This week, we feature the first half of an extensive interview with Shelley Rigger, a political scientist at Davidson College and the leading U.S. expert on the politics of Taiwan. This first half of the interview, which covers the history of Taiwan through 1996, was conducted by Neysun Mahboubi of the UPenn Center for the Study of Contemporary China Podcast (one of our favorite China podcasts), and is republished here with the Center’s permission.
What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:
11:05: What was Taiwan’s status in the global world order before the normalization of U.S.-China relations, and in what direction did that status shift after 1978? How did this event help shape Taiwanese identity? Shelley begins the podcast by describing the importance of the history of the island nation.
15:00: After Taiwan was handed over to the Republic of China in 1945, the Chinese civil war continued on the Chinese mainland. Because the Nationalists’ efforts were primarily focused on defending the mainland, Taiwan became a “troublesome backwater” to the larger battle being fought across the Taiwan Strait. Shelley describes this post–World War II period in Taiwan: “The Nationalists are fighting hard to save the heartland of China, and so Taiwan became a kind of ‘troublesome backwater,’ a sideshow. But for the people of Taiwan to realize they had become this kind of sideshow and that their island was supposed to be kind of a platform from which the Nationalists could prosecute this other war, and could achieve their real goal, that was kind of shocking.”
24:05: When the Nationalists fled mainland China to Taiwan in 1949, they brought with them many officials who were elected two years previously on the mainland to “repopulate the legislature.” Shelley states: “Those people, those individuals, retained their seats from 1947 to 1991 because the logic went: ‘We can’t replace these guys until we can have an election back in their home district in Hubei, or Xinjiang, or wherever, so they have to just keep their seats.’”
39:35: From the 1970s onward, there were big changes in the Taiwanese psyche for a number of reasons. Taiwan had lost its seat at the UN Security Council, and Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger had canceled a mutual defense treaty with the Republic of China. Some thought the island nation was soon to be nonexistent. Shelley argues that it was instead liberating: “It released Taiwan from the necessity to pretend to be China, and it opened the door to reimagining Taiwan in a new way. So the obligation of the Taiwanese people and even Taiwan as a physical geographical space to subjugate itself to the destiny of China is gone…”
This week, Sinica is live from Fordham Law School in New York City! This episode features Zhā Jiànyīng 查建英, journalist and author of China Pop: How Soap Operas, Tabloids, and Bestsellers Are Transforming a Culture and Tide Players: The Movers and Shakers of a Rising China, who joined Jeremy and Kaiser at a Sinica Live Podcast event on January 14. The three discuss the experiences of Zha’s half-brother, Zhā Jiànguó 查建国, a democracy activist in China who was charged with subversion of state power and subsequently jailed for nine years. In addition, they pore over the political realities of contemporary China, the likelihood of reform, and the pressures that “moderate liberals” encounter in the face of rising suppression of political freedoms in the country.
What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:
3:34: In the era of “stability maintenance” in China, netizens have coined unique nicknames for actions that censorship and security officials take to maintain order. “To be harmonized” (被和谐 bèihéxié), or to have speech censored, is the most well known, but there are many others. “To be touristed” (被旅游 bèi lǚyóu), or sent packing on a mandatory vacation accompanied by friendly police officers, is the subject of Zha’s writing, in this case. Zha elaborates: “I think this is a very eerie kind of symptom of the police state moving, in fact, you might say a little more sophisticated way of silencing or [getting] rid of those troublemakers in different spheres, right? Some of them are Party officials, others are critics like petitioners, NGO activists, or civil rights lawyers.”
18:24: Jeremy asks if Zha has ever been concerned whether her work as a journalist could potentially put her brother in danger. She says no, but adds that she intentionally kept him in the dark when writing her 2007 piece “Enemy of the State,” which was featured in The New Yorker, to protect him. Zha: “Still, the one point I did insist on was to not have the famous New Yorker fact-checkers call him beforehand because I knew all his phones and everything was tapped and monitored. And so I didn’t tell him I was writing this.”
29:58: Zha and Kaiser talk about political dissidents and activists. According to Zha, some of them endorse unfortunate and dated ideologies: “I don’t know, I used to think of them as liberals. Now I think maybe they need a different hat or label, you know — they’re sexist, because some of them in more recent phenomena really had a lot of trouble with #MeToo. The movement had kind of a short play in China…and there’s lots of people who have trouble with Islamic culture as well.”
32:17: High-profile Chinese dissidents and activists on a growing number of “sensitive” dates are often “touristed” for weeks on end. However, there is one caveat: No cell phones are allowed. Zha elaborates: “Back then, there were just these certain anniversaries or Party congresses. But now, China has emerged into this global powerhouse. So all kinds of global forums that are held in Beijing or in Qingdao or in Shanghai have also become sensitive days. And so, in such locations, the police would usually take selective numbers of ‘troublemakers’ out of the site of that city.”
57:53: Kaiser asks Zha about the modern Chinese intelligentsia: What role do Chinese intellectuals play in the political life of a country? Is their role understood in circles outside of China scholars? She responds, “Basically, the intellectuals played a very particular, important role of advising the emperor then, and now the leaders about the direction of the country, or they also are seen as the spokespeople for the common people…so they’re given this special kind of status or platform to govern or change the society. So that’s why this whole crackdown, right now, this whole ruthless crackdown on the intellectuals by stripping or removing platforms for their voices is so disturbing and casts such a chilling effect.”
Jeremy: Red Moon, by Kim Stanley Robinson, an interstellar work of speculative fiction.
Zha: The Ceremony 大典, by Wáng Lìxióng 王力雄. Also a podcast, The History of Rome, by Mike Duncan.
Kaiser: A Beijing-based band called The Spice Cabinet.
This week on Sinica, we’re proud to launch the Middle Earth podcast, which discusses China’s culture industry. In this debut episode on the Sinica Network, host Aladin Farré chats with three individuals who have all hit the big time and become internet celebrities in China: Erman, whose musings on love and relationships turned into a viral success and a full-time job; Ben Johnson, an Australian English teacher, whose short videos on cultural differences have attracted millions of views and 3 million followers; and Tang Yiqing, who started Juzi Video and has a venture-backed company with 30 million young fans. Learn their secrets for how to become a wanghong (网红 wǎnghóng; internet celebrity)!
This week on the Sinica Podcast, Jeremy and Kaiser speak with Tashi Rabgey, research professor of international affairs at George Washington University and director of the Tibet Governance Project. They are joined by returning guest Jim Millward, professor of history at Georgetown University and renowned scholar of Xinjiang and Central Asia. This episode focuses on their respective areas of expertise: human rights violations in the Xinjiang region; the P.R.C. approach to ethnic policies in Tibet and Xinjiang, referred to on this show as minzu (民族 mínzú) policy; and the assimilation and securitization of both regions.
What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:
5:40: Jim gives an update on the disturbing conditions in Xinjiang: “We’re seeing more and more work facilities, or factories, in these camps. Recent reporting has revealed that this has become a serious part of what the camps are doing. That once these people ‘graduate’ from learning Chinese and sort of move on, they’re put to work in some kind of facilities, making textiles, shoes, some packaging, electronics, assembly, those kind of things, for a period of time we don’t know about.”
11:50: Tashi describes heightened levels of security in Tibet: “There’s a lot of contradictory practices being put into place that are hard to explain, really. And so, increasingly, I think the surveillance, through many different means, is higher than ever before in history, even just to circumambulate around the Potala Palace, for example. Local Tibetans talk about that [it’s harder to get into than an airport].”
13:07: Tashi explains the burden that is created by using self-immolation as a political tool: “I think what’s really significant is how this has sat with the Tibetan people, and I think there’s a kind of silent mourning going on. Whether or not it’s being covered in the media, it really sits on people’s conscience — the fact that it is not something narrowly limited to monks and nuns. In particular, I’d point out that during the 18th Party Congress, where we saw the change in power, there were 28 self-immolations. That’s pretty much one every day.”
24:15: In the ongoing debate surrounding minzu policy, a second-generation minzu policy (第二代民族政策 dì èr dài mínzú zhèngcè) has emerged among Chinese thought leaders, pushed by Peking University professor Mǎ Róng 马戎. His solution of depoliticization (去政治化 qù zhèngzhìhuà) was met with great pushback from ethnic minority academics and government officials, but with notable absences, which Tashi explains: “At the same time, they got massive pushback, especially led by shaoshu minzu [少数民族 shǎoshù mínzú; ethnic minority] intellectuals, Hui and Inner Mongolians, for example. You know who didn’t push back, generally speaking? Tibetans and the Uyghurs.”
43:34: Kaiser asks the two about the concept of territoriality. Jim cites the signing of the Treaty of Nanking, which spurred the creation of trade enclaves, treaty ports, and certain degrees of autonomy for merchants. However, in the modern era, things are very different, which Jim explains: “They are turning their back on these approaches, I would say, and chasing the will-o’-the-wisp of a homogeneous national identity, which doesn’t really exist. So I’m saying that China should look to its own traditions for creative ways of dealing with territoriality and sovereignty as a way of addressing the problems in Xinjiang and Tibet.”
Jeremy: A retelling of John Milton’s Paradise Lost in the graphic novel version by Pablo Auladell.
Tashi: Jinpa by Pema Tseden, a Tibetan-language film and recipient of Best Screenplay at the Venice International Film Festival.
Jim: Post Reports by the Washington Post, a 20-minute podcast with stories drawn from the newspaper.
This week on the Sinica Podcast, we’re live from the US-China Business Council’s Forecast 2019 Conference in Washington, D.C. This show was recorded on January 31 — the day (and hour) that Donald Trump met with China’s top official in charge of trade negotiations, Liu He. Kaiser and Jeremy spoke with Tim Stratford, the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in the People's Republic of China, and with Craig Allen, the president of the US-China Business Council. Stratford has also headed the leading law firm Covington’s office in China for many years, while Allen has had a long career representing American economic interests at the Department of Commerce and in the State Department, most recently as the U.S. ambassador to Brunei. The wide-ranging conversation covers everything from technology policies to the structural changes that China is being asked to make to address U.S. complaints over unfair trade practices.
What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:
“If you want a quiet life, don’t study China.”
—Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy, per Craig Allen
5:22: Tim offers an analogy to describe the U.S.-China competitive relationship: a football match with one side playing American style, the other playing English style. “So, think of a Chinese SOE as an American-style football player that’s protected — it can receive subsidies and it can receive other protections from the state and it’s competing against, say, an American company that’s out there to play English-style football — and you can see how there could be an injury.”
15:14: The foreign business community, previously a reliable ballast in the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and China, has soured in recent years. According to Tim, results in the annual Business Climate Review conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce in China were shocking, with 75 to 80 percent of its membership saying they feel less welcome than in the past. He explains: “There’s a credibility gap that still needs to be addressed, and I also think that a lot of things that have been offered up by the government have not really addressed the core structural issues we’ve been addressing.”
24:48: Is the Trump administration committed to technological decoupling? Craig notes: “There is a sense that seems to be shared between national security elites both in Beijing and in Washington — that both countries are too interdependent from a supply chain and technological perspective… It is clear that a lot of new thought is going into our export control plans and to our investment regimes, and it is very likely that the tightening up of both of those programs are going to have an effect on supply chains and innovation.”
30:48: To finish the live show, Tim and Craig do a bit of forecasting for the new year. Tim contends, “It’s going to take a little bit longer than just one year. I think it’s going to take three, four, or five years, even.” Craig emphasizes the relative health of the U.S. and Chinese economies, stating, “My hope is that both governments will both congeal around the rules that both have formally agreed to under the WTO and find common ground in the technology, trade, and investment space.”
Jeremy: Civics study materials for the United States naturalization test, and Hello Gold Mountain, an original composition by Wu Fei for chamber orchestra, which tells the story of Jews who fled Europe for Shanghai after World War II.
Craig: Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, by Francis Fukuyama.
Tim: “Building a better deal with China,” by Scott Kennedy and Daniel H. Rosen.
Kaiser: The Water Margin Podcast: Outlaws of the Marsh, by John Zhu, a retelling of one of the four classic Chinese novels in English.