Bao Pu: I am interested in telling stories about human nature. The Communists are so against human nature….I’m going to demythify Chinese culture. My example is Alan Moore’s graphic novel V for Vendetta. Our next book will be like that—a graphic non-fiction book on the Lin Biao incident [the probable attempted coup and flight by Mao’s most trusted aide in 1971, ending in his death in a plane crash].
For the first time, the Beijing city government has been pressured into announcing its first-ever “red alert” air emergency. It seems that a grassroots awareness of what humans are doing to the climate is slowly taking hold in China. As perverse as it might be, the Chinese capital’s airpocalypse may be in its best long-term interests.
Chinese president Xi Jinping has been credited with a vigorous foreign policy, economic reforms, and a crackdown on corruption. But his primary goal is to recreate the early years of Communist rule in the 1950s when, according to official mythology, the party was clean, officials upright, and the populace content. Returning to this imagined past means strengthening, not weakening party control.
Ai Weiwei: My feelings are, actually are…how can I describe this situation? It’s like I was on arid land and thrown into water. I’ve been running for so many years and now have reached the shore. It’s that kind of feeling. Because I never felt I belonged in water. That kind of control. That kind of pressure. And every kind of threat. I was living under constant threats. And suddenly this thing, suddenly it vanishes, and everything returns to normal.
“Back then, you couldn’t even find a book on how to make documentary films. I felt that the problems in society were so serious, but the media was just broadcasting propaganda. There was such a gap. I thought then: Why don’t those journalists tell the truth? Then I thought: Why don’t you try yourself, try to say something true?”
One night in September, three hundred people crowded into the basement auditorium of an office tower in Beijing to hear a discussion between two of China’s most popular writers. One was Liu Yu, a thirty-eight-year-old political scientist and blogger who has written a best seller explaining how American democracy works.
Xinjiang is one of those remote places whose frequent mention in the international press stymies true understanding. American photographer Carolyn Drake has come to know the region well, and struggled to break free from its clichés. The summation of her work is Wild Pigeon, an ambitious, beautiful, and crushingly sad book.
I think you Americans, your political agenda has become taken over by these differences between the Republicans and the Democrats. Every day, you fight about issues like taxation or abortion. But perhaps you have forgotten that the things the Republicans and Democrats share are much larger than what separates them.
On the last stretch of flatlands north of Beijing, just before the Mongolian foothills, lies the satellite city of Tiantongyuan. This rootless suburb is home to Remembrance, an underground journal that deals with one of China’s most sensitive issues: its history.
Samizdat publications like the online journal Remembrance are setting off long-overdue discussions about how China should deal with its violent past, especially when many of the victims are dead. Is it best to forget, which the country has largely done, or is there merit in digging up the past? And is it possible to have a cathartic confrontation with the past in a country with no real public sphere?
Ian Johnson: You’ve said that Xi Jinping is trying to bring China back to a totalitarian kind of system.
Teng Biao: He is not able to achieve totalitarianism, but he wants to. The problem for him is the civil society in China is stronger than he thinks.
Why was Ilham Tohti arrested?
Wang Lixiong: The only conclusion is dark: they don’t want moderate Uighurs. Because if you have moderate Uighurs, then why aren’t you talking to them? So they wanted to get rid of him and then you can say there are no moderates and we’re fighting terrorists.
Li Yinhe: During the first thirty years of its rule, the Communist Party was anti-sex. So studying sex is controversial. Even in my current book, the section on laws about sex was eliminated. You can’t publish it.
In early May, China’s premier, Li Keqiang, made a trip to Africa that raised a central question about China’s rise: What effect will it have on the world’s poorer countries? As a big third-world country that has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty in just a few decades—and has …
Why has the Chinese government relied so much on suppression in Tibet and Xinjiang?
Wang Lixiong: Simply put, it’s due to their politics, but they can’t say that. They say it’s due to hostile foreign forces. After troubles started in Tibet they said it was the “Dalai Clique.” You can see the situation getting worse year by year, so it’s only possible to say that it’s their policy.
You have spoken about how the Dalai Lama has had successes, but that his policy is at a dead end.
Wang Lixiong: I believe the Dalai Lama has fulfilled his historical role. His basic strategy is to get Western people and Western governments to put pressure on the Chinese government. But it doesn’t solve the problem.
Why are these protests happening now?
Hong Kong’s people have been striving for democracy for over two decades, and the desire is now so strong that if Beijing breaches its promise and fails to deliver democracy in 2017, Hong Kong will likely become ungovernable.
Hu Jia is one of China’s best-known political activists. He participated in the 1989 Tiananmen protests as a fifteen-year-old and is currently under house arrest for having launched a commemoration of the June Fourth massacre in January. But on his way back from a rare unsupervised hospital visit, I met up with him for a talk about his work and the twenty-fifth anniversary of Tiananmen.
Should we think of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen massacre as an act frozen in time, awaiting its true recognition and denouement in some vague future? Two new books tackle the Tiananmen events from this vantage point. One is set in China and is about repressing memory; the other is set abroad and is about keeping it alive.
In 1890, an undistinguished US Navy captain published a book that would influence generations of strategists. Alfred Thayer Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660–1783 posited that great nations need potent, blue-water navies backed by far-flung naval bases to project power around the globe. His work was so …
“The reform movement in the US is led by a bunch of Ivy League people obsessed with data. They want to bring ‘accountability’ to the American school system. That means testing. They use China as the Yellow Peril. ‘If our kids can’t do math, China is going to kick our ass.'”
According to a new opinion survey by the Pew Research Center, only 14 percent of Chinese think that belief in God is necessary for morality—the lowest percentage in any country. But if there’s one trend in China that is hard to miss, it’s the growing number who are taking part in organized religion. Could it be that the Pew study asks the wrong question?
Like most pilgrimage sites in China, the shrine in the village of Cave Gulley in Shanxi province is located partway up a mountain, reachable by steep stairs that are meant to shift worshipers’ attention from the world below to heaven above. Thousands make the journey each year, ending up in …
Are people in China happy?Richard Madsen: The happiness level is diminishing. The pace of economic growth is not continuing like it was. You still have people becoming fabulously wealthy and crassly displaying it, but that also feeds into a deteriorating moral climate.
Last November, China’s newly installed leader, Xi Jinping, asked his fellow Chinese to help realize a “Chinese dream” of national rejuvenation. In the months since then, his talk has been seen as a marker in the new leadership’s thinking, especially as Xi has pursued a policy of robustly defending territorial claims and called on the United States to explore “a new type of great power relationship.” These actions, unthinkable a decade ago when China was still a much smaller, less important global player, were evidence that Xi intended to realize his dream.
Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin is made up of four interlocking stories that are meant to encompass the geographic sweep of China, and what Jia sees as the epidemic of violence and amorality in modern Chinese life. All the stories are about members of China’s working classes, victims of social change who end up as violent desperados—modern-day knights trying to avenge large-scale wrongs. Interwoven are other themes that few other Chinese directors would touch: the destruction of traditions and religions, for example, or cruelty toward animals. It’s one of the few films out of China in recent years with ambition—and made by someone with enough talent to pull it off.
Ever since China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, first uttered the phrase “China Dream” last year, people in China and abroad have been scrambling to decipher its meaning. A nationwide barrage of propaganda posters that went up starting in July gives a clearer explanation of what he is up to. Using the China Dream slogan, these posters extol various national virtues like filial piety and thrift. Drawing on traditional folk art rather than Communist symbols to illustrate their message, these posters redefine the state’s vision for China as a Confucian, family-centric nation, defined by a quiet life of respecting the elderly and saving for the future. Here are a selection of them.
In his novel Cat Country, Lao She produced one of the most remarkable, perplexing, and prophetic works of modern China. On one level it is a work of science fiction—a visit to a country of cat-like people on Mars—that lampoons 1930s China. On a deeper level, the work predicts the terror and violence of the early Communist era and the chaos and brutality that led to Lao She’s own death during the Cultural Revolution. Cat Country is often called a dystopian novel, but when Lao She took his own life, it was an uncannily accurate portrait of the reality around him. Many points still ring true today.
Twenty years ago this month, Berlin-based artists Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock inaugurated their hugely controversial memorial for a former Jewish district of West Berlin known as the Bavarian Quarter. Today, Germany is filled with memorials and institutions dealing with aspects of the Holocaust, including Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum and Berlin’s central Holocaust memorial. But Stih and Schnock’s in-your-face signs about Nazi policies, integrated into the present-day life of a residential Berlin neighborhood, remain one of the most visceral and unsettling. I recently walked through the Bavarian Quarter—which is part of Berlin’s Schöneberg district—with the artists to discuss their work and its legacy.