Xi Jinping, Mo Yan, Nixon in China, and More


Want to know what’s going in the mind of Xi Jinping, the man about to become China’s leader for life? Then read this penetrating interview with Elizabeth Economy of the CFR on Xi, China’s rise, and what it means for the U.S.


Mo Yan is one of the world’s greatest authors — and offers a lesson for the hordes of American writers hammering out ultra-clean prose in MFA programs without much lived-life experience. The point of connection for most Westerners to Yan lies in the movie Red Sorghum — an adaptation of his novel of the same name — but we are not here today to sell you on Yan’s best-known story. No, we recommend Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh. Yan lived through the cultural revolution, poverty and quite a bit more of adversity throughout his life, as anyone who has read Red Sorghum could probably tell. This time everything is a bit more granular: eight stories, all set in one oppressive world and bound in the pages of a single book.


Jumping over from the mainland to Taiwan, there is still more to enjoy this week in Yi Yi or, if you imagine it in Chinese, a clever visual trick — although it literally means “one by one,” the vertical alignment of the two individual horizontal strokes needed to write “一” or “yi” twice resembles “二” : “er,” or “two.” In case you couldn’t tell from the pictographic pun, director Edward Yang, who won the best director award at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival for this film, is interested in telling a story of generations. But Red Sorghum this is not: we instead meet NJ, the slightly disgruntled middle-aged father doing his best to keep the Jian family satisfied on their path through the world of middle class life in Taipei

ON THIS DAY IN 1972 . . .

Now, as you know, there has been a bit of a spike in Chinese political drama this week with Xi Jinping’s swift move to effectively end any last semblance of democratic rule in China with his likely to succeed attempt to enact a no-term limit rule for his presidency. 46 years ago, however, China had a different lifelong, supreme leader — and he was a lot scarier than Xi. Mao Ze Dong ran a bit of a crazy ship in his inaugural rule over China, but that came after the fact that any chance of pushing a Communist, fiercely independent and very powerful Asian country towards the American side of the Cold War would be a huge coup. Enter Richard Nixon and the one fact about his political career that will always keep him a step away from the full comparison to Donald Trump: when it came to foreign policy, he was proactive and really did tend to know what he was doing.

He knew what he was doing so well, in fact, that on this day in history the Shanghai Communiqué was released by both the U.S. and the People’s Republic during Nixon’s visit to China. The document offered a first step for the normalization of relations between the two superpowers. It was not decisive by any stretch of the imagination, but when you look around today and imagine how the current geo-political landscape could be even worse — well, just imagine a rapidly globalizing China with even less of a legacy for trusting America to tide its belligerence over.