The link below is to an article that looks at writing in Hong Kong during a time when one crisis follows another.
The link below is to an article that looks at the impact of the coronavirus on Chinese publishing.
In 2007 the then President of China, Hu Jintao, delivered a speech to South Africans acknowledging the benefits of a strategic partnership. He also stressed that the connection is not merely pragmatic. It must, he argued, serve to honour and deepen the countries’ long abiding friendship in the future.
The idea of friendship has undoubtedly informed the nature of Sino-African engagement. But if we use contemporary science fiction as a barometer, African sentiment towards China appears more inclined towards dystopian forecasts.
Science fiction writing often serves as a thought experiment that explores shared and hidden beliefs whose material and political reverberations lie further in the future. Various short stories portray how China’s economic ascension, operating under the guise of African development, uses technology as a means to invade and control Africa.
Narratives of this kind surface neo-colonial fears that a “new scramble for Africa” seems imminent. But they also provide a speculative arena to interrogate how we ultimately perceive the value, use and future of Sino-African political friendship.
As I’ve explored in my research, this means that science fiction can serve as an imaginative production of political theory. It intercedes in ways that international relations cannot because of the confines of diplomacy.
My research focused on three short science fiction stories from Africa.
In the first, Tendai Huchu’s “The Sale”, China has taken control of Zimbabwe through the production of a corporatised state called CorpGov. It’s a surveillance state that leaves no room for political dissension. Zimbabwe has been purchased by China in a piecemeal fashion. It is now set to lose its last free portion of land in a final sale. When a young Zimbabwean man fails to prevent the sale of this remaining plot of land, he succumbs to despair and puts himself in the path of a Chinese bulldozer.
His suicide evokes a sense of profound helplessness and warns that China will need to be vehemently counteracted in the near future to protect Zimbabwe’s already breached borders. Huchu’s narrative provides a sharp sense of clarity that makes the story incredibly impactful.
The pathos of “The Sale” holds a mirror up to China. It communicates an earnest appeal for more humane engagement. Yet the heaviness of its dystopian narrative also breeds a spirit of nihilism or Afropessimism. This overrides any sense of African accountability in the degenerative state of future Sino-Zimbabwean relations.
Abigail Godsell’s “Taal” (an Afrikaans word meaning “language”) is self-conscious in this regard. It’s set in the year 2050, after a nuclear war between China and America has left the entire globe in a state of desolation. As a result, the South African government willingly signed over ownership of the country to China in exchange for protection.
The central protagonist, an especially resentful young woman named Callie, has joined a militant rebel group in a covert attempt to overthrow the Chinese. But after injuring a soldier, she pulls off his helmet and is surprised that he converses in Afrikaans because, to all other appearances, he is Chinese. The fact that he speaks Afrikaans implies he is a South African. She is stupefied by the exchange: it highlights her simplistic understanding of what the enemy should look like.
This uncanny revelation undoubtedly draws attention to the spectral presence of Chinese-South Africans who have not received due recognition as bona fide citizens.
Callie, who is initially critical of Chinese propaganda, begins to read her positionality as a South African freedom fighter on equally problematic terms. Her defensiveness drops and she confesses that South Africa was caught off-guard amid a global crisis. The country did not have a sufficient national security plan; China has offered significantly more protection than the South African government was capable of at the time.
Godsell’s introspective narrative shift focus away from Chinese agitation. It allows the reader to consider the nature of South African apathy by conveying that the country may not lack a fighting spirit but, unlike China, lacks the necessary foresight and organisation to bolster the nation.
Negative representations of China in the African imaginary gesture at the idea that a certain amount of envy informs the continent’s responses to China. They also suggest that African countries can benefit from emulating China’s uncompromising nationalistic and commercial drive. This possibility is more fully explored in Mandisi Nkomo’s “Heresy”.
Nkomo’s narrative is set in the year 2040. South-South interactions challenge the global status quo. China has risen in global economic rankings. But South Africa has not fallen under its sway: the nations are caught up in a highly competitive space race. South Africa is determined to not be outdone by the Chinese and channels its resources in meeting this goal.
“Heresy” conveys how Africans can construct an invisible enemy out of China by exponentially accelerating South African development. This light-hearted narrative assumes the challenge of imagining the current tension of Sino-African relations otherwise. It shows how friendly rivalry can inadvertently lead to African progress.
In their book Friendship and International Relations, academics Andrea Oelsner and Simon Koschut write that it is:
necessary to think of international friendship not as something that is merely being performed at the intergovernmental level but as something that is being enacted in the day-to-day activities and imaginations at all levels of society.
This certainly includes science fiction narratives that present us with a “succession of literary experiments, each one examining a small part of a much larger image and each equally necessary to the greater vision”.
Through these short stories, it immediately becomes possible to consider how China-Africa relations need not result in Chinese neocolonialism and African exploitation. They offer us more creative approaches to political friendship by reinventing and reinterpreting the roles of both parties in their narratives.
Similarly, pursued in this way, the future of China-Africa relations need not be seen as a singular act of solidarity that demands repeating. Instead it could be viewed as a more fluid encounter that allows for mutual investment in world-building projects while also providing enough objective distance to nurture difference and autonomy.
The link below is to an article reporting on the Chinese National Library going digital in order to preserve its ancient texts.
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The link below is to an article that takes a look at Chinese advances in Artificial Intelligence, with the use of Author Avatars in audiobooks.
Amid reports last week that Yang was to be charged with endangering state security, Foreign Affairs Marise Paynee said he was being detained for his political views and should be released.
Yang is a member of the Australian media union, the MEAA, which backed calls for his release.
I’ve known Yang for many years – he is a former PhD student of mine – and I also believe he should be released.
I’ve seen reports sent to his wife, Yuan Xiaoliang, from Australian consul visits to Yang.
The reports say Yang is sealed off from the outside world without access to legal counsel or visits by relatives, and he has been subjected to interrogations twice a day.
A novel critic
So what has Yang done that has led to his detention for so long? In a nutshell, Yang is a political dissident no longer tolerated by the Chinese communist regime. He is paying a heavy price as a long-standing critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Yang, aged 54, abandoned his career as a communist cadre to embrace freedom and democracy in his middle age.
He earned his first degree in politics from Fudan University in China in 1987 and was assigned to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with connection to the Chinese secret police. He was eventually alienated by his job and developed a strong interest in literature.
He resigned from his post and moved to Australia with his wife and two sons in 1999 to pursue his dream of becoming a writer. In 2002-2005, he published a trilogy of spy novels, Fatal Weakness, Fatal Weapon and Fatal Assassination, in print and online.
These novels used his own experiences and those of his colleagues to tell the soul-stirring stories of a China-US double agent who ultimately serves the agenda for neither side but works for his own inspiration and conviction to serve the real interests of the people.
But the novels did not bring him the fame and wealth he expected, because they were published in Taiwan and banned in mainland China. An attempt to turn them into movies in Hong Kong also failed.
The rise of the blogger
At the end of 2005, Yang enrolled in a PhD in China Studies at the University of Technology Sydney under my supervision, starting his journey as a liberal scholar. By that time, I’d become a major contributor to the emergence of the Chinese liberal camp and Chinese liberal intellectuals.
Yang got his PhD in 2009 with a thesis titled The Internet and China: the Impacts of Netizen Reporters and Bloggers on Democratisation in China. The thesis was a timely, in-depth analysis of the complicated information warfare between the internet and the CCP regime.
As part of an experiment for his PhD thesis, Yang started his own blog (available now only on archive.org) and wrote commentaries on current affairs as a “citizen journalist”.
Yang is that rare combination of a scholar well trained in both China and the West, with a firm belief in the universal values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
He chose to devote his talent and passion to online journalism in Chinese, hoping to accelerate China’s transformation toward constitutional democracy. He has published more than ten million words of online articles on this theme, earning the nickname “democracy pedlar” with tremendous following in the Chinese speaking world.
Several collections of his online articles have been published to wide audience, such as Family, State and the World (2010), Seeing the World with Black Eyes: The World in the Eyes of a Democracy Pedlar (2011), Talking about China (2014), and Keeping You Company in Your Life Journey (2014).
Yang is extremely good at explaining the profound in simple terms, using moving examples in everyday life to expose the social ills of communist autocracy and promote democratic values and institutions.
In particular, he provides timely analysis on all sorts of events around the world reported in the news, revealing the stark contrast between the harsh reality and the official rhetoric of the CCP.
Yang rarely engages in social activism, although he has maintained extensive connections with some Chinese human rights and democracy activists.
Yang has long been targeted by the Chinese security apparatus, which detained him in March 2011, taking him as one of the opinion leaders who has the capacity to mobilise nationwide social protests.
He was quickly released back to Australia due to the international media campaign and the diplomatic pressure of then Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s visit to China.
Why did he not learn his lesson? Well, he did tone down his voice after 2011. Since Xi Jinping’s rise to general secretary of the CCP in 2012, Yang adopted a soft strategy of packaging his advocacy for human rights and democracy as publicising “socialist core values” promoted by the CCP.
Yang was so successful with this new strategy that thousands of his followers organised support groups via the social media app WeChat in more than 50 cities around China. These include Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in 2015, when human rights and democracy activists had met with brutal repression.
In 2016, when the political environment turned from bad to worse and Yang’s blogs were shut down one by one, he closed down all of the WeChat groups and substantially scaled down his online writing.
Moved to the US
He moved to New York as a visiting scholar at Columbia University in 2017. He was able to travel to China several times and Chinese authorities lifted the ban on several of his blogs in China towards the end of 2018. This gave him the impression it was safe for him to visit China.
But during his visit this January he was detained upon his arrival.
Thousands of Yang’s supporters have been in despair, engaging in heated debates about his ordeal and its implications for political development in China.
Instead of following the international norm of presumption of innocence, the CCP regime continues Yang’s criminal detention despite the lack of evidence he’s done anything wrong.
This behaviour of political persecution and hostage diplomacy clearly demonstrates the contempt China has for human rights and international moral standards.
The Australian government and public are obligated to challenge the laws and practice of the CCP regime in safeguarding basic human rights of innocent citizens. The international community are also obligated to support this endeavour for human dignity, and thus the immediate release of Yang.
Australia’s relations with China will be further complicated by the news that Australian citizen Yang Hengjun is set to be charged with endangering state security.
This is a serious charge that carries the penalty of at least three years in jail.
Yang’s wife Yuan Xiaoliang was notified earlier today that her husband would be charged, a day before the six-month deadline determining whether he is to be released, charged or have his detention extended.
Charges against Yang appear to relate to his work as a writer and blogger in which he has been sharply critical of the Chinese regime. He developed a large following on Chinese social media and on Twitter, and his criticisms will have infuriated Chinese authorities.
Yang was arrested after he returned to China earlier this year with his family. He has been held in a Beijing state security prison since then, without access to lawyers, and denied contact with his family.
Australian attempts to secure access have been rebuffed.
Canberra’s relations with Beijing
China’s decision to charge Yang comes at an awkward moment in relations between Beijing and Canberra.
Australia this week was obliged to step up its consular efforts to persuade China to allow Uyghur families to leave Xinjiang to be reunited with their Australian families.
This followed broadcast an ABC four Corners program that drew attention to the plight of Uighurs in Xinjiang. Up to a million out of a population of 11 million in the region are reported to be in “re-education” camps.
This has drawn outrage globally.
China’s official media responded harshly to the ABC program and to criticism of China’s treatment of Uyghurs more generally. The Global Times newspaper, which tends to reflect a hardline nationalist view, accused critics of “recklessly attacking” China.
Yang’s case reflects China’s extreme sensitivity to criticism.
This episode won’t help Australia’s efforts to get its relationship with China on more stable footing after several years of difficulties.
China had objected to criticism of its attempts to interfere in Australian domestic politics via Chinese nationals associated with Beijing. This led to a freeze on visits to China by Australian political leaders. While that freeze has thawed, tensions remain.
Chinese laws affect other western democracies
Australia is far from alone among western democracies whose citizens have fallen foul of opaque and arbitary Chinese law and legal procedures.
Canada is wrestling with the cases of two of its citizens who have been held without charge since last year. China has accused the pair of stealing state secrets.
This is a serious charge that can result in the death penalty.
The two Canadians were detained after the arrest at Vancouver airport of Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the founder of the Chinese telecommunications giant, Huawei. Meng is appealing attempts by the United States to extradite her to face charge of fraud.
This is a highly contentious issue, and one that is complicating relations between Washington, Ottawa and Beijing.
Apart from arresting the Canadians accused of stealing state secrets, China has also taken aim at Canada economically. It has stopped Canadian rapeseed oil imports, dealing a hefty blow to a multibillion dollar canola industry.
What the Canadian arrests, and now that of an Australian writer, demonstrates is that relations with China are unlikely to become less complicated. Rather, it is likely they will become more so.
Among challenges for countries like Australia is how to quarantine issues of mistreatment of its citizens and broader human rights abuses, from the functioning of broad-ranging bilateral relations.
The link below is to an article that contains an interview of Chinese dissident author Ma Jian.
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The Water Margin, also known in English as Outlaws of the Marsh or All Men Are Brothers, is one of the most powerful narratives to emerge from China. The book, conventionally attributed to an otherwise obscure Yuan dynasty figure called Shi Nai’an, takes the form of a skein of connected tales surrounding various heroic figures who — persecuted, exploited, wronged, or trapped by venal officials — eventually band together in the fortress of Liangshan (Mount Liang), in the present-day province of Shandong.
Its influence has gone far beyond the usual genres of fiction, film, art, and theatre. The stories provide, even today, a point of reference for codes of honour, social and economic networks, secret societies and political movements.
Generations of China’s governments have sought to represent themselves as guardians of an often explicitly neo-Confucian order characterised by a fixed and morally-grounded political and social order constructed of hierarchical relationships. But The Water Margin represents another, equally real and representative, Chinese worldview. In this world, local injustice is the rule, and defence against cruel local authority is a matter of vengeance, stratagem, and violence.
From this universe, itself a highly mediated depiction of the rapidly decaying Northern Song dynasty in the 12th century, derive fictional worlds of errantry, struggle and righteousness that have gone through endless narrative and cinematic iterations.
Of these descendants, the most familiar today are the fictional worlds of Hong Kong writer Jin Yong, which remain the closest thing to a reading list for adolescents in the Chinese world, and the kung fu genre that has been the global calling card of Sinophone film since at least Bruce Lee.
Rebels with a cause
With printed versions dating back to the 14th century, The Water Margin largely follows the adventures of strongmen, innkeepers, footpads, peasants, vagabonds, fishermen, hunters, petty officials and local gentry. Surrounding these protagonists are the thousands of nameless followers and victims who are knocked off or maimed (just as they might be casually dispatched in Homer) in the novel’s thousand-odd pages.
Women, when they (not so very often) appear, are hard-nosed mistresses, pugnacious sisters, hapless wives, strategising helpmeets, or murderous innkeepers (one of whom has hit on Mrs. Lovett’s idea of baking humans into pies a full 800 hundred years before her). This also sets it apart from the mainstream of imperial fiction, which is substantially preoccupied with the passions and travails of high-born, talented women and their ambitious scholar swains, not to mention emperors and generals.
It is only a novel after a fashion: The Water Margin’s text is substantially the record of stories that had already been circulating at the time it was committed to the page. Shi Nai’an’s authorship is little more than a conventional attribution, and the text is far from stable, existing in various versions beginning from the 14th century, two hundred years after the events it depicts. It reached its usual present form in the 17th century.
In the Ming (14th-17th century) and Qing (17th-20th century) dynasties, the bandits of The Water Margin continued to influence all manner of groups operating far from the seat of power, despite periodic attempts to ban the book.
The fact that the villains of the novel are local officials, while the bandits remain at least notionally loyal to the imperial court, has proven an enduring inspiration. Many are the brands of rebellion that have found it practical to be on the other side of the law while retaining a claim to the values of brotherhood, honour, loyalty and patriotism.
The plot’s political relevance has never gone away. Having been adopted in the 1930s by reformers as a healthily anti-feudal narrative, it was later deployed in a major 1975 government campaign, in which the leader of the Liangshan bandits in the book, Song Jiang, was criticised for accepting the emperor’s offer of amnesty. Had he not given the game away? And was he therefore not guilty of coexistence with forces inimical to the masses, just as party members, late in the Maoist era, would be guilty of capitulationism if their fervour flagged?
This move, widely interpreted as an effort to head off the fall of the Gang of Four shows how centrally the characters have been retained even in modern and contemporary Chinese consciousness.
It’s commonplace to lament human transience and contrast it with the immutability of nature. But those going in search of the dense marshlands of Shandong —- where in the novel crafty fishermen might cause unwary inconvenient minor officials to disappear —- will be disappointed. The entire geography of the novel has been altered beyond recognition by river engineering and irrigation.
This of course does not prevent local governments continuing to put up buildings tagged to certain events in the novel, hoping at the same time that the message of righteous rebellion against local authority is never taken too literally. The formidable, impregnable, fortified mountain, Liangshan, rises just short of 200 metres in reality.
The place of The Water Margin has moved almost entirely into the imaginary, and it is the situations, the events, the stratagems and above all the characters – furious and righteous, looking to set the world right – that have left their mark on posterity.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at dissident Chinese author Ma Jian.