Roots and Branches

Courtney Han visits her ancestral home in China

My Dad grew up in a small fishing village about two hours northwest of Shanghai. His stories about his hometown sound more like Mount Olympus than a poor Chinese village with a flooding problem. According to him, nowhere else in the universe was the air as sweet, the trees as lush and the jade-toned water as beautiful as in the laojia.

I was born in Beijing, where my mother’s family lived, and moved to the US when I was five. My father’s experiences growing up in rural China were as different from my American childhood as a fish from a bird’s. His colorful stories about playing midnight hide-and-seek in fields, yanking river eels out of mud holes, climbing trees to peek at bird nests – they never happened on my visits to China. Instead I was coddled, stuffed with exotic foods, and kept under strict observation.


Little Red Podcast

Tibet: ‘Colonialism with Chinese Characteristics’?

Trouble on the plateau – an episode of the Little Red Podcast

With the world’s attention on industrial-scale oppression in Xinjiang, developments in Tibet are passing beneath the radar. But activists are warning of a full-spectrum assault on the Tibetan way of life, as Tibetan language teaching is outlawed and urbanisation campaigns relocate nomads from their ancestral pastures. The CCP has underlined its determination to choose the next Dalai Lama, and Tibetans were recently urged by their Party Secretary to "reduce religious consumption" to build a "new modern socialist Tibet." To hear about the sophisticated "rolling repression" that characterises Chinese rule in Tibet, Louisa Lim and Graeme Smith are joined by Barbara Demick, author of Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town, Benno Weiner, Associate Professor of History at Carnegie Mellon University who has just published The Chinese Revolution on Tibetan Frontier, and Tendor Dorjee, a Senior Researcher at the Tibet Action Institute:



Serve the People, Discipline the Party

Jonathan Chatwin visits a new museum dedicated to Party Discipline in Wuhan

“Do you know where Mao’s old house is?” the hotel receptionist asked his colleague. The screen of my phone was zoomed in on a small grey square, labelled ‘Comrade Mao Zedong’s Former Residence’. Neither of them had heard of it, so they called their manager over, and the four of us stood in the echoey, white-tiled reception of my cheap Wuhan hotel, reorienting my phone to try and figure out where I was going. Eventually, one of them spotted a nearby subway station they knew and told me the quickest way across town. “He came here in 1966,” the manager told me. “Did you know he swam in the Yangtze?”

A few hundred yards down the embankment from my hotel, I had already seen the enormous metal numerals which commemorate the date of the swim the hotel manager was referring to: 66.7.16. The hot morning of July 16 1966 was one of eighteen occasions when the Great Helmsman swam in China’s great river at Wuhan, and indisputably the most well-known. A showy demonstration of physical vigour, it prefigured his return to Beijing, where the next month he threw himself into promoting the Cultural Revolution.



Saying ‘Not This’ to the Colonization of the Uyghurs

Darren Byler reviews The War on the Uyghurs by Sean Roberts

In his recent book The War on the Uyghurs, Sean Roberts, a scholar of Chinese and Central Asian politics at George Washington University, describes how Uyghur responses to state violence have often been officially misrecognized as “terrorism” – and the way this has provided cover for a pernicious contemporary colonial project. The history of the “terrifying” of the Uyghurs is relatively recent: just nineteen short years. It was exactly four weeks after September 11 2001 that the word “terrorism” was first used by Chinese authorities to describe Uyghurs whom they deemed a threat to Chinese national security.

Prior to the US declaration of the Global War on Terror, Uyghurs were described occasionally as “counterrevolutionaries” or as “separatists”, but never as terrorists. Working in concert with Chinese state security in a Beijing-based investigation, in the early 2000s US intelligence officials took up this rhetoric at least in part as a way of building stronger bilateral ties between the two nations. For example, Roberts notes that in internal briefings “the FBI characterized Uyghurs as a potential ‘terrorist threat’ to the US”. They also began to describe a shadowy, Pakistan-based Uyghur diaspora group that called itself the East Turkestan Islamic Movement “a clear part of the Al-Qaeda network”. While Roberts shows there is scant evidence that the group had much capacity beyond video production, this threat credibility bolstered by the US designation nevertheless provided the Chinese state with cover to begin increased “hard-strike” campaigns in the Uyghur homeland, which began in the 1990s but took on a new intensity in the 2000s, particularly after the protests and violence in Urumqi on July 5, 2009.



Feminist, Revolutionary, Poet

A selection of poems by Qiu Jin, in new translation by Yilin Wang

Translator’s note: Qiu Jin (秋瑾) was a Chinese revolutionary, feminist, poet, and essayist who lived from 1875 to 1907. Defying the gender expectations of her time, she acquired a traditional scholarly education as well as learning martial arts, sword-fighting, and horseback riding. As she struggled within an unhappy marriage, she connected with other Chinese feminist activists, pawned her jewels to study abroad in Japan, then returned home to join a revolution against the corrupt Qing Dynasty government and fight for women’s rights. When the uprising failed, she chose to die as a martyr rather than escape. Although Qiu Jin has been widely celebrated as a pioneer in China’s early feminist movement and as a revolutionary, there are still limited translations of her vast body of work in English and some of these date back to the early 20th century. Below are three poems and fragments in new translation (read the original Chinese here).