China Books

China Books Review

Fresh ideas and thought-provoking conversations on fiction and non-fiction about China and/or from China, with host Mary Kay Magistad, a former China correspondent for NPR and PRX's The World.

The China Books podcast is a companion of the China Books Review (chinabooksreview.com), co-published by Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations (where Mary Kay is a senior fellow) and The Wire China.

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Episodes

Ep. 9: Tiananmen remembered
Jun 4 2024
Ep. 9: Tiananmen remembered
Tiananmen -- the place, the protests, the crackdown -- reverberates in memories and imaginations around the world, even 35 years after tanks rolled in Beijing’s streets, and the Chinese military’s crackdown on student demonstrators in the week hours of June 4, 1989, killed at least hundreds and wounded thousands of people. The protesters had been calling for political reforms, for a more open and less corrupt society, after decades of political upheaval under Mao Zedong’s leadership. What they got instead from Deng Xiaoping was a brutal ‘no’ to the call for political reform, but with a green light to instead focus on making money and growing China’s economy. China’s Communist Party leaders insist to this day that China’s economic rise couldn’t have happened without the crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations, and the hopes for political reform of many Chinese people. Still, the Party has tried to erase the Tiananmen crackdown from public memory in China, even as many Chinese remember the protests and all they stood for, with some dedicating their lives to working toward those same goals.  The guest for this episode, Xiao Qiang, is one such person. He talks about his life before, during, and after the protests, and recommends books for anyone interested in better understanding what the Tiananmen demonstrations and crackdown meant, and still mean, in China and beyond. Xiao Qiang is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of China Digital Times, a bilingual China news website launched in 2003 to aggregate, organize, and recommend online information from and about China. He is an adjunct professor at the School of Information, University of California at Berkeley, and director of the school’s Counter-Power Lab, an interdisciplinary faculty-student research group focusing on the intersection of digital media, counter-censorship technology and cyber-activism.The China Books podcast is hosted and produced by Mary Kay Magistad, a former award-winning China correspondent for NPR and PRI/BBC's The World, now a senior fellow at Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations. This podcast is a companion of the China Books Review, which offers incisive essays, interviews, and reviews on all things China books-related. Co-publishers are Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations, headed by Orville Schell, and The Wire China, co-founded by David Barboza, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times China correspondent. The Review's editor is Alec Ash, who can be reached at editor@chinabooksreview.com.
Ep. 8: Uyghur Women Speaking Out
May 7 2024
Ep. 8: Uyghur Women Speaking Out
Genocide is not a word thrown around lightly by the U.S. government, but it uses that term to describe the Chinese government’s ongoing assaults on Uyghurs’ distinct culture, identity, rights, and freedom in China’s far western region of Xinjiang. China's government has long had an uneasy relationship with Uyghurs’ distinct Turkic Muslim identity, and has tried in various ways over time to control them, reduce and dilute their population, and make them assimilate.But lately, it’s gotten much worse. Within the past decade, about a million Uyghurs – almost one in 10 – were sent to reeducation camps. Under international pressure, the PRC says it closed the camps in 2019, because the "trainees" graduated. But it  transferred many of the Uyghurs in the camps to prison or forced labor, sending some to other provinces as part of a policy meant to reduce the concentration of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.  Those still in Xinjiang are under constant high-tech surveillance, with some forced to let security personnel live in their homes, to better indoctrinate and surveil them.In the midst of all this, a few Uyghur women in exile have proven especially effective at speaking out on their people’s plight, and advocating for international action . This episode is a conversation with two of them, about  their experiences growing up Uyghur in  China, going into exile in the United States, and becoming advocates for Uyghur rights.Gulchehra Hoja is the author of A Stone is Most Precious Where It Belongs: A Memoir of Uyghur Exile, Hope and Survival, named by The New Yorker as a best book of 2023. An award-winning Uyghur American journalist who has worked with Radio Free Asia since 2001, she grew up in Urumqi, studied Uyghur language and literature and, working for state-run Xinjiang TV, created and hosted China’s first Uyghur language children’s television program for five years.  Jewher Ilham’s two memoirs, Jewher Ilham: A Uyghur’s Fight to Free Her Father (2015) and Because I Have To: The Path to Survival, The Uyghur Struggle (2022), tell the story of how a Uyghur teenager who grew up in Beijing as the daughter of prominent economics professor and Uyghur rights advocate Ilham Tohti, went into exile in the United States and became an effective advocate for her father’s release from a life sentence in prison in China. She now also works with the Worker Rights Consortium in Washington, D.C. as forced labor project coordinator and spokesperson for the Coalition to End Uyghur Forced Labor.  The China Books podcast is hosted and produced by Mary Kay Magistad, a former award-winning China correspondent for NPR and PRI/BBC's The World, now a senior fellow at Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations. This podcast is a companion of the China Books Review, which offers incisive essays, interviews, and reviews on all things China books-related. Co-publishers are Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations, headed by Orville Schell, and The Wire China, co-founded by David Barboza, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times China correspondent. The Review's editor is Alec Ash, who can be reached at editor@chinabooksreview.com.
Ep. 7: Why China's ahead in the green energy 'gold rush'
Apr 2 2024
Ep. 7: Why China's ahead in the green energy 'gold rush'
China has bet big over the past couple of decades on how building up its renewable energy sector -- solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles and their batteries, and the metals and minerals that make them all possible -- will help China achieve a dominant global position in an essential field.  So far, with intensifying climate change making the need to speed the transition from fossil fuels to renewables ever more urgent, China is winning that bet.  China's efforts, with fierce competition within its private sector spurred by government incentives, have driven down the global cost of solar panels and electric vehicles, and have given China a near-monopoly globally on processing rare earths, and in mining and processing nickel, cobalt, magnesium and more.  This episode focuses on the story of how China achieved this lead in the green energy 'gold rush', and what the West is now doing to try to catch up, with guest Henry Sanderson, author of VoltRush: The Winners and Losers in the Race to Go Green.  A former correspondent in China for the Associated Press and Bloomberg, a commodities reporter for The Financial Times and current executive editor for Benchmark Mineral Intelligence,  Sanderson reported on the ground for from lithium fields in Chile to cobalt mines in the Congo, on the environmental trade-offs of mining minerals for renewable energy, on promising alternatives, and on what the West and the rest of the world can learn from China's experience as an early leader in green energy.  Sanderson is also co-author, with The New York Times’ Michael Forsythe, of China’s Super Bank: Debt, Oil, and Influence -- How China Development Bank is Rewriting the Rules of Finance.  The China Books podcast is hosted and produced by Mary Kay Magistad, a former award-winning China correspondent for NPR and PRI/BBC's The World, now a senior fellow at Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations. This podcast is a companion of the China Books Review, which offers incisive essays, interviews, and reviews on all things China books-related. Co-publishers are Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations, headed by Orville Schell, and The Wire China, co-founded by David Barboza, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times China correspondent. The Review's editor is Alec Ash, who can be reached at editor@chinabooksreview.com.
Ep. 6: Spy novels, a real-life thriller, and the BBC
Mar 5 2024
Ep. 6: Spy novels, a real-life thriller, and the BBC
Acclaimed spy novelist Adam Brookes started out in China as a languge student in the mid-'80s, skipping class to travel in trucks and buses to Tibet and other parts of China that had just opened up after being shut off to foreign visitors for decades. He want back as a BBC China correspondent, informed by his earlier experiences in remote parts of China, and informing a huge global audience about China's transformation. He has since parlayed both of those early chapters in China into vivid and thought-provoking writing, both in his spy novel triology Night Heron, Spy Games, and The Spy's Daughter, and in his narrative non-fiction thriller Fragile Cargo: The World War II Race to Save the Treasures of China's Forbidden City. In this episode, he talks about how, with each form of writing, he has tried to bring China to life for his audiences, and deepen understanding of a complex place and people, and China's impact on the world. The China Books podcast is hosted and produced by Mary Kay Magistad, a former award-winning China correspondent for NPR and PRI/BBC's The World, now a senior fellow at Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations. This podcast is a companion of the China Books Review, which offers incisive essays, interviews, and reviews on all things China books-related. Co-publishers are Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations, headed by Orville Schell, and The Wire China, co-founded by David Barboza, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times China correspondent. The Review's editor is Alec Ash, who can be reached at editor@chinabooksreview.com.
Ep. 5: China's Economic Challenges, Explained
Feb 6 2024
Ep. 5: China's Economic Challenges, Explained
The sizzle has come off of China's decades of economic growth, as the country contends with deflation, slumping consumer confidence, plummeting foreign investment, a cratered urban property sector, high local government debt, overcapacity in manufacturing, and a private sector cowed by government crackdowns, as well as a shrinking workforce and an aging population.For all that, China is still the world's second largest economy, the largest trading partner of most of the world's countries, and one of the world's biggest bilateral lenders. And China listed its economic growth rate in 2023 as a respectable 5.2 percent, causing more than one economist to raise a eyebrow.  How to make sense of all this, and get an idea of what China's options are to sustain a future path of comfortable economic growth?  Settle back, put your earbuds in, and listen as the two respected China-born economists in this episode lay out the challenges, choices, and possibilities that could shape China's future.Tao Wang, author of Making Sense of China's Economy  (2023) is chief China economist, managing director, and Head of Asia Economic Research at UBS Investment Bank in Hong Kong, and was formerly an economist at the International Monetary Fund.  Her research on China covers a wide range of topics including monetary policy, the debt problem, shadow banking, local government finance, US-China trade disputes, supply chain shifts, RMB internationalization, the property bubble, the demographic challenge, the urban-rural divide, and the long-term growth potential. Dr. Wang has been consistently ranked as one of the top China economists by institutional investors. She is an invited fellow of the China Finance (CF) 40 Forum and a member of the China Global Economic Governance 50 Forum. Yasheng Huang, author of Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics: Entrepreneurship and the State (2008, now being updated), The Rise and Fall of the East: How Exams, Autocracy, Stability and Technology Brought China Success, and Why They Might Lead to Its Decline (2023) , and nine other books in English and in Chinese, holds the Epoch Foundation Professorship of Global Economics and Management at MIT Sloan School of Management, and founded and runs MIT's China Lab, India Lab, and ASEAN Lab.  Dr. Huang is a 2023-24 visiting fellow at the Kissinger Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC. The National Asia Research Program named him one of the most outstanding scholars in the United States conducting research on issues of policy importance to the United States. He has served as a consultant at World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and OECD.The China Books podcast is hosted and produced by Mary Kay Magistad, a former award-winning China correspondent for NPR and PRI/BBC's The World, now a senior fellow at Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations. This podcast is a companion of the China Books Review, which offers incisive essays, interviews, and reviews on all things China books-related. Co-publishers are Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations, headed by Orville Schell, and The Wire China, co-founded by David Barboza, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times China correspondent. The Review's editor is Alec Ash, who can be reached at editor@chinabooksreview.com.
Ep. 4: How "Leftover Women" may reshape China's future
Jan 2 2024
Ep. 4: How "Leftover Women" may reshape China's future
A funny thing happened at the height of China's economic boom, as more and more Chinese women were getting college degrees, good jobs, and promising careers. The government launched a propaganda campaign, urging women to get married young, before they became "yellowed pearls".  Leta Hong-Fincher captured that phenomenon in her book Leftover Women (2014). A decade later, with a new updated edition of Leftover Women just out, Leta joins the China Books podcast to talk about why China's Communist Party leaders are still so focused on micro-managing the personal lives of women. President Xi Jinping himself made an explicit appeal at China's National Women's Congress in November 2023, calling on China's women to stay home and have babies. The draconian one-child policy, enforced from 1979 to 2016, had led to a plummeting birthrate, a contracting workforce and an aging population. Now the government is urging women to marry early and have three children. But many of China's women -- about one in five now have college degrees -- seem none  too keen on giving up on dreams to have a career, and perhaps more independence than they would in a marriage. China's fertility rate continues to plummet, and is now about half the replacement rate. The number of marriage licenses granted per year in China has dropped for nine straight years, and is now half of what it was a decade ago.  Faced with inequality of opportunity and of protection under the law when it comes to marriage, property rights, and domestic abuse, women in China are engaged demographic revolution voting with their feet, with potentially profound implications for China's economic and political future.Leta Hong Fincher is the author of Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China (2023, 10th Anniversary Edition) and Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China (2018). She is the first American to receive a Ph.D. from Tsinghua University's Department of Sociology in Beijing and is currently a Research Associate at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University.The China Books podcast is hosted and produced by Mary Kay Magistad, a former award-winning China correspondent for NPR and PRI/BBC's The World, now a senior fellow at Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations. This podcast is a companion of the China Books Review, which offers incisive essays, interviews, and reviews on all things China books-related. Co-publishers are Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations, headed by Orville Schell, and The Wire China, co-founded by David Barboza, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times China correspondent. The Review's editor is Alec Ash, who can be reached at editor@chinabooksreview.com.
Ep. 3:  How China's Future Looked in the Past
Dec 5 2023
Ep. 3: How China's Future Looked in the Past
Dreams of a better future have driven many a revolution, but not all have turned out the way the dreamers imagined.   China's early revolutionaries, a century ago, aimed to rid the country of what they saw as corrupt capitalism and the world of colonialism and imperialism. Instead, they said, socialism would bring a future of peace, prosperity, equality, and social justice.  Not all of that worked out. One of the dreamers was Chen Hansheng, a prominent Western-educated  public intellectual who wrote, lectured, and taught in the United States while secretly working for the Soviet Comintern and Communist Party of China, who worked over time with Zhou Enlai and more briefly with Soviet spy Richard Sorge, and who was close friends Agnes Smedley, an American journalist who supported China's Communist revolution, and with Soong Ching-Ling, the widow of Sun Yat-Sen. Chen's comprehensive surveys of rural regions of China in the 1930s painted a vivid picture of the realities on the ground for China's farmers and villagers, who China's Communist revolution ended up helping in some ways and hurting in others, particularly in the preventable Great Famine of the late '50s and early '60s, when as many as 50 million people starved to death. Chen died in 2004 at age 107.  He lived through a century of epic change in China and in the world that brought some of what he wanted, but not in the way he expected, and a lot of disillusionment. In this  episode, Chen's biographer Stephen R. MacKinnon, lays it all out. Stephen R. MacKinnon is an emeritus professor of 20th Century Chinese history and former director of the Center for Asian Studies at Arizona State University. He has lived and worked in the People’s Republic of China, and has focused on China in his work since the early 1960s. He has written dozens of articles and edited volumes, and is the author of five books on China, including Chen Hansheng: China’s Last Romantic Revolutionary (2023), Wuhan, 1938: War, Refugees, and the Making of Modern China (2008), and Agnes Smedley: The Life and Times of an American Radical (1987).  The China Books podcast is hosted and produced by Mary Kay Magistad, a former award-winning China correspondent for NPR and PRI/BBC's The World, now a senior fellow at Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations. This podcast is a companion of the China Books Review, which offers incisive essays, interviews, and reviews on all things China books-related. Co-publishers are Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations, headed by Orville Schell, and The Wire China, co-founded by David Barboza, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times China correspondent. The Review's editor is Alec Ash, who can be reached at editor@chinabooksreview.com.
Ep. 2: American Correspondents in China
Nov 7 2023
Ep. 2: American Correspondents in China
China's rise is one of the great stories of the past century, and China correspondents have told that story in myriad ways -- as a story of transformation, of falling poverty rates and rising power, of new wealth and old political elites, of new opportunities and unintended consequences, of abuses of rights and of power, of surveillance and censorship.  Together, these different pieces formed a complex and sometimes contradictory picture -- shaping understandings, and sometimes misunderstandings -- about how China is changing, and is changing the world.   American correspondents have been a big part of this effort. In this episode, former CNN China correspondent Mike Chinoy talks his book and documentary film series Assignment China: An Oral History of American Journalists in the People's Republic, about how the work of American China correspondents has changed over seven decades, about why China correspondents matter, and what we lose when fewer are in the field. The China Books podcast is hosted and produced by Mary Kay Magistad, a former award-winning China correspondent for NPR and PRI/BBC's The World, now a senior fellow at Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations. This podcast is a companion of the China Books Review, which offers incisive essays, interviews, and reviews on all things China books-related. Co-publishers are Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations, headed by Orville Schell, and The Wire China, co-founded by David Barboza, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times China correspondent. The Review's editor is Alec Ash, who can be reached at editor@chinabooksreview.com.
Ep. 1:  Chinese Fiction in the Reform & Opening Up Era
Oct 10 2023
Ep. 1: Chinese Fiction in the Reform & Opening Up Era
China's epic transformation over the past four decades has seen cities expand, fortunes rise, and expectations change. It has left Chinese people to either ride the waves of change, or scramble -- perhaps struggle -- to keep up. In the midst of it all, Chinese fiction has reflected and riffed on life on the ground, with humor, satire, pathos, and good old-fashioned story-telling. At times in the Reform and Opening Up era, Chinese fiction has even driven a national conversation.This episode offers a conversation on all of this with two deeply knowledgeable guests: Jianying Zha is a contributor to The New Yorker, and the critically acclaimed author of China Pop: How Soap Operas, Tabloids, and  Bestsellers are Transforming a Culture (1996), Tide Players: The Movers and Shakers of a Rising China (2011), and other books and writing, both fiction and non-fiction, in both English and Chinese. Jianying was born and raised in Beijing, where she studied Chinese literature before moving to the United States in the early 1980s to study English literature. She has, in most of the years since, split time between China and the United States.Perry Link is a deeply respected expert in Chinese language and literature,  Chancellorial Chair Professor for Innovative Teaching Comparative Literature and Foreign Languages in College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at the University of California, Riverside, and an emeritus professor of East Asian studies at Princeton University.  His books include Stubborn Weeds: Popular and Controversial Chinese Literature After the Cultural Revolution (Chinese Literature in Translation)  (1984), Evening Chats in Beijing: Probing China's Predicament (1992), The Uses of Literature: Life in the Socialist Chinese Literary System (2000),  An Anatomy of Chinese: Rhythm, Metaphor, Politics (2013), and I Have No Enemies: The Life and Legacy of Liu Xiaobo (2023). The China Books podcast is hosted and produced by Mary Kay Magistad, a former award-winning China correspondent for NPR and PRI/BBC's The World, now a senior fellow at Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations. This podcast is a companion of the China Books Review, which offers incisive essays, interviews, and reviews on all things China books-related. Co-publishers are Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations, headed by Orville Schell, and The Wire China, co-founded by David Barboza, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times China correspondent. The Review's editor is Alec Ash, who can be reached at editor@chinabooksreview.com.