Gene Luen Yang on Relying on Stories, Creating Boxers & Saints

It’s not that the concept of Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints is complex: two volumes tell the story of the Boxer Rebellion from two perspectives.

But within this simple structure, Yang’s graphic novels build a compelling story around a war of identity, set 100 years ago in China. It combines mysticism with the very concrete ways that people decide who they are, in this case a leader in a secret fighting society and a Chinese Christian convert. It has the remarkable effect of allowing readers to explore how stories — saints and spirits — can shape physical events — the blood, gore and battles of history.

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China Stories

If Chinese Characters is about telling the stories of everyday life in China, China Stories is explicitly a way to think about how we tell and hear those stories. Historian Jeffrey Wasserstrom and I teamed up again to curate and edit this e-book volume of reviews and analyses for the Los Angeles Review of Books. The cover art is by Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, who figures in the collection alongside some others who have shaped how we see China and how people in China see themselves.

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Part 2 of my interview with Rob Schmitz

In the Los Angeles Review of Books:

In part 2 of this interview, Rob Schmitz talks more about factory workers in China, the vast system of netting installed at factory dormitories to cut back on worker suicides, the problems with and opportunities for doing responsible journalism in China, and his book recommendations.

Listen here.

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Part 1 of my interview with Rob Schmitz

In the Los Angeles Review of Books:

“Rob Schmitz is the Shanghai bureau chief for American Public Media’s Marketplace. He broke the story about Mike Daisey, showing that Daisey’s reporting on Chinese factory workers for This American Life was full of fabrication. He talks here with Angilee Shah about that story, about reporting in China, and about the problems trying to understand the vast, rapidly changing country. This is Part 1 of 2 — the rest of the interview next week.”

Listen to the podcast here.

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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.

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First press on Chinese Characters comes from Beijing

The collection of essays about everyday lives in China that I have been working on for about two years made its pre-publication debut in China at the M Literary Festival. Chinese Characters contributors Evan Osnos, Ian Johnson, Michelle Loyalka, Christina Larson and my co-editor Jeffrey Wasserstrom spoke on the “Art of the Profile” at a Beijing panel discussion earlier this month.

Our first mass media press, therefore, also happened in China. The English-language Beijing newspaper Global Times sent a reporter to the panel, who in turn wrote a preview article of our book. The story, “China at face value,” begins this way:

“There has never been a lack of good books about the history of China, from detailed analytical narration of its 5,000-year civilization to numerous travelogues depicting the country’s vast, grandeur landscapes.

“Although the Middle Kingdom has always held allure to outsiders, ordinary Chinese folks, or laobaixing, are often seen as just faces in the crowd. However, those faces are given a chance to bask in the spotlight in Chinese Characters: Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land, a book co-edited by Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a history professor at the University of California, and Angilee Shah, a freelance journalist and editor in Los Angeles.”

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India, China, and the Importance of Storytelling

Every time they fly in and out of Mumbai, tourists, businesspeople, and politicians can see blue-tarp and cardboard rooftops squeezed between condominiums and luxury hotels. The irony of Mumbai’s slums is that the urban poor are ubiquitous, simultaneously visible and invisible.

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