02 July, 2013
Keeping Up With China - A Few Resources
Chinese history, politics, and strategic thought are topics regularly returned to at The Stage. I have devoted several articles on the best books and resources for learning about China's history and strategic corpus; below I provide a list of the (English language) websites that I find useful for keeping track of contemporary Chinese affairs.
Bill Bishop - THE SINOCISM NEWSLETTER
Reminiscent of the now defunct Open Source Geopolitics, Bill Bishop's Sinocism Newsletter trawls through dozens of English and Chinese newspapers, reports, and blog posts so that the rest of us do not have to. Several newsletters are posted a week; each contains 20-50 links and excerpts to notable reports or commentaries on anything and everything Chinese. Easily the most important resource on this list.
chinaSMACK is a regularly updated collection of blog posts and news articles that are trending in Chinese social media. Most posts contain a brief introduction to the post written by the translator, the post or news story itself, and then a collection of influential Weibo tweets or forum comments reacting to the original article. As many of the translators are citizens of the People's Republic themselves, chinaSmack shies away from controversial and political topics that might put them or the site at risk.
Tea Leaf Nation
Tea Leaf Nation is another website focused on exposing the world of the Chinese netizen to the West. Unlike chinaSmack, political topics are their forte, and the Tea Leaf Nation contributors excel at capturing controversial Sina Weibo posts and other social media commentary just before the censors delete them. Tea Leaf Nation straddles the line between a news/social trends aggregator and a more traditional magazine; most of their Weibo collections include significant commentary by Tea Leaf Nation writers, and the website regularly posts editorials and book reviews on topics relevant to the Tea Lead Nation project.
A note of caution on both of these websites: There is no reason to think that Weibo's CCP-criticizing twitterati reflect the majority Chinese view. Ever.
Nevertheless, their debates are an accessible entry point into the Chinese world, and worth reading for that reason alone.
Newspapers, Dailies, and Magazines
XINHUA NEWS AGENCY - ENGLISH
Xinhua is China's largest news agency and one of the few Chinese agencies to operate foreign bureaus across the globe. Many of China's famous papers, like the Global Times or People's Daily, rely on Xinhua press releases when covering foreign affairs. Xinhua's poor reputation in the West (seen by some as little more than a mouth piece for the CCP) is unfortunate, and in my personal opinion, grossly unfair. Xinhua often carries stories that Western outlets miss, and I consistently find its coverage of world affairs broader than its myopic American counter parts. Its bias - particularly when covering international affairs - is of a more subtle sort. Carefully read Xinhua dispatches are a window into the assumptions and prejudices of the Chinese elite. The following post is a good example of the type of insights that can be gained from taking Xinhua seriously:
"Three Headlines and a Moral."
T. Greer. The Scholar's Stage. 29 October 2013.
The Diplomat is a current affairs magazine focused on the Asia-Pacific. It has a fantastic line up of bloggers whose work can be aptly described as accessible and articulate expressions of establishment thinking on issues related to China and the broader Pacific region.
ASIA TIMES ONLINE
Like The Diplomat, Asia Times Online focus is intelligent and articulate commentary on issues important to the Asia-Pacific region. This is where the parallels end; in contrast to The Diplomat, the Asia Times' columnists are unorthodox writers who buck Washington's intellectual trends. This is probably because most of its columnists are not from Washington, being denizens of Asia itself. Don't let the website's unprofessional formatting distract from its quality content.
Jamestown Foundation - THE CHINA BRIEF
There is a lot of pop-analysis on Chinese affairs that has no basis in reality. The reasons for this are not hard to discern: the Chinese system lacks the transparency and electoral political divides of the democratic systems most Westerners are familiar with, so Western opinion-makers are tempted to invent clear cut divides where they do not exist or describe the whole country in sweeping terms that are manifestly untrue. China Brief is a wonderful antidote to all of this. China Brief can be a bit intimidating to the uninitiated. It often delves into detailed descriptions of PLA force structure or Politburo assignments. Yet these details are what make China Brief papers important. They are doing are something no one else does. (Or at least, what no other open access source does).
Peter Lee - CHINA MATTERS
Peter Lee regularly writes columns for Asia Times Online as well as smaller pieces for his blog, China Matters. In my post "Asian Great Power Politics: Spring 2013" I identified him as the only Western observers who caught the true dynamics of the Japanese-U.S. alliance and the havoc the "pivot to Asia" is unleashing upon it. (A few others have recognized this since I wrote the post two months ago). His work is often in this vein - usually contrarian and usually right.
EAST BY SOUTHEAST
East by Southeast is written by a diverse group of individuals living in Southern China or Southeast Asia. The topic of the blog are the connections between the two. As someone who speaks Khmer and is learning Chinese, their reports are right up my alley. Their weekly "Regional Round Up" collection of links is usually worth perusing as well.
Any reader recommendations?