July 07, 2008
By Pillarisetti Sudhir
The East is not red anymore. If anything, in China, where, until recently, the old song was sung everyday, the East is increasingly cast in Financial Times pink. Precisely for this reason perhaps, the East is being read all over again, to paraphrase from the punning slogan of a new blog, “The China Beat.”
Started in January 2008 by a group of China scholars and aficionados (ranging from anthropologist Susan Brownell to media persons Angilee Shah and Leslie Chang and historians like Susan Jakes, Kenneth Pomeranz and Jeff Wasserstrom), the China Beat blog presents an entertainingly eclectic mix of items, from the profound to the frivolous, but all designed to authoritatively and informatively interpret a country and culture that continues to haunt the imaginations and raise the hackles of millions outside the great wall. The blog has several regular features, such as one section that covers China in the media, another called “Coming Distractions” that contains reviews of books and other media on China, and one that quite lives up to its name, “Frivolous Fridays” by carrying entertaining notes on subjects like eyebrow threading and Hollywood trivia (which actress studied Mandarin Chinese and wrote a Harvard thesis on a the People’s Republic?). A section entitled “Taelspin”—someone on the blog is really fond of (multilingual) puns, here taking off from the Chinese system of currency and measures—covers the Chinese blogosphere. Another section of the blog, “Watching the China Watchers,” recently devoted several posts to discussions of the four Reith Lectures (intriguingly and temptingly titled “Confucian Way,” “English Lessons,” “American Dreams,” and “Body Beautiful”) that former AHA president and Yale University professor Jonathan Spence delivered for the BBC (the lectures can be heard again on the BBC’s Reith Lectures web site). Complementing these posts, Susan Jakes, a member of the blog team, fondly—and in a style almost echoing that of Spence, an inimitable limner of eloquent word pictures—remembers Spence’s Yale lectures which so inspired her as an undergraduate that she returned to do graduate studies in Chinese history.
As the bloggers themselves may have put it, clearly, there is no Confucian about it: This is a blog well worth signing up for, whether one is a China scholar or not, if you want to keep up with all that is happening in that center of the universe.