Sinica Podcast

A weekly discussion of current affairs in China with journalists, writers, academics, policy makers, business people and anyone with something compelling to say about the country that's reshaping the world. Hosted by Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn and powered by
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Apr 20, 2017

As a career U.S. foreign service officer and the acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs at the U.S. State Department, Susan Thornton has had a hand in the China policy of three successive American administrations. She was stationed in China for the years 2000-2007, and since then has held leadership positions in Washington connected to U.S.-China relations. Before 2000, she specialized in and was stationed in post-Soviet states, including Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

She is an excellent interpreter of how U.S.-China relations have developed in the 21st century, and a key player in current U.S.-China policy.

In this podcast: What really happened at Mar-a-Lago? Was the Trump team prepared? Was the timing of the Syria strike intentional? How does the U.S. administration plan to press China on North Korea, and will it continue to criticize China on human rights?

This podcast was recorded live on April 12 at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., with the help of that university’s chapter of Global China Connection.


Jeremy: “Logical Thinking” (逻辑思维 luóji sīwéi), a popular channel on WeChat that broadcasts a one-minute recording on an issue of society in mainland China every day. Search for “逻辑思维” on WeChat.

Susan: The Immobile Empire, by Alain Peyrefitte, a book on Lord George Macartney’s famous trip to visit the Qianlong Emperor in 1793 and cross-cultural perceptions between the British and Chinese empires.

Kaiser: Chinese History: A New Manual, by Endymion Wilkinson. The invaluable tome covering China from many different angles is often described as “magisterial.”

Apr 13, 2017

Virginia A. Kamsky, also known as Ginny, is one of the leading foreign businesspeople in China and a legend of the U.S.-China commercial relationship.

She first went to China in 1978 with what was then the Chase Manhattan Bank, before the country began “reform and opening up” and when very few foreigners visited. Ginny founded Kamsky Associates, Inc., in 1980, one of the first U.S. companies to be granted a business license in China. As a strategic advisory firm, Kamsky works with a wide array of clients ranging from automobile, chemical, finance, media, and more.

Unlike some foreign business people but like many of the most successful business leaders in China, she has a background in Chinese language and culture, having learned it since she was ten years old. On the podcast, she shares some of her experiences getting to know some of the more notable politicians, executives, and entrepreneurs working in China, and the opportunities and pitfalls of doing business there as a woman and as a foreigner.

Ginny will also be featured next month — on May 18, 2017 — as a speaker on the CEO / Leaders panel of the SupChina Women and China Conference in New York.


Jeremy: 5 Calls, a smartphone app designed for the American “resistance” to Donald Trump, which gives you the numbers of five elected representatives or government offices in the U.S. to contact every day based on your location.

Ginny: A video of Chinese ballroom dancing from 1929, plus the new book of Brookings scholar Cheng Li, Chinese Politics in the Xi Jinping Era: Reassessing Collective Leadership.

Kaiser: Crazy Aaron Thinking Putty, a fun toy his son discovered and that Kaiser has found quite useful as a sort of stress ball.

Apr 6, 2017

Is nationalism really rising in China? How does it differ from patriotism? What is “Eurasianism” and how does Russia use that concept? How much of China’s nationalism is rooted in the “century of humiliation” that the country suffered at the hands of Western countries and Japan between 1839 and 1949? Jeremy and Kaiser spoke with two eminent scholars of nationalism in Russia and China to find out.

Charles Clover is a correspondent with the Financial Times based in Beijing, and author of Black Wind, White Snow: The Rise of Russia's New Nationalism.

Jude Blanchette is a scholar currently writing a book on neo-Maoists in China, who, he explains, have their own interpretation of Chinese nationalism. Jude was a guest on a previous episode of the Sinica Podcast dedicated to the subject of neo-Maoists.


Jeremy: “The Age of Total Lies,” a translation of an essay written by Vesna Pešić, a Serbian opposition politician and human rights activist.

Jude: The Political Logic of Economic Reform in China, published in 1993 by Susan Shirk.

Charles: Easternization: Asia's Rise and America's Decline From Obama to Trump and Beyond, by Gideon Rachman.

Kaiser: Age of Anger: A History of the Present, by Pankaj Mishra, and the 1987 film Repentance, a view into life under Stalinism by Georgian filmmaker Tengiz Abuladze.


Mar 30, 2017

16+1, a new Chinese initiative, takes its name from 16 countries of Central and Eastern Europe plus China. It held a summit in November 2016 attended by Premier Li Keqiang and prime ministers or deputy prime ministers from the other member states. Earlier, President Xi Jinping had visited three countries in the region — Serbia, Poland, and the Czech Republic.

What’s it all for? How have China’s overtures been received by the governments of Central and Eastern Europe? Many of them — like those of Poland and the Czech Republic — had, until recently, real difficulties in their relations with China. And how have the two powers flanking Central and Eastern Europe — Russia to the east and the EU to the west — reacted to China’s creation of 16+1?

For answers to these questions and many more, Kaiser and Jeremy talked to Martin Hála, a China scholar who heads a project called AcaMedia, which is based in his native Prague.


Jeremy: The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera.

Martin: Black Wind, White Snow, by Charles Clover, Eurasian integration: Caught between Russia and China, by the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Kaiser: The “relative calculator” app on WeChat, which calculates the correct Chinese term for family relations. Search for 亲戚计算器 (qīnqi jìsuànqì) on WeChat.


Mar 23, 2017

Earlier this month, Kaiser recorded a discussion in front of a live audience at the 1990 Institute in San Francisco with three luminaries of the China-watching scene: Yasheng Huang, MIT Sloan Professor of Chinese Economy and Business, John Pomfret, author of The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom, and Andy Rothman, investment strategist at Matthews Asia.

They got together to talk about how the presidency of Donald Trump will affect trade, politics, the international order, currency policies, and several other sides of the American relationship with China.

Mar 16, 2017

Chris Buckley is a highly regarded and very resourceful correspondent for The New York Times, who is based in Beijing. He has worked as a researcher and journalist in China since 1998, including a stint at Reuters, and is one of the few working China correspondents with a Ph.D. in China studies. Chris’s coverage has included politics, foreign policy, rural issues, human rights, the environment, and climate change. He also has an informative and sometimes very amusing Twitter account.

In this podcast, recorded with a live audience in Beijing, Kaiser and Jeremy ask Chris about his tradecraft and sourcing of stories about elite Chinese politics, his views on Xi Jinping and the anti-corruption campaign, and what we can expect from the 19th Party Congress this fall. Chris also talks about the joys of journalism in a country that makes it very difficult to do.


Jeremy: Interactive infographic about the Party’s “Leading Small Groups” produced by the Mercator Institute for China Studies, Great Wall Fresh - restaurant and wild Great Wall hiking.

Chris: Intentions: Examining my peers in the Republic 心路-透视共和国同龄人 by Mi Hedu 米鹤都 (on Chinese Amazon store), All Sages Bookstore (in Chinese)万圣书屋 in Beijing

Kaiser: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Mar 9, 2017

By day, Andrew Dougherty is a macroeconomist who manages a China research team for Capital Group, one of the world’s largest actively managed mutual funds. By night, he is Big Daddy Dough, creator of an album of parody hip-hop songs that explain various facets of the contemporary Chinese political and economic situation, from fixed-asset investment to leadership succession. On a recent trip to Beijing, Kaiser and Jeremy sat down with Big Daddy Dough to listen to some of his songs and talk about the serious issues he describes in a lighthearted way in his music.

You can listen to Big Daddy Dough’s album and watch his music videos on his website: The Red Print Album.


Jeremy: China Heritage website.

Andrew: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J. D. Vance.

Kaiser: The Devil Made Me Do It, a hip-hop album by Paris. 


Mar 2, 2017

Jane Perlez has been a reporter at The New York Times since 1981. She won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for coverage of the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. She has reported on wars, diplomacy, and foreign policy from Somalia to Poland to Indonesia. Since moving to Beijing in 2012, she’s written about everything from China’s space program to the Dixie Mission — the group of Americans sent to Mao Zedong’s revolutionary base at Yan’an who hoped to establish good relations between the U.S. and the soon-to-be-victorious Chinese communists. Last year, she took over from Edward Wong (listen to his exit interview on Sinica here) to become the Times’s Beijing bureau chief.

Much of Jane’s reporting has focused on China’s foreign policy, particularly its relations with the United States and its Asian neighbors. So she is the ideal interpreter for us as we try to understand Chinese foreign relations in a new age of uncertainty. Jeremy interviewed Jane in front of a live audience at the Beijing Bookworm for this podcast.

Feb 23, 2017

John Grobler is a Namibian investigative reporter who has devoted more than two years of his life to examining the complex webs of organized crime funneling rhino horn from Africa to east Asia. Shi Yi 石毅, a Chinese environmental reporter, worked with him and went undercover posing as a businessperson to meet and report on the young Chinese men who engage in this nefarious activity abroad. Jeremy chatted with both of them when he attended the Africa-China Journalists Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa in November 2016 (listen to his other conversations with African journalists on last week’s Sinica Podcast).

Separately, Kaiser interviewed Nicole Elizabeth Barnes of Duke University, an expert on Chinese medicine. Nicole, John, and Shi Yi all discussed China’s role in the illegal rhino horn trade, debunking myths about its use as an aphrodisiac and explaining how upper class and status-conscious Chinese and Vietnamese are fueling demand for this and other rare natural products.

All three recommended listeners to support WildAid, one of the foremost organizations campaigning against the poaching of elephants and black rhinos. John also recommends supporting Oxpeckers, an African environmental investigative reporting unit that supports his work in Namibia. Nicole further recommended supporting the World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy, and marking World Rhino Day, September 22nd, on your calendar to raise awareness of the work CITIES and TRAFFIC do to monitor and crack down on illegal wildlife trade.

Feb 16, 2017

In November 2016, Sinica co-host Jeremy Goldkorn attended a conference in his native South Africa called the Africa-China Journalists Forum. The forum was convened to discuss the often-polarized media coverage of China’s involvement in Africa, and to consider how to accentuate the African perspective — rather than the Chinese or Western ones — on how China is changing lives in Africa. In addition to moderating the forum, Jeremy interviewed two organizers of the forum who are longtime observers of China in Africa: Barry Van Wyk and Bob Wekesa. Both are highly knowledgeable of journalism in Africa, and work for the Africa-China Reporting Project at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, where the forum was held.

In this short episode, Barry and Bob explain the differences between Chinese, African, and Western journalists, the state of reporting on China-in-Africa issues, and the work that the Africa-China Reporting Project is doing to build a “human grassroots approach” to reporting such a large and controversial story. They also recommended several of their favorite stories that have come out of the project in its work to sponsor aspiring African and Chinese journalists:

  • Nfor Kingsley Monde on China’s role driving deforestation in Cameroon, and on the flipside, Manyanye Paul Ikome on how China has contributed greatly to improving public health in that same country.
  • Other stories on health care, such as this one by Fousseni Saibou.
  • A few highlights from Chinese journalists: Chen Xiaochen on a sisal farm in Tanzania, and Yang Meng on the gold mines of Ghana.
  • Fredrick Mugira on Uganda’s copper mines.
  • Stories on the Standard Gauge Railway being built in Kenya and east Africa, such as this one by Allan Olingo.


Feb 9, 2017

A top diplomat during the Clinton administration, author of the influential book China: Fragile Superpower: How China’s Internal Politics Could Derail Its Peaceful Rise, research professor and chair of the 21st Century China Center at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego, and co-author of a new high-level task force report on U.S.-China policy, Susan Shirk is one of the most sought-after voices on Chinese politics and U.S.-China relations.

Today’s Sinica Podcast features an interview with Susan recorded live on January 30 during the Chinese New Year celebrations at the Long US-China Institute at UC Irvine. Susan talks about how China and its role in the world have dramatically changed in the last decade; how the country’s leaders have grown increasingly fragile and fearful of disloyalty even as their power has grown; and how those leaders likely share her trepidation that the Trump administration may recklessly “trash the entire relationship” between the two countries.


Jeremy: His new hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, a wonderful place to visit, contrary to the misconceptions that many coastal Americans have about the South. Also Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where Kaiser lives.

Susan: The School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego, which has a special focus on Asia and a strong group of China scholars. The China Focus blog, written by students at UC San Diego. The China 21 Podcast, produced by the 21st Century China Center.

Kaiser: The Sellout, a satire novel by Paul Beatty, the first American author to win the Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

Feb 2, 2017

In the last three years, John Zhu has embarked on a mission to build a bridge between Chinese and Western cultures by retelling one of China’s great classics in accessible audio episodes. He has released over 100 chapters of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast.

Three Kingdoms, as it is sometimes called, is one of China’s four great novels, along with Water Margin, Journey to the West, and Dream of the Red Chamber. Together, they have exerted an influence in China similar to the extraordinary impact on language and culture of the King James Bible and Shakespeare in the Anglophone world. Three Kingdoms is reminiscent of a fantastical epic like Lord of the Rings, with its tales massive medieval military forces competing for dominance, and introduces hundreds of iconic characters representing the gamut of the human experience.

Listen to Jeremy and Kaiser’s interview with John Zhu to get a taste of Three Kingdoms and how John’s global listeners are responding to a Chinese classic. To learn more about China’s four great novels, see this piece by the editors of SupChina.


Jeremy: “Trump on China,” ChinaFile’s tracker of every Trump administration statement relating to China, plus quotes from Trump going back five years.

John: For readers of Chinese, (连环画 liánhuánhuà), a website where you can find scanned and catalogued pictures from hundreds of classic Chinese graphic novels and children’s books. For non-readers of Chinese, the Chinese Sayings podcast, new from Laszlo Montgomery (noted for his long-running China History Podcast). A few of the Chinese Sayings episodes have already sought to explain phrases originating from Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Kaiser: Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI, a turn-based strategy video game where you can role-play, control cities, develop land, run economies, build and train armies, and strategize wars, all in the historical setting of Romance of the Three Kingdoms.


Jan 26, 2017

Sidney Rittenberg is a labor activist from Charleston, South Carolina, who went to China as a translator for the U.S. Army in 1945 and stayed until 1980.

In this episode, Sidney talks about the conditions he endured during his two periods of solitary confinement, Sino-American relations, the behavior of Russian advisers sent to China by the Soviet Union, and much more. Part one of our interview is here.

You can read a Q&A with Sidney on SupChina here. You can buy Sidney’s books: an autobiography, The Man Who Stayed Behind, and Manage Your Mind: Set Yourself Free, on lessons he learned while in solitary confinement. The Revolutionary is a documentary film about his life (also available on Amazon).

Jan 19, 2017

Sidney Rittenberg was a labor activist in the American South before going to China as a translator for the U.S. Army in 1945. He stayed there until 1980, joining the Communist Party and going to the revolutionary base at Yan’an, where he got to know Mao Zedong and other senior members of the Party who went on to govern China. He also spent 16 years in solitary confinement.

In this first episode of a two-part interview, Kaiser and Jeremy talk to Sidney about his fascinating life story.

You can read a Q&A with Sidney on SupChina here. You can buy Sidney’s books: an autobiography, The Man Who Stayed Behind, and Manage Your Mind: Set Yourself Free, on lessons he learned while in solitary confinement. The Revolutionary is a documentary film about his life.


Jan 12, 2017

Ken Liu is a science-fiction writer, translator, computer programmer, and lawyer. He has written two novels and more than 100 short stories. His short story “The Paper Menagerie” is the first work of fiction, of any length, to win all three of the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards. Among his translations are two of the three parts of the Chinese science-fiction hit The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin.

In this episode of the Sinica Podcast, Ken talks to Kaiser and Jeremy about his own work, the significance of The Three-Body Problem in the Chinese literary world, and the current state of Chinese science fiction.


Jeremy: Understanding China Through Comics series, by Liu Jing: Foundations of Chinese Civilization: The Yellow Emperor to the Han Dynasty, Division to Unification in Imperial China: The Three Kingdoms to the Tang Dynasty, and Barbarians and the Birth of Chinese Identity: The Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms to the Yuan Dynasty.

Ken: Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, by Bee Wilson.

Kaiser: Deadwood TV series.


The Three-Body trilogy, by Liu Cixin: The Three-Body Problem, translated by Ken Liu, The Dark Forest, translated by Joel Martinsen, and Death’s End, translated by Ken Liu.

Invisible Planets: An anthology of contemporary Chinese science fiction, translated by Ken Liu.

Fiction by Ken Liu: The Grace of Kings, The Wall of Storms (read an excerpt on SupChina here), and The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories.


Jan 5, 2017

Alec Ash is a young British writer who lives in Beijing, who has covered “left behind” children in Chinese villages, the “toughest high school exam in the world” and internet live streaming among many other subjects. He is the author of Wish Lanterns, which the Financial Times called a “closely observed study of China’s millennials.” The book tells the stories of six Chinese people born between 1985 and 1990. The characters have very different backgrounds and aspirations, including a rock musician named Lucifer, an internet addict named Snail, and a patriotic Party official’s daughter.  

In this episode of the Sinica Podcast, Alec discusses his book with Kaiser, Jeremy, and David Moser. He talks about contemporary youth culture in China, the concerns of Chinese millennials, how he met the six characters in the book and what we can understand about China’s changing culture from their stories.


Jeremy: Unreliable Sources: How the Twentieth Century Was Reported, by John Simpson.

David: The Oxford Illustrated History of Modern China, edited by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom.

Alec: The Barbarians at the Gate podcast.

Kaiser: Battle Cry of Freedom, by James M. McPherson — ”the best single-volume history of the American Civil War that I know of” — and Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping, by Stephen R. Platt.


Dec 29, 2016

Ian Johnson is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist who has lived in Beijing and Taiwan for more than half of the past 30 years, writing for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books and other publications. Ian has written two books: one on civil society and grassroots protest in China (Wild Grass) and another on Islamism and the Cold War in Europe (A Mosque in Munich). His next book, The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao will be published in April 2017.

Ian has covered the gamut of religious topics in China from the recent tightening of controls on the faithful to shariah with Chinese characteristics to Taoism, and is uniquely qualified to discuss the subject of this episode of the Sinica Podcast: the complicated relationship between the Vatican and the Chinese Communist Party. Kaiser, Jeremy, and frequent guest host David Moser talk to Ian about the Catholic Church in China: the arrival of Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century, the current state of Catholicism and what the recent apparent warming of relations between the Church and the Party means.


Jeremy: Continental Shift: A Journey into Africa's Changing Fortunes, by Kevin Bloom and Richard Poplak.

Ian: The Missionary's Curse and Other Tales from a Chinese Catholic Village, by Henrietta Harrison.

David: The Mandarin learning website Hacking Chinese.

Kaiser: The Westworld TV series.

Dec 22, 2016

John Pomfret first went to China as a student in 1980 and covered the Tiananmen demonstrations in 1989 for the Associated Press. He was expelled for his efforts, but returned to Beijing a decade later to head up the Washington Post’s Beijing bureau. For more on his experience and some compelling and little-known stories, listen to the first half of this two-part Sinica Podcast and read our accompanying Sinica backgrounder.

In this week’s episode, Kaiser and Jeremy continue to talk with John about his new book, The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom, which charts the history of America’s relationship with China. John explains that the countries have been intertwined long before the ping-pong diplomacy often credited for ushering in U.S.-China relations in the early 1970s. You can read the short prologue to John’s book, republished with permission here.


John: The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen, and The Boat Rocker, by Ha Jin.

Kaiser: The albums Tarkus and Welcome Back, My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends ~ Ladies and Gentlemen, by Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Jeremy: A VICE video on ginseng in the Appalachian Mountains, and The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, translated by Jack Zipes.

Dec 15, 2016

John Pomfret was 14 years old when Henry Kissinger began interacting with China in secret. He took his fascination to Stanford University’s East Asian Studies program, where he was among a select group of exchange students invited to spend a year at Nanjing University in 1980, shortly after Nixon established diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China.

John went back to China as a reporter for the AP in 1988, nine months before the Tiananmen demonstrations, and was expelled from the country after covering the protests’ violent turn. He returned to China again in 1998 to head up the Washington Post’s Beijing bureau. John has also reported from Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey and Iran.

In this week’s episode, Kaiser and Jeremy talk to John about his new book, The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom, which charts the history of America’s relationship with China. John explains that the countries have been intertwined long before the ping-pong diplomacy often credited for ushering in U.S.-China relations in the early 1970s.

Dec 8, 2016

Wu Fei is a classically trained composer and performer of the guzheng, or traditional Chinese 21-string zither. Abigail Washburn is a Grammy Award–winning American banjo player and fluent speaker of Chinese. They’ve been friends for a decade and are now recording an album together. They sat down with Jeremy and Kaiser to talk about their paths to becoming musicians, and how their new work is melding Chinese and American folk music.

We’re excited to include in this podcast a number of songs by the duo that have not yet been released elsewhere. We hope you enjoy this special episode of Sinica.

Please see the Sinica backgrounder for links to articles and videos about the two musicians.


Wu Fei: Gabriel Prokofiev

Abigail: Lau, Juno by Béla Fleck

Jeremy: Franco and TPOK Jazz, The Wu-Force

Kaiser: Sleepytime Gorilla Museum 

Dec 1, 2016

Edward Wong became a reporter for The New York Times in 1999. He covered the Iraq war from Baghdad from 2003 to 2007, and then moved to Beijing in 2008. He has written about a wide range of subjects in China for the Times, and became its Beijing bureau chief in 2014. For more on Ed’s background and samples of his reporting, find our Sinica backgrounder here.

Ed is a regular guest on the Sinica Podcast, with many appearances going back to August 2011, when he joined the show to discuss his profile of documentary filmmaker Zhao Liang and self-censorship in the arts scene at that time. Since then, he has appeared on many Sinica episodes, including a discussion of the “trial of the century” (which resulted in the conviction of senior Communist Party leader Bo Xilai for bribery, abuse of power and embezzlement) and what it meant for media transparency, and an episode in which Ed drew on his years as a war correspondent in Iraq to comment on China’s view of the Middle East in the age of the Islamic State.

In this week’s episode, Kaiser and Jeremy talk to Ed about the state of foreign correspondence in China: the differences in today’s reporting environment compared with a decade ago, and how media companies deal with censorship and hostility from the Chinese government.


Jeremy: Little North Road: Africa in China, photography of Africans in Guangzhou, China, by Daniel Traub and others. Also check out the accompanying website, Xiaobeilu.

Ed: Two documentaries by Zhao Liang. One is Crime and Punishment, which is distributed in the U.S. through dGenerate Films. The other is Petition. Both films are available on Amazon.

Kaiser: “Can Xi pivot from China’s disrupter-in-chief to reformer-in-chief?,” by Damien Ma.

Nov 22, 2016

In addition to teaching history at the University of British Columbia, Carla Nappi hosts the New Books in East Asian Studies and New Books in Science, Technology and Society podcasts. She is also the author of The Monkey and the Inkpot, a book about the Ming dynasty doctor, herbalist and natural scientist Li Shizhen, who is known for his Materia Medica.

Carla joined Kaiser and Jeremy for a wide-ranging conversation covering topics from Li Shizhen to British scientist and writer Joseph Needham, from the history of science in China to podcasting, and from Carla’s voracious book appetite to her decidedly unorthodox approach to teaching.


Jeremy: Sounding Islam in China.

Carla: The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing.

Kaiser: Scalawag magazine.

Nov 17, 2016

In this episode of the Sinica Podcast, Kaiser and Jeremy talk to Fuchsia about her time at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine, how she chooses recipes for her books and the gamut of flavors of Chinese cuisine.

"You both want to challenge people and give people dishes that they don’t necessarily know, but also to offer them things that are doable and that are palatable," says Fuchsia Dunlop, a British writer who has won a cult following with her recipe books of Chinese food.

Fuchsia’s 2013 book, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, won the 2014 James Beard Award for an international cookbook. The renowned culinary organization also recognized much of her other work, which includes more books as well as articles featured in publications such as Lucky Peach, The New Yorker and the Financial Times. In addition, Fuchsia has appeared on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, CNN’s On China and NPR’s All Things Considered, consults on Chinese cooking for major companies and gives speeches around the world. For someone who described her relationship with Chinese cuisine as one that began fortuitously, it is an impressive list of accomplishments.

As the first foreign student at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine, Fuchsia studied the regional cooking style along with about 50 other students, only two of whom were women. She remembers the gender dynamics of that experience, as well as the slow transition of her classmates toward calling her by her name rather than laowai, the Chinese slang word for foreigner.

Fuchsia’s latest book, Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes from the Culinary Heart of China, delves into the cuisine of Jiangnan. It’s a region whose flavors she loves just as much as those of Sichuan, which she also has written about.

Relevant links:

Appetite for China: The website of Diana Kuan, writer, cooking teacher and author of The Chinese Takeout Cookbook.

The Cleaver Quarterly: A publication that "covers Chinese cuisine as a global phenomenon and a lifelong mission."

Travel China Guide: Eight Cuisines of China - Shandong & Guangdong.


Jeremy: Ximalaya, an app for listening to audio content in Chinese.

Kaiser: No-knead bread.

Fuchsia: A Chinese cleaver.

Nov 10, 2016

John Holden has one word of advice for people trying to understand China: humility.

"Anybody who tries to come to grips with China, a country with a very rich civilization, a long history... You just have to be humble in recognizing that there are things you will get wrong, things you will miss," he says around the 36-minute mark of this week's episode.

John is one to know. After completing his master's degree in Chinese language and literature at Stanford University in 1980, he worked on a project to translate the Encyclopedia Britannica into Chinese. In 1981, he served as an interpreter for National Geographic during an expedition along the Yellow River. From 1986 to 1998, he was chairman of the China branch of Cargill, a large multinational company, and from there he went on to provide high-level consulting and business leadership to a number of firms working in the nation. He also served as president of the National Committee on United States–China Relations from 1998 to 2005, was chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, and currently holds a position with the Asia program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In addition, he is associate dean with the Yenching Academy of Peking University, which offers a master's degree in China studies.

Being humble isn't the only advice John has for people trying to understand China. Business leaders looking for insight should listen around the 27-minute mark. There John explains the value of taking the time to "double down" on researching the local market and mastering customer communication on Chinese social media. And if you want a peek at the personalities of some of China's top political leaders of the past, check out the 18-minute mark or so, where John discusses meeting with the "very, very smart" Wu Yi and Zhu Rongji.

Amid all of the changes John has witnessed in China over the past several decades — he notes its business environment has become increasingly competitive and challenging for foreign firms, and access to political leaders has become more difficult — he has also observed at least one steadfast feature: "That drive to be more open and to learn and to study — that is the most salient feature of my experience with China over the past 35 years, and it's still very much there today," he says near the 12-minute point of the podcast.

At the present, John sees China at a crossroads of rapid economic and political change that is fueling a stream of news reports about the nation becoming more closed to foreign culture and investment. He is hopeful it is just a phase of the development of an increasingly complex country.

"China has been a story in my lifetime of two steps forward, one step back," he says around the 26-minute mark. "We may be one step back at the moment."


John: Review of the American Chamber of Commerce's involvement in China: "AmCham China Legacy: A Better Business Environment," by Graham Norris, and The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to the Present, by John Pomfret.

Jeremy: Article from the South China Morning Post about Cuban-Chinese: "Lost in Cuba: China’s ‘forgotten diaspora'"

Kaiser: Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China's Push for Global Power, by Howard French.

Ada: The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, by Ian Johnson.

Nov 10, 2016

The U.S. election is over, and Donald Trump’s pundit-defying victory over Hillary Clinton has stunned and surprised people all over the world. In China — where activity on Weibo and WeChat indicated strong support for Trump among netizens both in China and in the U.S. — are elites and the Communist Party leadership happy with the outcome? Or would they have rather seen a Clinton victory, preferring the familiarity and stability that a Hillary Clinton administration would have represented, despite the almost-universal view in China of the former secretary of state as an unalloyed liberal interventionist who hammered China relentlessly on human rights?

And what will the Trump victory mean for U.S.-China relations? Will Trump’s fiery anti-China rhetoric on the campaign trail translate into actual policy? Will he hew to his promise to declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office? Will he go through with threats to slap heavy tariffs on Chinese imports? And will Trump, who as a candidate was highly equivocal on his support for American allies in the western Pacific, give China a freer hand in the region?

Finally, how will the Trump victory impact views on democracy? Will it, as James Palmer has suggested, take some of the shine off the city on the hill for young people who admired American democracy — or will it reinforce the idea that the U.S. electoral system really does express the “will of the people”?

Isaac Stone Fish, who has written recently about the U.S. election from the Chinese perspective, joins Kaiser in a conversation about these topics and more. Isaac is a senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations and formerly served as Asia editor at Foreign Policy. He spent election night with a Chinese constitutional law professor, who by 11 p.m. was comforting a horrified Isaac about the strength and resilience of American democracy.


Isaac: The music of Leonard Cohen — “like bathing in whiskey,” says Isaac. Check out David Remnick's profile of the poet, writer and singer in a recent issue of The New Yorker. Also, an alternative pronunciation of the word melancholy.

Kaiser: Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcastby John Zhu — an excellent retelling in colloquial English of the Chinese classic of warfare, heroism, strategy and betrayal by Luo Guanzhong, based on the translation by Moss Roberts.

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