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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: November, 2018
Nov 29, 2018

This week on Sinica, Kaiser and Jeremy speak with Christian Sorace, assistant professor of political science at Colorado College. The three discuss his book, Shaken Authority: China’s Communist Party and the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake, which analyzes the ways the Communist Party uses rhetoric to serve its interests, the consequences of this endeavor for the region and survivors of the quake, and the urbanization of China’s rural areas.

Christian spent a year and a half in the region starting in 2012, conducting fieldwork in affected areas via open-ended interviews, ethnographic observations, meetings with leaders of non-governmental organizations and scholars, and analysis of hundreds of pages of internal Party reports.

What to listen for this week on the Sinica Podcast:

13:10: Sorace explains why, for a short time in the aftermath of the quake, some perceived the seeds of civil society to be growing: “This activity was limited to a short window of the rescue period in which lives were at stake and time was of the essence. And after this short window of rescue, the reconstruction phase begins, and then the picture changes entirely and top-down control was reasserted.”

18:03: Sorace elaborates on the role of gratitude education (感恩教育活动 gǎn ēn jiàoyù huódong) in shaping perceptions of post-earthquake reconstruction: “Officials would talk about gratitude education as a way of ‘removing psychological obstacles, and returning overly emotional people to a reasonable and rational state,’ so there’s also a kind of control element here.” He then elaborates on the haunting similarities between what happened in the aftermath of the earthquake and the horrors that are occurring now in Xinjiang.  

26:32: “Over 7.7 million square meters of urban space was built in the reconstruction. Fifty percent of their entire rural population were moved into cities, so this is a massive expansion of urban space.” Christian reflects on the concept of “utopian urbanization” and his time living in these newly built apartments that housed disaster victims.

39:11: Superfluous slogans, turgid language... Can anything of value truly be gleaned from official language coming from the Chinese state? Sorace explains the significance of rhetoric in understanding the Communist Party: “…to dismiss everything that the Communist Party says, as this empty propaganda actually makes everything that’s going on in China actually much harder to understand. And if we pay close attention and train [our] sensitivity to listening to this ‘Party-speak,’ it actually can tell us quite a bit about what’s going on.”

Recommendations:

Jeremy: The Epic of Gilgamesh, by father and son duo Kevin and Kent Dixon, a graphic novel version of the original epic.

Kaiser: The Vietnam War, by Ken Burns.

Christian: Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, by Peter Godfrey Smith, a look at the nature and evolution of consciousness.

Nov 22, 2018

This week on Sinica, Kaiser traveled across the Atlantic to host a live podcast at the Asia Society of Switzerland in Zurich. The topic of discussion is the social credit system (SCS) in China, a fiercely debated and highly controversial subject in the West, often construed as a monolithic and Orwellian initiative. Our guests are Manya Koetse, editor and founder of What’s on Weibo — a wonderful resource that aggregates and examines trending information from social media platform Sina Weibo — and Rogier Creemers, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Leiden, who has done extensive research on China’s governance and digital policy and has translated extensive primary source materials from Chinese government sources and publications on SCS.

Rogier and Manya provide fresh perspectives on a subject that has become a wedge in the China-watching community. They discuss the varying perceptions of SCS around the world; what observers have gotten right and wrong about the system according to government publications; the relative lack of integration in the many different moving parts that comprise the SCS; and the changing role of technology in daily life and how big of a role that could play when one thinks of social credit.

What to listen for this week on the Sinica Podcast:

13:19: Manya explains to Kaiser that “We in the West have somehow been trapped in this one-dimensional vision of this system, or this policy. Just looking at it from that angle, politically and also from the idea that it’s the state versus the people. Always the state versus the people … and it’s much more multidimensional than that.”

27:01: Is discussion of social credit systems suppressed in China? Manya answers, “This was a little bit difficult for me … I see it everywhere on Twitter, but it’s not a trending topic on Weibo, so I was looking on Weibo on what to write about.” Kaiser asks if this is because of internet censorship, to which Manya responds, “I don’t think so … there are some websites like freeweibo.com [that show uncensored trending topics] and social credit system definitely is not one of them. Another thing is that state media is trying to propagate articles that are about the system and various local credit systems are on Weibo. If anything I have the feeling that there are probably people out there that wish this was more talked about on Weibo.”  

37:16: Despite popular belief, there is local pushback against some local credit systems, which Rogier elaborates on: “One of the local trials, run in a place called Suining close to Shanghai in Jiangsu province, was actually shut down after it was criticized quite harshly in national official media. There is some jostling for ‘we want the system on the whole,’ but as with any system there are going to be negative consequences … not to want to present the Chinese government as more benevolent than it is … but it is also too simplistic to say that this is top-down impulse, no questions asked.”

43:01: Rogier provides two key takeaways to Kaiser’s question on how our expectations towards the world outside of the West have changed in the age of the internet. How have our perceptions of technology changed in the modern era? Towards China as a rising technological power? What role is an acceptable role for technology to play in our lives and in governance?

Recommendations:

Kaiser: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, the Pulitzer Prize–winning biography of Alexandre Dumas written by Tom Reiss.

Rogier: DigiChina, a platform for information on the development of China’s digital economy and digital politics, and The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan.

Manya: Manc.hu, a digital platform for studying the Manchu language.

Nov 15, 2018

This week on Sinica, Kaiser speaks with Lucy Hornby, the deputy bureau chief of the Financial Times in Beijing and a veteran guest on the show. She has appeared on Sinica before to discuss professional representation for women in China, the last surviving comfort women in the country, and domestic environmental challenges.

The two discuss shadow banking in China and its history; the cat-and-mouse relationship between regulators and shadow financiers; the advent of fintech and the proliferation of peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platforms; and Lucy’s reporting on a pyramid scheme involving selenium-infused wheat in Hebei.

What to listen for this week on the Sinica Podcast:

11:15: Lucy responding to Kaiser’s question on perceptions of shadow lending in China: “You see repeated attempts by the Chinese state to shut this down. And also the words that they use around it: shadow banking, private banking, private financiers, capitalists… They’re very much painted in a negative light. But at the same time, some of China’s biggest entrepreneurs have said they would never have gotten started or been able to make it through a downturn [without a shadow loan].”

13:02: Lucy points out that in the lead-up to the financial crisis of 2008, the state took control of building housing from private investors: “This cutoff in loans [to private entities] happened roughly around the time you had the global financial crisis and the Chinese government putting out a massive stimulus plan…and suddenly if you can make a 30 percent profit on something, you can take out a 20 percent loan… That's when you really had this explosion of shadow banking that reached into every sector of the economy.”

30:35: “The other thing I think a lot of people don’t realize is that Chinese shadow financing has flowed into peripheral countries… A lot of Mongolian entrepreneurs turn to that shadow financing, and you even had some who then took that and repackaged it at higher rates to Mongolian retail customers. So, that means that basically the nation of Mongolia is now completely exposed to the Chinese shadow banking sector.”

42:15: To conclude the discussion, Lucy provides a bird’s-eye view: “I think your point about China’s need for flexible financing is a real one, and that’s going to continue. But I think what we’re also seeing is a massive deleveraging and default of all these boom years into the pockets of the average Chinese person.”

Recommendations:

Lucy: Den of Thieves, by James B. Stewart, the tome-like account of the junk bond trading craze of the 1980s, and The China Dream, by Joe Studwell.

Kaiser: Two books by Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age and Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War.

Nov 8, 2018

In lieu of Sinica this week, we are proud to announce the newest addition to our network, Ta for Ta, hosted by Juliana Batista. Ta for Ta is a new biweekly podcast, which captures the narratives of women from Greater China at the top of their professional game. “Ta for Ta” is a play on the Chinese spoken language that demonstrates equality between the sexes. Tā 他 is the word for “he”; tā 她 is also the word for “she.”

Chenni Xu is the inaugural guest, a corporate communications executive and gender advocate. She moved back to New York after spending nearly a decade abroad in Beijing. Tune in to hear about the #MeToo movement in China and the proponents at the fore, Chenni’s views on gender inequality and professional representation for women, as well as her own experiences as a woman and an Asian American in China.

Subscribe to Ta for Ta on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, or Stitcher, or plug the RSS feed into your favorite podcast app.

For more musings and links relevant to this episode of Ta for Ta, check out this post on Juliana’s Medium page.

Juliana loves to hear from listeners — send her a message at ta.for.ta.china@gmail.com.

Nov 1, 2018

This week on Sinica, Kaiser speaks with the Honorable Kevin Rudd, the 26th prime minister of Australia and the inaugural president of the Asia Society Policy Institute. He is also a doctoral student at Jesus College, University of Oxford, who, through his studies, hopes to provide an explanation as to how Xi Jinping constructs his worldview. Mr. Rudd elaborates on the extent to which the Chinese government’s worldview has changed, the current direction of that worldview, and how much of that can be owed to Xi Jinping and domestic political maneuvering.  

The two take a deep dive into the state of ongoing flux in the U.S.-China relationship; the now-strategic competition between the U.S. and China; what the new rules for engagement are; Chinese foreign policy transitioning to a more active approach; the most significant changes in the bilateral relationship over the past 12 months; and the current state of Australia-China relations.

What to listen for this week on the Sinica Podcast:  

2:39: Rudd describes the transition of Chinese foreign policy from the reserved “conceal one’s strengths and bide one’s time” (韬光养晦 tāoguāng yǎnghuì) to a more active or energetic approach of “be energetic and show promise” (奋发有为 fènfā yǒuwéi), which reflects Beijing’s growing global ambitions.

13:40: Rudd in response to Kaiser’s request for an explanation of the basic tenets of Xi’s worldview in the modern era: “I think the one thing I probably got right about Xi Jinping was an estimation of his character and personality: that he would not be content with being primus inter pares.”

34:48: Rudd elaborates on several events over the past 12 months that he believes to be significant developments in the U.S.-China relationship, particularly Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at the Hudson Institute earlier this month: “In terms of the harshness of the language, I think, again, it will cause Beijing to sit up and take notice, and it will confirm in the minds of many that the impending unfolding period of U.S. ‘containment’ of China is now entrenched.”

45:20: In response to Kaiser’s question on the future of coexistence with an increasingly authoritarian China, Rudd offers a direct response: “If liberal internationalism, as espoused post-’45, is to have a future, then how do you coexist with China? I think the other member states of the international community, if they want the current rules-based order based on its established pillars to survive, they’re going to have to argue for it and argue strongly for it… Otherwise, it will disappear beneath the waves of an economically dominant China over the long term.”

Recommendations:

Kevin Rudd: The film Crazy Rich Asians.

Kaiser: Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K’ang-Hsi, by Jonathan D. Spence, a historical account written from the perspective of the Kangxi Emperor himself.

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