In the summer of 1953, a massive drought hit the Chinese province of Zhejiang. Villagers took the disaster as a sign that deities were angry at officials for converting temples for secular uses and destroying ritual items, including statues and dragon boats. To placate the gods, villagers rose up to try to take back religious spaces and pray for rain by resuming boat racing, which officials saw as a “superstitious” practice incompatible with the spirit and law of the new People’s Republic.
It somehow always feels in season to ponder when the Chinese Communist Party will have to grapple with a real challenge to its rule, and to cogitate over whether democratic governance is in China’s future. In Democracy in China: The Coming Crisis, Jiwei Ci, a philosophy professor at the University of Hong Kong, constructs an elaborate but cogent argument about how the CCP will only overcome its illegitimacy, along with other tears in the national fabric, by choosing to usher in political democracy, a change that Ci declares is “of dire necessity rather than moral luxury.”
It requires an inventive streak to write extensively of a person whose known biography might only fill a few pages. This is the long shot taken in The Chinese Lady: Afong Moy in Early America, by historian Nancy E Davis, who refers to her as “the first Chinese woman to arrive in America.”
Chinese writer Jia Pingwa is rooted in his own origin story. He says in the Afterword to his most recent novel in English translation, Broken Wings, “Your birthplace has determined who you are,” and that here, “I have written about myself, and only myself.” Jia is from Shaanxi Province, which has places so remote that they can barely even be said to be forgotten, as they exist suspended in their own time and space.
For those who wring their hands over unpredictable voting results—for a nation’s president or a potential split from a political and economic union—the fixed expectations of Chinese elections may be oddly calming. Joshua Hill’s new book, Voting as a Rite: A History of Elections in Modern China, offers a tour of Chinese elections going back over a century, arguing that influential policy makers have favored the notion that voters should be unencumbered by real choices and, armed with an understanding of their political station, essentially head to polls in a “rite” that serves the state’s interests.