This week on Sinica, Jeremy Goldkorn is pleased to be joined by two people navigating the English-language publishing industry as it involves China: Alice Xin Liu, editor of Pathlight magazine, and Karen Ma, first-time author of the well-received book Excess Baggage. Listen to the show online, or grab it manually to save or share online using our standalone mp3 download.

With both of our guests being women, our conversation starts out by talking about gender issues in the publishing industry, but from there segues into questions of Chinese identity, life abroad, and what sort of books the market supports. We eventually settle into the China-India rivalry with our own impressions about the differences between the two countries, not only in terms of the air quality, but also how New Dehli stacks up against Beijing in the literary scene.
 said on
May 5, 2014
Great show! Please post recommendation links!
 said on
May 6, 2014
"Going Dutch" means "not showing women the due respect", whereas "picking up the tap" is "trying harder"? I didn't know women's respect is that cheap. Talk about gender stereotype!

And Alice Liu just sat there kept her mouth shut? Was she not a guest on a previous episode about feminism and gender equality?
 said on
May 7, 2014
Are creepy white guys in America hitting on yellow girls more creepy than creepy yellow girls in China hitting on white guys?

A lot more of the latter too.
 said on
May 9, 2014
wgj: I have no idea what you're talking of -- can you clarify?

Here are some links to what I discussed:

Claire Messud on likeable female characters

Rebecca Solnit and "mansplaining"

Recommendation: Following Gray Tan (谭光磊) of Grayhawk Agency on Facebook for an insight on getting Chinese books into translation.

 said on
May 9, 2014
@alicexinliu: Sure, I can clarify:

I was talking about Ms. Ma's monologue shortly after you bring up the term "creepy white guy" (12:10), in which she describes a fictional discussion from her book - two western women talking about their "bad experiences dating western men". These men would dare to suggest splitting restaurant bills when going out with the women, which, as Ms. Ma casually comments, is of course "not really showing the women the due respect". Whereas Japanese men would "try harder" and "definitely pick up the tap".

The cognitive dissonance between those comments and the complaint again differential treatment of female writers and women in general is staggering. Every time I wonder if I am in fact prejudiced against feminism, stuff like this happens ans remind me that feminism totally deserves most of the prejudice it gets.

It's hard to believe you didn't know what I was talking about - and that you didn't say anything during the recording. Perhaps you simply spaced out during that bizarre monologue of Ms. Ma? If that's the case, you're fully excused.
 said on
May 10, 2014
wgj: I feel like I've been having this conversation with disgruntled commenters my entire life. Again proving the theory that every time someone says "I wonder if I am in fact prejudiced against feminism, stuff like this happens and remind me that feminism totally deserves most of the prejudice it gets" another would-be feminist would shut up rather than speak up. Karen Ma was talking within the context of her writing, which is, now bear with me, FICTION (as you yourself point out: "in which she describes a fictional discussion from her book").

Also, I believe the right phrase is "pick up the tab," not, as you would have it, "pick up the tap."
 said on
May 10, 2014
This was not fiction. In any case Karen Ma's book is biographical by her own admission.

The creepy white guys are poorly paid English teachers.

And the message for them is clear - until they pick up the tab, Ms Ma will

not reward them.

What did Jeremy think when he heard this - hello white English teacher :)

I wonder how the CWGs see Ms Ma: as Japanese or Mainlander.

Either possibility seems to be equally offensive to her: she is white on the inside.

And yet there was an interesting pause when Jeremy asked her if she sometimes

felt Japanese. Like it or not, there is a mainland hart beating in there. :)
 said on
May 12, 2014
@alicexinliu: Your excuse for Ms. Ma's comments is simply ludicrous. Yes, her writing is (semi-)fictional, but her *elaboration* of said writing wasn't fictional at all. It's utterly obvious that the phrase "not really showing the women the due respect" was not a quote out of the dialogue between the two women in the book, which Ms. Ma personally disagree with, but indeed Ms. Ma's own judgement of the men's outrageous behavior (fictional or real - doesn't really matter) of not picking up the tab (yes, you're right about my misspelling).

On "having this conversation with disgruntled commenters my entire life", I would say that this is probably not going to change as long as mainstream feminism (which both you and Ms. Ma seem to be representing, judging by the conversation in this episode) remains the way it is - illogical, inconsequent and in deep contradiction to the principle of inequality.
 said on
May 13, 2014

You're right on the mark. Between the derogatory slurs at male teachers, the casual anti-white racism, and the attempts to blame publishers for the purchasing habits of women, I was also flabbergasted by some of the claims in this show.

That said, given the rarity for anyone in Chinese media to be held to a standard of critical integrity, I wonder if this is just a reflection of the Chinese tendency to privilege emotional arguments over rational ones. Not that the West is really much better, but it is considerably rarer for people to double-down on nonsense when called out on it.


p.s. I assume you mean the "principle of equality" in that last sentence.
 said on
May 13, 2014

English Teachers of the less than stellar variety (Butt-hurt ones in the comments) - snap

Simple minded attacks on the views of women (the butt-hurt English teachers above)- snap.

Mansplaining from Jeremy - snap (although, probably necessary at the precise moment I have in mind, so not strictly mansplaining)

These 'pleasing' enactments of podcast content, aside, a little push-back is deserved. It seemed more of a class circle-jerk than anything else. First, some banal observations about western men/asian female relationships, mostly sourced from Japan 20 - 30 years ago. Yet, we were assured, were 'China now!'. Then some stories about tactical maneuvering for class status in first Japan, then the US, then India, then finally back to China. Where, it's all about the North, we can surmise, by the lady's attempt to pass herself off as from Dongbei. I did like the fact that poise and grace finally arrived in the guise of 'I'm overseas Chinese'. And yes, I did like it. It felt like the first moment of openness and possibility in the podcast; That we might all be 'overseas Chinese' and recede (or emerge) into indeterminancy and the promise of something better and more glamorous.

From there we moved to a happy totalising of the US and England as both, you know, 'Western', balanced nicely by the totalising of Japan and China as both 'Asian'. The result, though, was worth it, giving us a nuanced and insightful discussion about the encounter of time, place and floating identities that illuminated both the specifics under discussion and we the listeners. (I fear my sarcasm might be a little too dry here)

I could go on, but 'nuff said. Jeremy and Alice, you are smart people. And Karen Ma has written a book so she's got to be a smarty, too, yeah? I haven't read her book, but there's got to be a much more interesting person than emerged in this podcast. Really, if all you can offer us is upper-middle class identity/status politics then, to channel Jeremy for a moment, fuck you. I don't mind the aspirational, I'd be lying if I said I don't have a dollop or two myself, but I expect a more open, inclusive and deft set of views than was on offer today. Suffocatingly un-self-aware and self-absorbed would be my take-way.

Ok, part the 2. I wrote the above before I'd heard the entire podcast. Went back and heard some interesting discussion about India and China. Karen Ma providing some genuine and non-trite thoughts about specific differences between Beijing and Delhi. But again, the suffocating assumptions, with the comment made that the Indian writers all go off to Cambridge - or crucial correction from Alice Liu - to one of the top universities in India. Really Alice, that's the nature and joy of the Indian literary scene?

All said in love, Sinica, as a long time listener (and serial critic, admittedly). Perhaps I'm pining for a Sinica that isn't?

 said on
May 14, 2014
I also reacted strongly to the comment: "Going Dutch" means "not showing women the due respect", whereas "picking up the tap" is "trying harder" and the subsequent absence of any reaction amongst the other participants.

However, that does not mean that feminism in general is "illogical, inconsequent and in deep contradiction to the principle of inequality" merely that Ms.Ma is. You shouldn’t lambast all feminists (myself included) for a nuisance like that. That said, I personally (as a Swede) find that many liberal Anglo-Saxons have a somewhat inconsistent view of these things, and I doubt that they will catch up anytime soon. Which actually makes me think that Sinica would probably benefit if they included some contributors from other countries besides the UK and the US (Jeremy doesn’t count). As a bonus it would probably be an interesting change for our hosts.

Ohhh…If someone is interested to know: the phenomenon of “internet trolls being particularly ferocious towards women” is also live and well in both the Scandinavian countries as well as Germany.

Besides the small remarks, thanks for a fantastic show!

 said on
May 20, 2014
I always thought the Yellow Emperor was so named because he too had "yellow fever." Could be wrong though as I specialize in the late Ch'ing period. And, yes, I'm so old I still use Wade-Giles or Yale romanization.

 said on
May 21, 2014
The stereotypes of Western men in this podcast is horrifying. I am the last to defend the actions of foreigners in China, however, to somehow attribute the actions of a few that take advantage of a given celebrity status to the actions of the whole is plainly mistaken.

That being said, there are certain very interesting points discussed in this podcast, such as the never belonging to one nation. This tendency certainly disturbs me.

In the United States there is certainly an extreme barrier between Asian Americans and the larger society. I hope this changes in time, but I am often confronted with how much of Asian America seems homeless... not Chinese, nor American.
Mark Lesson Studied