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.
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.
The Cleaver Quarterly: A publication that "covers Chinese cuisine as a global phenomenon and a lifelong mission."
Jeremy: Ximalaya, an app for listening to audio content in Chinese.
Kaiser: No-knead bread.
Fuchsia: A Chinese cleaver.
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.
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 Podcast, by 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.
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.