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
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:
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.
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.
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.