May 3, 2017

Ian Johnson and the Souls of China

Ian Johnson won a Pulitzer Prize covering China for the Wall Street Journal–mostly economics–but then discovered what felt like a bigger story: a full-blown spiritual crisis inside a frenzied money culture.  In Chinese villages and ...

Ian Johnson won a Pulitzer Prize covering China for the Wall Street Journal–mostly economics–but then discovered what felt like a bigger story: a full-blown spiritual crisis inside a frenzied money culture.  In Chinese villages and booming big cities alike, what he came to see unmistakably over 6 years on the road was a restoration taking place across the peculiar mix of Chinese religion: Buddhist meditation, Daoist exercises, Confucian moral discipline.

In his new book The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After MaoJohnson says the spiritual revival in modern China is centered not so much on the God questions as on how to organize Chinese life again around communities of belief, ritual and practice.  What Confucianist advice do you want before you invest? Do we head for a cave together for peace and quiet? What Johnson sees is a vast identity search in a people tossed and tussled by outsiders and now by a century of their own modern  revolutions, people still fiercely hungry in an historic boom time:

Theology does not play a huge role in Chinese religion… Using the tools of Greek logic to prove or disprove a proposition is not something you find too much in Chinese religion. Most people are happy to participate because they feel it gives structure to their lives, and ritual. Though we often think of ritual being empty or unimportant, it’s really the profound question of how you act in a certain situation. Like, what’s the proper way to mourn a dead person? What’s the proper way to behave in relation to other people in society? Those are pretty important questions. Those are actually quite profound. I think what also I found is that there’s a great exuberance in the religious life of China. If you think of a pilgrimage outside of Beijing to Myao Fung Shin, there’s a whole lot of people drinking and smoking cigarettes and cursing and yelling. It’s not all sitting, quietly meditating and saying, “Ohmm.”

 

– Ian Johnson in conversation with Christopher Lydon 4/10/17.

December 1, 2016

Trump in the World

Trump says he knows more than the generals, so this week we’re talking to the colonels about the future of U.S. foreign policy. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson joins us to try and sort through all the noise ...

Trump says he knows more than the generals, so this week we’re talking to the colonels about the future of U.S. foreign policy.

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson joins us to try and sort through all the noise and speculation surrounding the president-elect’s amorphous international stance. Wilkerson has long been a consummate observer of institutional politics and power, first in the military ranks, later in White House as chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell. Now a professor at William and Mary, he sees our country in a real battle with The Three Plagues of Apathy, Lethargy and Ignorance. He shares with us the perspective of his ‘awakened’ students, his professional assessment of Trump’s cabinet of generals, and what the foreign policy priorities of any US president should be in the 21st century.

Later, distinguished historian of international relations, retired Col. Andrew Bacevich tells us why there needs to be an institutional purge of the U.S. military’s senior leadership. All three- and four-star generals must go, he says. The reasoning is simple: they’ve failed to do their job , i.e. “bring America’s wars to a timely and successful conclusion.” Finally, the brilliant Stephen Walt of Harvard’s Kennedy School conjures up best case/worst case scenarios of Trump’s foreign policy, as informed by his ever clear-eyed, realist perspective.

Can any of these astute observers of the international scene find some hope for the future under the Donald? Well, as the satirist Jonathan Swift once wrote: “When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.” If this is true, then President-elect Donald Trump just may be a foreign policy genius. In an open letter, published back in March of 2016, all the neocon masterminds of the Iraq War — everyone from Armitage to Wolfowitz — came out, en masse, against his presidential candidacy, on the grounds that he possessed the makings of an unmitigated foreign policy disaster.

 

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Though there exists room for debate, Trump has staked out a few (surprisingly) reasonable policy positions: ‘spreading democracy’ through exercises in nation-building is not in our national interest; free-riding NATO allies should take on more of the collective burden; de-escalating tensions with Russia is to our benefit. Obviously, there are also numerous grounds for alarm, as well. So often, Trump’s more commonsensical foreign proposals came packaged in speeches that trafficked heavily in xenophobia and calls for civilizational war, threats of trade battles and reneging on diplomatic pacts, praises for the efficacy of torture and support for the widespread proliferation of nuclear weapons.

As we try to sort through these mixed messages of hatred and reform, we turn to our colonels for the longview: What is the Donald Doctrine overseas, and how it will change the image of our nation, at home and abroad?

Feature photo by: Kevork Djansezian / AP; bottom photo by: AP; Slideshow photos by:  Ssgt. Aaron D. Allmon, Ssgt. Jacob N. Bailey, Msgt. Terry L. Belvins.

May 11, 2016

Could Confucius Change Your Life?

In an panicked moment, maybe what we need most is a new set of eyes—or a very old one. Whatever you may find to be the problem—capitalist excess or teens “keeping it real,” digital isolation, widespread anxiety, Trumpian ...

In an panicked moment, maybe what we need most is a new set of eyes—or a very old one.

Whatever you may find to be the problem—capitalist excess or teens “keeping it real,” digital isolation, widespread anxiety, Trumpian narcissism, bad governance, or all of the above—Confucius has something to say to you.Confucius-students

That may be why Confucius and his followers—who taught and wrote almost 2,500 years ago—are resonating anew in the hearts of Chinese citizens. One of our guests, the great podcaster Kaiser Kuo, sees Confucian thinking as “baked-in” to the so-called Chinese character, as permanent as Plato.

Not to mention at Harvard, where, in the hands of beloved professor Michael Puett, Confucius provides counterintuitive wisdom to a bunch of self-aware, overwhelmed overachievers.

Confucius raises self-cultivation to the pursuit of a lifetime. Every encounter is a learning experience; every mundane action is a ritual to be perfected. All of it is in the service of the good life—reworking your desires, constraints, and impulses to promote ren—“goodness” or “humaneness”—in all you do.

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Imagine the “superior person” as like an archer:

He rectifies himself, and seeks for nothing from others, so that he has no dissatisfactions. He does not murmur against Heaven, nor grumble against men…

The Master said, “In archery we have something like the way of the superior man. When the archer misses the center of the target, he turns round and seeks for the cause of his failure in himself.”

Maybe it’s this part that makes sense to the perfection-prone Harvard student. Imagine if all that striving were less about world takeover and more about nonstop inward renovation of the mind and heart.

Confucian thinking can put one in mind of superhuman social talents: Stefan Zweig‘s lost generation of hyper-refined Viennese (or Ralph Fiennes‘s M. Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel)—officials, artists, peerless hosts and hostesses with not a thread out of place, kind, warm, and accommodating down to their souls.

UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Stefan Zweig in his domicile in Salzburg. Photography. 1931. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images) [Stefan Zweig in seinem Salzburger Domizil am Kapuzienerberg [?]. "Der Schriftsteller Stefan Zweig feiert am 28. Nov. 1931 seinen 50. Geburtstag" (No. 2698a). Stefan Zweig (1881 Wien - 1942 Petropolis, Brasilien, Selbstmord) begann als Lyriker des Wiener Impressionismus, entwickelte sich durch seine Freundschaft mit Emile Verhaeren und Romain Rolland zum pazifistisch-humanistischen Schriftsteller. aehnlich wie Hugo von Hofmannsthal fuehlte er sich als einer der letzten der buergerlich-europaeischen Kultur, die er in zahlreichen Novellen, Romanen und seiner Autobiographie ?Die Welt von gestern? (1942) beschrieb. In der Sammlung "Kaleidoskop" (1924) und dem kurzen Roman "Der begrabene Leuchter" (1937) beschaeftigte er sich eingehender mit dem Judentum, nachdem er vor dem aufkommenden Nationalismus aus Salzburg geflohen war (1934).]

Michael Puett argues that Confucius still points a path to that kind of orderly, rewarding mutual life. And he’s making his pitch in an exciting new book called The Path, cowritten with Christine Gross-Loh.

We’ll talk about the comeback of the great sage—long in arriving—and what it could mean for your life.

You can hear a longer version of our conversations with our favorite people living Confucianism today, at least at a deep cultural level—Tu Weiming, Gish Jen, and Kaiser Kuo—below:

 

Illustration by Victo Ngai for The New Yorker.

Podcast • April 29, 2015

The Making of Xi Jinping

Evan Osnos writes about international affairs for The New Yorker. On the occasion of a recent profile, we’re speaking about the “ruthlessly pragmatic” rise of Xi Jinping, who Osnos says has “emerged as the most ...

Evan Osnos writes about international affairs for The New Yorker. On the occasion of a recent profile, we’re speaking about the “ruthlessly pragmatic” rise of Xi Jinping, who Osnos says has “emerged as the most authoritarian leader since Chairman Mao.”

Illustration by Tavis Coburn for The New Yorker.

This Week's Show •

Can China Lead?

The People’s Republic has arrived and is applying for co-trusteeship of the globe. We got a good look at the co-trustee, China’s enigmatic president Xi Jinping, through the deep sourcing of The New Yorker’s Evan ...

The People’s Republic has arrived and is applying for co-trusteeship of the globe. We got a good look at the co-trustee, China’s enigmatic president Xi Jinping, through the deep sourcing of The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos and from Professor William Kirby, who says that China’s prosperity (and Mr. Xi’s headaches) are a hundred years in the making. We are looking at a “conquest regime,” in Kirby’s phrase, a government ruled by “princelings” of the Communist Party that won the civil war in 1950. Through thick and thin the party line and party practice have been chameleonic marvels of adaptation, but the clock is running on the old elite from which Xi Jinping springs. The Kirby picture is of a mighty state now strangely insecure; he gives no simple answer to the question posed by his new book: Can China Lead? He raises a new thought here: Maybe China cannot be ruled from horseback.

[Xi’s] political toolbox–that of the Chinese Communist Party, it’s ideological toolbox–is so old and so weak… He lives in world in which the people, what they know to be true and what they are told to be true, the distance between these two things, gets larger every day. And so it is a heroic, but in my view ultimately hopeless, effort to think of how one convinces people to study again dialectical materialism again, to study Marxism and Leninism… and the glorious history of the Chinese Communist Party.

The challenge for Xi Jinping, Kirby told us, goes back to the under-credited founder of China’s revolutionary century, Sun Yat-Sen, who set in motion the deep and continuous drives to rebuild the country’s enterprise, infrastructure, and mass education. “Sun Yat-sen once said, ‘The mandate of heaven does not last forever.’ The question that must worry Mr. Xi is when and how there is a political transition in China, how and what his position will be when that challenge comes?”

The premise this week was simple. If the 19th century belonged to the Europeans and the 20th century was America’s, then the 21st century belongs to China. The question is: what will China — and the rest of us — do with this moment?

Professor William Kirby, the Harvard Sino-guru who just tossed a big online China course over the Great Firewall, is fond of ticking off the titles of nervous Western books: The Dragon Awakes, The Ascent of China, and (his favorite) The Rise of China: An Unwelcome If Inevitable Occurrence. Then he reveals that those titles, which seem at home in any airport bookshop, were all published at the turn of the twentieth century.

That’s the key perspective, says Kirby: this China moment was in the works decades before Deng, and it belongs just as much to the people and the culture as it does to the Party. So, we’ll take a hundred-year view in the hope of understanding 1.5 billion people building, working, and learning toward what President Xi Jinping has called “the Chinese Dream.”

On the Ground in China

By Max Larkin
Chris went to China last year, and we played three of our favorite clips on the show last night. You can hear much-extended versions of Chris’s conversations with Ai Weiwei and the internet hero and rockstar Kaiser Kuo below:

But there was a lot more to the tour than that — Chris spoke to authors, students, scholars, and street-vendors. So we’ve put them together in one big playlist and put in on iTunes, too. We hope you’ll tell us when your ears perk up, and take it as a whirlwind tour through a complex nation.

Podcast • August 17, 2014

WWI: Adam Tooze Reviews “The Deluge”

In 1916, two years into the war, Americans reelected the president who’d kept us out of the battle. But by the summer of 1917, the same Woodrow Wilson had committed the US to fighting alongside Britain and France against Germany. For me the hair-raising fascination in our conversation here, on the eve of publication, is in the foreshadowings — of a century of horrific hot and cold sequels of the Great War, but also of the very-2014 tensions between democracy and capitalism, and of course the rise of a new giant in China.

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Adam Tooze’s new history of World War One, The Deluge, makes a crackling, cautionary tale of the zig-zag course of the young economic giant in America, drawn toward the center of a new global order between 1914 and 1918. In 1916, two years into the war, Americans reelected the president who’d kept us out of the battle. But by the summer of 1917, the same Woodrow Wilson had committed the US to fighting alongside Britain and France against Germany.

For me the hair-raising fascination in our conversation here, on the eve of publication, is in the foreshadowings – of a century of horrific hot and cold sequels of the Great War, but also of the very-2014 tensions between democracy and capitalism, and of course the rise of a new giant in China.

Adam Tooze is an English-trained historian now teaching at Yale. Over a phone line to Paris, on the eve of American publication of The Deluge, Tooze is recounting the “truly extraordinary” role of Wall Street’s J. P. Morgan, serving as banker to Britain, France, Russia and then Italy, “effectively the financial agent for far-and-away the largest coalition of military powers the world had ever seen.” Morgan made a colossal bet on a war that Americans voted not to enter. Paris and London panicked at the election returns and the popular indecision about the war into 1917. What turned President Wilson, Tooze argues, was not J. P. Morgan but the Germans’ cynical (maybe mad) decision to pursue unrestricted submarine warfare (like the torpedo attack on Cunard’s Lusitania which had killed a thousand Americans and shocked the country in 1915). Among the endless counter-factual questions: what if the Kaiser had held back his U-boats and Wilson had held back the American fighting forces, as he wanted to? The Germans might well have won the European war, but we might never have known Fascism, state Communism, World War Two, the Holocaust, the Cold War or nuclear weapons.

Americans seem still to be ambivalent about Wilson’s ambivalence – between the “muscular Wilsonism” (that led us into World War One and the botched peace of Versailles) and Wilson’s dream of “peace without victory” and an American “liberal internationalism” that policed the empires without becoming one.

And then there are the China questions that Adam Tooze says he felt “hanging over me” as he wrote his centennial history of World War One. So many analogies between the US then and China today: rising industrial and financial powers, yet to be partnered into managing the world system. China is vastly older and bigger than the US ever was – a sixth of the world’s population and “an ancient empire coming back into itself,” as Tooze put it. This is the great drama taking place before our eyes, “an epic shift in world affairs we’re living through.” The trick, the historian says, is to realize that there is no succession of empires, no simple repetition in history. Stay tuned!

Podcast • August 8, 2014

At Peking University: the Rising Generation

What I went least prepared for was the openness of Chinese people in what we call a closed society. So the last audio postcard from this trip is a 10-minute distillation of a conversation that sprang up like music to my ears in a dormitory room with five students at the venerable Peking University in Beijing. These are aspiring middle-class kids – a random sample of the top of the heap

We call ourselves the ’90s generation. The late ’90s — not so much the rising generation as the boasting generation, the blossoming generation — meaning we are about to open up ourselves and explore the outer world, just like a flower blossoming.”

Max, a student from Hong Kong at Peking University in Beijing.
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Future leaders of China, from left to right: Max, Rebecca, Flora, Nick, Payton.

What I went least prepared for was the openness of Chinese people in what we call a closed society. So the last audio postcard from this trip is a 10-minute distillation of a conversation that sprang up like music to my ears in a dormitory room with five students at the venerable Peking University in Beijing. These are aspiring middle-class kids – a random sample of the top of the heap. Nobody here is bent on being a billionaire. All voiced versions of a searching interior life. Nobody mentioned political participation as they listed their ambitions. But social idealism infuses their talk. Several volunteered that inequality – of incomes, education, opportunity – is the blight on their society, a problem their generation will have to address. None expressed the slightest confidence in ideological communism. They sounded more embarrassed than outraged by official controls on information (of which they have plenty) and expression (in which they feel individually free). They credit their government with overall effectiveness. And they all spoke comfortably of loving their country and their moment in its history.

China is searching, the China we see today is shaped by different factors: traditional Chinese civilization, and also the western culture since 1840, when Great Britain launched a trade war and broke the gate of the Qing empire. [By now] it’s another aspect of tradition… also the communist ideology… The problem for China is we lack a national philosophy. We as a people, as a nation. We lack a philosophy that supports the spiritual life of our citizens. It’s a problem in the whole country.”

Nick, a philosophy major, whom I’ll remember specially for his short list of cultural treasures for the proverbial desert island: Collected Poems of the Tang Dynasty, Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, and Brahms’ Symphony No. 3.

There’s societal pressure, and family pressure, to do financially at least as well as your parents. That’s one of my anxieties, and a big anxiety of a lot of my friends. You’re supposed to do well and your parents have paid a lot for your education. But you don’t know what you want to do. I haven’t declared a major yet. I’m focused on finding something I really enjoy doing.

Rebecca, a rising sophomore at Carleton College in Minnesota.

I think it’s not difficult for us to find good jobs. To earn money is not important for us, we can earn so much money. The most important thing is to find ourselves, to be ourselves.

Flora, pursuing a double degree in law and Chinese literature.

I read American books, we talk about the system of American politics almost every day. America is everywhere. I want to have my graduate education in America. It’s necessary to get to know and understand America — necessary to understand the whole world. I don’t like nationalism, and I don’t like to emphasize enemies. I think we have to cooperate, but we are not genuine friends. But we have to cooperate with each other.”

Payton, who rounded up his friends for us at the University of Peking.

Special thanks to Jiang Xueqin, an activist teacher and school reformer, for introducing us on campus.

By the Way • August 4, 2014

Ai Weiwei, China’s Artist/Enemy #1

Not perhaps since Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the Soviet Gulag has there been a dissenting artist who got to be as famous as the government that hounds him. But Ai Weiwei’s situation is one-of-a-kind.He’s a scathing ...

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Not perhaps since Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the Soviet Gulag has there been a dissenting artist who got to be as famous as the government that hounds him. But Ai Weiwei’s situation is one-of-a-kind.He’s a scathing oppositionist who argues with me that China’s moral, natural, aesthetic, philosophical and family foundations have been “completely destroyed.” At the same time he is a celebrity, the virtual mayor of an industrial district in Beijing that’s become a thriving village of modern painters, sculptors, studios and galleries.

At one cheerful turn in our gab, he’s reminding me about the Chinese gift for breaking rules, for thinking outside the box, for double thinking, even under Communism: “Yeah, that’s the culture. Chinese are quite intelligent, witty, and create their own liberal space. Even in very extreme conditions, they still can achieve some kind of happiness or self, some kind of confidence, so that makes Chinese culture very different from others.”

Images courtesy of the Hirshhorn Gallery (copyright Ai Weiwei). 

Ai Weiwei is China’s official scare-word and favorite non-person. He’s what Solzhenitsyn called a “second government.” But let’s remember: the embattled democrat and artist of ideas was a star consultant in the design of the “bird’s nest” stadium built for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. He sees himself naturally as a leader and a patriot. He’s mastered what people say is a very Chinese use of paradox and contradiction. He refers to his testing of the limits as a kind of performance art.

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We met his wary sort of humor and warmth on the way into his walled garden. He parks his bicycle at the gate with a basket full of fresh flowers as a greeting each morning to the government spies who ‘mind’ him and who, it turns out, took our picture on the way out.

Ai Weiwei SpyFor almost an hour the conversation flew around a big table in the traffic of Ai Weiwei’s studio. Maybe the worst disaster in China, he said, is the flood of migrant workers out of farm villages into cities where they have dangerous jobs, small pay, no benefits and no residency rights – no rights to city schools, for example, for their kids. “This is just modern slavery” for the migrants, said Ai Weiwei. For the broken families left behind, it’s a desolation.

He says our friend the novelist Yu Hua is “absolutely right” about the continuity between Mao’s brainwashing Cultural Revolution and the booming Market Revolution today. The key links, he concurred, are violence, lying propaganda, and a tiny monopoly of political power. Just off the high-speed train from Shanghai, I confessed I was dazzled by the smooth ride at 300 kpm and by the orderly green abundance in the farmlands. “Wouldn’t this government be good for – say – Egypt?” I asked. But he’s heard the line that China is developing faster than Brazil, or India, or Egypt, and he’s not impressed. “How do you give young people hope, imagination and creativity,” he asked. “Those are the inner structures I think a lot and worry about.” As we wrapped up, he said I’d made him sound like a complainer, just a critic. We could have talked about the weather, he said, “or food, or sex.” Next time we will.

And what did I take away? Mainly gratitude to this brave man for his stubborn, almost fearless attachment to the soul questions: he’s reminding us all what it costs to stand out as an individual, and for a society to stay free, alive, critical, human.

Podcast • July 11, 2014

Yu Hua: China’s Revolution Addiction

Everybody loves Yu Hua, a giant of the literary life in China today. He’s a free spirit with a critical eye, and a popular touch, a tragic vision, an easy laugh. It is a main theme in much of Yu Hua’s work and our conversation that China is hooked for a century now on something like an addiction to Revolution. And a revolution, he reminds me with heavy irony, quoting Chairman Mao, is not a dinner party. It’s an insurrection, an act of violence.

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Everybody loves Yu Hua, a giant of the literary life in China today.  He’s a free spirit with a critical eye, and a popular touch, a tragic vision, an easy laugh.  We’re in the snazzy new Ritz-Carlton in Shanghai, video-recording a long conversation for Harvard’s ChinaX course on modern China.  As soon as Yu Hua walks in (with his striking 20-something son Phineas) his presence is magic, alike with the Chinese film crew and the young Harvard scholars. I know Yu Hua as much as anything through the long-suffering hero of his novel that became the movie masterpiece To Live. The film and its central character reminded me somehow of Charlie Chaplin, as I said to Yu Hua. He smiled and said, well, of course, he had studied the Chaplin archive. Were Fugui alive today, Yu Hua said he would most likely be among the victims of the Capitalist Revolution.  Fugui would have lost his land and been displaced as a farmer.  He might be living precariously in a tiny, unsafe apartment in a city, but he’d still be thoughtful, tidy, maybe cheerful, and indestructible.

It is a main theme in much of Yu Hua’s work and our conversation that China is hooked for a century now on something like an addiction to Revolution. And a revolution, he reminds me with heavy irony, quoting Chairman Mao, is not a dinner party.  It’s an insurrection, an act of violence.  The market revolution, he’s saying, is more like than unlike the notorious upheavals that preceded it: the war of “liberation” that brought the Communist Party to power in 1949; Mao’s Great Leap Forward in the 50s, a headlong rush to industrialize that ended in famine and death for 20-million or more; then the know-nothing Cultural Revolution of the 60s into the 70s.  The problem with all the endless revolutions is that they’ve been run by political monopolies.  They’re invariably violent, mobilized by propaganda, not participation.  And they’re generally heedless of long-term results – even in the market revolution that has made so many Chinese people rich.

Yu Hua reminds you that China is still a poor country – median income between ninety and a hundred in the ranking of nations, in the zone with Cuba, Angola, Iraq.

The wealth revolution that we’re conditioned to celebrate has been a hardship for most Chinese, he is saying.  The divorce rate goes up on the same curve as the GDP.  A “simmering rage” is the ruling popular emotion, he wrote in an invaluable collection of essays, China in Ten Words (2011).  The capitalist revolution has been bad for human-rights awareness. “This revolution has made the Chinese people profit-driven… They care less about other people, less about the country.”  Our people are losing their health, he says.  And what about their minds?  “People’s minds are chaotic, schizophrenic,” he replies.  “I can’t figure them out.”  The last resource is the Chinese people, I say, and surely they are not destroyed.  “I was half joking, half telling the truth,” he ends, with a laugh.

So we end on a Chinese paradox.  Yu Hua sums up China’s contradictory rules and symptoms today with the point that when guests enter a hotel room in China, they see a “No Smoking” sign and, under it, a gift package of cigarettes.  He lives with such anomalies every day. His novel To Live is sold in bookstores in China.  The movie version is banned.  “The book is like the cigarettes,” he said, “the movie is like the ‘No Smoking’ sign.”

It was a high-point in China so far to feel Yu Hua’s presence.

June 13, 2014

China Rising

China is in its own gilded age, says The New Yorker writer Evan Osnos, into a second generation of ultra-modern tech, a still-developing country bristling with billionaires. On the eve of Chris' trip to China, we're wondering how a country with nearly a century of poverty, collectivism, and authoritarian rule adapts to its instant prosperity?
Evan Osnos on China's "Age of Ambition"

China is in its own gilded age, says The New Yorker writer Evan Osnos, into a second generation of ultra-modern tech, a still-developing country bristling with billionaires. On the eve of Chris’ trip to China, we’re wondering how a country with nearly a century of poverty, collectivism, and authoritarian rule adapts to its explosive (and vastly unequal) wealth.