languages in which they speak. Dubbing over actors was a solution for the accent or dialect issue in the 1960s and 70s for cinema produced in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and is still the main solution for mainland Chinese films and television series today. For those productions that chose not to dub over their actors, such as Ang Li’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), the audio aspect of the film can turn out to be very distracting to an audience who understands Mandarin – forcefully directing their attention to the accented speeches of Michelle Yeoh of Malaysia and Chow Yun-fat of Hong Kong. While Hong Kong films and series that were exported to Southeast Asia used to be dubbed over in the local language, the practice of dubbing over accents for the local audience has fallen out of practice.



Journey to the East

Thomas Manning’s journey to Lhasa in 1811 – Christopher DeCou

The mountainous Tibetan landscape was once thought of as impregnable to Western explorers. Today, Lhasa has an airport and a train-station. Yet under Communist rule, access is heavily restricted for foreigners once more. At the beginning of the 19th century Thomas Manning – a Chinese-enthusiast from England – travelled to Tibet, thinking it to be his secret backdoor into China. In the process, he became the first Englishman to enter Lhasa, in 1811. This is his story.



Born November 8 1772, at Diss in Norfolk, the second son to a middle-class English family, Thomas Manning was a man of “independent character,” known at an early age for his quick intelligence, sardonic wit, and unbounded curiosity. Thomas entered Cambridge at eighteen and excelled in mathematics, eventually producing his own textbook in algebra and arithmetic. But he was unable to advance at the university. He admired Quaker modesty and with it the refusal to swear oaths. Accordingly, when asked to swear loyalty to the Church of England, he demurred and was barred from further studies.