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 28, 2017

Jiayang Fan is a staff writer at the New Yorker who writes on many topics, but in the past year, has penned several one-of-a-kind pieces on Chinese society. She has been on Sinica before to discuss why so many Chinese people admire Donald Trump.

Her most recent piece for the magazine is titled “China’s selfie obsession,” and is a fascinating look at a company called Meitu (美图 měitú; “beautiful picture”), an app and mobile phone producer that is now responsible, it is estimated, for the editing more than half of China’s selfies. So many mobile phone users — including users of Meitu’s own branded phones — have used Meitu’s apps to enhance their self-portraits that the company is now worth $6 billion.

But what does the intense obsession with beauty, and the way that young people share beautified pictures online, say about changing values in China? How does this relate to internet celebrity (网红 wǎnghóng) in the country and obsessions over teen male stars (小鲜肉 xiǎoxiānròu; literally, “fresh young meat”)? What redeeming qualities of these phenomena can be found, and why are they especially prevalent in China?

Jeremy and Kaiser sat down with Jiayang at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business’s New York campus to discuss these topics. They also discuss Jiayang’s piece from earlier this year titled “China’s mistress-dispellers,” a rare inside look at the booming business of sabotaging the exploits of unfaithful husbands, and what it means for matrimony in the Middle Kingdom.


Jeremy: Buying a DJI Phantom 4 drone.

Jiayang: Using white pepper in recipes, particularly for hearty soups. She says it’s a bit spicier than black pepper, but “fruitier” and “a lot more complex” — contrary to what the internet says.

Kaiser: The article “Where millennials come from,” by Jia Tolentino of the New Yorker. It’s about millennials from a millennial perspective, and skewers some of the common media myths about the generation, while also identifying what the author thinks is actually worth criticizing. And

Chinese Warlord: The Career of Feng Yu-Hsiang, by James E. Sheridan, about an interesting general from the Warlord Era whom Kaiser’s maternal grandfather worked for as a diplomatic adviser.

Dec 21, 2017

Stephen Roach is a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and a senior lecturer at the Yale School of Management. He was formerly the chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and the firm’s chief economist, positions of immense influence on Wall Street. His longtime study of globalization has led to many books, most recently Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and China in 2014. He also writes for Project Syndicate.

Stephen joins Kaiser and Jeremy on Sinica to discuss many of the findings of his book, and what has changed since it was published. The topics include:

  • The unhealthy codependency between the economies of China and America, and the inverse nature of their savings rates, investment rates, labor, and consumption.
  • How much of the West has relied on economic policies that promise “false prosperity,” and how China may fall into the same trap.
  • Where the U.S. trade deficit with China actually comes from.
  • Whether savings rates in China are changing dramatically, or will change soon.
  • Why Xi Jinping has formed leading small groups on economic policy, and what that means for the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and China’s economic direction.
  • The path toward rebalancing, for both the U.S. and China.


Jeremy: The literary website The Bitter Southerner, which covers the American South from a broad-minded perspective that Yankees often overlook.

Stephen: The Great Convergence: Information Technology and the New Globalization, by Richard Baldwin. It forced the former chief economist of Morgan Stanley to rethink many of the ideas he had about globalization.

Kaiser: An app called Audm, which has audiobook narrators read aloud long-form articles from outlets such as the Atlantic and the New Yorker.

Dec 14, 2017

This week marks the 80th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking, which began with the fall of the capital of the Republic of China on December 13, 1937.

Few events in modern Chinese history have a historical valence comparable with the Nanjing Massacre. The wholesale slaughter of Chinese soldiers and civilians, the notorious “killing contests,” and, of course, the horrific sexual violence visited on Chinese women during the six weeks that followed Nanjing’s fall inhabit an understandably large part of China’s historical memory. The details of the event, however, and the way that those details are remembered, remain a sticking point in relations between China and Japan.

On the podcast to discuss his own study of the Nanjing Massacre, and the way that historical atrocities are remembered around the world, is Rana Mitter of Oxford University. Rana teaches the history and politics of modern China, and has written several excellent books on China, most recently, China's War with Japan, 1937–1945: The Struggle for Survival, which was released in the U.S. with the title Forgotten Ally: China's World War II, 1937–1945.

Rana also works with the nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves, which works to provide educational resources about historical atrocities. See in particular these pieces on Nanjing:


Jeremy: Re-recommends some previous recommendations from Kaiser: the trilogy of spy novels by Adam Brookes set in Beijing — Night Heron, Spy Games, and The Spy’s Daughter — and Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History, by Kurt Andersen.

Rana: The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography, by Joshua Fogel, a sober, sane, and objective treatment of some controversial questions. And a lighter selection, Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan, a fictionalized account of the first woman diver to serve in the U.S. Navy in WWII. Bonus: Rana has an interview with Jennifer that will air on the BBC’s Arts and Ideas podcast in early 2018.

Kaiser: The Empire of the Steppes, by René Grousset, a fantastic book about Central Asian history. And The May 4th Movement, by Chow Tse-tung, a seminal work on the most important intellectual movement of 20th-century China.

Dec 7, 2017

NOTE: If you haven’t read the book and are allergic to spoilers, please be aware that the interesting surprises of Scott’s story are discussed in this podcast.  

Scott Tong is a reporter for American Public Media’s Marketplace, and from 2006 to 2010, he helped found and run the radio program’s Shanghai bureau. During that time, he also experienced a lot of culture shock — his Chinese-American upbringing in the U.S., Hong Kong, and Taiwan didn’t prepare him for mainland China as much as he had expected, and while in Shanghai, he uncovered some surprising truths about his family, which has roots in nearby Jiangsu Province.

A Village With My Name: A Family History of China's Opening to the World is Scott’s deeply personal reporting and reflection on what he learned about his family, and China’s history, by visiting distant relatives in a forlorn part of Jiangsu Province. It is a highly engaging, eye-opening story that sheds light on how Chinese people engage with their past — and their present.


Jeremy: McKay Books, a huge used books store in Nashville, Tennessee. And Congo Cables: The Cold War in Africa—From Eisenhower to Kennedy, by Madeleine Kalb.

Scott: Resigned Activism: Living With Pollution in Rural China, by Anna Lora-Wainwright. And Rough Translation, an NPR podcast about how foreigners see America.

Kaiser: Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History, by Kurt Andersen.

Nov 30, 2017

Leta Hong Fincher is the author of the book Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China and the upcoming book Betraying Big Brother: The Rise of China's Feminist Resistance, and a regular commentator on the state of feminism and gender discrimination in China today. She joins Jeremy and Kaiser to discuss sexism and sexual harassment in China and why, she says, the government is complicit.

Explosive cases of sexual harassment and abuse have grabbed headlines for months in the U.S., as countless men in media, entertainment, and politics have been accused of gross sexual misbehavior. Most of the accused who are not politicians have faced serious consequences, as a majority of America rallies around the #MeToo campaign, raising awareness of the severity of the problem.

In China, Leta says, the situation is entirely different. Sexist behavior is rampant in Chinese workplaces, but the government is intolerant of social media campaigns like #MeToo. Feminism is treated as a sensitive subject by censors and by the state-controlled press, which is unwilling to publish allegations that could be socially destabilizing. And though some women have broken through in business despite extraordinary sexism, representation by women at the top of China’s government is not even token.  


Jeremy: A Japanese Mirror: Heroes and Villains of Japanese Culture, by Ian Buruma.

Leta: The blog Women and Gender in China, and the twitter account @halfthesky49, run by University of Nottingham scholar Séagh Kehoe.

Kaiser: The China Channel from the L.A. Review of Books.

Nov 22, 2017

Everyone knows, or at least recognizes, the image of the Flying Tigers (飞虎队 fēihǔduì). The shark-faced noses of these American airmen’s planes streaked across the skies of China, as they racked up an impressive string of successes in defending China from Japanese forces from 1941 to 1942.

They are so recognizable, in fact, that their story has obscured the equally fascinating stories of other American pilots who landed in China — or, in the case of the two stories on this podcast, crash-landed.

Melinda Liu, the Beijing bureau chief for Newsweek, joins Kaiser Kuo and David Moser to tell the story of the Doolittle Raiders, whose unprecedented — and successful — mission to bomb Tokyo from an aircraft carrier ended with scattered landings throughout Japan-occupied eastern China. Melinda’s father, it just so happens, met some of these pilots and was able to translate for them as they continued to sneak through occupied territory.

Jonathan Kaiman, the Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, relates an incredible tale of how a blond, blue-eyed American pilot flying the “Hump” from India to Chongqing allegedly found himself enslaved by the Yi minority in southwest China.

Melinda has a 10-minute video documentary of the Doolittle Raiders’ story in China, and John’s piece in the LA Times on the legend of the American slave can be found here.


David: A Chinese state-media-run YouTube channel called zuǒyòu shìpín 左右视频, which has amazing and rare videos of people speaking early modern Chinese language, historical stories (from a state media perspective, but with unique source material), and much more.

Melinda: Dick Cole’s War: Doolittle Raider, Hump Pilot, Air Commando, by Dennis R. Okerstrom, about the last surviving Doolittle Raider — 102 years old now! And Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor, by James M. Scott, which includes fascinating details from Western missionaries who were paired up with some of the fallen pilots.

Jon: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, a historical mystery by David Grann about a Native American tribe in southwest Oklahoma that struck oil beneath its land and was among the richest people in the world — until the murders started.

Kaiser: “The risk of nuclear war with North Korea,” by Evan Osnos at the New Yorker. The Retreat of Western Liberalism, by the Financial Times’ Edward Luce. And as a counterpoint to Luce’s view of liberal identity politics, “The first white president,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic.

Nov 16, 2017

Jane Perlez is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Beijing bureau chief of the New York Times, and her own reporting focuses on China's foreign policy, in particular its relations with the United States and China’s Asian neighbors. She was previously on Sinica in March 2017 to discuss Chinese foreign relations in a new age of uncertainty. In this episode of Sinica, she discusses Donald Trump’s visit to Beijing on November 8 and November 9, 2017.

In this podcast:

  • Is Trump’s rapport with Xi genuine?
  • How did his performance in China compare with his performance in Japan and South Korea?
  • Were human rights discussed?
  • Was Taiwan mentioned as a bargaining chip?
  • What do Chinese leaders actually think of Trump?
  • Was Trump’s “I don’t blame China” line intended as strategy, or an off-the-cuff remark?
  • And, most importantly, how has this visit changed U.S.-China relations?


Jeremy: Huang Fei Hong Spicy Crispy Peanut, which you can buy online or at some Asian grocery stores in the U.S.

Jane: Pachinko, an excellent historical novel about the Korea-Japan relationship by Min Jin Lee. Also see an interview with the author (paywall) on the New York Times by Jonathan Soble.

Kaiser: World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech, a book on the perils of monopolistic behavior by Google, Facebook, and Amazon, by former New Republic editor-in-chief Franklin Foer.

Nov 9, 2017

The South China Morning Post has been up to big things recently — and faced big doubts from those who worry about its editorial independence as Hong Kong’s paper of record.

In late 2015, it was announced that the paper would be acquired by Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba, bringing the paper both a huge infusion of cash and a wave of questions about whether the new owners would maintain the SCMP’s editorial independence from Beijing.

Gary Liu, formerly CEO at content aggregator Digg and head of labs at streaming music service Spotify, was appointed CEO of the SCMP a year after the Alibaba acquisition. He aims to adapt the 114-year-old newspaper for an age of technology disruptions, and talked to Jeremy and Kaiser about the paper’s editorial independence, its plans to evolve and build out digitally, and how it plans to contribute to the global conversation on China’s rise. This podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at the China Institute in New York on October 9.


Jeremy: The WeChat app of China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), a good way to get real news about China because spitting out propaganda is not a priority of the NDRC. Just search “国家发改委” (guójiā fāgǎiwěi) on WeChat.

Gary: The Party, a book by Richard McGregor that gives a fascinating exploration of how the Communist Party of China wants the world to perceive it, how it plans to stay in power, and how it manages to affect everyone’s life in China. Also, Destined for War, by Harvard professor Graham Allison, which discusses the Thucydides Trap, China’s rise, and the history of great power rivalries.

Kaiser: A research paper from the Mercator Institute for China Studies titled “Ideas and ideologies competing for China’s political future,” which identifies really interesting clusters of people in China who have diverse ideological alignments. A Sinica podcast on a similar subject can be found here.

Nov 2, 2017

Today we welcome back to the show two regular Sinica guests, Bill Bishop and Jude Blanchette, to discuss the outcomes of the 19th Party Congress, which wrapped up on October 24 in Beijing.

Bill Bishop authors the Sinocism newsletter, an essential resource for serious followers of China policy, and he is regularly quoted in a variety of major news outlets reporting on China. He has been on Sinica most recently to discuss how to understand media coverage of China.

Jude Blanchette is the associate engagement director at The Conference Board’s China Center for Economics and Business in Beijing, and is a scholar writing a book on neo-Maoism in China — you can listen here to a Sinica episode featuring him discussing the topic.

Click here to read an article on SupChina that rounds up the top three takeaways of the 19th Party Congress, drawing on both this podcast and on SupChina reporting.


Bill: The Spy's Daughter, the third book in a trilogy by Adam Brooks, a former BBC correspondent in China who quit his job and started writing spy fiction based in China.

Jeremy: The article “Aerospace experts in China’s new leadership” on China Policy Institute: Analysis, which discusses the substantial number of technocrats in the new Central Committee, even if they are now less prevalent in the upper echelons of leadership. And Ear Hustle, a podcast produced by the inmates of San Quentin State Prison in California about their experience in prison.

Jude: Mao's Invisible Hand: The Political Foundations of Adaptive Governance in China, a book by Sebastian Heilmann and Elizabeth J. Perry on how policy making in China is affected by the Communist Party’s revolutionary experience. Also, the work of the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), where Heilmann now works.

Kaiser: Putin’s Revenge, a two-part series on PBS Frontline that explains Putin’s rise and the events that shaped his worldview. And The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, a book by Masha Gessen.

Oct 26, 2017

Lina Benabdallah is an assistant professor of political science at Wake Forest University in North Carolina who recently completed a Ph.D. focusing on South-South cooperation. Much of her research was on the ties between China and countries in Africa. She sat down with Kaiser and Jeremy for a live podcast at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, to discuss the state of China-Africa relations and how they have evolved over the past several years.

At the 2006 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing, international media and many in academia became fixated on a striking new phenomenon: an unprecedented uptick in ties in economics, migration, and diplomacy between China and many African countries. Since then, discussion of the Africa-China relationship has been generally locked in a dichotomy between those who believe China is “colonizing” Africa in some significant way, and those who believe pure intentions and great benefits are directed to and from both sides.

It’s much more complicated than that, so Jeremy and Kaiser asked Lina to talk about issues such as the perception of Chinese investment projects on the African continent, China’s involvement in security in Africa, model farms projects, media cooperation, racism, and more.


Jeremy: The 99% Invisible podcast, which focuses on a range of stories related to design, specifically its recent episode on Ponte City, a high-rise apartment building in Jeremy’s hometown of Johannesburg. At the time the tower was built, South Africa was a highly segregated society, and the building became one of the first places in Johannesburg where different races could rub shoulders.

Lina: Guangzhou Dream Factory, a documentary made by Christiane Badgley and Erica Marcus. It documents the lives of African entrepreneurs in Guangzhou, China, in a highly realistic way — sharing stories of opportunity, success, and challenges, including racism.

Kaiser: Read Lina’s review of Guangzhou Dream Factory, published on the blog Africa Is a Country. Also check out the novels of Adam Brooks, a former BBC correspondent in China who quit his job and started writing spy fiction based in China. Kaiser recommends his book Night Heron.

Oct 19, 2017

When American journalist Lenora Chu moved to Shanghai, she faced tough choices about where and how to educate her kindergarten-age son. She chose an elite state-run school down the street, but soon found that its authoritarian teaching style offended many of her sensibilities of how to nurture a child. At the same time, she found herself appreciating the discipline and mathematical ability that the system was instilling in Rainey.

She embarked on an investigative mission to answer the question: What price do the Chinese pay to produce their “smart” kids, and what lessons might Western parents and educators learn from this system?

Her book, Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve, tells not just the story of Lenora and Rainey, but also the story of China’s educational system as a whole, backed up by research and interviews with a variety of students, teachers, and experts.

Jeremy and Kaiser sat down with Lenora to discuss the Chinese educational system and the range of pros and cons it presents, and to compare that with the dramatically different American system.


Jeremy: A Washington Post article titled “To deter North Korea, Japan and South Korea should go nuclear,” written by Bilahari Kausikan, formerly the permanent secretary of Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It’s an interesting and compelling argument, whether or not you agree with it.

Lenora: Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change, the new book by Ellen Pao, a woman trying to pull back the curtain on gender discrimination in Silicon Valley.

Kaiser: He recommends that residents in his town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, vote for Hongbin Gu, a woman running for the Chapel Hill Town Council who is a quantitative psychiatric researcher originally from Shanghai.

Oct 12, 2017

In April 1992, China implemented a law that, for the first time, allowed families from other countries to adopt Chinese children. Since then, around 120,000 Chinese have been adopted abroad, with 80,000 finding a home in the United States. But when adoptions started in that first year, only 206 came to America.

Rae Winborn is one of that first wave of adoptees, brought over at just nine months old to the U.S. to grow up with a white, middle-class American family in Durango, Colorado.

Charlotte Cotter was adopted a few years later at the age of five months in 1995, and grew up with two moms in Newton, Massachusetts. She is now the president of China’s Children International, a support and networking organization run by and for Chinese adoptees around the world, which she co-founded in 2011.

Kaiser and Jeremy had a conversation with Rae and Charlotte about their experiences growing up in America, why they both chose to learn Chinese and spend time working in China — which Rae described as the “Chinese-American experience on steroids” — and what it was like when Charlotte made contact with her birth family.


Jeremy: Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve, an excellent book on education by Lenora Chu. Also, The China Questions: Critical Insights Into a Rising Power, by Jennifer Rudolph and Michael Szonyi.

Rae: italki, a private tutoring service for language learning where you can get Skype lessons to improve your Chinese.

Charlotte: Somewhere Between, a documentary of Chinese adoptees in America by Linda Goldstein Knowlton, and Twinsters, a movie about two Korean twins separated at birth and raised separately in America and France.

Kaiser: The Book of Swindles: Selections from a Late Ming Collection, a book written by Yingyu Zhang and translated by Christopher G. Rea and Bruce Rusk, which describes the incredibly clever ways in which people cheated one another in 17th-century China.

Oct 5, 2017

On August 17, 2017, the global community of China scholars erupted in outrage over one particular and unusual case of censorship in China — the decision of Cambridge University Press (CUP) to comply with requests to censor 315 articles deemed sensitive by the Chinese government.

Jim Millward, a professor of history at Georgetown University, who has written many articles on China and the book The Silk Road: A Very Short Introduction, was one responder. He quickly published on Medium an “Open Letter to Cambridge University Press about its censorship of the China Quarterly,” which condemned what he called the “craven, shameful and destructive concession to the PRC’s growing censorship regime.”

CUP reversed its decision on August 21, and in the following weeks, other academic publishers and journals revealed that they had received similar requests. The Guardian later noted on September 9 that China’s State Council had indirectly responded to CUP, warning that “all publications imported into China’s market must adhere to Chinese laws and regulations,” and that an additional journal, the American Political Science Review, had also received and rebuffed censorship requests from China.

What does the CUP fiasco mean for censorship and academic freedom in China? Why did CUP yield to the censorship pressure, and how should other academic institutions approach their operations in the country? In many ways, these questions are still unanswered, and Jim sat down with Kaiser and Jeremy to sort through what happened and discuss where it might lead.


Jeremy: Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship, by J. M. Coetzee, a South African (now Australian) who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2003. The book was written in apartheid-era South Africa, which had a system of censorship that has many features in common with China’s today.

Jim: “Travels with my censor,” a piece by Evan Osnos in the New Yorker, which portrays the censor as a very sympathetic individual. Osnos has been engaged in a back-and-forth with fellow New Yorker staff writer Peter Hessler, who, unlike Osnos, decided to go forward with publishing a censored version of his book for the Chinese market. Osnos explains his reasoning for refusing to publish censored content in China in this New York Times op-ed.

Also, a young Chinese musician and composer named Baishui, who grew up in Sichuan and now lives in the U.S. He has a Chinese folk music background, but also does abstract and electronic music. Find his website here, or find him on Spotify or iTunes.

Kaiser: Porcupine Tree, an English neo-progressive rock band active in the 1990s. Albums to check out: In Absentia and Deadwing, plus two solo albums by the band’s founder, Steve Wilson, The Raven That Refused to Sing and Other Stories and Hand.Cannot.Erase.

Sep 28, 2017

Richard McGregor is the former Washington and Beijing bureau chief of the Financial Times, and a notable writer on Chinese politics. His last book was The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers. His new book, Asia's Reckoning: China, Japan, and the Fate of U.S. Power in the Pacific Century, tells the story of the triangle of the three most important powers in East Asia, none of which can be fully understood without some knowledge of the other two.

Richard talked with Jeremy and Kaiser about the events and issues that have impacted relations between China, Japan, and the U.S. since World War II. These include: how the U.S. blindsided Japan by acknowledging Beijing as the Chinese capital with only a few hours of notice in 1971; how Japan’s leaders have refused to grapple with the reality of comfort women during the war; and how China’s leaders and media have comfortably settled into using anti-Japanese sentiment as a convenient political tool.


Richard: The Invention of Russia: The Rise of Putin and the Age of Fake News, a book by journalist Arkady Ostrovsky, who has written for the Economist and the Financial Times. And Fauda, an Israeli TV series about the Israeli Special Forces and Hamas.

Jeremy: The Twitter feed of Jorge Guajardo, former Mexican ambassador to China.

Kaiser: The works of Alan Furst, specifically, his book Dark Star, which unpacks the mentality of the purge of the mid-1930s in Russia.

Sep 21, 2017

North Korea is a mystery to nearly everyone — even those who have dedicated their lives to studying the country — including Korean experts based in Seoul, national security experts in Washington or Beijing, and a variety of foreigners who have spent extended periods studying in or reporting from the North. There is great uncertainty about what the country’s leaders really think of China, how self-sufficient the North’s economy actually is, and even the background of the “respected” leader, Kim Jong-un, beyond a few seemingly random details (he studied in Switzerland and likes basketball and Whitney Houston, for example).

Evan Osnos — former Beijing correspondent for the New Yorker and now the magazine’s correspondent in the currently far more unpredictable capital of the U.S. — recently travelled to the Hermit Kingdom and reported an extensive cover piece for that magazine: “The risk of nuclear war with North Korea.”

What are the prospects for war and peace in northeast Asia? Evan talked with Jeremy and Kaiser about his conversations with North Korean, Chinese, and U.S. government officials and people involved in the complicated regional powerplay.


Jeremy: Jeeves & Wooster, a comedy TV series adapted from the P.G. Wodehouse books about a gormless English aristocrat and his very bright butler, played by Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, respectively. It’s “really a wonderful escapist pleasure [for] when you don’t feel like thinking about Donald Trump and North Korea,” Jeremy adds.

Evan: The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot, a book by Blaine Harden that explains how North Koreans think about the Korean war — an essential piece of the current conundrum we all face.

Kaiser: China in Disintegration, by James Sheridan, a narrative history of the Republican Era (1912-1949) in China. Events during the period such as the Republican Revolution and the May Fourth Movement are key to understanding modern China.

Sep 14, 2017

Michael Bristow was stationed in Beijing as the Asia Pacific editor for the BBC World Service from 2005 to 2013. He has written a book called China in Drag: Travels with a Cross-Dresser, in which he recounts his time in China — his travels, his reporting, and his myriad experiences — through the prism of his relationship with his Chinese teacher.

The Teacher — who insisted on anonymity — is a Beijinger. He’s a thoughtful and educated man, and also a transvestite. Yet his transvestism is just one aspect of a many-faceted individual whose life has mirrored incredible changes in Chinese society since the Cultural Revolution. On this episode, we talk to Michael about his teacher, and what he learned about China — and about cross-dressing — while traveling through the country with this fascinating man.


Jeremy: The Mala Market, where you can get fresh Sichuanese ingredients shipped straight to your door (in the U.S.), and the accompanying blog called Mala Project — not to be confused with the New York City restaurant of the same name, which Jeremy has previously recommended. Also, the BBC’s new West African news service in Pidgin, a form of English common in West Africa, something completely original to the BBC.

Michael: The book A Whole Life, by Austrian author Robert Seethaler. It’s about an ordinary guy who lives in a valley in the Alps in Austria. Almost nothing noteworthy happens to this guy, but he’s lived a full and rich life nonetheless.

Kaiser: 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones, affordable and excellent in-ear monitors that sound infinitely better than what you’re probably using now.

Sep 7, 2017

Adam Segal is the Ira A. Lipman Chair in Emerging Technologies and National Security and director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. You may remember him from an episode of Sinica last year, when he discussed his excellent book The Hacked World Order: How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age.

Adam returns to Sinica to comment on China’s recent cybersecurity law — where it came from, how it changed as it was being drafted, and how it may shape the flow of information in China in the future. Other issues discussed include the bargaining power — or lack thereof — of foreign companies such as Apple when faced with new rules and regulations in China, and related crackdowns on VPNs and other aspects of China’s ironically anti-globalized view of the internet.


Jeremy: A three-part BBC documentary, about 30 minutes long, about live streaming in China. It follows the story of a very popular 24-year-old woman who claims to make $450,000 per year by performing and sharing her life with adoring fans online. Watch the first part here.

Adam: Flood of Fire, the third book in the Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh about the Opium War. It brings together characters from India, the U.S., and China, and tells their stories in a sweeping saga.

Kaiser: The podcast Binge Mode, with Jason Concepcion and Mallory Rubin, a smart and funny look at every episode of Game of Thrones.


Aug 31, 2017

Lucy Hornby is a China correspondent for the Financial Times. She has previously been on Sinica to speak about China’s last surviving comfort women and about women’s representation in China expertise.

Li Shuo is the Senior Climate & Energy Policy Officer for Greenpeace East Asia. He oversees Greenpeace’s work on air pollution, water, and renewable energy, and also coordinates the organization’s engagement with the United Nations climate negotiation.

Lucy returns to the podcast to discuss her reporting on Chinese environmental challenges — particularly overfishing and soil pollution — issues that Li Shuo, on the pod for the first time, has also researched.


Jeremy: “The Anaconda and the Elephant,” an essay by Xu Zhiyuan 许知远 about self-censorship and how to be a Chinese writer in these strange times under Xi Jinping.

Lucy: The latest book of her FT colleague Richard McGregor: Asia's Reckoning: China, Japan, and the Fate of U.S. Power in the Pacific Century. McGregor previously wrote The Party, a popular book among those wanting an in-depth look at Chinese politics.

Li Shuo: A Chinese book called huanjing waijiaoguan shouji (环境外交官手记; “Notes of an Environmental Diplomat”), an autobiography of one of China’s early environmental diplomats, Xia Kunbao 夏堃堡. He was born in the 1940s, learned English, lived through the Cultural Revolution, and ended up at the highest levels of environmental governance in China. The book is written in fairly simple, short sentences.

Kaiser: Washington Post reporter David Weigel’s new book, The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock.

Aug 24, 2017

Has the last half year of turbulent U.S.-China relations and Chinese politics passed you by? Confused you? Perhaps you’d like a clear recap in plain English?

If yes, then this is the podcast episode for you.

Susan Shirk is a professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego, where she’s also the chair of the 21st Century China Center. Susan served as deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia during the Clinton administration, and is the author of several influential books on China, including most notably China: Fragile Superpower.

Stan Rosen is a professor of political science at the University of Southern California and a close observer of the interplay between culture and politics in China. He writes on subjects as varied as the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese legal system, public opinion, youth, gender, human rights, Sino-American relations, and film and the media.

Kaiser spoke to them in front of a live studio audience, a notably not wonky group of teachers and China-curious folk at the 1990 Institute’s Teachers Workshop in San Mateo, California.

Topics covered include how China has dealt with Trump, trade negotiations between the U.S. and China, Chinese soft power and Belt and Road, leadership transition in China, and the country’s push into Hollywood.


Susan: The website of the UC San Diego 21st Century China Center, and also The Noise of Time: A Novel, written by Julian Barnes about the perspective of famed Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and what he endured under Stalin. The oppression of artists and writers in that time and place is newly relevant to China, after the death of Liu Xiaobo.

Stan: If you want to know more about Shostakovich, read his memoir, Testimony, or watch the film of the same name. Also check out three Chinese films, the first of which is the famous To Live by Zhang Yimou. Watch the film, but also read the book by Yu Hua, a much tougher version, which was toned down in its adaption to the screen. Second, The Mermaid, by Stephen Chow, by far the top-grossing film in China — until Wolf Warriors 2 overtook it this month. Finally, Lost in Thailand, which Stan describes as “like The Hangover, but without all the raunchiness.” Of course, that is a big part of the reason why Chinese films aren’t quite making it overseas.

Kaiser: Czech composer Antonín Dvořák and his Seventh and Eighth Symphonies — get the whole collection of his symphonies and concertos. (You may already be familiar with the Ninth, the famous New World Symphony.) And the Chinafornia newsletter, a great free weekly roundup of U.S. state-level engagement with China.

Aug 17, 2017

Dirty words, politically incorrect phrases, the legal distinction between suspect and criminal, customs boundary versus national boundary, and better ways to refer to disabled people and minorities: All are discussed in the recent Xinhua style guide update, translated and explained on SupChina here.

Jeremy and Kaiser discussed the style guide and took audience questions at a live podcast at the Definitive China Happy Hour in Washington, D.C., on August 10, 2017. The Happy Hour brings together China professionals and enthusiasts from over 30 D.C.-area China organizations, including Chinese nationals, students, young professionals, and employers.

Jeremy and Kaiser wish to thank:

Aug 10, 2017

Gillian Wong has been reporting from China since 2008 and is now the news director for Greater China at the Associated Press. High-profile stories Gillian has covered include the 2012 Tibetan self-immolations and the downfall of Bo Xilai 薄熙来.

Her husband, Josh Chin, works as a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, where he has covered China since 2007. Prior to the Journal, Josh was a research fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations, where he helped produce the China Boom Project.

Between the two of them, Gillian and Josh have covered a host of China-related topics, ranging from cybersecurity to Xinjiang. They talk to Kaiser and Jeremy about their paths to becoming journalists, their experience of the changing working conditions for journalists in China, and their efforts to create diverse and representative narratives — complicated, and sometimes aided, by the fact that they are both at least part ethnically Chinese.


Jeremy: Memphis, Tennessee, an American cultural destination and the musical hometown of B.B. King and Elvis Presley.

Kaiser: Matt Sheehan’s piece on California’s transformation into an epicenter for U.S.-China relations, “Welcome to Chinafornia: The Future of U.S.-China Relations.” As a second recommendation, The Polish Officer, by Alan Furst, which does an incredible job of re-creating an old-world style of language and immersing the reader in its respective time and space.

Gillian: The audiobook reading by Tom Perkins of John Pomfret’s The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom.

(Listen to John Pomfret discuss his book on Sinica.)

Josh: The Paulson Institute’s MacroPolo initiative, which uses the latest research to decode China’s economy, urbanization, and development. A lot of great data all in one accessible, punny place.

Also check out Gillian and Josh’s coauthored front-page piece, “China’s new tool for social control: A credit rating for everything.”


Aug 3, 2017

Pulitzer Prize–winning author and journalist Ian Johnson returns to the Sinica Podcast to introduce his new book, The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao. It tells the stories of different religious groups and the relationship of their beliefs and practices with consumer society and a government that is officially atheist.

Jeremy, Kaiser, and Ian discuss the variety of rituals and religions practiced within Chinese society, the tension between Chinese religious communities and notions of liberalism and democracy, and the changing attitudes toward religion under Xi Jinping’s leadership.

Ian has written about China and religion for decades and has been published in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, and other publications. His last appearance on the Sinica Podcast was in the episode “Ian Johnson on the Vatican and China.”


Jeremy: Tabitha Speelman’s biweekly newsletter, Changpian, features a selection of Chinese creative nonfiction. These pieces reflect the recent popularity of long-form journalism in China. Also check out her article on SupChina, “Telling true stories is a booming business in China.”

Kaiser: Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari, explores how technology poses new challenges to humankind, specifically how technological advancement could undermine the fundamental assumptions of liberal humanism.  

Ian: Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, by Ross Douthat, explores how the mainline religious communities in the United States have fallen and how alternative religious groups, prosperity preachers, and politics acting as religion have filled the void. Additionally, check out Ian’s short video of a jinganggong (金刚功) demonstration. Jinganggong is a physical cultivation technique — similar to tai chi — and is growing in popularity in China.

Jul 27, 2017

Joan Kaufman is a fascinating figure: Her long and storied career in China started in the early 1980s, when she was what she calls a “cappuccino-and-croissant socialist from Berkeley.” Today, she is the director for academics at the Schwarzman Scholars program at Tsinghua University and a lecturer in the department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Joan shares some stories about her time in China at organizations like the United Nations Population Fund and the Ford Foundation, including a visit to a condom factory in the 80s. She discusses the newest developments in the China educational and non-governmental organization (NGO) sectors after the adoption in 2016 of new laws regulating foreign NGOs, and the realities of working on the ground with NGOs in China. We also talk about current trends in China’s openness to U.S.-China academic partnerships, and questions of censorship at the China campuses of U.S. universities.


Jeremy: Kishore Mahbubani, former senior diplomat and dean at the Practice of Public Policy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, usually has an interesting perspective on China’s relationship with the rest of the world, particularly on the U.S.-China relationship. Check out his article in the Huffington Post: “It’s a problem that America is still unable to admit it will become #2 to China.”

Joan: China File’s new China NGO Project, recently launched on June 7. The website has five sections, including the latest updates, laws, and regulations, and other resources to help NGOs understand the ins and outs of operating in China under the new NGO law.

Kaiser: The Hi-Phi Nation podcast produced by Vassar College philosophy professor Barry Lam uses investigative journalism techniques to look at real-world events through a philosophical lens, all while weaving in creative narrative storytelling and sound design.

Jul 20, 2017

Lyle Goldstein, an associate professor and strategic researcher at the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute, is an expert on Chinese and Russian security strategies. He is also an insightful commentator on what is going on behind the scenes with North Korea. Soon after the North Korean test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on July 4, Kaiser and Jeremy sat down with him in New York City to discuss what strategic options remain for China and other players in the region.

Regular listeners of Sinica will remember Lyle from his previous appearance on the show last year, when he applied his unconventional thinking to territory disputes in the South China Sea.


Jeremy: Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York — a good place for a surfer (such as himself) to catch a break.

Lyle: No Exit: North Korea, Nuclear Weapons and International Security, by Jonathan D. Pollack of the Brookings Institute, which chronicles the modern history and development of the Korean Peninsula. No Exit contextualizes the United States’ contested relationship with North Korea today, as well as Russia and China’s increasingly complex role in it.

Kaiser: Three recommendations: The music of jazz ensemble Snarky Puppy — check out their fantastic YouTube channel. The music of Andy Timmons, a kind of hair metal guitarist. And The Aristocrats, a rock trio led by one of the best living guitarists, Guthrie Govan.

Jul 13, 2017

Tom Miller, senior Asia analyst and managing editor at Gavekal Research, joins Jeremy and Kaiser to discuss his new book, China’s Asian Dream: Empire Building Along the New Silk Road. Miller combines policy analysis with his on-the-ground reporting from over a dozen countries to better understand China’s most ambitious foreign policy move since the “reform and opening up” that started in 1978: Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative.

With its substantial financial backing and global reach, the Belt and Road Initiative has the potential to reshape the international order and accelerate China’s development as a world leader. Miller brings clarity to the vast and seemingly undefinable policy, detailing China’s desire to create “a network of interdependence,” hone in on issues of national security, and use international development to bolster the country’s growth.


Jeremy: Ear to Asia, a podcast by the Asia Institute of the University of Melbourne, features academics who examine an array of topics about Asia. In one episode, Chinese literature specialist Anne McLaren discusses her research into the folk ecology of the Lower Yangtze Delta, particularly the rhythmic song cycles sung by workers there.

Tom: Guo Xiaolu’s 郭小橹 memoir, Nine Continents: A Memoir In and Out of China, depicts the author’s difficult beginnings growing up in a poor fishing village on the East China Sea, her later navigation of modern China at the Beijing Film Academy as a young woman, and her outsider’s perspective on London, where she now resides. Her other novel, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, is also worth a read.

Kaiser: Väsen is a Swedish folk trio that plays a viola, a 12-string guitar, and and a nyckelharpa (a “keyed fiddle”). It brings together rock, jazz, and classical influences to discover a modern sound rooted in Swedish tradition.

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