Iris Weijun Wang is just like any other New Jersey teen. She enjoys shopping, hanging out with friends and spending time with her boyfriend. Her parents are Chinese immigrants who speak English at home and are pretty hands off when it comes to their daughter’s school work and extracurricular activities. But when they learn during Iris’s last semester of high school that she’s about to flunk out and has been rejected from every college she has applied to, Iris’s parents flip out. Her otherwise laid-back father comes up with the perfect solution to teach Iris some responsibility. Off to China she goes.

For some men, getting to know a woman isn’t quite what it seems. In this quirky collection of stories by Xu Xu, we can read about a man who dates a would-be ghost, another takes up with a supposedly mentally-challenged girl who has conversations with birds and eventually becomes a Buddhist nun, a third hooks up in a pro forma marriage (which later becomes real) with a mysterious Jewish woman whom a new acquaintance has asked him to help get to Europe, and a fourth falls in love with a strange girl who eventually kills herself after telling her tragic personal story to the narrator.

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.

November 12, 1941 was in Shanghai a day like another. Except that this was the day of the Champions Day horse races at the Shanghai Race Club. And that within a month the Japanese would put an end to the Shanghai that everyone knew.  In Champions Day: The End of Old Shanghai, James Carter uses this one day to paint a “kaleidoscopic portrait” of a dynamic city on the brink of war. On that day thousands of people across Shanghai gathered at one of three places around the city: a celebration of Sun Yat-sen’s birthday; the funeral of Liza Hardoon, Asia’s wealthiest woman; and the Champions Day horse races at the Shanghai Race Club.

Chinese often claim a special relationship, sometimes verging on kinship, with Jews. The origins and reasons remain unclear but it may be at least in part due to two Jewish families—the Sassoons and their rivals, the Kadoories—both of whom played lasting roles in the development of two of China’s most modern cities: Shanghai and its rival, Hong Kong.

One of the sloppier—and disturbingly frequent—critical lapses on either end of the ideological spectrum is to confuse modernization with Westernization. Some 20 years ago, Leo Ou-fan Lee’s Shanghai Modern sweepingly linked Eileen Chang’s novels, Ruan Lingyu’s films, jazz music in the dance halls, and graphic design in advertising and popular magazines not as local knock-offs of Paris and New York but rather a distinctly cohesive expression of an unprecedented cosmopolitan Chinese sensibility.

My Village: Selected Poems 1972-2014, Wu Sheng, John Balcom (trans) (Zephyr Press, May 2020)
My Village: Selected Poems 1972-2014, Wu Sheng, John Balcom (trans) (Zephyr Press, May 2020)

Wu Sheng has written vivid poems about rural life and the land since the 1960s, when he became one of Taiwan’s most popular poets. His poems are rooted in the soil, imbued with an unshakable affinity for the people who till it, sweat over it, and eventually are buried in it, and serve as his personal response to the industrialization, urbanization and globalization of his vanishing world.