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.
Jingu Bang (Michael's Chinese name).
A Qiu 阿丘 aka Qiu Menghuang 邱孟煌 (Chinese TV personality pictured above).
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.
Kaiser: Underground Airlines, by Ben Winters.
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.
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.
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.
More about the film and the issues it examines:
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.