21 min read

China Analysis Digest #69

A weekly curated list of new China-related analyses.

Date range: August 15-22, 2022

Sources scanned: 122

Publications: 191 (English), 41 (Chinese)

Comment: a number of highlighted articles this week revolve around the issue of identity. What does it mean to be a dissident in Xi's China? What does it mean to be a minority people claimed by the state as part of the "Chinese nation"? What does it mean to be "Chinese" in an age of rising nationalism and xenophobia? As we will see, there are no easy answers.

China Watching

China Neican

Reading the China Dream

"[Well-known economist at Peking University] Yao Yang argues that [an updated version of] pre-Qin Confucianism...could offer relief from one of the ills from which liberal democracy in the West is suffering—populism and/or identity politics. In Yao’s reading, both of these stem from liberalism’s embrace of absolute egalitarianism, which is in contradiction with liberalism’s defense of the value of the individual and individual self-determination. Throughout most of liberalism’s history, checks and balances inspired by the republican tradition have enabled an elitism which has kept democratic populism in check, but this these checks and balances have been increasingly rejected in recent decades, thus calling into question Western liberalism’s capacity to exercise good governance. The election of Trump in the US and the UK’s decision to leave the European Union stand as primary examples of what Yao is talking about, but there are many more.

Yao thinks pre-Qin Confucianism offers a solution in talking about relative or relational equality instead of absolute equality. In other words, Confucius, Mengzi, and Xunzi all argued that people are born different, and that they can become a “sage” through effort. Government should thus do what it can to level the playing field, providing the same “starting line” for all members of society (within reason, and without insisting on “absolute equality”) but should also recognize “high achievers” (perhaps our equivalent of “sages”) and grant them greater compensation and authority. Yao thus prefers a politics of meritocratic hierarchy—ruling as society that is as open and mobile as possible—to what he sees as the “beggar your neighbor” politics driven by absolute egalitarianism."
"Here, Yao both celebrates and worries about the end of ideology in China, by which he means the ideology of the Maoist era, vestiges of which survived his passing for a time, to be largely swept away by markets and money by the time Yao composed this essay [in 2008?]. Ideology may have been helpful in forging the consensus necessary to launch China’s reconstruction, Yao argues, but eventually evolved in dangerous directions during the Great Leap Forward and particularly the Cultural Revolution. No one in China is nostalgic for that kind of ideology, Yao insists.

At the same time, however, if a person’s—or a nation’s—sole goal is to make money, this can quickly devolve into mere opportunism, which is what concerns Yao. In this piece, he seems more concerned with opportunism as practiced by China’s government under the cover of pragmatism and commercialization—various levels of government shifting and avoiding responsibilities by centralizing or decentralizing as the situation dictates, without consideration of long-term results or social justice. He cites Russia and India as two examples China definitely does not want to follow, Russia being a kleptocracy and India a non-functional “democracy.”"

China Heritage

[Xu Zhangrun as translated by Geremie R. Barmé:] The age of homelessness is at hand. Its presence is constant; it is never far off. However, the homeless are at home in exile, just as poetry could cleave Mount Buzhou. Those who reprimand may readily be reprimanded in turn. It matters not. We have suffered enough, now it is time to put ourselves to the test...

[Chinese original:] 是的,無家的時代已經來臨,早已經來臨,從來就不曾離去,流亡者偏就以此時代為家,如歌的斧斤砍向不周之山。譴責可能遭遇譴責,那就譴責吧;我們受夠了折磨,該是輪到折磨去盡情折磨自己的時候了。

Comment: Xu's anguish is accompanied by a liberating acceptance of the consequences of his dissent. Barmé is paying so much attention to Xu because Xu represents the humanistic spirit of China in an age of banality. He sees in Xu a venerable lineage that predates the current rulers of China and one that will outlast it.

China Media Project

Opinion Pages

Project Syndicate

"America's world-leading semiconductor industry is a testament to the advantages a competitive market economy has over a command economy like China. But now that the United States has gotten into the business of favoring some producers over others, it is setting the industry up for chronic under-performance...

The CHIPS Act flies in the face of past US policy supporting the open multilateral trading system. It represents exactly the sort of policy that the US has accused China of pursuing. There cannot be a competitive free market in semiconductors once some companies’ plants are heavily subsidized...

China’s recent experience shows why R&D related to individual products is best left to competitive market forces. The Chinese government has poured an estimated $100 billion or more into subsidies and support for the semiconductor industry. Yet...Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “plan to throw money at the semiconductor industry has resulted in many unproductive companies chasing government subsidies, with an estimated 15,700 new semiconductor companies started in the first five months of 2021”...

It is ironic that the Biden administration (along with a bipartisan majority in Congress) has chosen to react to China’s inefficient industrial policy by adopting one of its own."

Wall Street Journal

Australian Financial Review


China Story

"This Zhonghua-centric historical catechism undergirds Xi’s central ideological program for non-Han peoples, namely, the ‘five identitifications’ 五个认同: identification with the great homeland 伟大祖国, with the Zhonghuaminzu 中华民族, with Zhonghua culture 中华文化, with the Chinese Communist Party 中国共产党, and with socialism with Chinese characteristics 中国特色社会主义. Focusing on affiliative identity in this way independent of class status turns Marxist notions of base and superstructure on their head, of course, but that is just what Xi ordered at the Second Central Work Forum on Xinjiang in 2014 when he raised the issue of ethnic and religious identity above economic diagnoses of the Xinjiang problem — previously, development had been treated both as fundamental cause and ultimate solution to unrest. This new focus on the psychological (or ‘spiritual’) rather than the ‘material’ led to the massive effort to reengineer the identity of millions of non-Han minzu in Xinjiang by subjecting them to psychological and physical maltreatment in prison camps."

Comment: this observation also applies to Xi's diagnosis of the key political challenges for the Party: the problem is not the lacking/slowing of economic growth per se, but the uneven division of the pie and the lacking of "spiritual civilisation" and cohesion of identity (hence the emphasis on China's civilisational uniqueness and national pride/humiliation).

War on the Rocks

China-US Focus

East Asia Forum

China Dialogue

Pearls and Irritations

The Strategist

News & Magazines

Foreign Affairs

"The [US'] current course will not just bring indefinite deterioration of the U.S.-Chinese relationship and a growing danger of catastrophic conflict; it also threatens to undermine the sustainability of American leadership in the world and the vitality of American society and democracy at home...

The long-term risk is that the United States will be unable to manage a decades-long competition without falling into habits of intolerance at home and overextension abroad. In attempting to out-China China, the United States could undermine the strengths and obscure the vision that should be the basis for sustained American leadership...

The lodestar for a better approach must be the world that the United States seeks: what it wants, rather than what it fears. Whether sanctions or tariffs or military moves, policies should be judged on the basis of whether they further progress toward that world rather than whether they undermine some Chinese interest or provide some advantage over Beijing. They should represent U.S. power at its best rather than mirroring the behavior it aims to avert. And rather than looking back nostalgically at its past preeminence, Washington must commit, with actions as well as words, to a positive-sum vision of a reformed international system that includes China and meets the existential need to tackle shared challenges."

Comment: Jessica Chen Weiss' argument is on the spot. Whether on industrial policy, tariffs, foreign interference, etc, mirroring Beijing's approach is counterproductive. Can you address a fear by becoming it?

Monkey Cage

The Economist

Rest of World

"A growing demand for reliable health information in China has led to a booming internet medical industry. Tens of thousands of doctors have become social media influencers, with the top ones amassing millions of followers. DXY, which also runs a wide range of medical services, including online consultation and a doctor’s forum...

But earlier this month, DXY’s accounts across multiple social platforms were abruptly suspended...it came after the site hosted accounts that challenged traditional Chinese medicine, especially its use in combating Covid-19 — something the Chinese government is promoting."

Comment: DXY's encounter highlights the narrowing of public spaces that are not subject to politicisation in China, a trend we have seen in multiple areas, including aesthetics, pop culture, literature and scientific research, in recent years. Politicisation is not the sole prerogative of the Chinese state; it is also happening because of the changing sensibilities and rising intolerance among parts of the Chinese public.

Sixth Tone

"What’s [many young Chinese have] left is a vague sense of disillusionment, one that has driven a dramatic shift away from preparing for the future and toward living in the present...

This shift did not begin with the pandemic. Even prior to COVID-19, China’s economy was struggling to find a new growth engine capable of maintaining the staggering growth of the 1990s and 2000s. And there were signs that young Chinese were increasingly unwilling to make the kind of total commitment to work that private companies had grown accustomed to...

This shift is also reflected in people’s apathy toward marriage and childbirth. Family formation has always been the most significant long-term promise — and investment — in an individual’s life...

Almost every living generation of Chinese can claim its share of turmoil and trauma. In a sense, this makes today’s twenty-somethings even more unique. As perhaps the first generation in the past two centuries with no firsthand experience of war, hunger, or economic contraction in their childhood and adolescence, they are largely unprepared for the current malaise. After a lifetime of continuous development and annual GDP growth rates of 6% or higher, what do you do when growth drops to 0.4%, as it did in the second quarter of 2022?

What happens when suspension becomes free fall? The 19th century French sociologist Emile Durkheim called the phenomenon of once-unifying beliefs being questioned and abandoned, but not yet replaced with a new consensus, “anomie”... people become disoriented, frustrated, and lack a sense of purpose and direction. China’s not at that point yet...[but perhaps soon...]"

Comment: the China Dream of national rejuvenation and the state's call, for example, for young people to have more children to offset an ageing population, are not so attractive when you, as a young Chinese, find your life aspirations in tatters because you can't even find a job. What happened last time when we had a large, restive young population in China? Tiananmen 1989. And before that? The Cultural Revolution and the exiling of millions of urban youth to the countryside by Mao. What will Xi do this time?
"Four years into the trade war, China’s high-tech sector remains resilient under the sanctions. Yet the CHIPS act suggests the myth of forced technology transfers as fundamental to Chinese growth continues to haunt U.S. policymaking. But in my new book, “China’s Drive for the Technology Frontier: Indigenous Innovation in the High-tech Industry,” I argue that, compared to the spotty record of China’s technology transfer policy, the real driver of China’s technological progress has been indigenous innovation, a process in which domestic firms innovate to solve problems and create products for the local market based on a mix of knowledge actively learned from advanced countries as well as from China’s own science and technology base...

Although no longer reliant on forced technology transfers, the Chinese chip industry still depends on returnees and overseas talent for their engineering and management expertise, as well as technologies licensed or bought abroad...

Meanwhile, as recent corruption investigations indicate, large state funds are not always efficient allocators of capital.

Nevertheless, while the U.S.-China trade war that broke out in 2018 has slowed China’s technological development in some spheres, it has also accelerated the process of indigenous innovation. Ultimately, this drive, rather than any sanctions, will determine the future of China’s chip industry."

China Digital Times

The Conversation


"China is producing and consuming the largest amount of web fiction in the world [with] more than 20 million full-time, part-time, and dabbling web fiction writers who churn out hundreds of millions of words daily on platforms to satisfy the appetite of 502 million readers, almost half of China’s entire online population. It is a 28.8 billion yuan ($4.4 billion) business with more than 26 million published titles...

Like wuxia and romance novels, web fiction has a reputation — depending on the critic’s generosity — of having little literary value or being corruptive, erosive, and distracting from what is real and important. This is certainly the opinion of the government, which has launched large-scale campaigns once every few years since as early as 2004 to purge fiction platforms of undesirable content. Chapters and even entire novels have been locked because of offending content, often including descriptions of sex, gambling, substance abuse, or gore. In 2020, the National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA) issued a notice requiring web fiction platforms to implement a real-name registration system and tighten up administration within their platforms."

Comment: even during the period of high Maoism, the Chinese people found ways of self-expression and cultural (re)production, some in the crevices not policed by the state, others in the ambiguous borderlands where socialist rhetoric and revolutionary ethos were subverted and repurposed. The point is that human beings will always try to find ways to express themselves.


The Diplomat

Foreign Policy

Think Tanks

Center for Strategic and International Studies

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Council of Foreign Relations

Brookings Institution

Australia-China Relations Institute

China Research Group

RAND Corporation

Observer Research Foundation


Politico China Watcher

Beijing to Britain

Beijing to Canberra and Back

"for the sake of combatting misinformation and counteracting China’s information operations against Taiwan, Canberra has compelling reasons to directly and clearly rebuff Beijing’s suggestion that Australia endorses the one-China principle. The next time a Chinese government representative incorrectly refers to Australia’s supposed one-China principle, Minister Wong and her colleagues should consider calmly correcting the record with something along the lines of the following:

“Australia doesn’t endorse the one-China principle. We have a one-China policy. Among other things, that means that although we acknowledge the position of the Chinese government that Taiwan is a province of the PRC, we don’t support the Chinese government’s view. We remain committed to both recognising the government of the PRC as the sole legal government of China while also deepening our rich and mutually beneficial unofficial ties with the peoples of Taiwan.”"

Maple Kingdom (China-Canada)


Beijing Baselines



Tracking People's Daily

Beijing Channel


China Law Translate

China Trade Monitor

Supreme People's Court Monitor

China Aerospace Studies Institute

Society & Culture

What's on Weibo

"A Chinese female cosplayer who was dressed in a Japanese summer kimono while taking pictures in Suzhou’s ‘Little Tokyo’ area was taken away by local police for ‘provoking trouble.’ The incident has sparked concerns on Chinese social media...

Later...CCTV uncoincidentally promoted a topic (#穿汉服就是回到古代吗#) related to wearing Hanfu or traditional Chinese clothing, writing: “As Chinese national traditional clothing, Hanfu can be fully integrated into modern daily life. (..) Change into Hanfu, let the beautiful culture move forward in a new era!”"

Comment: when pride in one's own country/culture transmutes into a sense of superiority, righteousness/grievance and xenophobia, tragedy looms on the horizon. In China's case, the biggest tragedy would be the closing of the Chinese heart to the world.


Greater China

Taiwan Insight

Chinese Sources








By Adam Ni