Sinica Podcast

A weekly discussion of current affairs in China with journalists, writers, academics, policy makers, business people and anyone with something compelling to say about the country that's reshaping the world. A SupChina production, hosted by Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn.
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Dec 29, 2016

Ian Johnson is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist who has lived in Beijing and Taiwan for more than half of the past 30 years, writing for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books and other publications. Ian has written two books: one on civil society and grassroots protest in China (Wild Grass) and another on Islamism and the Cold War in Europe (A Mosque in Munich). His next book, The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao will be published in April 2017.

Ian has covered the gamut of religious topics in China from the recent tightening of controls on the faithful to shariah with Chinese characteristics to Taoism, and is uniquely qualified to discuss the subject of this episode of the Sinica Podcast: the complicated relationship between the Vatican and the Chinese Communist Party. Kaiser, Jeremy, and frequent guest host David Moser talk to Ian about the Catholic Church in China: the arrival of Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century, the current state of Catholicism and what the recent apparent warming of relations between the Church and the Party means.


Jeremy: Continental Shift: A Journey into Africa's Changing Fortunes, by Kevin Bloom and Richard Poplak.

Ian: The Missionary's Curse and Other Tales from a Chinese Catholic Village, by Henrietta Harrison.

David: The Mandarin learning website Hacking Chinese.

Kaiser: The Westworld TV series.

Dec 22, 2016

John Pomfret first went to China as a student in 1980 and covered the Tiananmen demonstrations in 1989 for the Associated Press. He was expelled for his efforts, but returned to Beijing a decade later to head up the Washington Post’s Beijing bureau. For more on his experience and some compelling and little-known stories, listen to the first half of this two-part Sinica Podcast and read our accompanying Sinica backgrounder.

In this week’s episode, Kaiser and Jeremy continue to talk with John about his new book, The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom, which charts the history of America’s relationship with China. John explains that the countries have been intertwined long before the ping-pong diplomacy often credited for ushering in U.S.-China relations in the early 1970s. You can read the short prologue to John’s book, republished with permission here.


John: The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen, and The Boat Rocker, by Ha Jin.

Kaiser: The albums Tarkus and Welcome Back, My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends ~ Ladies and Gentlemen, by Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Jeremy: A VICE video on ginseng in the Appalachian Mountains, and The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, translated by Jack Zipes.

Dec 15, 2016

John Pomfret was 14 years old when Henry Kissinger began interacting with China in secret. He took his fascination to Stanford University’s East Asian Studies program, where he was among a select group of exchange students invited to spend a year at Nanjing University in 1980, shortly after Nixon established diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China.

John went back to China as a reporter for the AP in 1988, nine months before the Tiananmen demonstrations, and was expelled from the country after covering the protests’ violent turn. He returned to China again in 1998 to head up the Washington Post’s Beijing bureau. John has also reported from Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey and Iran.

In this week’s episode, Kaiser and Jeremy talk to John about his new book, The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom, which charts the history of America’s relationship with China. John explains that the countries have been intertwined long before the ping-pong diplomacy often credited for ushering in U.S.-China relations in the early 1970s.

Dec 8, 2016

Wu Fei is a classically trained composer and performer of the guzheng, or traditional Chinese 21-string zither. Abigail Washburn is a Grammy Award–winning American banjo player and fluent speaker of Chinese. They’ve been friends for a decade and are now recording an album together. They sat down with Jeremy and Kaiser to talk about their paths to becoming musicians, and how their new work is melding Chinese and American folk music.

We’re excited to include in this podcast a number of songs by the duo that have not yet been released elsewhere. We hope you enjoy this special episode of Sinica.

Please see the Sinica backgrounder for links to articles and videos about the two musicians.


Wu Fei: Gabriel Prokofiev

Abigail: Lau, Juno by Béla Fleck

Jeremy: Franco and TPOK Jazz, The Wu-Force

Kaiser: Sleepytime Gorilla Museum 

Dec 1, 2016

Edward Wong became a reporter for The New York Times in 1999. He covered the Iraq war from Baghdad from 2003 to 2007, and then moved to Beijing in 2008. He has written about a wide range of subjects in China for the Times, and became its Beijing bureau chief in 2014. For more on Ed’s background and samples of his reporting, find our Sinica backgrounder here.

Ed is a regular guest on the Sinica Podcast, with many appearances going back to August 2011, when he joined the show to discuss his profile of documentary filmmaker Zhao Liang and self-censorship in the arts scene at that time. Since then, he has appeared on many Sinica episodes, including a discussion of the “trial of the century” (which resulted in the conviction of senior Communist Party leader Bo Xilai for bribery, abuse of power and embezzlement) and what it meant for media transparency, and an episode in which Ed drew on his years as a war correspondent in Iraq to comment on China’s view of the Middle East in the age of the Islamic State.

In this week’s episode, Kaiser and Jeremy talk to Ed about the state of foreign correspondence in China: the differences in today’s reporting environment compared with a decade ago, and how media companies deal with censorship and hostility from the Chinese government.


Jeremy: Little North Road: Africa in China, photography of Africans in Guangzhou, China, by Daniel Traub and others. Also check out the accompanying website, Xiaobeilu.

Ed: Two documentaries by Zhao Liang. One is Crime and Punishment, which is distributed in the U.S. through dGenerate Films. The other is Petition. Both films are available on Amazon.

Kaiser: “Can Xi pivot from China’s disrupter-in-chief to reformer-in-chief?,” by Damien Ma.

Nov 22, 2016

In addition to teaching history at the University of British Columbia, Carla Nappi hosts the New Books in East Asian Studies and New Books in Science, Technology and Society podcasts. She is also the author of The Monkey and the Inkpot, a book about the Ming dynasty doctor, herbalist and natural scientist Li Shizhen, who is known for his Materia Medica.

Carla joined Kaiser and Jeremy for a wide-ranging conversation covering topics from Li Shizhen to British scientist and writer Joseph Needham, from the history of science in China to podcasting, and from Carla’s voracious book appetite to her decidedly unorthodox approach to teaching.


Jeremy: Sounding Islam in China.

Carla: The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing.

Kaiser: Scalawag magazine.

Nov 17, 2016

In this episode of the Sinica Podcast, Kaiser and Jeremy talk to Fuchsia about her time at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine, how she chooses recipes for her books and the gamut of flavors of Chinese cuisine.

"You both want to challenge people and give people dishes that they don’t necessarily know, but also to offer them things that are doable and that are palatable," says Fuchsia Dunlop, a British writer who has won a cult following with her recipe books of Chinese food.

Fuchsia’s 2013 book, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, won the 2014 James Beard Award for an international cookbook. The renowned culinary organization also recognized much of her other work, which includes more books as well as articles featured in publications such as Lucky Peach, The New Yorker and the Financial Times. In addition, Fuchsia has appeared on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, CNN’s On China and NPR’s All Things Considered, consults on Chinese cooking for major companies and gives speeches around the world. For someone who described her relationship with Chinese cuisine as one that began fortuitously, it is an impressive list of accomplishments.

As the first foreign student at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine, Fuchsia studied the regional cooking style along with about 50 other students, only two of whom were women. She remembers the gender dynamics of that experience, as well as the slow transition of her classmates toward calling her by her name rather than laowai, the Chinese slang word for foreigner.

Fuchsia’s latest book, Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes from the Culinary Heart of China, delves into the cuisine of Jiangnan. It’s a region whose flavors she loves just as much as those of Sichuan, which she also has written about.

Relevant links:

Appetite for China: The website of Diana Kuan, writer, cooking teacher and author of The Chinese Takeout Cookbook.

The Cleaver Quarterly: A publication that "covers Chinese cuisine as a global phenomenon and a lifelong mission."

Travel China Guide: Eight Cuisines of China - Shandong & Guangdong.


Jeremy: Ximalaya, an app for listening to audio content in Chinese.

Kaiser: No-knead bread.

Fuchsia: A Chinese cleaver.

Nov 10, 2016

John Holden has one word of advice for people trying to understand China: humility.

"Anybody who tries to come to grips with China, a country with a very rich civilization, a long history... You just have to be humble in recognizing that there are things you will get wrong, things you will miss," he says around the 36-minute mark of this week's episode.

John is one to know. After completing his master's degree in Chinese language and literature at Stanford University in 1980, he worked on a project to translate the Encyclopedia Britannica into Chinese. In 1981, he served as an interpreter for National Geographic during an expedition along the Yellow River. From 1986 to 1998, he was chairman of the China branch of Cargill, a large multinational company, and from there he went on to provide high-level consulting and business leadership to a number of firms working in the nation. He also served as president of the National Committee on United States–China Relations from 1998 to 2005, was chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, and currently holds a position with the Asia program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In addition, he is associate dean with the Yenching Academy of Peking University, which offers a master's degree in China studies.

Being humble isn't the only advice John has for people trying to understand China. Business leaders looking for insight should listen around the 27-minute mark. There John explains the value of taking the time to "double down" on researching the local market and mastering customer communication on Chinese social media. And if you want a peek at the personalities of some of China's top political leaders of the past, check out the 18-minute mark or so, where John discusses meeting with the "very, very smart" Wu Yi and Zhu Rongji.

Amid all of the changes John has witnessed in China over the past several decades — he notes its business environment has become increasingly competitive and challenging for foreign firms, and access to political leaders has become more difficult — he has also observed at least one steadfast feature: "That drive to be more open and to learn and to study — that is the most salient feature of my experience with China over the past 35 years, and it's still very much there today," he says near the 12-minute point of the podcast.

At the present, John sees China at a crossroads of rapid economic and political change that is fueling a stream of news reports about the nation becoming more closed to foreign culture and investment. He is hopeful it is just a phase of the development of an increasingly complex country.

"China has been a story in my lifetime of two steps forward, one step back," he says around the 26-minute mark. "We may be one step back at the moment."


John: Review of the American Chamber of Commerce's involvement in China: "AmCham China Legacy: A Better Business Environment," by Graham Norris, and The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to the Present, by John Pomfret.

Jeremy: Article from the South China Morning Post about Cuban-Chinese: "Lost in Cuba: China’s ‘forgotten diaspora'"

Kaiser: Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China's Push for Global Power, by Howard French.

Ada: The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, by Ian Johnson.

Nov 10, 2016

The U.S. election is over, and Donald Trump’s pundit-defying victory over Hillary Clinton has stunned and surprised people all over the world. In China — where activity on Weibo and WeChat indicated strong support for Trump among netizens both in China and in the U.S. — are elites and the Communist Party leadership happy with the outcome? Or would they have rather seen a Clinton victory, preferring the familiarity and stability that a Hillary Clinton administration would have represented, despite the almost-universal view in China of the former secretary of state as an unalloyed liberal interventionist who hammered China relentlessly on human rights?

And what will the Trump victory mean for U.S.-China relations? Will Trump’s fiery anti-China rhetoric on the campaign trail translate into actual policy? Will he hew to his promise to declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office? Will he go through with threats to slap heavy tariffs on Chinese imports? And will Trump, who as a candidate was highly equivocal on his support for American allies in the western Pacific, give China a freer hand in the region?

Finally, how will the Trump victory impact views on democracy? Will it, as James Palmer has suggested, take some of the shine off the city on the hill for young people who admired American democracy — or will it reinforce the idea that the U.S. electoral system really does express the “will of the people”?

Isaac Stone Fish, who has written recently about the U.S. election from the Chinese perspective, joins Kaiser in a conversation about these topics and more. Isaac is a senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations and formerly served as Asia editor at Foreign Policy. He spent election night with a Chinese constitutional law professor, who by 11 p.m. was comforting a horrified Isaac about the strength and resilience of American democracy.


Isaac: The music of Leonard Cohen — “like bathing in whiskey,” says Isaac. Check out David Remnick's profile of the poet, writer and singer in a recent issue of The New Yorker. Also, an alternative pronunciation of the word melancholy.

Kaiser: Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcastby John Zhu — an excellent retelling in colloquial English of the Chinese classic of warfare, heroism, strategy and betrayal by Luo Guanzhong, based on the translation by Moss Roberts.

Nov 3, 2016

When journalist Bill Lascher received an old typewriter from his grandmother and was told it belonged to “my cousin the war correspondent,” he set off on a search to learn more about the life of Melville (“Mel”) Jacoby, who reported from the front lines of the conflict in China during World War II. Mel and his wife, Annalee Whitmore Jacoby, met many of the key figures of the day, from Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek to General Douglas MacArthur; worked as propagandists for the KMT; and ended up fleeing from Manila to hide in the caves beneath Corregidor with MacArthur’s troops.

In this podcast, Kaiser and Jeremy talk to Bill about his discovery of the fascinating life story of his first cousin twice removed: from Mel’s romance with his wife, Annalee, to his multimedia journalism, and from his harrowing brushes with the Japanese to his evolving attitudes toward China.

You can also read an excerpt from Eve of a Hundred Midnights and find a list of background reading materials here.

Oct 27, 2016

Andy Rothman has interpreted the Chinese economy for people who have serious and practical decisions to make since his early career heading up macroeconomic research at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. He is now an investment strategist for Matthews Asia, where he continues to focus on the Chinese economy and writes the Sinology column. His analysis often diverges from what’s in the headlines, and the contrast between Andy’s interpretation and the dominant, deeply gloomy media narrative of the last year or more is especially pronounced. In this podcast, Sinica hosts Jeremy and Kaiser ask Andy to explain why he’s still bullish after all this time.

Don't miss our backgrounder for this episode, "The truth about the Chinese economy, from debt to ghost cities," and a Q&A with Andy, in which he talks about how he got started in China.


Jeremy: The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War, by Michael Shaara, and Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, by James M. McPherson.

Andy: The Man Who Stayed Behind, by Sidney Rittenberg, and After the Bitter Comes the Sweet: How One Woman Weathered the Storms of China's Recent History, by Yulin Rittenberg.

Kaiser: The Honeycrisp apple cultivar.

Oct 20, 2016

China’s legal system is much derided and poorly understood, but its development has, in many ways, been one of the defining features of the reform and opening-up era. Rachel Stern, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Berkeley, has researched the contradictions, successes and failures of China’s changing approach to governance and legal oversight of society. She has also written a book, Environmental Litigation in China: A Study in Political Ambivalence, which examines the intersection of Chinese authoritarianism, pollution and the nation's laws.

In this podcast, Rachel talks with Kaiser and Jeremy about her recent research, the Chinese bar exam and its politicization, the ways in which environmental litigation works (or doesn't), and the anxious uncertainty behind much of the self-censorship in media. You can find background reading for this podcast here, which includes a curated reading list on China's legal system. You can also learn more about Rachel in her supplementary Q&A with Jeremy Goldkorn in which they discuss comparisons between the U.S. and Chinese legal systems, the phrase "rule of law" and the Chinese citizens who are filing lawsuits.


Jeremy: Chinese politics from the provinces blog.

Rachel: The Chinese Mayor, a documentary film by Zhou Hao.

Kaiser: Moonglow, a novel by Michael Chabon.

Oct 13, 2016

On this week’s episode, our guest Ma Tianjie, editor of the bilingual environmental website China Dialogue and the blogger behind Chublic Opinion, untangles the complexities and contradictions of online discussions in China. Tianjie shares insights into three key events in China’s public-opinion landscape that inflamed hordes of online commentators: a shocking family murder-suicide; a famous actor’s cheating spouse; and a mass online action in the name of patriotism against a popular film director and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The conversation also delves into the origin of the “little pink” patriots who combine cutesy pop culture with nationalistic cyberactivism, as well as Chinese critiques of “white liberalism” and the urban elites who espouse its values.

You can find background reading for this podcast here, which includes summaries and links to the Ma Tianjie articles discussed in the podcast, along with a supplementary Q&A by Jeremy Goldkorn in which he discusses Tianjie’s background and the roots of his interest in environmental issues.


Jeremy: Aeropress coffee maker.

Ada: Fact checking websites:, for example.

Ma Tianjie: Fan Hua 繁花, a novel in Chinese by Jin Yucheng 金宇澄.

Kaiser:The Goldfinch, a novel by Donna Tartt.

Oct 6, 2016

The first day of 2016 marked the official end of China’s one-child policy, one of the most controversial and draconian approaches to population management in human history. The rules have not been abolished but modified, allowing all married Chinese couples to have two children. However, the change may have come too late to address the negative ways the policy has shaped the country’s demographics and the lives of its citizens for decades to come.

In this podcast, Jeremy and Kaiser talk with Mei Fong about the policy’s history, its effectiveness and the consequences of nearly four decades of mandating a family’s size. Mei also discusses her heartbreaking encounters with parents who lost their only children in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and their subsequent rush to have their vasectomies and sterilizations reversed. She provides insight into the people who designed the policy (rocket scientists — literally, rocket scientists!), those who enforced the rules, what lies ahead with the relaxation in the policy, the 30 million unfortunate bachelors who can’t find a mate, and the fate of grandparents who have only one descendant in a culture that used to regard a large family as the ultimate happiness.

For further reading, don’t miss Jeremy Goldkorn’s Q&A with Mei Fong, in which she discusses her early life and career, from developing an interest in journalism after a meeting with Queen Elizabeth to winning a Pulitzer to navigating the white-male dominated ranks of the foreign correspondence field. Our Sinica backgrounder, “The past and future of China’s one-child policy”, provides different perspectives on the controversial subject, some of which highlight the benefits it may have had.


Jeremy: China: When the Cats Rule, by Ian Johnson, on the 20th-century Chinese writer Lao She.

Mei: The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee; Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande;When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.

Kaiser: The television show BrainDead.

Sep 28, 2016

In 2009, Michael Manning was working in Beijing for a state-owned news broadcaster by day, but he spent his nights selling bags of hashish. His position with CCTV was easy and brought him into contact with Chinese celebrities, while his other trade expanded his social circle and grew his bank account.

His dual life came to an end on March 15 when a team of undercover officers knocked on his door as he was taking delivery of a package. That night, authorities hauled him to Beijing No. 1 Detention Center, where he spent more than half a year.

In this episode of Sinica, Michael discusses how the police nabbed him, the conditions of his incarceration, his daily routines during imprisonment, his cellmates and his surprisingly positive feelings about China after he got out.

You can read a diary that Michael — who now works for a legal marijuana dispensary in California — wrote in secret during his detention here: A Beijing jail diary. For more on being incarcerated in China, see our backgrounder: Doing time in Chinese jails and prisons.


Jeremy: The linguistics and language blog, Language Log, specifically the explainer on Xi Jinping’s language gaffe at the G20 summit in Hangzhou.

Michael: The film Keanu; CCTV America.

Kaiser: Eve of a Hundred Midnights: The Star-Crossed Love Story of Two WWII Correspondents and Their Epic Escape Across the Pacific, by Bill Lascher.

Related links:

Jingu Bang (Michael's Chinese name).

A Qiu 阿丘 aka Qiu Menghuang 邱孟煌 (Chinese TV personality pictured above).

Sep 22, 2016

Fakes, knockoffs, pirate goods, counterfeits: China is notorious as the global manufacturing center of all things ersatz. But in the first decade after the People’s Republic joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, a particular kind of knockoff began to capture the public imagination: products that imitate but do not completely replicate the designs, functions, technology, logos and names of existing branded products. An old Chinese word meaning “mountain fortress” — shanzhai — was repurposed to describe this type of knockoff.

Chinese internet users began to use the word shanzhai with a degree of approval. This was partly because shanzhai products, though aping the designs and names of established brands, often add innovations that the originals lack. This is particularly notable with mobile phones, the shanzhai versions of which were among the first to feature more than one camera lens and the capacity to use two SIM cards from different networks. Starting around 2008, the creativity and speed of release of such knockoff products began to be discussed as a type of innovation with Chinese characteristics and a creative approach suited to a poor country developing at breakneck speed.

This episode of Sinica is a conversation about shanzhai and the whole universe of Chinese knockoff culture with Fan Yang, an assistant professor in the Department of Media and Communication Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author of the book Faked in China: Nation Branding, Counterfeit Culture, and Globalization. You can read the SupChina backgrounder here.


Jeremy: A Guide to the Mammals of China, edited by Andrew T. Smith and Yan Xie; A Field Guide to the Birds of China, by John MacKinnon and Karen Phillipps, in collaboration with He Fenqi; Beijing Bird Guide (野鸟图鉴), edited by Gao Wu.

Fan: The Zhongshuge Bookstore in Hangzhou; Wei Zhuang, a branch of the famous Zhiweiguan restaurant (established in 1913) in Hangzhou.

Kaiser: Underground Airlines, by Ben Winters.

Sep 15, 2016

What is the Chinese-American identity? How has the rise of China affected American attitudes toward ethnically Chinese people in the United States and elsewhere? How do the 3.8 million Chinese-Americans impact U.S.-China relations, and what role could or should they play in easing tensions between the two great powers?

This episode is a conversation with Frank H. Wu, chair of the Committee of 100, a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging constructive relations between the people of the United States and Greater China and to promoting the participation of Chinese-Americans in all areas of U.S. life. He is also a distinguished professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, and the author of Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White. The discussion covers the perceptions of the racial identities of Tiger Woods and Keanu Reeves, the increasing number of Chinese-Americans who play a role in U.S.-China relations, the thorny issue of ethnically Chinese scientists who have been accused, often but not always wrongly, of espionage in America, and other topics. You can read the backgrounder for this episode here.


Jeremy: Musings of a Chinese Gourmet by F.T. Cheng.

Frank: The original 1991 version of Point Break.

Kaiser: Two Arabic Travel Books: Accounts of China and India and Mission to the Volga by Abu Zayd al-Sirafi.

Sep 8, 2016

What is the state of the art of artificial intelligence (AI) in China and the United States? How does language recognition differ for Chinese and English? And what’s up with self-driving cars?

To answer these and many other questions, Kaiser and Jeremy talk to Andrew Ng, founder and chairman of Coursera, an associate professor in the department of computer science at Stanford University, and the chief scientist of Baidu, where he heads up the company’s research on deep learning and AI. The discussion delves into the differences between Chinese and American engineers, entrepreneurial culture in China, artificial neural networks, augmented reality, and the role big internet companies and their resources play in advancing AI. Check out the SupChina backgrounder on their conversation here.


Jeremy: Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen by Larry McMurtry, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove and co-writer of the screenplay of Brokeback Mountain.

Andrew: Talking to Humans (free download).

Kaiser: Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart, the series from The New York Times on the Arab Spring and its aftermath, by Scott Anderson.

Download this episode. Subscribe on Overcast, iTunes or Stitcher, tune in with your favorite app using our feed or check out the Sinica archives.

Sep 1, 2016

Renowned as a trading town during the Qing dynasty, the eastern city of Yiwu again became famous for its markets after China's economic reforms kicked in during the 1980s. Since then, the metropolis of 1.2 million people has transformed into a hub of the nation's supply chains, attracting merchants from around the globe searching for cheap Christmas decorations, lighters, pens and millions of other trinkets. Check out the SupChina backgrounder for more info.

In this episode of Sinica, Kaiser and David Moser speak with Dan Whelan, director and producer of Bulkland, a film about Yiwu and the people who live and trade in it: British-Australian and German product sourcers, Yemeni traders, some of whom have been in the city for 30 years, Russian bar dancers and the citizens of Yiwu who work tirelessly to sell the rich harvest of China-made tchotchkes to the rest of the world. The discussion ranges from China's economic slowdown to the spectacle of Middle Eastern businessmen slaughtering rams in Yiwu's streets for the Islamic feast of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan's month of daily fasting.


David: Global Times editor Hu Xijin on US-China relations, press freedom in China, and the June 4 protests.

Dan: Interviews on Death Row, a documentary about Ding Yu’s long-running documentary TV series, Interviews Before Execution.

Kaiser: Beijinglish, a comic video on Beijing-accented English; Trump Time Capsules by James Fallows.

More about the film and the issues it examines:

Bulkland's website, and options to purchase or rent the film on iTunes and Google Play.

Country Driving by Peter Hessler, mentioned by Dan in the podcast for the book's description of towns in Zhejiang Province that specialize in manufacturing a single product, such as buttons or bra straps, many of which are traded in Yiwu.

Aug 25, 2016

This year marked the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, a chaotic decade of Chinese history made infamous in the West through books such as Wild Swans and Life and Death in Shanghai, which describe in horrific detail the suffering endured by millions of people.

Most histories of the period focus on violence committed by the Red Guards, the imprisonment of people in cow sheds and other terrifying acts, but Paul Clark's book examines the art of the era. For this episode of Sinica, he joined Jeremy in Auckland, New Zealand, to discuss the large number of new operas, plays, films and other creative works that emerged from the tumultuous time. You can read the SupChina backgrounder on the topics of their conversation here.

Paul is a pioneer in the academic study of Chinese films and was one of the first of three New Zealand students to go to Beijing on an official exchange for two years of study in the 1970s. He has published books on Maori history, Chinese cinema, Chinese youth culture, as well as The Chinese Cultural Revolution, which looks at the creation, dissemination and innovation of art, film, theater and architecture in China from 1966 to 1976.


Jeremy: Visiting Queenstown, New Zealand, and the surrounding mountains and lakes.

Paul: Red Sorghum, directed by Zhang Yimou.

Kaiser: Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance, a Q&A with the author.

Special thanks to Podcasts NZ for the use of their studio in Auckland.


Aug 18, 2016

Jim Millward is one of the world’s leading scholars on Xinjiang and Central Asia, and the author of many books and articles, including Beyond the Pass: Economy, Ethnicity, and Empire in Qing Central Asia, 1759-1864, and The Silk Road: A Very Short Introduction, published by Oxford.

In this week’s Sinica Podcast, Kaiser and Jeremy talk to Jim about the myths and histories of the Silk Road and a continent’s worth of related subjects: Xi Jinping's signature effort to revive the Silk Road through the One Belt, One Road initiative; the mythological bird associated with Central Asia known as the Dapeng (大鹏), or Roc; the argument over the connection of extremism in Xinjiang to global jihadism; the Chinese policy on ethnic minorities; and academic debates over "New Qing History" and a number of other issues that are putting Central Asia back into its formerly central place in the story of the world's past.

This episode also features a special outro tune played by Jim and Kaiser.


Jeremy — books by Peter Fleming:


Kaiser: The Chinese immigrant hub of Flushing, Queens, in New York, as a subject of anthropological or cultural studies inquiry.

Aug 11, 2016

This episode of Sinica is a wide-ranging conversation with Cheng Li (李成), one of the most prominent international scholars of elite Chinese politics and its relation to grassroots changes and generational shifts. He discusses the historical rise and fall of technocracy, corruption and the campaigns against it, power factions within the Communist Party and the new dynamics of the Xi Jinping era.

Cheng Li has authored and edited numerous books and articles on subjects ranging from the politics behind China’s tobacco industry to the nature of collective leadership under Xi. He began his career as a doctor after three years of medical training in the waning years of the Cultural Revolution, then changed course in 1985 to study under scholars such as Robert Scalapino and Chalmers Johnson at the University of California, Berkeley, and Lynn White at Princeton University. He is the director of the John L. Thornton China Center and a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings, as well as a director of the National Committee on U.S.–China Relations.


Jeremy: Hugh White’s review of The Pivot: The Future of American Statecraft in Asia by Kurt Campbell and Kurt Campbell’s reply

Cheng: The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks by Joshua Cooper Ramo

Kaiser: Scientism in Chinese Thought: 1900-1950 by D. W. Y. Kwok and Xi Jinping is No Mao Zedong by Keyu Jin


Aug 4, 2016

In this episode of Sinica, Clay Shirky, the author of Here Comes Everybody who has written about the internet and its effects on society since the 1990s, joins Kaiser and Jeremy to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of China's tech industry and the extraordinary advances the nation has made in the online world.

The hour-long conversation delves into the details and big-picture phenomena driving the globe's largest internet market, and includes an analysis of Xiaomi's innovation, the struggles that successful Chinese companies face when taking their brands abroad and the nation's robust ecommerce offerings.

Clay has written numerous books, including Little Rice: Smartphones, Xiaomi, and the Chinese Dream in addition to the aforementioned Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. He is also a Shanghai-based associate professor with New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and the school's Interactive Telecommunications Program.

Please take a listen and send feedback to, or leave a review on iTunes.


Jeremy: Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont, and Modern China is So Crazy It Needs a New Literary Genre by Ning Ken

Clay: Internet Literature in China by Michel Hockx

Kaiser: A Billion Voices: China’s Search for a Common Language by David Moser


Jul 28, 2016

This episode, Jeremy and Kaiser head to the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, to speak with Professor Lyle Goldstein, the author of Meeting China Halfway: How to Defuse the Emerging US-China Rivalry. Lyle discusses how the United States could accommodate China’s rise without sacrificing American interests by using “cooperation spirals,” the opposite of an escalation spiral. His ideas are sure to surprise those who believe everyone connected to the U.S. military is a hawk.

Please take a listen and send feedback to, or leave a review on iTunes.


Jeremy: America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History by Andrew J. Bacevich

China vs. USA: Empires at War (2007) directed by Anthony Dufour, on Youtube and Amazon Prime

Lyle: The Sand Pebbles by Richard McKenna

Kaiser: The Three Body Trilogy by Liu Cixin:

The Three-Body Problem translated by Ken Liu

The Dark Forest translated by Joel Martinsen

Death’s End translated by Ken Liu

Jul 21, 2016

This live recording of Sinica at the Smyth Hotel in New York City on July 13 features the journalists Mary Kay Magistad and Gady Epstein discussing the increasingly complex "frenemyship" of China and the United States. They also talk about the South China Sea, the role of "old China hands," and how the Middle Kingdom is changing the world and being changed by it. The title of the episode is taken from Mary Kay's radio show and podcast, Whose Century Is it?

Mary Kay is a veteran radio journalist who has covered China, North Korea, Southeast Asia, Ethiopia, the Western Sahara, Kashmir and many other places for NPR, PRI and other outlets. Gady has reported on business, current affairs, the internet, and politics in Asia and particularly China since 2002 for the Baltimore Sun, Forbes and The Economist, where he also began covering the media industry after moving back to the U.S. in 2015. They both are regular guests from the podcast's early days.

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