This column offers a weekly digest of the latests pieces published on our website and our most recently completed translations. A special post for texts published and translated during our December Translation Challenge is coming soon!

mask in beijing

New texts published

Material wealth and cultural poverty among Chinese youth – Zhang Tianpan

Cultural analyst Zhang Tianpan explores recent controversies around four Chinese ‘media celebrities': Mei Mei, Rui Chenggang, Han Han and Guo Jingming. Through an analysis of attacks against them and their own professed attitudes and values, he traces a portrait of a wealth-obsessed, culturally deprived new Chinese generation.

Love and revolution (4) – Ye Fu

This fourth instalment in Ye Fu’s family story recounts major historical events that happened during the Second World War,  from Xi’an to Wuhan, and defined the future of the Chinese Communist party.

Tracing the source of guilt – He Weifang

Japan and Germany both committed crimes during the Second World War – but what happened since is very different. While Germany went through deep self-reflection to heal the wounds of the war, and deal with its guilt, Japan adopted another course. Lawyer and historian He Weifang explores the parallel stories of these two countries, and how they accept or deny the guilt of the past today.

A sad song to the food market – Li Jingrui

You are what you eat, they say – but where you buy your food is also a major component of your identity. In this piece, writer Li Jingrui recounts the changes in her food-buying habits, from the old food markets of Beijing to the shining aisles of Carrefour, the Chinese supermarkets of New York, on to Taobao’s delivery services, and finally, back to the old food market.

New translations

Why is Tibetan Buddhism hotter and hotter? – Yang Fenggang 

After the closure of all religious sites in the Cultural Revolution, China is currently experiencing a return to religion, with a particular interest for Tibetan Buddhism. This piece explores some of the reasons for this enthusiasm. Translation by Julien Leyre and Ting Wei Tai.

How great is Tokyo – He Weifang

The media like to play up China’s hostility to Japan. However, as this post reveals, some writers express a sense of admiration for Japanese society. Translation by Ting Wei Tai.

This column offers a weekly digest of the latests pieces published on our website and our most recently completed translations.

wedding gown

New texts published

Marriage is the loneliest condition – Ding Xiaoyun

How does a teenage romance fantasy survive into adult life? In this piece, blogger Ding Xiaoyun remembers a past love, and wonders about life that could have.

Ghost Island – Li Yinhe

‘Most of our life is spent in inertia’, says sociologist and philosopher Li Yinhe, until something comes and shake us up. In this paradoxical post, she remembers the outbreak of the cultural revolution as such a moment of intense encounter with violence – and with this, the possibility to make existential choices.

Hong Kong’s civilisation – Lan Ran

Travel to the SAR is an opportunity for writer Lan Ran to remember books and films depicting life in Hong Kong, and reflect on the civilisational accomplishment of this unique city.

Love and revolution (2) – Ye Fu

In his ‘love and revolution’ series, Ye Fu recounts the life of his uncle, and through him, the many radical changes that occurred in China from the 1920s to the 1980s. In this second episode, he goes back to the early years, and evokes the social ambitions of a young man from Hubei through the 1930s. The opening part of this series is available in translation.

Building a transparent court system – He Weifang

In this piece, legal expert He Weifang retraces the history of China’s justice system in the 20th century, and identifies the ongoing existence of a transparency principle.

New translations

One of the consequences of the one-child policy is a tendency for Chinese families to overprotect this precious one-child. In ‘Everyone is spoiling children‘, journalist and academic Yu Ge describes the phenomenon, and denounces the dangers facing a spoiled generation.

This weekly column offers a digest of the latest pieces from the Chinese blogosphere published on our website and most recently completed translations of new Chinese writing.

worship animals

New texts published

Is Weibo a populist paradise – Muran

Some commentators have criticized Chinese micro-blogging Weibo as a platform likely to encourage populism. In this piece, Muran underlines that populist views are only shared by a minority of users, and rejecting the platform on this ground is the sign of a misguided elitist view.

On this topic, you may enjoy reading Muran’s ‘Weibo is a good thing’ (in English) and Yu Ge’s ‘Populism‘ (in Chinese).


Important questions on the new silk road – Zheng Yongnan

In line with its growing development China has expressed a desire to ‘go towards the outside’ – but what geopolitical strategy will the country follow to achieve this goal? As the US ally with Japan in the East, what options does China have? In this piece, analyst Zheng Yongnan proposes an exploration of the ‘silk road’ concept, advocating for a closer alliance between China, Russia and Central Asia, based on peaceful trading relationships. This could be an important element in China’s soft power strategy.


Food memories: Hot Pot -Bo Bangni

In her series ‘food memories’, Bo Bangni explores the personal and collective history of traditional Chinese dishes – followed by a recipe. This piece on hot pot conjures up memories of a conjugal fight in an artistic family – and a woman’s skill at playing angry housewife.


The borders of literary history – Wei Zhou

Three hundred years from now, what will be retained of our present literature? Will people still highly regard what we – or the media – deem to be great works of fiction; or will historians study minor martial arts, self-help, or even cooking books we disregard? Reflecting on a recent History of Uyghur Literature, Wei Zhou proposes to redefine, or at least interrogate, what we deem to be the boundaries of art.


From ‘Super Mario’ to ‘Tetris’, the secret of popular games – Xun Kong

As computers evolve, video games have become increasingly complex – with rich graphics and elaborate story-lines. However, some minimalist games still prove extremely popular and addictive. This piece reflects on the success of these simple, minimalist games – from classic Tetris to the more recent ‘Nervous Cat’.

New translations

How is trauma transmitted across generations? Starting with a classroom scene of abuse from a teacher repeating shame techniques learnt as a red guard, ‘How the cultural revolution affected a post-80s such as me’  reflects on the long term consequences of the Cultural Revolution in the Chinese psyche. This is the first completed translation by our translator Abukamil – whom we would like to thank and congratulate.

People, within and without China, often like to emphasize its exceptionalism, and unique characteristics of China’s culture. ‘Just how special are we proposes an original approach to the question. Starting with a theoretical look at the opposition between pluralism and universalism, the piece argues that excessive emphasis on Chinese only characteristics may hide a secret danger, that of keeping China outside of universal values; or as Guo Yuhua articulates it ‘are Chinese people really people’?

Douban.comlaunched on March 6, 2005, is a Chinese social networking website allowing registered users to create content related to cultural life in Chinese cities. Some Chinese authors and critics also register their official personal pages on the site.

Douban registered users are mostly young urban Chinese people who go to the platform for ratings and reviews of books/movies or music or join movements and discussion boards, and it gives a direct insight into emerging trends in urban China. Articles we select from Douban tend to be more personal and meditative than those from other sources.

Key writers from Douban include: Wei Zhou, Jiong Jiong and Lan Ran.

Readers and users often ask us where we source our texts. So we thought it was time we prepared a short series of posts about our sources.

Our first go-to website is My1510.This online platform created by Chinese TV journalist Rose LuQiu LuWei brings together articles written by different Chinese writers and bloggers. Some of the pieces published here are shared from traditional media, while some are original blog posts; some writers are recognised intellectuals others emerging citizen bloggers. Topics range from politics, society and cultural analysis to more personal reflections on contemporary Chinese life.

The platform was developed around one core vision: to provide independent opinions and valuable information. My1510 bridges the gap between news from traditional media channels and opinions from citizen bloggers, striving to be a platform that provides valuable information for its readers.

Our key authors all publish on My1510. Among them, you may wish to look at the works of Li Yehang (religion), Zhang Tianpan (cultural analysis and social enterprise), Cui Weiping (film criticism and historical reflection), Yu Yiwei (everyday life and commentary), or Feng Qingyang (economy).

This post opens a series about the factors motivating us to run the Marco Polo Project. Please join in the conversation, and tell us why you think the Marco Polo Project should exist. 

To qualify as a respected intellectual in Continental Europe, you must know the core languages of the Great European Tradition: French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Latin and Greek. You’re not expected to join in spontaneous conversations with no trace of accent, of course, but know enough of each language to read its literature in the text, or at least appreciate its original flavour when reading a translation. And reading them you must: Moliere, Shakespeare, Goethe, Dante, Cervantes, Virigil and Homer are all part of a multilingual tradition in constant dialogue, and make full sense only through their complex relationship with each other.

Up until recently, reading these languages was enough – although respected intellectuals from smaller European countries might throw their own language into the mix, and add colour to the dialogue. Meanwhile, ‘Oriental’ languages were a niche specialty, only marginally more relevant to the conversations of the Great European Tradition than, say, Nahuatl or Quechua. Sanskrit and Hebrew, Russian and Arabic, as close neighbours, peaked a timid glance over the fence. Mandarin was far beyond the pale.

But things have changed. Under the combined effects of globalisation and the rise of Asia, it is likely that Mandarin will feature as part of the linguistic panoply for aspiring intellectuals in Europe and globally. Those ignorant of things Chinese will no longer find themselves in a position to speak with universal authority. This is radically new, this is probably positive, and this is surely challenging. The European traditions have conducted their dialogue for centuries – translation and multi-lingualism is at the core of the European Project. But will this project integrate a language and tradition so long distant and separate?

We believe in a world where cultural and intellectual leaders are multi-lingual, and their thinking is informed by a deep understanding of multiple traditions. We believe that today’s world involves a conversation between the Chinese and European traditions. And our goal for developing this project is to support the great learning effort necessary for this important conversation to take place, and become a matter-of-fact.

I spent last week-end working on our first market analysis documents. We had been doing a general scan of the environment, but this was the first time we systematically looked at who’s doing the same kind of thing we do, what features they propose, and how we may be different from them.

I re-discovered two very cool websites on the way – China Hush and China Smacks, which both propose ‘hot topics’ from the Chinese web in translation. Their model is different from ours, in that they think of themselves more as a magazine than a language learning and cultural dialogue community. But their stuff is pretty cool!

Yet one thing struck me: there are a few websites out there translating English to Chinese or Chinese to English; but other languages are completely left out. So that’s the big original thing about Marco Polo – multilingualism. Will that work? We shall see.

A few days ago, I exchanged emails with Jeremy Goldkorn, who runs the wonderful Danwei online magazine. I was introduced to Jeremy through Professor Geremie Barme at ANU, himself introduced by Jill Collins at the Australian Embassy in Beijing. Thank you networks! It is really precious, when you start a project like this one, to received some attention and support.

I was thrilled when I saw Jeremy’s email. He’s a legend – he’s been one of the most influential online writers in China for the last 8 years. And now he’s giving us advice. He confirmed our initial thought that crowd-sourcing would only really work if we built solid partnerships with teaching institutions, who would feed a regular inflow of fresh and motivated translators to our website. He also expressed concern about the quality of our translations – something most people have talked about. We will need to think about it more deeply, maybe find a way to pay translators to review advanced work, or have ‘sponsored’ articles, with a reward for the translator.

But now, my main feeling is confidence in the possibilities of the internet. Jeremy was very friendly, and very quick to contact us. Earlier this year, I had a similar thrill when I contacted, and they got back to us rightaway, telling us about their web system.

Right, we’re still a bunch of random friends buidling a website in our study. But I can see how, slowly, we’re beginning to exist as a group with a mission. It’s a great transition, towards a proper collective. Thank you Danwei for the tips. Let’s do this thing!

Back in Melbourne after two months in Tianjin, it’s time to launch the second phase of development for Marco Polo Project.

While in China, I made good contact with Nicolas Idier and Jill Collins at the French and Australian Embassy. I also talked extensively with Juliette Salabert, director of Alliance Francaise in Tianjin.

This Chinese time did not make me doubt about the feasibility of Marco Polo. The Chinese people I met, whether students at Alliance Francaise or friends of friends, were all very keen to promote Chinese culture, intent on improving their English and any other language they spoke, and constantly plugged into the internet. Idealistic only children are ideal users for our website!

So now, let’s get the thing started, and launch an improved version. Nicolas mentioned the possibility of taking part in French-Chinese cultural events or, if not, he offered to circulate our business cards at the many literary events that he attends around China. High level marketing – let’s be worthy of the generous offer. To work!