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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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Now displaying: June, 2017
Jun 29, 2017

The life and times of Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui 郭文贵 reads much like an epic play, so it is fitting that we have included with this podcast a dramatis personæ to explain the many characters in Guo’s story. Scroll to the bottom, below the recommendations, to follow along with them in order of appearance.

New York Times journalists Mike Forsythe and Alexandra Stevenson have spent over a dozen hours with the turbulent tycoon at the New York City penthouse overlooking Central Park where he resides in exile, listening to his stories and carefully investigating his most scandalous claims. Mike has for years been a leading reporter on the intersection of money and power in elite Chinese politics, first at Bloomberg and then at the Times. Alex, as a reporter at the Financial Times and now the New York Times, has focused on covering hedge funds, emerging markets, and the world of finance.

Are Guo’s myriad corruption allegations, which go as high as China’s anti-corruption chief, Wang Qishan 王岐山, credible? Is even Guo’s own life history verifiable? Who is he really, and why is he on this quest to unveil the shadowy world of Chinese elite politics? Mike and Alex don’t have all the answers, but they are two of the best people in the world to shed light on what is profound and what is puffery in Guo’s version of events.

Recommendations:

Jeremy: The Skeptics Society, a website that publishes articles to debunk pseudoscientific, health-related, and religious myths.

Alex: Janesville: An American Story, by Amy Goldstein of the Washington Post. It tells how a town in Wisconsin had the General Motors plant leave in 2008, despite Obama’s promise that jobs would stay there.

Mike: Betraying Big Brother, an upcoming book by his wife, Leta Hong Fincher, explains what happened to the Feminist Five and what their stories say about the rise of feminism and the control of women in China. Leta’s last book, Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, published in 2014, was on a similar subject.

Kaiser: Beasts of No Nation, a Netflix special by Cary Fukunaga based on the book of the same title by Uzodinma Iweala. The story follows the life of a child soldier in an unnamed West African country.  

Dramatis personæ:

To read more on Guo Wengui himself, see our narrative explainer and a compilation of more recent news on Guo from SupChina and beyond.

In order of mention in the podcast:

  1. Yue Qingzhi 岳庆芝, Guo Wengui’s wife, lives in New York, according to Guo. Yet she has not been seen in public nor by Mike and Alex, even though they have spent entire days at Guo’s penthouse. 
  2. Wang Qishan 王岐山, the leader of Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).
  3. Li Keqiang 李克强, the current premier of China’s State Council, formerly a Party secretary in Henan Province where Guo claims to have met him.
  4. Wu Yi 吴仪 served in top ministerial positions negotiating trade and managing public health in the early 21st century. Guo claims to have developed a relationship with her back in Henan.
  5. Wu Guanzheng 吴官正 served as secretary for CCDI from 2002 to 2007.
  6. Ma Jian 马建, the now-jailed close associate of Guo who served as vice minister of State Security from 2006 to 2015.
  7. Liu Zhihua 刘志华, the former vice mayor of Beijing who was dismissed in 2006. Liu received a suspended death sentence for taking bribes of over 6 million yuan ($885,000) in October 2008.
  8. He Guoqiang 贺国强, the predecessor to Wang Qishan as secretary of the CCDI. Guo alleges that his son He Jintao 贺锦涛 had a financial stake in Founder Securities at the time Guo tried to muscle his way into the company (the Times has confirmed this).
  9. HNA Group, formerly Hainan Airlines, a politically connected business conglomerate that burst onto the public scene in 2016, scooping up foreign companies left and right.
  10. Hu Shuli 胡舒立, the editor-in-chief of business news and investigative outlet Caixin (disclosure: Caixin partners with SupChina on the Business Brief podcast).
  11. Li You 李友, Guo’s former business partner. In 2016, he was sentenced to four and a half years in prison and fined 750 million yuan ($110 million) for insider trading.  
  12. Yao Mingshan 姚明珊, the wife of Wang Qishan.
  13. Meng Jianzhu 孟建柱, the current secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, which controls the police and security services.  
  14. Xiao Jianhua 肖建华, another billionaire tycoon who had experience dealing at the top levels of the Chinese government. Xiao was apparently abducted by Chinese authorities in Hong Kong in late January 2017 and has not been seen in public since then.
  15. Zhang Yue 张越, a former provincial Party secretary in Hebei Province.
  16. Meng Huiqing 孟会青, a now-jailed former CCDI official.
  17. Fu Zhenghua 傅政华, the deputy minister of Public Security.
  18. Yao Qing 姚庆, grandson of revolutionary and former vice premier Yao Yilin 姚依林, and nephew-in-law of Wang Qishan.
  19. Guo’s two children, his son, Mileson Kwok 郭强 (Guo’s English name is Miles!), and his daughter, Guo Mei 郭美, whom Guo claims went to New York University with Ma Jian’s daughter.
  20. A “dissident-minder from Guobao” (Ministry of Public Security 国保 guó bǎo), identified later in the podcast as Sun Lijun 孙立军, one of two people Guo claims to have met with in Washington, D.C., in late May 2017.
  21. Amanda Bennett, the director of Voice of America (VOA), which aired an interview with Guo on April 19 that Guo and some VOA journalists complained was cut short.
Jun 22, 2017

David Rank became the leading diplomat for one of America’s most important embassies during the transition when Iowa governor Terry Branstad formally succeeded former Montana senator Max Baucus as U.S. ambassador to China on May 24, 2017.

He soon found himself in a moral quandary: Carry out what he believed to be a deeply misguided order from the president of the United States to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, or resign in protest. He chose the latter, becoming the highest-ranking State Department official to do so — thus far — under the Trump administration.

Kaiser met with Dave in his home in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., to better understand his reaction to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Dave also discussed the current state of U.S.-China diplomacy, and looked ahead at how the two countries might work together in the future.

Recommendations:

Dave: The Maine Woods, by Henry David Thoreau, gives an inside look at both the author’s famed advocacy of rugged individualism and the remarkable transformation of 19th-century America due to the Protestant work ethic and the new industrial economy.

Kaiser: Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve, by Lenora Chu, is set for release in September, but you can pre-order this well-written exploration of China’s educational system now.

Jun 15, 2017

Islamophobia isn’t a phenomenon limited to Trump’s America or the Europe of Brexit and Marine Le Pen. It has taken root in China, too — in a form that bears a striking resemblance to what we’ve seen in recent years in the West. The Chinese Party-state now faces a vexing conundrum: how to balance, on the one hand, its idea of China as a multiethnic state and prevent overt anti-Islamicism with, on the other hand, its commitment to atheism — all the while combating the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism.

Kaiser and co-host Ada Shen spoke with the Amman, Jordan-based reporter Alice Su, who has written a series of pieces about Islam in China, and Ma Tianjie, the wise interpreter of Chinese public opinion and founder of the indispensable Chublic Opinion blog, to unpack the phenomenon of Chinese Islamophobia, and to explore the other difficulties that Muslims face in China on a daily basis.

Be sure to also check out Alice’s five articles on “Islam with Chinese characteristics,” which she wrote with a reporting grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Every one of them is worth a good read.

Recommendations:

Ada: Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren, an autobiography of a woman who is a renowned geobiologist. “You will never look at a tree the same way again,” Ada assures us.

Tianjie: The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Oxford historian Peter Frankopan. It rewrites world history while focusing on what we now call Central Asia and the Middle East, arguing that this area has truly been the center of world history for millennia. It also explores how religion affected trade routes and vice versa, a theme that Kaiser points out is also explored in Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane, by S. Frederick Starr.

Alice: The Icelandair Stopover program. If you book international flights with a layover in Iceland, Icelandair will allow you to extend your layover for up to a week for free. In addition, it will pair you up with a buddy to explore the food, culture, and sights of Iceland — also for free.

Kaiser: The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson. A fascinating novel set in the North Korea of Kim Jong Il that won a series of literary prizes after it was released in 2012, including the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Jun 8, 2017

Li Xin 李昕 is the managing director of Caixin Global, the English-language arm of China’s most authoritative financial news source, Caixin. For over 10 years, she has worked closely with the editor-in-chief of Caixin, Hu Shuli 胡舒立, whose famously fearless pursuit of investigative reporting has shaped the business landscape and pushed the boundaries of business reporting in a country known for its tight control of media.

Kaiser sat down with Xin on March 22, at the 2017 CoreNet Global Summit in Shanghai, and asked for her insights into how investigative reporting happens in China, what makes Caixin different from other publications, and how and why China-based media is different than foreign media. They also discussed what one might call the “new normal” of issues keeping China’s leaders up at night, including risk in the real estate market, corporate debt, environmental contamination, and, of course, Trump.

Originally from the megacity of Chongqing, Xin graduated from the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, and received a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. Outside of her work at Caixin, she is known for a recent stint as managing editor of the Wall Street Journal’s Chinese edition.

Disclosure: SupChina partners with Caixin on the Caixin-Sinica Business Brief podcast.

Recommendations:

Xin: The work of Haizi 海子, a famous poet of the 1980s who tragically committed suicide at the age of 25.

Kaiser: Murder in the Lucky Holiday Hotel, a brief series about the murder of Neil Heywood by the wife of jailed politician Bo Xilai, written by BBC reporter Carrie Gracie.

Jun 1, 2017

Kai-Fu Lee 李开复 is one of the most prominent figures in Chinese technology. He founded China’s noted early-stage venture capital firm Sinovation Ventures after launching and heading up Google’s China operations during their years of growth from 2005 to 2009. Born in Taiwan and educated at Columbia and Carnegie Mellon, Kai-Fu had an early career in Silicon Valley, including a stint as principal research scientist at Apple. Microsoft brought him to Beijing in 1998 to set up a research division, as he has seen the rise of the Chinese internet from its earliest days.  

Kai-Fu has more than 50 million fans on the social media platform Weibo and is a much-loved public speaker and author. He is perhaps most admired for his gutsy investing in Chinese startup companies: Sinovation puts money into startup companies in their riskiest early years or even months. Kai-Fu founded it in 2009, at least half a decade before the world began to take Chinese innovation seriously. He was an early believer in mobile companies when many investors were still seeing the internet as a desktop world.

Now Kai-Fu is turning his attention to artificial intelligence (AI), and he spoke to Kaiser and Jeremy about it for this podcast at — of all places — the Trump International Tower in midtown New York City. Jiayang Fan from the New Yorker was finishing off an interview as they arrived, and she stayed for the chat. The discussion ranges from new technologies that are coming from Chinese engineers to the inexorable rise of AI and how it will change the way we live, work, and think.

Recommendations:

Jeremy: “My Family’s Slave,” a controversial cover story in the June 2017 issue of the Atlantic about a Filipina-American “nanny” who raised the author.

Jiayang: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, a documentary on the only bank in America prosecuted for mortgage fraud, which brings the characters of the Abacus Federal Savings of Chinatown in New York to life. Screenings started on May 19.

Kai-Fu: An “anti-recommendation” against all sci-fi movies except one: Robot & Frank. The 2012 film, he says, gives a truly realistic and thought-provoking view into what the next steps for AI technology may be.

Kaiser: “Friends Like These: How a famed Chinese dissident got caught up in America’s culture wars,” the 2013 Reuters profile of the political kerfuffle in the U.S. over blind human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng.

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