Alec Ash

30 November 2022

Blank Sheets of Paper

Last weekend, something snapped. People had waited until after Xi’s coronation at October’s Party Congress. They had witnessed a flirtation with looser restrictions in test cities such as Shijiazhuang, only for lockdown to be enforced again. And they had followed horror stories of the human cost of zero Covid, from the quarantine bus crash that killed 27 to the needless death of a three-year-old boy in Lanzhou whose medical care was delayed by lockdown restrictions. A fire in a locked-down apartment block in Urumqi last Thursday killed ten people. Street protests hit Urumqi on Friday, Shanghai on Saturday and Beijing on Sunday, along with sixteen other cities. The marchers have been carrying blank A4 sheets of paper, which ‘represent everything we want to say but cannot say,’ in the words of one demonstrator.

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4 February 2022

In Beijing

The Winter Olympics, which begin in Beijing today – the first day of spring in the Chinese lunar calendar – are usually more muted than the summer games. Even so, the contrast with 2008 is striking. Ninety-one nations are competing, of which fifteen are joining the US in a diplomatic boycott (or are not sending officials for unspecified reasons). Athletes are corralled in an Olympic bubble and ferried around in shuttle buses; Beijing’s residents have been instructed not to come to their aid in the event of a crash. Domestic ticket sales have been cancelled and the torch ceremony is an abbreviated three-day jog through Beijing. The measures are designed to achieve ‘zero-spread’ of Covid, but seem symbolic of the tightened, less outward-facing nation that China has become.

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20 August 2014

Healthy Words

In 1902 Lu Xun translated Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon into Chinese from the Japanese edition. Science fiction, he wrote in the preface, was ‘as rare as unicorn horns, which shows in a way the intellectual poverty of our time’. Not any more. The Three-Body Trilogy by Liu Cixin has sold 500,000 copies in China since the first volume was published in 2006 (it will come out in English in the autumn). Liu, an engineer, is one of the so-called ‘three generals’ of contemporary Chinese science fiction, along with Wang Jinkang and Han Song.

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