Podcast

Chinese Whispers

A fortnightly podcast hosted by Cindy Yu on Chinese politics, society, and more

A fortnightly podcast hosted by Cindy Yu on Chinese politics, society, and more

Chinese Whispers

Why does China care about the Olympics?

‘If table tennis set the stage for China’s international diplomacy, then volleyball rebuilt the nation’s confidence’, ran one article in the People’s Daily around the time of the 2016 Rio Olympics. Sports has had a long political history in China, my guest in this week’s Chinese Whispers tells me. She is Dr Susan Brownell, Professor

Play 41 mins

Chinese Whispers

The power of Weibo

When the tennis star Peng Shuai had a row with her former lover, the retired Party cadre Zhang Gaoli, she took to Weibo, the Chinese social media platform, where she had half a million followers. It was in that statement that she accused Zhang of starting their affair with sexual assault. The statement was taken

Play 39 mins

Chinese Whispers

What is it to be ‘Chinese’?

Sun Yat-sen was the founding father of China’s first republic, when the Qing dynasty was overthrown. Here he sits, with his successor Chiang Kai-Shek standing behind. They were two among many intellectuals and politicians whose agitations helped contribute to modern Chinese national identity. In his book, The Invention of China, journalist Bill Hayton argues that

Play 43 mins

Chinese Whispers

Is ‘common prosperity’ the road to common poverty?

Deng Xiaoping used to say, ‘let some people get rich first’. Four decades on from the start of his economic experiment with marketisation, Xi Jinping is, these days, talking about ‘common prosperity’ instead – prosperity for the many, not the few. But what does this new economic direction mean in practice, and could it, in

Play 31 mins

Chinese Whispers

Healing the ‘cancer’ of the Cultural Revolution

It’s not easy to talk about the Cultural Revolution inside China – let alone teach it. In recent years, one of the last professors to have taught the period has been hounded out of her role at a top university. Sun Peidong has now taken a post at Cornell, after Chinese journals stopped publishing her

Play 37 mins

Chinese Whispers

Will Xi invade Taiwan?

Last week, the US and Canada each sent a warship through the Taiwan Strait and Taiwan has appealed to the US for faster delivery of fighter aircraft. It’s been a tense month in the Strait, kicked off by China’s celebration of its national day on October 1 through flying a record number of aircraft through

Play 31 mins

Chinese Whispers

The Chinese love of drinking

Throughout Chinese history, as seen by poems and novels, drinking has been seen as a source for literary inspiration; or a form of manly competition; or, as ever, a status symbol. After a century of political turmoil in which the way people lived was radically disrupted, drinking culture is now coming back with China’s growing

Play 32 mins

Chinese Whispers

Has China got over the Japanese invasion?

For China, WWII started in 1937 with the Japanese invasion, two years before Hitler invaded Poland. Japan would occupy China until its surrender in 1945, in the process committing atrocities like the rape of Nanjing. This was the second Japanese invasion in fifty years. Yet decades after the war, when I grew up in Nanjing,

Play 39 mins

Chinese Whispers

Ancestors and demons: a brief history of Chinese religion

Are the Chinese religious? The government’s treatment of Christians and particularly Muslims have been under scrutiny in recent years. But these religious groups only form around 4 per cent of the Chinese population, according to national surveys. So what do the other 96 per cent believe in? The CCP is famously atheist, but that doesn’t

Play 38 mins

Chinese Whispers

Will China become Afghanistan’s new sponsor?

Last month, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi welcomed senior Taliban leaders to Beijing, standing shoulder to shoulder for the photographers. China is carefully watching events unfold in Afghanistan. And while it hasn’t yet recognised the Taliban government, the Beijing meeting was a nod towards a potential alliance. But replacing America in Afghanistan wouldn’t be

Play 36 mins

Chinese Whispers

Ketamine in China: has the country got over the opium wars?

It might be an understatement to say that China has a difficult relationship with drugs. Most infamously, the opium wars of the 1800s saw British soldiers fight against the Qing dynasty to protect the British right to sell opium to China. When the Qing lost, it wasn’t just the sobriety of their people that they

Play 23 mins

Chinese Whispers

Black cat or white cat? Reconciling the two Deng Xiaopings

For most people, Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping stand out as the two Communist leaders of the People’s Republic of China. But growing up, it was actually a third man, by the name of Deng Xiaoping, whose legacy I felt the most. Though less than 5 foot tall, his impact on China’s trajectory was arguably

Play 41 mins

Chinese Whispers

China’s ‘snowflake generation’

Tangping, or ‘lying flat’, is a new lifestyle tempting China’s millennials. Describing a minimalist stress-free life where one opts out of a career and raising family, lying flat is the young person’s desperate answer to the infinite rat race of modern Chinese workplaces and society. But while there are few lie-flatters as of yet, the

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Chinese Whispers

Hong Kong’s National Security Law, one year on

In the 12 months since the enactment of the National Security Law on Hong Kong, opposition leaders, journalists and activists have been arrested; reforms on education and elections begun; and last week saw the emotional closure of the pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily. On this episode, I speak to Jennifer Creery, who works for the Financial

Play 35 mins

Chinese Whispers

Has economic engagement with China failed?

Exactly 20 years ago, China acceded to the World Trade Organisation. In the decades since, the globalised world became what we know today, with hundreds of millions of Chinese and people around the world lifted out of poverty through free trade. But the promised liberalisation – both economic and political – doesn’t seem to have

Play 39 mins

Chinese Whispers

Journalism in China: what can and can’t you say?

What is it like to be a journalist in China? There are obvious restrictions on freedom of speech, but, as I find out on this episode, there are creative ways to navigate the strict system of censorship. The end result is a complex media landscape – some have to litter investigations with state propaganda; others

Play 38 mins

Chinese Whispers

The fightback against facial recognition

China has run wild with facial recognition. From using it to ration tissues in public toilets, to identifying highest paying customers in stores and criminals from a crowd, what is a budding technology in the West has furthered state surveillance and corporate snooping in China. But there is a civil fightback happening in the courts,

Play 40 mins

Chinese Whispers

Respect your elders: how the Chinese see family life

The archaic-sounding notion of ‘filial piety’ has little direct translation into English, but is a deep-rooted part of Chinese culture and ethics. On this episode, I find out about what motivates the subscription to such an unequal view of family life; how modernity changes expectations (and in particular, the impact of the one child policy);

Play 30 mins

Chinese Whispers

Do China’s intellectual elite support the government?

You might think that in a country as tightly controlled as China, diversity of opinion is hard to come by in written form. But as I find out in this episode, there is a vibrant conversation going on with vastly different views, especially in the intellectual elite amongst professors and journalists. So what do these

Play 35 mins

Chinese Whispers

Why does China care about Taiwan?

Cross-strait relations between China and Taiwan seem to be hotting up, with headlines frequently touting the possibility of a military takeover by Beijing. But why does China care so much about this set of islands that is around a seventh of the size of the UK? Cindy Yu speaks to historian Rana Mitter and analyst

Play 41 mins

Chinese Whispers

Is anyone still communist in the Chinese Communist Party?

‘Scratch a communist, you’ll find a nationalist underneath’, Professor Kerry Brown, the director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College London, tells me on this episode. Together with Professor Victor Shih of UC San Diego, we talk about what drives the Chinese Communist Party (hint: it’s not communism), what membership means today and the policy

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Chinese Whispers

The sacrifices and rewards of a Chinese-style education

Tiger mums and dads are infamous in the West, but in China the pressure is ramped up several times higher. From kindergarten to university, exams form the structure of a disciplined and competitive educational environment. It yields result – with even the poorest students in Shanghai scoring higher on maths and reading than the richest

Play 32 mins

Chinese Whispers

Is China ‘eating America’s lunch’?

After getting off the phone with Xi Jinping, Joe Biden warned his senators that on infrastructure ‘and a whole range of other things’, China was spending much more than the US, and America risked being left behind. So just how interconnected is modern China and is it really a good growth model to emulate? With

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Chinese Whispers

How Hong Kong became what it is today

As the first BNO passport holders begin to make their way to the UK and start the path to a new citizenship, Cindy Yu takes a look back at Hong Kong’s history and how that special city-state formed its own identity. As SOAS’s Professor Steve Tsang tells her on the podcast: ‘Not quite British, not

Play 41 mins

Chinese Whispers

The Chinese backlash against Big Tech

In November, the IPO of Jack Ma’s fintech company Ant Financial was abruptly stopped by Chinese regulators (listen to the episode of Chinese Whispers from then here). But while the move has been seen as counter-productive and political in the West, many Chinese cheered the clipping of Jack Ma’s wings. It’s in no small part

Play 34 mins

Chinese Whispers

What’s behind Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs?

‘Study shows that in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines’, the Chinese Embassy in the US tweeted last week. The tweet, since deleted by Twitter, is particularly shocking for the reports of forced sterilisations

Play 51 mins

Chinese Whispers

Is China turning away from the world?

2020 is drawing to a close but none of us will forget this year anytime soon. For China, has it also been a watershed year? Western rhetoric hasn’t been so hawkish on China in a very long time, with talk of a second Cold War gracing commentary pages and calls to decouple supply chains. Lost

Play 23 mins

Chinese Whispers

China’s long history of student protests

When thinking about Chinese student protests, you’ll inevitably think about Hong Kong or Tiananmen. But there’s one that kicked it all off in modern Chinese history, and its reverberations are still felt throughout the century, not least because of its role in the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. It’s the May Fourth Movement of

Play 29 mins

Chinese Whispers

Has China really beaten Covid?

As the UK and much of the West continues to struggle against Covid, in China, things largely seem back to normal. Pictures from the ‘Golden Week’, a week of state holidays to celebrate the People’s Republic’s founding, showed mountains and seas of people. On this longer episode than usual, I take a deep dive into

Play 60 mins

Chinese Whispers

How China’s richest man flew too close to the sun

Ant Group is the business magnate Jack Ma’s fintech subsidiary, the company behind the ubiquitous ‘Alipay’ app, which has one billion users. Last week, it was due to begin trading on the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock exchanges. Set to raise US$37 billion, it would have been the biggest IPO ever. But at the eleventh

Play 32 mins