I did not go expecting to see any works of great beauty. To be sure, there were none. But so, too, did I not expect to see a view of China’s artists straining so mightily—and exclusively—under the weight of the CCP regime. That is the singular narrative. Portrait after portrait, list after list, needle after needle, video after video: oppression. I wondered: could there not be even just one alternate voice, one perspective from a slightly different angle that had turned its head not to the sun but, instead, toward the sky?
Seventeen years ago I publishedthis poem in the British magazine TANK. I still recognize the lost and wandering soldier who wrote it, who poked around Beijing’s Summer Palace at the height of the season. Today I feel compelled to give China a leave of absence of indeterminate length, repelled as I am by its murder of human rights giants like Liu Xiaobo (say his name). But still in my head I hear the lowing of Beijing Wanbao! and I recall my friends and students, my landlord Yang, my neighbors. They remain and work, I believe, to make the country better even as I disappeared into an aisle seat on a long-ago United flight. Here’s to those twin poles: courage and cowardice.
Chongqing’s traffic is unpredictable. Cars and trucks freewheel around pedestrians. Carts stacked high with produce do tottering loops. All is constant flux and motion, heedless of street signs: the ceaseless ebb of red, the flow of green. Continue reading →
I am a Luddite–a fine-boned little hermit in love with rosemary-infused oils and walk-up apartments that boast thick, sturdy walls. I was born 70-100 years after the time I should have arrived and thus quite naturally hold a mounting suspicion of modem (why doesn’t it make this sound anymore? This holy, plinking sound of things starting up?) my “phone” (it is good, I have found, to periodically erase everything on it and start over. Mourning nothing, I relish the clean slate) and I believe in the life-affirming qualities of salt. Continue reading →
A Henan jaunt to investigate a Chinese Communist Party campaign sheds little light on how the world’s largest political party maneuvers at the local level. Or it shed a lot of light. Or it cast shadows. Or it threw spotlights. I think everyone just felt better when I left Jiguan. Via The Farmer General, read more
In the winter of 2005, I took a job as a research reporter for the New York Times Beijing bureau. The capital was blustery and bitter cold, coming off another long haul winter. A fresh round of yellow dust kicked up across the city. Via The Farmer General, read more
From 1999-2000 I taught English at Tsinghua University in Beijing. It was my first job out of college and I’m glad I kept a number of student pieces from that time. To follow is one student’s response to the assignment: Share one of your earliest childhood memories.
The Tan General Store, situated 50 meters from Mao’s second home along the Jinggangshan Trail, sells dried fruit, beer, sewing supplies, cooking oil, fuel and revolutionary paperweights. Via The South China Morning Post, read more