November 19th Highlights


Xi is great, watchwords are important, squatting is healthy, the Belt and Road is little traversed, and bird flu is terrifying.

Bird Flu Market
Photo Credit: Smithsonian/Yan Cong

“A Man Who Makes Things Happen”

If you’ve been reading the Chinese papers, you’ll know that the big “news” event of the week is Xi Jinping and how great he is.

On Friday, pretty much every official media outlet ran with the story ‘习近平:新时代的领路人’ (Xi Jinping: Leader of the New Era). You can read the mammoth 15,000 character editorial here, or the 8,000 word English version here.

Alternatively, you could read Zheping Huang’s short summary of the bloated ode to Xi on Quartz. Tom Phillips of the Guardian also has a great summary here.

The Tea Leaves Xi-Era Discourse

This is your big political read for the week. Qian Gang is a China watching veteran and the founder of China Media Project. His big focus is on “watchwords”, i.e. the phraseology and sloganeering that so often gets dismissed as propagandistic drivel, but which is actually vital to figuring out Chinese politics.

So, this is a linguistic dissection of Xi’s 19th Party Congress report, which doesn’t sound fun, but it is, kind of. It’s fascinating at least, and it’s certainly worth your attention.

The Forgotten Art of Squatting is a Revelation for Bodies Ruined by Sitting

“A guru once told me that the problem with the West is they don’t squat.”

This is plainly true. In much of the developed world, resting is synonymous with sitting. We sit in desk chairs, eat from dining chairs, commute seated in cars or on trains, and then come home to watch Netflix from comfy couches. With brief respites for walking from one chair to another, or short intervals for frenzied exercise, we spend our days mostly sitting. This devotion to placing our backsides in chairs makes us an outlier, both globally and historically.

Many “westerners” are oblivious to the delights of squatting when they first come to China, and this is the shaky relevance of this article to The China Road.

It’s also just a very enjoyable article, and I for one am a firm believer in squatting. I’m even seriously considering the purchase of a Lillipad for my toilet.

Explorer’s View of China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Tom Miller and Wade Shepard have both done a fair bit of schlepping on the Belt Road for their respective books, but on the ground reporting is still incredibly scarce when it comes to BRI.

That’s why the work of these young explorers is so valuable. These three guys drove from Venice to China in a Land Rover Defender, travelling 23,000km over Central Asia. An impressive feat on its own, it also seems like they had the wherewithal to take plenty of notes and lots of great footage.

This article serves to dampen some of the Belt and Road pomp emanating from Beijing, and it also calls into question the reliability of internet-sourced BRI data.

Keep an eye out for more material from their trip. I believe they have a documentary still in production.

Is China Ground Zero for a Future Pandemic?

Yes it is, sorry to ruin the punchline. This article will tell you why.

It’s a frightening topic, but this article is nicely written and has quite a relaxing pace to it. This is your designated Sunday morning over-coffee read.

Tiny porcelain and wood figurines of chickens, geese and pigs dot a crowded windowsill in Guan Yi’s office at the School of Public Health, framing an idyllic view of green, rolling hills. Famed for his work with animal viruses, Guan is square-jawed and intense. Some call him driven. In another incarnation, he might have been a chain-smoking private investigator. In real life he’s a blunt-spoken virus hunter.

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