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Summer Reading Recommendations

For our second round of summer reading recommendations, Kristen Lum of
Kristen is:
Currently reading-
The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformedby Michael MeyerNext Up-
  • Born to Run, A Hidden Tribe – Superathletes & the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (as inspiration for my half marathon run in Inner Mongolia)
  • Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart (2nd of 4 books)
  • Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
  • Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Danny Penman
A little ambitious and quite a lot to keep me a busy bookworm this summer.

Summer Reading Recommendations: Pathlight Team

What better way to brave the heat than to curl up in a shady spot with a good book and a tall, dewy glass of something cold? This summer, we’re asking some of our favorite people about town to share what’s on their list. Check back every Friday for new recommendations.

First up, the wonderful team over at Pathlight, the magazine for new Chinese fiction in translation. (See details for a panel with Pathlight editors at end of post)

Eric Abrahamsen

I’ve got my eye on 马原’s [Ma Yuan] new novel 《纠缠》, though frankly I don’t expect all that much of it. Also there’s a Shanghai writer we heard about recently that Alice has read and liked, though I can’t remember her name, Alice will know [editor’s note: Alice did in fact know, see below for name and title]. Another Shanghai writer I want to read is 周嘉宁 [Zhou Jia Ning], one of the editors of 鲤 [Li], Zhang Yueran’s novel. I don’t know which title to choose yet, but will be picking something.

Alice Xin Liu

I’m reading The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
A whole slew of Chinese novels, none of which I’d like to give away right now, because I’m reading them for translation interest.
Oh, Blossoms by Jin Yucheng (Chinese: 繁花 by 金宇澄) is the Chinese novel Eric is referring to. It sets to be a great read.


Canaan Morse

Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the New Millennium

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
David Markson, Reader’s Block
Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney, editors, The Rattle Bag: An Anthology of Poetry

Pathlight presents “The Future” – a discussion with Chen Qiufan, Hao Jingfang and the editors of Pathlight

Tuesday, July 16 7:30pm


Pathlight is a magazine of Chinese fiction and poetry in English translation. The Spring 2013 edition is themed around “The Future”: stories about the future of China, the future of technology, and the future of individual lives. Joins us as we discuss the issue with some of the editors of Pathlight as well as writers Chen Qiufan and Hao Jingfang.

China Goes Global author Professor David Shambaugh’s Summer Reading Picks

Professor David Shambaugh is the author of China Goes Global: the Partial Power. In the book, the eminent China scholar gives a sweeping account of China’s growing prominence on the international stage. Thirty years ago, China’s role in global affairs beyond its immediate East Asian periphery was decidedly minor and it had little geostrategic power. Today however, China’s expanding economic power has allowed it to extend its reach virtually everywhere — from mineral mines in Africa, to currency markets in the West, to oilfields in the Middle East, to agribusiness in Latin America, to the factories of East Asia.

Shambaugh is no alarmist. In this exhaustively-researched book, he argues that China’s global presence is more broad than deep and that China still lacks the influence of a major world power. Instead China is what he calls a “partial power.” He draws on decades of China-watching to expound on China’s current and future roles in the world affairs.

Join us at 7:30pm on June 26 (Tickets: 40/50rmb available at door and in advanced in the bookshop) as Shambaugh offers an enlightening – and balanced – look into the manifestations of China’s global presence: its extensive commercial footprint, its growing military power, its increasing cultural influence or “soft power,” its diplomatic activity, and its new prominence in global governance institutions.

“David Shambaugh provides a thoughtful look at the nature and consequences of China’s rise in this carefully researched and well-written volume.” — Henry A. Kissinger

David Shambaugh is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs and Director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University. He is also Nonresident Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institutions. Shambaugh is a recognized international authority and author on China. His most recent books include Charting China’s Future: Domestic & International Challenges; China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation; International Politics of Asia; and Power Shift: China and Asia’s New Dynamics. He also previously served as Editor of The China Quarterly.

Professor David Shambaugh is currently reading:

The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing by Robert Bickers


















China Airborne: The Test of China’s Future by James Fallows
















The best book he has ever read on China: Lucian Pye’s The Mandarin and the Cadre: China’s Political Cultures.


Unsavory Elements: A Q&A with Tom Carter

Unsavory Elements, an anthology edited by Tom Carter, is a treasure trove of some of the most renowned Western China-hands sharing their ephemera and memories of the Middle Kingdom. The collection features 28 true stories from writers like Deborah Fallows, Derek Sandhaus, Graham Earnshaw, Jon Watts, John Campbell and more. Carter will share his experience putting together this collection and what it means to be an “unsavory element” at The Bookworm on May 21 7:30pm.

Here, Carter answers a few questions about the book, the changing nature of expat life in China and more.

Mengfei Chen: What is the idea behind Unsavory Elements? Why did you think it was important to collect these stories?

Tom Carter: I conceived the anthology as a fan of the China expat genre; I wanted to read more stories from all of my favorite authors here beyond what they’d already written in their past memoirs – new experiences, or experiences that have been reconsidered over time. From a publishing perspective, I saw it as an opportunity to bring all of China’s foremost foreign writers together to collaborate on a single book, which turned out to be an unprecedented project.

MC: How did you go about gathering the pieces? What was the editorial/publication process?

TC: I began orchestrating the project back in the spring of 2011. I compiled a long-list of writers who I thought would be ideal for the anthology, and then started reaching out to them one by one to gauge their interest. I didn’t know any of them personally, but everyone was surprisingly accessible and, even more surprising, enthusiastic to be part of this grassroots project. The book didn’t find a home, however, until I met with publisher and author Graham Earnshaw in Shanghai the following year, shortly after I moved there. As a backpacker, I was a fan of Graham’s remarkable travelogue The Great Walk of China and had originally tapped him only as a contributing writer. But while discussing my proposal with him over sushi in Xintiandi one evening, he expressed an interest in actually being its publisher. After that, I spent nearly another year working with the writers on their essays, nurturing their topics and shaping the overall theme of the book into what it is.

MC: Major themes?

TC: There’s a thematic progression throughout the entire anthology, and within each story, that offers the readers a wide range of experiences and emotions that all foreigners in China will confront at one point or another, such as ethical and moral conflicts here in New China’s immoral/amoral landscape. For example, the book opens with a western teacher being offered vast sums of money to write college entrance essays for his Chinese students, and closes with three foreign men bargaining in a brothel.

MC: Do you think the stories in the book are representative of the expat experience? It seems to be Anglophone and disproportionately skewed towards writers (understandable) but was there an effort to include a more diverse group?

TC: The whole point of the anthology was to capture as many aspects of our lives here as waiguoren, outsiders, as could be written about, from traveling to doing business to getting into mischief to working the daily grind to falling in love to raising a family. It’s all in there. As far as the writers themselves, admittedly most are westerners from America, Canada and UK, and most are established writers, though as the editor I was intent on including emerging talent as well; unpublished writers I knew through the blogosphere who have been overlooked by Big Publishing. Overall, the anthology’s diversity comes not in the demographics but in the stories and experiences; no book about China expats could possibly be more diverse than this.

MC: What is your favorite story in the collection? Why?

TC: Of course that’s an impossible question to answer; it’s like asking me which is my favorite province in China. As a reader I enjoy family-friendly fare, like Alan Paul’s road trip with his children in Sichuan, and Susan Conley’s story about exploring the street food scene, as much as I do more risqué reading, such as Nury Vittachi’s bar-room bamboozle.

MC: What are some ways that you think the expat experience has changed or stayed the same over the years?

TC: A majority of the stories in this anthology are contemporary and current, yet I wanted them all to have a timeless feel; experiences that could happen to any of us today just as they did, say, a decade ago. For example, Pete Spurrier’s humorous story about stowing away on a series of trains from Xinjiang to Hong Kong did actually take place over ten years ago: and as a seasoned traveler of trains in China I can personally attest that every situation he encountered – from being stared at by the masses to having to sleep on a littered floor because all the hard seats were taken – will happen to you today; only the price of the ticket has changed.

MC: Is China is becoming less and less of a Wild West for Western expats? Many of the stories in the book just don’t seem possible today.

TC: I flatly disagree. As the editor, I made a concerted effort that everyone’s topics were either timely or timeless. Matthew Polly getting in over his head in a venture because he failed to understand the dynamics of Chinese business practices…that story occurred in the 1990s, but I’m sure it’s also happening to some poor niubi as we speak. If anything, China’s opening up and rapidly growing economy has made it even more of a Wild West for expats: Susie Gordon’s decadent night out in Shanghai with several obscenely wealthy fu er dai is current, and you can’t get more wild than her story.

MC: Many of those featured in Unsavory Elements have left China. (Mark Kitto famously explained his reasons for doing so in his Prospect article.)  Why do you think that is?

TC: Mark Kitto in fact never did leave China. It’s an open secret that he’s still here, living contentedly at Moganshan as he has been. And his example alone perfectly illustrates that no matter how badly foreigners may at times want to leave China, out of exasperation or pollution or whatever, there’s something special about this country keeping us here. And even if we do end up physically leaving China, it will always have a place in our hearts. The fact that many of the anthology’s writers no longer live in China – yet are able to continue to write so passionately about it – is a profound testament to China’s hold on us.

MC: Can you explain the cover art? What’s going on in it?

TC: This brilliant piece of original artwork was provided by Nick Bonner at Koryo Studio and Dominic Johnson-Hill of Plastered T-shirts in Beijing. It was pure serendipity that Dominic showed it to me one day just as I was hunting for cool cover art for the anthology. The retro-Cultural Revolution style art contrasted with the modern CCTV tower, and the blue-clad masses waving to the garishly-dressed, fat, hairy foreigners, speaks volumes about how Chinese and Westerners still perceive each other, a theme echoed throughout the book. Really, Unsavory Elements would be incomplete without this cover art.

MC: What is your personal China story? What brought you here? Do you still find that there is something here that keeps you around?

TC: My personally story started out with a lot of uncertainty. I didn’t come here out of any deep interest in Chinese culture, or to capitalize on the economy. I just wanted to travel and go on adventures. But I didn’t (and still don’t!) have any money, so I responded to a teaching ad on Craigslist…an ad which turned out to be a scam; my first week in China I found myself jobless and homeless. But I eventually landed on my feet and saved up enough money to travel around for what turned into 2 straight years and 56,000 kilometers across all 33 provinces.  The photos I took during that epic trip were published in my first book, CHINA: Portrait of a People. I’ve left the country only twice since I first arrived here in 2004, to live in Japan for a year and to travel in India for another year, but I always found myself inexplicably coming back to China. I now am married into the culture and call China home.

The Poem That Started It. Omar.

Omar high fiving a newly minted poet-in-training at The Bookworm

Tonight, Omar Musa takes poetry to a next level. Come experience the former Australia National Slam Champion in person at The Bookworm (8pm). Bring your friends, family, coworkers. Bring complete strangers you see on the street. He’s that good.
Have you ever wondered what makes a person love poetry? What makes them decide that instead of pursuing fame on the big screen or fortune on the trading floor, they are going to  spend their lives hustling for the love of something as ephemeral (though powerful) as the spoken word?
Here Omar shares the poem that started it all:
Impossible to say which poem made me love poetry, but “Porphyria’s Lover” influenced me a lot when I was younger. I was about 16 when I first read it. In both hip hop and poetry, I have always been drawn to storytelling done in a way that was deceptively simple (“Today Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube is what got me into hip hop), especially that which deals with the darker side of man’s nature. “Porphyria’s Lover” taught me that not all poetry has to be a confessional diary entry – I realised you could inhabit characters and become an entirely different person. It also attracted me because of the startling imagery, the vision of a man gone mad and the absolute shock of the moment the persona murders his lover. It was exhilarating to realise that words could make a reader shudder in that way. Accessible but crafted language is since something I’ve always aspired to.
“Porphyria’s Lover” by Robert Browning
The rain set early in to-night,  
  The sullen wind was soon awake,  
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,  
  And did its worst to vex the lake:  
  I listen’d with heart fit to break.          5
When glided in Porphyria; straight  
  She shut the cold out and the storm,  
And kneel’d and made the cheerless grate  
  Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;  
  Which done, she rose, and from her form   10
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,  
  And laid her soil’d gloves by, untied  
Her hat and let the damp hair fall,  
  And, last, she sat down by my side  
  And call’d me. When no voice replied,   15
She put my arm about her waist,  
  And made her smooth white shoulder bare,  
And all her yellow hair displaced,  
  And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,  
  And spread, o’er all, her yellow hair,   20
Murmuring how she loved me—she  
  Too weak, for all her heart’s endeavour,  
To set its struggling passion free  
  From pride, and vainer ties dissever,  
  And give herself to me for ever.   25
But passion sometimes would prevail,  
  Nor could to-night’s gay feast restrain  
A sudden thought of one so pale  
  For love of her, and all in vain:  
  So, she was come through wind and rain.   30
Be sure I look’d up at her eyes  
  Happy and proud; at last I knew  
Porphyria worshipp’d me; surprise  
  Made my heart swell, and still it grew  
  While I debated what to do.   35
That moment she was mine, mine, fair,  
  Perfectly pure and good: I found  
A thing to do, and all her hair  
  In one long yellow string I wound  
  Three times her little throat around,   40
And strangled her. No pain felt she;  
  I am quite sure she felt no pain.  
As a shut bud that holds a bee,  
  I warily oped her lids: again  
  Laugh’d the blue eyes without a stain.   45
And I untighten’d next the tress  
  About her neck; her cheek once more  
Blush’d bright beneath my burning kiss:  
  I propp’d her head up as before,  
  Only, this time my shoulder bore   50
Her head, which droops upon it still:  
  The smiling rosy little head,  
So glad it has its utmost will,  
  That all it scorn’d at once is fled,  
  And I, its love, am gain’d instead!   55
Porphyria’s love: she guess’d not how  
  Her darling one wish would be heard.  
And thus we sit together now,  
  And all night long we have not stirr’d,  
  And yet God has not said a word!   60

Beijing Postcards: Five Things You Didn’t Know About Tiananmen

On October 9, Beijing Postcards will be hosting “The Story of Tiananmen, Gate of Heavenly Peace,” at The Bookworm. Drawing on historical photographs and extensive research, the Beijing Postcards team will peel back the surface of one of the world’s most recognizable public spaces.

Check here for more information about the event, including ticketing.

Here, Beijing Postcards’ Lars Ulrich gives a sneak peek.

By Lars Ulrich

Every body knows Tiananmen gate. The imperial gate with Mao’s picture on is probably the most defining piece of architecture in the city of Beijing. Nevertheless there is a lot to the Tiananmen gate that is not commonly known. Below is 5 things you might not know about the gate of heavenly peace :

1. When the yellow glazed tiles on the roof of Tiananmen were replaced in 1969 the symbol on the tiles was changed from the Imperial dragon to a sunflower. New China wished in this way to free itself from its Feudal past.

2. Mao was not the first leader of China to hang on Tiananmen gate in fact his arch enemy Chiang Kai-Shek hung there from 1945 to 1948 and before him Sun Yat-Sen had also hung on the outer walls of Tiananmen.

3. After Liberation in 1949 Mao’s picture did not hang permanently on the gate. It was only on special occasions like May 1 or Oct 1 that chairman Mao’s picture was hung on the wall.

4. When Mao’s picture started hanging permanently on the gate at the start of the Cultural Revolution. His portrait was displayed on both sides of the Gate. Not only on the South side like today

5. After Mao announced the establishment of the communist republic of China from Tiananmen. Mao and the gate became inseparable. During the Cultural revolution when the Mao cult was at its highest Tiananmen was completely torn down and rebuild This was probably done in order to further emphasize the importance of this single piece of architecture from where the New China proclaimed. The new Tiananmen is actually just about a meter than the original one.






Julia Boyd on the Lost World of Beijing’s Earliest Expats

Julia Boyd’s latest book, A Dance with the Dragon, is a fascinating glimpse into the lost world of Beijing’s first expats. Drawing on previously unpublished historical sources, Boyd paints a colorful world populated by diplomats, adventurers, scientists, missionaries and Russian refugees. Set against the backdrop of some of the most dramatic decades of the 20th century, it is a story of people willfully ignoring the forces sweeping the country around them, submerging themselves in the whirl of picnics, parties and polo ponies while China reeled from the forces of revolution, civil war and the Japanese invasion.

Mengfei Chen: How did you become interested in this topic?

Julia Boyd: Having met my husband John in Beijing – at a British Embassy picnic in the Western Hills in 1975 – I have always had a soft spot for the city. A few years ago I was looking for an interesting subject to write about and it struck me that this period of Beijing’s history, i.e. from the Boxer uprising in 1900 to 1949, might be just that. I don’t think I was wrong!

MC: Can you give a quick and dirty overview of Beijing’s foreign colony?

JB: Beijing’s foreign community from 1860 (when diplomats were first allowed to live in the city) until Mao Zedong’s victory was never very large but it was a rich mix. Initially it consisted mainly of diplomats and missionaries with the odd journalist, banker, academic and adventurer thrown in. But by the late 1920s Beijing had also become a magnet for artists and writers (Robert Byron wrote “The Road to Oxiana” there in 1935), as well as for scholars and even some scientists.

In my view the 1920s were the golden era for foreigners since “Peking” had modernised just enough to make things reasonably comfortable but not so much that its unique way of life had been seriously eroded. Think of the joys of living in a courtyard house!

Moreover Beijing’s stunning temples and palaces, not to mention its wall and gates, were all still intact. When the foreigners wanted to escape the heat and pressure of life in Beijing, they could retreat to the Western Hills where (cosseted by teams of servants) they could rent a Buddhist temple for next to nothing. Their charmed life, however, came to a distinctly unpleasant end when in 1943 so many of them found themselves in the Japanese internment camp at Weihsien. By December 1948, when Mao’s troops were besieging Beijing, the only foreigners left were the inevitable diplomats and missionaries, a few hardy academics and those who, like the White Russian refugees, had nowhere else to go. The party was over.

MC: You write that Beijing’s expats were a different breed from their Shanghainese counterparts. How so? What do you think accounts for this and do you think this difference has persisted into the present?

JB: Well, the behavioural incentives were so different. Shanghai was developed, virtually from nothing, by Westerners for commerce and business while in Beijing, (where commercial activity was prohibited on any large scale) the diplomats were locked in a wrestling match with the Chinese authorities and where even the most insular foreigner could hardly ignore the city’s extraordinary cultural riches. The International Settlement in Shanghai was huge – around 10,000 foreigners but in Beijing it never numbered more than about 3-4000. I think that because the Beijing lot thought they were more sophisticated and cultured, they looked down on the “Shanghailanders” who in turn probably thought the Beijing foreigners snobbish and effete. This rivalry was reflected in frequent disputes between the diplomatic and commercial views of China’s future.

MC: Why do you think 1920s Shanghai – the setting of innumerable books and films –  has had such a monopoly on the popular imagination?

JB: Shanghai was a volatile place, a classic intersection between East and West. On the one hand the lifestyle was glamorous exuding ‘anything goes’, but on the other there was real suffering, poverty and lawlessness. At a time when the pleasure-loving West was seeking new highs, such a mix provided wonderful copy for films and literature – and of course still does .

MC: Where did Beijing’s expats come from? Why were they here? Did you have a favorite subject to write about?

JB: Diplomats and missionaries always made up a large percentage of the foreign community but Beijing also attracted literati, dropouts, academics, widows, remittance men refugees and explorers from all over the West. The Peking Union Medical College drew many fine doctors and nurses to the city while it was a  particularly exciting period to be an archaeologist or palaeontologist based there. It’s hard to choose a favourite character but, rather to my surprise, I became fond of General Stilwell. Before he was appointed commander of the US forces in China and Burma in the Second World War, he had been a language student and military attache for many years in Beijing. He loved China and its people and, although soldiers don’t come much tougher than ‘Vinegar Joe’, he was very fond of Chinese art and collected ivory fan handles. Just before he left Beijing in 1939, he gave a banquet for 12 rickshaw boys in his courtyard house.

MC: Are there still signs of this era in modern Beijing? 

JB: There are a few but you need a strong imagination to conjure up this period. Having said that, much of the legation quarter still exists including the entrance to what was once the British Legation. The Peking Union Medical College is one of the finest surviving buildings from this period and is still a hospital. I did once manage to talk my way into the old Peking Hotel’s stunning ballroom before going up on to the hotel roof – a favourite dance place for the foreigners. Although I have been to Beijing many times it was only a couple of years ago that I first visited the surprisingly deserted Temple of Agriculture where public executions took place. I was also pleased to discover Sun Yat-sen’s  Russian-made steel coffin in the Azure temple and to spend a reflective hour in the eunuchs’ temple. A number of temples survive in the Western Hills where it is possible to get some sense of why the foreigners loved spending so much time there.

MC: At the end of the book, you write:

Nevertheless (with honourable exceptions) they [Beijing’s expats] stand guilty of a massive failure of imagination. Had they been more astute and less incurious, keener to nurture China’s self-confidence rather than undermine it, had they not lived so insistently in their own bubble and had they been, above all, less convinced of their own superiority, their legacy in China might not now be regarded with quite such contempt and China’s recovery of its former prestige would surely have proven less traumatic.

Can you unpack this statement a little? What is this legacy and what can Beijing’s latest pack of expats learn from it?

JB: The legacy is, I fear, a continuing difficulty in developing fundamental mutual confidence in a world that will only survive on a basis of real trust and active cooperation. Of course it always takes two to tango but looking ahead, I think perhaps the most important message for us expats is never to forget the deep continuity of China’s cultural tradition and behaviour patterns, and to keep on studying them and trying to understand them better.

Q and A with Lester Brown civilizational decline and collapse

On February 14, environmentalist Lester Brown, the founder of the Worldwatch Institue and the Earth Policy Institute, returned to The Bookworm to discuss his latest book World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse.

In the book, Brown warns that the world is facing issues of near-overwhelming complexity and unprecedented urgency and outlines his plan to think globally and develop policies to counteract environmental decline and economic collapse. Join us as Brown discusses the question of can we change direction before we go over the edge?

Pick up a copy of World on the Edge at The Bookworm bookshop.

Mengfei Chen:The world in 2012 is facing a lot of issues. Which is the one keeps you up at night? Why? 

Lester Brown: The issue that keeps me up at night is looming food shortages. Even while world demand for grain, driven by population growth, rising affluence, and the growing use of grain to produce fuel for cars, is generating record growth, farmers are faced with new constraints on efforts to expand production. These include spreading water shortages, rising temperatures, and a shrinking backlog of unused agricultural technologies. In more agriculturally advanced countries, such as Japan with rice or France with wheat, grain yield per hectare has plateaued for more than a decade now. Farmers in these countries would like to raise the crop yields, but scientists do not have anything more to offer.

MC: What is a “food bubble?” What leads to one and have there been any recent examples? What happens when one bursts?

LB: The food bubble with which I am most concerned is the one based on overpumping. As we attempt to keep expanding food production through the use of irrigation, we eventually find ourselves overpumping aquifers. Food production continues to climb, but eventually when the aquifer is depleted the rate of pumping is necessarily reduced to the rate of recharge of the aquifer. When this reduction in pumping comes, the bubble bursts and production shrinks.

The most dramatic example of a bursting bubble is in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis were self-sufficient in wheat for more than 20 years, relying exclusively on irrigation water from a fossil aquifer, i.e. one that does not recharge naturally. In early 2008, the Saudis announced that the aquifer was largely depleted and they would be phasing out grain production. As a result, their wheat production at nearly 3 million tons a year has dropped to 1.1 million tons and will soon disappear altogether. Because this involves a fossil aquifer (instead of the more common renewable aquifer), it is a particularly dramatic example of what happens when a water-based food bubble bursts.

MC: Should those living in developed countries be worried?

LB: Yes. Those of us living in developed countries need to be worried. We need to be worried because our food prices will also be rising along with those in the rest of the world. Beyond this, rising food prices can create political instability in many countries. That instability can affect us all wherever we live. For example, political instability in oil exporting countries such as Nigeria or Iraq can drive up world oil prices, affecting either directly or indirectly the cost of almost everything we consume.

MC: In WOE, you suggest Plan B — a four-prong strategy for preventing the “ultimate recession” aka the collapse of civilization as we now it: massive cut in global carbon emissions, stabilization of the world population, the abatement of poverty, restoration of natural landscapes. If you could add a fifth prong what would it be?

LB: If I were to pick a fifth prong for Plan B, it would be public education on global environmental issues, including climate change. There is a desperate need for a better understanding of what is happening in the world and what the consequences will be if we continue with business as usual.

MC: What are the biggest obstacles to implementing Plan B?

LB: The biggest obstacle to implementing Plan B is a failure to understand the consequences of failing to do so. The alternative to Plan B, or something very similar to it, is civilizational decline and collapse.

MC: What gives you hope?

LB: The thing that gives me the most hope in the world today is the Beyond Coal campaign launched in the United States by the Sierra Club with the support of many other groups. At present in the United States we have 492 coal-fired power plants. Of these 73 are already slated to close. The goal of this campaign is to close every coal-fired power plant in the United States.

MC:If you were a betting man, what are the odds you’d give that the world will act in time?

LB: For what? If the question is can we act in time to prevent climate change, the answer is no. We are already slated to experience some climate change regardless of how quickly we respond. Is it too late to save civilization from all the environmental stresses that are building? I hope not, but there is not much time left. Time is our scarcest commodity.

The Spirit of Tsinghua with Daniel Bell

In ancient Greece, Sparta was synonymous with war and Athens with democracy.

Tsinghua Professor Daniel Bell believes that long after the Greek city-states have ceased to be, modern cities continue to have defining personalities.

Bell’s new book (co-authored with Avner de-Shalit of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) The Spirit of Cities explores the unique ethos of nine modern cities (Beijing represents political power) and how the differences between them shape the lives of those who call them home.

Bell will discuss these topics and more during his book talk on Tuesday, November 29, but before then he took The Bookworm for a walk to demonstrate how a place, even a school campus, can have an ethos.

The Location: Tsinghua University in Beijing’s Haidian District.

Background: Tsinghua and its chief rival Beida regularly duke it out for the position of top dog in the Chinese university system. Bell notes that it is interesting that the two rivals are situated right next to each other and that their respective campuses reflect the unique and somewhat opposing ethos of the schools.

Tsinghua, the alma mater of Chinese President Hu Jintao and of Hu’s expected successor Xi Jinping, has a reputation for conservatism. Engineers designed it. Beida has been at the center of many student political movements that sought to liberalize Chinese society. A poet designed its campus.

Bell points out that Tsinghua may be easier to navigate when you’re late for class but that Beida is a much better place to take your date for a walk at night.

Stop one: The Main Administrative Building


Bell: “This building was built in the 50s and has that Stalinist heritage but it’s interesting inside because it has this art deco interior, from when they redid it. Which in a way shows that they are not completely rejecting tradition.”

Stop two: Campus Green (Auditorium pictured in back)

In 1909, President Teddy Roosevelt obtained congressional approval to reduce the amount of indemnity money China owed the United States after the Boxer Rebellion. His condition: the money had to be used to support Chinese students going to study in America. Tsinghua, originally a preparatory school for these early exchange students, grew from that fund. Tsinghua’s American-influenced history shows in the western style architecture around campus, notably in the Monticello-esque design of the Auditorium.

Bell: “To show a little bit of the unromantic atmosphere here, you aren’t allowed to go onto that central square so you won’t see students lazing around in the grass, staring at the stars. “

Stop Three: The Old Gate

The Old Gate was once the main entrance to the campus. It was demolished during the 1960s and rebuilt according to the original design in 1991.

Bell: “It’s interesting that they choose to keep the characters in traditional form, instead of simplifying it. This reflects respect for tradition.”

Stop four: Confucius statue

In recent years, Confucianism has undergone a revival in China, so much so that a 31-foot bronze statue of the philosopher was unveiled early this year near Tiananmen Square – though admittedly, it was just as quickly removed four months later.

Bell: “This University is a center of Confucianism. Confucians value social harmony –which includes freedom and respect for difference, but ultimately you have to be socially harmonious. ”

Stop five: Shui Mu Tsinghua (not pictured)

The spot, literally “clear water and trees at Tsinghua,” is one of the most scenic parts of campus, featuring rock gardens, a small pond and weeping willows. Unfortunately, on the day of our visit, the water was clogged with rotting vegetation and giving off a distinctly unpleasant smell.

Bell: “I guess that shows where the school’s priorities are.”


Travel Writer Bruce Wannell on Iran

Travel writer Bruce Wannell will be appearing at The Bookworm on Wednesday, November 30, to talk about his adventures in Iran, a country that has much to offer intrepid travelers undeterred by the country’s often-controversial role in modern geopolitics.

Wannell, an expert on Iran and the Islamic world, has lived and traveled in Iran and Afghanistan for several years. He contributed essays on Iranian cinema, music, calligraphy, philosophy and religion to Iran — Persian: Ancient & Modern, which the Sunday Times’ foreign affairs correspondent Christina Lamb has called “a stunning guide, packed with history, that no visitor to Iran should be without.”

The veteran traveler offers would-be road warriors the following advice:

“My general advice would be to be patient, polite and enthusiastic, and to genuinely try to like and understand the people among whom you’re travelling, and to respect their culture and traditions; never dishonour or humiliate them.

At the same time, never take “NO” for an answer, insist on good quality, reward effort and good service, be generous and discriminating.

The more relevant knowledge you have before visiting the places you want to see, the better you will experience them – hence Odyssey Guides’ emphasis on historical background and also good pictures.

There are, besides, so many different types of tourism and travel: if you have introductions in the country you’re visiting, follow them up, without imposing; if you’re back-packing, develop language survival skills and remember to leave a little present or send one later for the inevitable generosity you’ll meet on the way, often from people much poorer than yourself; if you’re on business, try to take an extra day to actually get out of the air-conditioned fortresses and see something of real life around you; if you’re on a pampering luxury holiday, take a moment to read Amnesty International’s, or Oxfam’s reports on torture, poverty and injustice in the areas immediately around your little heaven ….. i.e. keep your eyes, your ears and your heart open – and then tourism – a very polluting industry – may become real travel, and a meeting of minds, and perhaps a broadening of both.”

Bruce Wannell at The Bookworm, Wednesday, November 30 7:30pm
Tickets 20rmb (members) 30 rmb (non-members)

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