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.
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.
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.
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.