Jeff Wasserstrom

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We’re returning from a two-week hiatus just in time to call your attention to the final event in a series of author talks that China Beat has produced in cooperation with several other UC Irvine organizations during the 2009-2010 academic year. Tomorrow’s dialogue at UCI, featuring Ian Johnson and Angilee Shah, is free and open to the public (details here).

Ian Johnson and Angilee Shah poster

Johnson and Jeff Wasserstrom will also appear together tomorrow evening, at the Latitude 33 Bookshop in Laguna Beach, CA (event details here). If you can’t make it, listen to this broadcast of Jon Wiener: On the Radio, in which Wasserstrom comments on the recent strikes at Honda’s Foshan factory and Johnson discusses his new book, A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West.

Mosque cover

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Though we spend a lot of time reading over here at China Beat headquarters, we also like to keep up with the many China-related podcasts and videos that are proliferating on the web these days. A sampling of what’s caught our attention recently:

• The conversation that Jeff Wasserstrom and Mara Hvistendahl had at UC Irvine last month, “The Challenge of Writing about a Fast-Changing China,” is available online at the Making History Podcast website (run by UCI graduate student Jana Remy).

• Kaiser Kuo is now hosting a weekly podcast called Sinica, where he is joined by regular guest contributors such as Bill Bishop, Gady Epstein, and Jeremy Goldkorn.

• If you prefer some video with your audio, check out this talk at the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations by Jerome A. Cohen, in which he reflects on fifty years of Chinese legal development. For those who don’t have time to watch the entire hour-long program, an especially interesting portion begins at the 11-minute mark: Cohen discusses his meetings with figures such as Zhou Enlai and Chiang Kai-shek.

• Visit the Asia Society’s webpage for a variety of videos, on topics such as the legacy of Pearl S. Buck and the possible ramifications of a Chinese currency revaluation.

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China Tracker logo

If you’d like to read more about “What a superpower wants,” check out a new blog from Forbes, “The China Tracker.” Only a week old, the site features pieces from regular contributors such as Gady Epstein (Beijing bureau chief for Forbes), Bill Bishop (a Beijing-based investor/adviser to start-ups, blogger at, and prolific Twitter user under the name @niubi), and China Beat consulting editor Jeff Wasserstrom (whose first post is “Terminology For A Fast-Changing China”). Recent articles have discussed “China’s Barbie Doll Economics,” what Hertz and Avis have to do with the U.S.-China relationship, and the politics of China’s new real estate measures.

Readers of the Forbes site might notice another China Beatnik’s name there as well this week: editor Maura Cunningham has a piece on “China’s Coffee Culture.”

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A reminder for our readers in Southern California that China Beat is co-sponsoring an event at UC Irvine on Friday afternoon. Jeff Wasserstrom will be in dialogue with journalist Mara Hvistendahl, discussing “The Challenge of Writing about a Fast-Changing China: Notes from the Borderland Between Scholarship and Journalism.” The talk will also serve as a book launch for China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know, Wasserstrom’s new release from Oxford University Press.

The event will be held in Humanities Gateway, room 1030, from 1:00-2:30 p.m.

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A grab bag of readings around the web that we wanted to share — loosely connected by a “China in the world” theme that the site editors have been thinking about a lot lately, as we’ve begun discussing the possibility of a second China Beat book to follow up China in 2008: A Year of Great Significance. Though it’s presently more an idea than a plan, now it seems that everywhere we look, we see China Beatniks being talked about in different parts of the world, connecting China with different parts of the world, and simply moving from writing about China to writing about different parts of the world . . .

1. Two China Beat consulting editors have new translations of their work available: as we’ve previously mentioned, Ken Pomeranz’s The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy was recently released in a French edition, which received a lengthly review in Le Monde earlier this month. And last week, the Polish translation of Jeff Wasserstrom’s 2007 book China’s Brave New World—And Other Tales for Global Times was published, with an appropriately Huxleyan cover photo:

CBNW Polish cover

2. Some interesting readings from Australia: the latest issue of China Heritage Quarterly focuses on “The Architectural Heritage of Tianjin,” and features articles by Maurizio Marinelli, Michael Szonyi, and Elizabeth LaCouture. In the Sydney Morning Herald, John Garnaut tells the saga of “Mao’s Last Farmer,” Yu Changwu, who is fighting for the return of land taken from him by the municipal government in 1994.

3. Howard French has a piece in The Atlantic’s May issue discussing China in Africa — “The Next Empire.” French’s article follows him from Dar es Salaam to central Zambia, as he rides a railway built with Chinese funds in the 1970s. Today, as French notes, the Sino-African relationship is once again marked by a surge of Chinese investment in African countries, though not without controversy (see Angilee Shah’s review of Deborah Brautigam’s book, The Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa, for more on the topic):

“The idea that big influxes of wealth will help Africa has never really panned out,” Patrick Keenan, an Africa specialist at the University of Illinois, told me. “When the path to wealth goes through the presidential palace, there are enormous incentives to obtaining power and to holding on to it. This kind of wealth incites politicians to create economically wasteful projects, and it relieves them of the need to make politically difficult choices, like broadening the tax base.”

Indeed, the same objections raised by the Zambian aid critic Dambisa Moyo—that foreign aid breeds corrupt, lazy, and ineffective government—can be applied toward any foreign investments that focus on mineral extraction, especially ones that deliver cash and services directly to governments with no conditions attached. All things considered, resource-based or infrastructure-driven development—even development as massive as the ongoing Chinese wave—appear unlikely to lead to a meaningful African renaissance. . . .

And ironically, while Beijing is extremely well-positioned to help Africa improve its governance—a second area of great need throughout much of the continent—it seems deeply reluctant to do so. No developing country has understood the importance of a strong, results-oriented public administration better than China. But so far, in part because of China’s history of subjugation by Westerners, as well as its defensive stance over its human-rights record, Beijing has remained attached to its rhetoric about noninterference.

Readers in the Connecticut area can hear more about Asian-African relations this weekend at Yale University, where the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies is hosting a two-day symposium on the topic.

4. Friend of the blog Pankaj Mishra also discusses China’s stance toward Africa, placing it in a broader context of declining Anglo-American hegemony and legitimacy throughout much of the world, in this essay at The Guardian.

5. China Beat is co-sponsoring a dialogue between Angilee Shah and Ian Johnson, to be held at UC Irvine on June 7 (more details to come as the date draws closer). Shah has previously written for us about China-India matters, among other topics, and is currently posting (at her website) about her recent monthlong stay in Indonesia. Johnson, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal and author of Wild Grass: Three Portraits of Change in Modern China, will publish A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West in early May. A schedule of his other tour dates and locations can be found here; you can also read an interview with him from the early days of China Beat.

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