A textured look at modern China

Had the good fortune to talk about Chinese Characters, the book of essays about everyday life in China that I co-edited with Jeff Wasserstrom, with Lisa Napoli on KCRW in Los Angeles. Here’s our chat:

Lisa wrote in the Which Way, LA blog: “There’s lots of news each day from and about China, but it’s rare that any of the broad brushstrokes we read and hear in the news introduce us to real people grappling with real issues.” Couldn’t agree more.

How has the web changed coverage of Asia?

Next week in San Diego, I’ll be on a “late breaking” news panel at the Association for Asian Studies’ annual conference. I’ve started to think about how to explain the many ways that connectivity — social media, VOIP, chat clients — have really colored how I think about news and story telling about the region. From telling stories using curation to the essential reading of bloggers on Global Voices, international news has been drawn in a lot closer to audiences in the United States. Journalists can no longer write or produce news with the expectation that the subjects of stories will not be able to see or comment on how they’ve been portrayed. Local feedback is instantaneous. But what does this mean for politics across Asia? How do things change when people in Asia can directly communicate with people anywhere else in the world, and vice versa?

These are the questions I’m looking forward to addressing. The panel has a great lineup and no doubt there will be some exceptional minds in the room, so I think it will be a lively conversation. If you have any thoughts or ideas that I might share with the group, I’m all ears. Email me or comment here.

If you’re in San Diego, you can join the event for free. Here are the details:

Digital Debates and Digital Divides: How the Web has Changed Politics in and Coverage of Asia

 

FRIDAY, March 22, 10:45 am – 12:45 pm, Manchester Grand Hyatt, Manchester Ballroom A

Discussants:

Jeff Wasserstrom, University of California Irvine (Moderator)
Nguyen Giang, Editor, East Asia Hub and Vietnamese Service, BBC World Service/London
Kaiser Kuo, Director of International Communications for Baidu, (China’s largest search engine).
Emma Larkin, Freelance Writer, Bangkok
Angilee Shah, Journalist and Blogger, Public Radio International

This panel is made possible in part by a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation

Filling Foreign News Gaps with Scholars: Asia Beat

I’m working with the Association for Asian Studies, the Journal of Asian Studies and Jeffrey Wasserstrom on a new news proposal. We’re one of 51 finalists of some 1,000 entries to the Knight News Challenge and will find out in a few weeks if they will help fund the project. In the meantime, we’re looking for more ideas to make this project work and make it sustainable.

Knight took down all the proposals (made public on their Tumblr) as they prepare for their next round of applicants, but I wanted to preserve our proposal here and continue to invite comments. Click on the image below to enlarge it and see the full text, including comments. Then come back here and leave comments if you have any. moved the proposals to a new Tumblr and you can still find ours online, where you can comment, like and share the pitch.

 

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On the cover of the Journal of Asian Studies

The Journal of Asian Studies, where I am an advising editor, published a photo I took on its cover of its most recent issue.

It’s an image an image that I took in May, 2008 from a bridge overlooking the Sai River, which sits between Thailand and Myanmar. On the right are bustling tourist and trinket shops in the Thai city of Mae Sai. On the left are hollowed out buildings of the Myanmar city of Tachilek. You can cross the border from Thailand into Myanmar by foot by paying US$10 or 500 Thai Baht and leaving your passport with Myanmar officials until you re-enter Thailand.

on the left, Myanmar

You can also find two essays on Myanmar in the May, 2012 issue of the Journal about the fascinating politics and history of that country.

April 18 at UCLA, I’ll be in coversation with Marketplace China correspondent Rob Schmitz

These days, Rob is in the news for debunking the Mike Daisey Foxconn investigation that aired on This American Life. We’ll be talking about that story and his other reporting on China for American Public Media’s Marketplace radio program at UCLA on April 17. Is there something you want me to ask? Please leave your questions in comments.

The Challenge of Covering a Fast-Changing China
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
12:30 PM – 2:00 PM
Presentation Room 11348 YRL
UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library [map]

How is China’s economy changing and how is this affecting its people and the world?  What are the biggest obstacles and most exciting aspects of reporting on this increasingly important topic?  These are the kinds of issues to be discussed in a conversation between journalist and editor Angilee Shah, and Rob Schmitz, American Public Media’s Marketplace China correspondent, who along with covering a host of important stories, related to everything from labor rights to education to the rise of consumerism, played the key role in exposing the fabrications in Mike Daisey’s account of Foxconn factories on This American Life and then was featured in that show’s much discussed retraction episode.

Here’s the official UCLA announcement.

Fred Korematsu Day, Two Ways

Yesterday was Fred Korematsu Day in California.

Korematsu, a Japanese-American who resisted placement in a World War II-era internment camp, and later fought in courts to have a Supreme Court conviction of “defiance” overturned, was remembered on January 30 in the state of California. In September, California declared this day, Korematsu’s birthday, to be the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution.

I wrote about the day and what it means for Asian American civil rights advocates for Mother Jones online and about bloggers’ initial reactions for GlobalVoices.

Not a reader? Here’s the trailer for 2007 documentary Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story.

Of Civil Wrongs and Rights – trailer from Asian Law Caucus on Vimeo.

Changing the China News Narrative

“China is a breeding ground for heroes,” Foreign Policy contributing editor Christina Larson said at a roundtable discussion at the University of California, Irvine hosted by The China Beat yesterday.

Larson has done a lot of reporting on China’s environmental movement, where she has found great stories about a dynamic country. Environmentalists in China, she said, have created a legal space for their advocacy. Registered environmental nongovernmental organizations now make up the largest sector of civil society in China.

“None of these people think of themselves as dissidents,” Larson said. They are working to enforce existing laws, not make the current regime crumble.

But the China news narrative in the United States is often dominated by stories about dissidents and victims, corruption and communism, painting a narrow picture of what activism and political engagement can mean there.

Deeper Reading: Recent Titles on Islam around the World

If you are reading and watching American news in the last few weeks, you are probably simultaneously seeing a lot and very little about Islam in America today. The conversation surrounding Park51, the Islamic community center slated to be built in Lower Manhatten, is often very shallow, with little explication of terms and nuance. Words are being thrown around — Muslims, freedom, the Muslim Brotherhood, jihad  — as though they are self-explanatory and monolithic. Here are a few titles I have reviewed recently that might give a deeper understanding of the issues behind this politicized debate:

Book Reviews: Full List

All reviews published by Zócalo Public Square unless otherwise noted. Not looking for book reviews? See my portfolio.

Asia

The Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa
by Deborah Brautigam
March 9, 2010
If the headlines are any indication, it’s time for a proper China scare.

China Watcher: Confessions of a Peking Tom
by Richard Baum
May 26, 2010
China Watcher is a memoir and a contemporary history rolled into one….

China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know
by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom
and Burma/Myanmar: What Everyone Needs to Know
by David I. Steinberg
April 21, 2010
Think of the What Everyone Needs to Know series as Lonely Planet for the politically inclined — rich context for the diplomat, the observant traveler, or the news junkie.

Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory
By Peter Hessler
April 14, 2010
Country Driving begins with a driver’s license.

“If You Leave Us Here, We Will Die”:How Genocide was Stopped in East Timor
By Geoffrey Robinson
January 22, 2010
The United Nations has defined genocide as “any act committed with the idea of destroying in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group,” but what does genocide really mean?

Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth Century World
By Rebecca E. Karl
September 24, 2010
The “cultural worker” who created art for the benefit of mass politics was Mao’s ideal artist; now his own image is an icon of pop art, overlayed by Warhol hypercolors and juxtaposed with commercial symbols. The kitsch of his anti-capitalist Red Guard — the little red books and propaganda posters that were powerful ideological tools during the Cultural Revolution — have become commodified collectibles.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
By Barbara Demick
March 3, 2010
As Barbara Demick introduces it, North Korea is quite literally a dark spot in East Asia. At night the country goes black.

Rock & Roll Jihad: A Muslim Rock Star’s Revolution
by Salman Ahmad
February 17, 2010
Rock & Roll Jihad is a straightforward autobiography of a man who, by age 18….

The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land
by Gardner Bovingdon
January 6, 2011
Gardner Bovingdon fills a large gap in our understanding and misunderstanding of Uyghurs’ political lives. The Uyghurs, a scholarly history that is both cognizant of the past and relevant to the present, illustrates not only how the minority group was oppressed in the northwest province of Xinjiang, but also how its stories have been twisted to fit a “war on terror” narrative.

Whirlwind: The Air War Against Japan, 1942-1945
by Barrett Tillman
March 31, 2010
Barrett Tillman love planes. He loves pilots and dogfights and engines. This propensity comes through quite clearly in Whirlwind, his history of “The Air War Against Japan” in World War II.

Policy

The Aid Trap: Hard Truths About Ending Poverty
by R. Glenn Hubbard and William Duggan
October 29, 2009
In 2006, Warren Buffet made a $31 billion gift to the Gates Foundation. He explained the generous donation this way: “A market system has not worked in terms of poor people.” R. Glenn Hubbard and William Duggan, the dean and a senior lecturer at Columbia Business School, turn Buffet’s assertion on its head in The Aid Trap. Free markets, they say, are not the cause of poverty. Indeed, the market system and strong private business sectors are the solution to poverty.

Beyond America’s Grasp: A Century of Failed Diplomacy in the Middle East
by Stephen P. Cohen
November 25, 2009
It is essential, as the saying goes, to “know thine enemy.” Citizen diplomat and social psychologist Stephen P. Cohen has a different message: Know thine history.

Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World
by Vali Nasr
November 5, 2009
Americans’ view of Iran has certainly evolved since President George Bush declared the rogue nation a part of his “Axis of Evil”….

Hostage Nation: Colombia’s Guerrilla Army and the Failed War on Drugs
by Victoria Bruce and Karin Hayes, with Jorge Enrique Botero
July 20, 2010
When three American contractors were taken hostage after their plane crashed in the jungles of Colombia in 2003, Victoria Bruce and Karin Hayes were positioned well to tell their stories… The proposal sat on the shelf for years, but the three hostages became an “unshakable part” of the authors’ lives, even though they’d never met.

The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris
by Peter Beinart
Afaq Al Mustaqbal Magazine (Abu Dhabi), Issue No. 7, Sept/Oct 2010
A review of The Icarus Syndrome and short Q&A with author Peter Beinart, which was translated into Arabic and edited for length (PDF, Arabic).

The Left at War
by Michael Bérubé
December 18, 2009
The central irony of Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech is that he used it to make a convincing case for war.

Mohamed’s Ghost
by Stephan Salisbury
August 30, 2010
The introduction to Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Stephan Salisbury’s investigative memoir Mohamed’s Ghosts is titled “How to Take Down A Mosque.” It’s an eye-grabber for anyone who is watching closely the controversy around the Park51 Islamic community center and mosque slated to be built in Lower Manhattan. But Salisbury’s book takes us to another mosque in a rundown neighborhood in Philadelphia.

A Mosque in Munich
by Ian Johnson
June 7, 2010
Reading nonfiction is not usually an adventure the way reading fiction can be. It is more often an intellectual exercise that rarely enters the realm of imagination. But A Mosque in Munich lets readers do both.

The Muslim Brotherhood: The Organization and Policies of a Global Islamist Movement
Edited by Barry Rubin
August 5, 2010
The essayists, mostly scholars, vacillate between taking an even, careful tone and proscribing the decades-old group’s existence outside Egypt. But they also take the more crucial step of explaining what this movement is not.

Questioning the Veil: Open Letters to Muslim Women
By Marnia Lazreg
January 28, 2010
If Muslim women’s bodies represent the war of ideas about Islam, the veil is the greatest battleground.

Reset: Iran, Turkey and America’s Future
By Stephen Zinzer
June 8, 2010
Stephen Kinzer’s 2007 book Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq …demonstrated that Kinzer has an uncanny ability to draw unexpected links between histories of many places. Reset is another accomplishment in that regard. It is a dual history of emerging democracies, histories that resonate with America’s own democratic narrative. Iran and Turkey, Kinzer argues, make for excellent partners in the Middle East because they have, embedded in their cultures, a struggle for democracy. If all this sounds too far-fetched, particularly with oft-maligned Iran, Kinzer’s work begs the reader to take a longer view.

Small Change: Why Business Won’t Save the World
By Michael Edwards
June 29, 2010
Anyone who has worked in the nonprofit sector, with big or small organizations, has likely felt pressure to think about markets and quantify outcomes in a corporate style. Michael Edwards’ Small Change does much to explain and challenge this kind of corporatization of the nonprofit world.

The Twilight of the Bombs: Recent Challenges, New Dangers, and the Prospects for a World Without Nuclear Weapons
By Richard Rhodes
September 28, 2010
Like the training scenes in “The Karate Kid”, it’s hard to understand why we are reading Twilight of the Bomb’s historical minutiae while in the midst of it. If Richard Rhodes’ history is a review of nuclear challenges since the Cold War, it is also a political history, a technical manual, and a diffuse tome to culminate his monumental four-part series on the subject.

War and the Health of Nations
by Zaryab Iqbal
May 26, 2010
The premise of War and the Health of Nations is not all that startling: War is bad for your health.

War is Not Over When it’s Over
by Ann Jones
November 24, 2010
Ann Jones’ first feat is to frame extreme suffering, often seen as something “over there” and “far away,” with immediacy for readers in their comfortable and safe homes.

Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves: Islam, the State, and Public Space
By John R. Bowen
February 10, 2010
Americans share with the French an ideal of religious freedom. But last month, France considered a law ….

Globalization and Immigration

Hyperconflict: Globalization and Insecurity
by James H. Mittelman
May 12, 2010
James H. Mittelman must be watching the crisis in Greece with keen interest. He is the author of Hyperconflict, a book that proposes to change the scale of our language concerning global business, power and conflict.

The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America
by Mae Ngai
December 3, 2010
Hyphenated cultures seem to be a natural part of California’s landscape today, but it wasn’t always so. The Lucky Ones by Mae Ngai offers a fresh look at California history by reconstructing the lives of immigrant and second generation pioneers who lived between cultures when it was not such a common phenomenon.

Media

Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban
by Jere Van Dyk
July 27, 2010
It had been six years since Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was beheaded in Karachi, and Van Dyk spent his days in a dark room wondering if he would also be killed. This is not a memoir with easy answers about good and evil, however.  It is one that complicates issues of journalistic license, one in which Van Dyk’s anxiety and ambivalence about being a prisoner of the Taliban is palpable.

The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again
by Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols
March 21, 2010
Healthcare reform passed perhaps because enough people recognized a hard-to-swallow truth: people need healthcare and the free market is not providing it well enough. Substitute the news for healthcare and you have a compelling argument for subsidized journalism.

The Tyranny of E-mail: The Four-Thousand-Year Journey to Your Inbox
by John Freeman
November 17, 2009
It is not particularly surprising that a ubiquitous literary critic finds our growing e-mail culture a soul crushing experience. John Freeman was a freelance writer before becoming the editor of Granta, the century-old literary magazine….

Health and Science

Science vs Religion: What Scientists Really Think
by Elaine Howard Ecklund
July 13, 2010
The 2005 lawsuit known as the Dover trial pit religion against science in the most virulent of ways. Parents challenged a school district’s requirement that intelligent design be taught alongside evolution in high school biology classes. The judge’s ruling — that intelligent design is not science, but rather an intrusion of religion on a state institution — sparked criticism and praise from all sides. Around the same time, Congress tried to loosen restrictions on embryonic stem cell research — another flashpoint in the battle between science and religion — only to face criticism and a veto. It was during these tumultuous years that Elaine Howard Ecklund entered the fray to record the conflict from the nation’s ivory towers.