December 2009

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The National Committee on U.S.-China Relations will hold its third annual CHINA Town Hall: Local Connections, National Reflections tonight, beginning at 8p.m. EST. In addition to a nationwide webcast by Kurt M. Campbell, there will be discussions in nearly 40 cities across the U.S. and China, focusing on topics tied to the interests of the local community (a full list of locations and speakers is available at the above link). The webcast will be available for all to view online tomorrow at the National Committee’s website.

If shopping for holiday gifts has you stymied, China Beat is here to help. We’ve put together a list of China-related books that will make great gifts — and all of them are appropriate for the general-interest reader.

For: The Nostalgic Reader
Earnshaw Books has been reprinting a number of older books, including many expat memoirs from early 20th century China. We’ve previously reviewed Shanghai: High Lights, Low Lights, Tael Lights, an entertaining glimpse into 1930s Shanghai penned by Maurine Karns and Pat Patterson. The press is also releasing a three-volume set of drawings by White Russian cartoon artist Sapajou, which Paul French writes about here.

For: The Budding Entrepreneur
400MillionAnother old title now available again is Carl Crow’s 400 Million Customers, which is a sharp-tongued set of observant essays about the ins and outs of doing business in China. Much of what Crow has to say about China in the 1930s is still true today, and his book serves as both a how-to guide and a cautionary tale for those who dream of cracking the China market.

For a more current look at Chinese business culture, check out the documentary Win in China (see here for a China Beat interview with director Ole Schell).

For: The Visual Learner
The Inmost Shrine: A Photographic Odyssey of China assembles the late-19th century photographs of Scottish explorer John Thomson. An excerpt from Michael Meyer’s introduction to the book can be read at Danwei.

If there are fans of propaganda art on your shopping list, they might be interested in Postcards from Utopia, a collection of Socialist Realist and Fascist artwork from a variety of countries.

cover_finalMathieu Borysevicz has put together an impressive photographic collection in Learning from Hangzhou (which has previously been featured on the Wall Street Journal’s China blog).

For: The Frequent Flyer
Last Days of Old BeijingLooking for a paperback that will fit nicely into a carry-on bag? Consider China Underground, Zachary Mexico’s volume of tales about the lives of Chinese artists, rock musicians, and writers. Postcards from Tomorrow Square brings together James Fallows’s China columns from The Atlantic; read a review by Jonathan Spence at the New York Times website.  Several of the general-interest China books that we recommended in last year’s gift guide are now available in paperback, such as Lijia Zhang’s Socialism is Great!”, Michael Meyer’s The Last Days of Old Beijing, and Leslie T. Chang’s Factory Girls.

For: The History Buff
Readers who enjoy sinking their teeth into a good history book might like to receive William Rowe’s China’s Last Empire, which looks to be a very accessible overview of the Qing Dynasty by a highly regarded historian. There’s also a new biography of Hergé, creator of the Tintin comics, who set some of his adventures in China and had a decades-long interest in the country. Pierre Assouline’s Hergé: The Man Who Created Tintin tells this story, and you could gift that together with the Tintin-in-Shanghai comic The Blue Lotus or Tintin in Tibet.

For: The Less-than-Organized Shopper
If you don’t expect to finish your 2009 shopping until well into 2010, we have good news — several highly anticipated China books are coming out in the coming months, so slip an IOU into an envelope and don’t forget to pick up these titles when they’re released.

Lovell Lu Xun coverThe Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China, a new translation of Lu Xun’s fiction writings by Julia Lovell, has been published in the U.K., and the American edition will be out on January 26. Peter Hessler’s Country Driving is already available to German readers (it’s titled Über-land in Deutschland), and is scheduled for its English-language release on February 9, 2010. China Beat readers in Southern California can come to UC Irvine on February 16 to hear Hessler speak in a conversation with UCI History professor Ken Pomeranz. Finally, Jeff Wasserstrom’s China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know will be available in April, and would make a great gift for travelers embarking on their first trip to China.

1. We’ve discussed Lu Xun quite a lot lately, and more great Lu Xun-related stories keep coming our way. At Inside-Out China, Xujun Eberlein writes about her own memories of reading Lu Xun as a high-school student during the 1970s. Eberlein also comments on Lu Xun’s work as a translator, as well as the fact that “His scathing style was extensively mimicked by the Red Guards for faction fighting during the Cultural Revolution, a consequence he wouldn’t have dreamed of.”

A diary kept by Chinese writer Lin Yutang between 1929 and 1932 has just come to light, and provides insight into the antipathy between Lin and Lu Xun.

Two China Beatniks in dialogue: Rana Mitter interviews Julia Lovell, translator of a new edition of Lu Xun’s fiction. (Their conversation comes at minute 36 in the broadcast, and the link will only be online for another four days.)

2. Shanghaiist directed our attention to this Newsweek story by Duncan Hewitt on the “great leap backward” of China’s women during the past few decades:

While Beijing has officially promoted gender equality ever since Chairman Mao proclaimed that women “hold up half the sky,” implementation of this ideal has proved patchy. In its early decades, the Chinese Communist Party did make significant improvements in women’s lives—granting them the right to divorce and to work on an equal footing with men, and offering greater educational opportunities than those found in most other developing countries.

Since the beginning of China’s great economic opening in the 1980s, however, there’s been some serious backsliding. Many Chinese women—especially the wealthy elites—do live the kinds of lives once unimaginable here, enjoying good education, working for multinationals, and owning their own homes. But millions of their sisters, especially among the poor, have yet to see much change. And there’s been a resurgence of many of the old attitudes and types of exploitation that the Communist Party sought to stamp out.

3. Now that December has arrived, media outlets around the world are coming out with end-of-the-year superlatives for 2009. TALK magazine spotlights those who have exerted the most influence in China this year, covering figures in fields such as sports, art and culture, and business.

4. At the Wall Street Journal China blog, Stanley Lubman writes about how President Obama’s visit to China could promote cooperation between China and the U.S. on legal affairs.

5. Taiwan’s Apple Action News has put together a digital rendering of Tiger Woods’ car accident, based on speculation about what might have happened. Evan Osnos has the video on his New Yorker blog, as well as a translation of the news report that accompanies it.

With all of the attention generated by Barack Obama’s speed-touring of Beijing sites, we became interested in finding out a bit about previous presidential sightseeing itineraries. There were some useful summaries on the web of what Nixon and company had said about the Great Wall, but what about the Forbidden City as a presidential tourist attraction, past and present? This complex of palaces, which are the subject of a recent book by Geremie Barmé that we’ve praised already on this blog, would seem a more problematic place to include on the go-to lists for foreign dignitaries, given its links to the Qing Dynasty, whose last emperor was topped by the 1911 Revolution — still celebrated as a prelude to the 1949 one that brought the Communist Party to power. Here are two vignettes that people in the know have said we can share with our readers to fill in some blanks:

Sheila Melvin is a Stanford-based writer whose books include Rhapsody in Red: How Classical Music Became Chinese, which she co-wrote with her conductor-husband Jindong Cai. She offers this brief account of a day in 1972 that her spouse remembers fondly:

My husband was a middle school student in Beijing during Nixon’s first visit to China and by chance his class was scheduled to visit the Forbidden City on the same day as Nixon a day on which there was also a huge snowfall. My husband and about 200 other students got to the Forbidden City and were told it was closed, but then somebody decided that they should make it look “normal” for Nixon by allowing at least a few people inthey handpicked 50 students, including my husband. (He claims he was chosen because of his sartorial style, a light blue “qingnian zhuang” not commonly seen during the Cultural Revolution.) He and his select few classmates had the entire Forbidden City to themselves in a snowfall. They never saw Nixon, but it was a magical moment for them all.

Anne Marie Brady, a China specialist based at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury, whose works include the aptly-titled (for the purposes of her comments) Making the Foreign Serve China: Managing Foreigners in the People’s Republic, adds this to our understanding of the subject:

According to a 1979 waishi (foreign affairs) handbook, a typical visit for a high level VIP should include taking them to both traditional tourist spots such as the Forbidden City, in addition to letting them see sites more in keeping with China’s revolutionary ideology such as the Beijing Coking Plant, the No. 1 State Cotton Mill, the Beijing General Petroleum Chemical Works, and the Beijing No. 3 Deaf-Mute School. Visitors could also expect to be given extensive briefings on production figures and the current political line. President Obama and his team should count themselves lucky…

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