When Ernest Hemingway somewhat presciently referred to Paris as a movable feast ("wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you") he captured the feelings of many long-term China expats rather concisely. So why exactly does everyone like to compare life here to Paris in the 1920s? And if life is so romantic here, where are the writers in our midst and what are they producing anyway?

This week on Sinica, Kaiser Kuo and David Moser are delighted to host the editors of While We're Here: China Stories from a Writer's Colony, a compilation of short stories, poems and more lovingly assembled by Alec Ash and Tom Pellman of The Anthill. Join us to hear some selections and gossip unapologetically about the writers in question. And if you want to pick up the book, you can find it for your Kindle here on Amazon or drop by The Bookworm in Beijing for a physical copy. [standalone mp3 link]
 said on
December 20, 2015
Kaiser here.

Let me apologize profoundly for mispronouncing Tom Pellman's name not just once but two or three times in the course of this podcast. It's Pellman. It's not a difficult name; I'm just an idiot.
 said on
December 20, 2015
You know, guys, I love your podcasts ... but a download link would be nice ...
 said on
December 20, 2015
The Anthill

<a href="http://theanthill.org/">http://theanthill.org/</a>

While We Were Here: China Stories from a Writers’ Colony, Edited by Alec Ash and Tom Pellman

<a href="http://www.amazon.com/While-Were-Here-Stories-Writers-ebook/dp/B019136EXI/">http://www.amazon.com/While-Were-Here-Stories-Writers-ebook/dp/B019136EXI/</a>

Unsavory Elements

<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Unsavory-Elements-Stories-Foreigners-Loose/dp/9881616409">http://www.amazon.com/Unsavory-Elements-Stories-Foreigners-Loose/dp/9881616409</a>

How to Dress to Buy Dragon Fruit

<a href="http://www.amazon.com/How-Does-One-Dress-Dragonfruit-ebook/dp/B00K21ZXF4">http://www.amazon.com/How-Does-One-Dress-Dragonfruit-ebook/dp/B00K21ZXF4</a>

Alec Ash on Shanghai Cocktales

<a href="http://beijingcream.com/2015/05/shanghai-cocktales-and-the-curse-of-the-expat-memoir/">http://beijingcream.com/2015/05/shanghai-cocktales-and-the-curse-of-the-expat-memoir/</a>


<a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Incarnations-Novel-Susan-Barker/dp/1501106783">http://www.amazon.com/The-Incarnations-Novel-Susan-Barker/dp/1501106783</a>

Rock Paper Tiger

<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Paper-Tiger-Ellie-McEnroe-Novel/dp/161695258X/">http://www.amazon.com/Paper-Tiger-Ellie-McEnroe-Novel/dp/161695258X/</a>

Up to The Mountains and Down to the Countryside - Quincy Carol

<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Mountains-Down-Countryside-Quincy-Carroll/dp/1941758452">http://www.amazon.com/Mountains-Down-Countryside-Quincy-Carroll/dp/1941758452</a>

Radio Lab Episode on CRISPER

<a href="http://www.radiolab.org/story/antibodies-part-1-crispr/">http://www.radiolab.org/story/antibodies-part-1-crispr/</a>

Alex Ash

The Search for a Vanishing Beijing

<a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Search-Vanishing-Beijing-Capital/dp/9622099394">http://www.amazon.com/The-Search-Vanishing-Beijing-Capital/dp/9622099394</a>

Voice Map – Walking Guided Tours

Check out the tours of Beijing by David

French and Alex Ash

<a href="https://voicemap.me/">https://voicemap.me/</a>

Tom Pellman

Dispatches from Pluto – Richard Grant

<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Dispatches-Pluto-Found-Mississippi-Delta-ebook/dp/B00UDCNM82">http://www.amazon.com/Dispatches-Pluto-Found-Mississippi-Delta-ebook/dp/B00UDCNM82</a>

David Moser

逻辑思维 Logical Thinking – Video Series on YouTube

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/user/logictalkshow">https://www.youtube.com/user/logictalkshow</a>

Kaiser Kuo

China’s Bold Push into Genetically Customized Animals by Christina Larson

<a href="http://www.nature.com/news/china-s-bold-push-into-genetically-customized-animals-1.18826">http://www.nature.com/news/china-s-bold-push-into-genetically-customized-animals-1.18826</a>

 said on
December 23, 2015
"Bullfighting, bullslinging and bullsh*t" is what Zelda Fitzgeral is reported to have said of "The Sun Also Rises". I had a similar reaction to this podcast. Here's why:

1. The stature of the literature by produced expatriot writers livining in continental Europe during the interwar period is debatable. We read them self-consciously as classics, rather than living, breathing works of art. But even accepting them as all being good to great for the sake of argument, they don't compare to the works produced by native Europeans of the same era, Kafka, Schulz, Mann, Proust, Musil. You tried to shoe-horn Joyce into one of your categories, but even though he lived in Europe, he was writing about his native Ireland. When the smog clears from the skies of reform era China, a similar truth will hold and the best writers will be found to be Chinese.

2. Everyone is at pains to explain the absence of the great foreign expat novel from our shelves. But it is not clear to me why there should be one in the first place. There are certain superficial similarities between Beijing in the 90s and Paris in the 20s, but the differences are more significant. American writers were engaging with Europe in the shadow of war (one just ended and another impending) as well as with currents of European modernism. They could do so because they fought in these wars and were fluent in the language and culture of Europe. At best, foreigners have stood outside as observers of the massive cultural and political upheavels in recent chinese history. (How many of those complaining about expats not properly engaging can themselves easily read a chinese novel in the original language? So, really, whaddaya expect?)

3. Guys, c'mon, you have to stop swooning over the name Peter Hessler on this podcast. The extravagant claim that he's a great thinker on the same level as real historians, anthropologist and socialogists working in China is something of an insult to people like Ezra Vogel or Rachel Murphy. Even comparing him with journalists, he's still nowhere near someone like Graham Peck. Rivertown was written after he'd only spent two years in China and it shows.

4. There are also ethical questions about Hessler's writing that prevent me from fully enjoying it. If I were a Chinese peasant, I would be very wary of doing the neighbourly thing and inviting him to dinner. Because a quarrel with my wife would be sure to be mentioned in the pages of his next book together with an overbearing analysis of what he thinks are the real reasons it arose. One notices that he never subjects his foreign friends, who are likely to be able to read the book in the original, to the same kind of scrutiny. I thought the worst example was in Rivertown, where he speculates (without knowing or finding out) on the motives of a student who committed suicide. What grieving parent wouldn't be aghast at coming across that kind of intrusion. No wonder in his article "Return to Fuling" he considers the possibility that he wouldn't actually be welcome back.

That's all for now, though much more could be said about the navel gazing of expat writers.
 said on
December 28, 2015
Fair enough critiques, all of them. I agree that there are significant differences between Paris in the interwar period and China today, and the level of engagement with the language, the culture, even the political and economic life among foreigners living in China has indeed been too low in the first 30 years after opening and reform.

Sorry for all the Hessler swooning. I realize we do it too much. But I do like his prose. To be fair, no one's comparing him with the great historians of China. He certainly wouldn't welcome such a comparison. Rivertown was, as you say, written after only two years, but that's what spoke to readers, few of whom have even spent that amount of time in smaller Chinese cities.

I know there have been minor kerfuffles over Pete Hessler's approach to writing; his piece on the garbage collectors of Cairo was one in which he gave away substantial personal information not only about the direct subjects of the piece (a garbage collector and his wife) but about the lives of the people he collects from and about whom the collector, who sifts through their things and knows their dirty secrets. Writers do this, though: They're intrusive, and often terribly impolitic. It's a problem fairly endemic with them, is it not?

Your best point of course is this: " When the smog clears from the skies of reform era China, a similar truth will hold and the best writers will be found to be Chinese." Yes, I'm sure you're absolutely right.


Mark Lesson Studied