When Truth Is Hard to Love

No. 13

Greetings from Kiki Zhao 赵添琦, a writer based in China and the U.S.

“We should think hard and persevere when we meet difficulties; so that we can help build our country when we grow up,” I wrote this line when I was nine in a homework essay discussing how to think independently. The school I attended, in a small town in northeastern China, was named Dongfanghong, or The East is Red. When my mother found the essay this summer, I could barely remember why I wrote it, but I knew my passion of wanting to one day “help build our country” was genuine. 

Last month, when I stood close to the large Mao Zedong portrait at Tiananmen square, I couldn’t bring myself to take a photo. I thought of the students killed in the same place calling for greater reform and freedom because they also wanted to “help build our country.” 

I thought of Wang Shuping 王淑平, who died just last month. She had to leave China at age 42 for speaking truthfully about the AIDS epidemic while caring for her compatriots. I thought of Ilhom Tohti, the Uyghur professor jailed in 2014 by authorities in Beijing for trying to promote understanding between Uyghur and Han. I thought of many others, kind and quiet and passionate and firm souls, seeking truth in their attempts to love their country and their homeland. 

What should I call this love? Patriotism? Or Àiguó 爱国 in Chinese? But I dread using the word because it has become so politically loaded. In moments when my words fail me, I seek out other souls insisting on truth. Like stars shining gently in the night sky, I look to them when it becomes difficult to express that love. 

All best,
Kiki Zhao 赵添琦


The best work from our members.

🤔🇨🇳 Understanding Nationalism 
How to gauge and understand cyber-nationalism in China based on solid evidence?  Is it on the rise? Does the party-state support it directly? In a comprehensive article published on the research platform Echowall, Fang Kecheng 方可成, Assistant Professor from The Chinese University of Hong Kong, details what scholars have uncovered so far.

🏙🗽NYC: Luxury Towers and Chinatown

(Photo credit: Mengwen Cao for Vox)

In and around New York City’s Chinatown, developers want to build luxury towers. But the neighborhood’s long-time residents, many elderly and low-income, are pushing back. Mengwen Cao 曹梦雯’s photos and Sarah Ngu’s words describe a fight against the ravenous gentrification consuming New York City.

👪💬 Exploring Patriotism
Painful past, indoctrinated education, and a narrow space for the voice of the moderate to express their love for their country. Novelist Jianan Qian 钱佳楠 pens an op-ed in The New York Times exploring Chinese patriotism.

🖋️📃 The Self and The State
In a poignant letter to her birth country published on ChinaFile, essayist and scientist Yangyang Cheng 程扬扬 reflects on the history and current events the People’s Republic doesn’t want to face. “I write about you out of sorrow, because of love.”

👨🏼‍🌾🚜 Coffee Farming Along the Mekong River
Coffee farming in the Mekong basin faces environmental challenges exacerbated by climate change and intensive farming. China Dialogue’s Karoline Kan 阚超群 visits coffee farmers in Vietnam and China to understand the difficulties they face and how they try to find new ways to tackle these issues.

🐖🌎 Swine Fever and Global Trade

(Image credit: Because China | Quartz)

The African Swine Fever (ASF) virus has wiped out half of China’s pig herd. It has since spread to neighboring countries in Asia, causing huge price hikes and massive disruptions in the global pork market. In this documentary tracing the ASF epidemic in China, Quartz’s Isabelle Niu 牛牧歌, along with field producer Beimeng Fu 傅蓓梦, maps out the country’s deep integration with the global trade system.

🙅‍♂️👮🏼‍♂️ Protect the Children 
In a video story, South China Morning Post’s Dayu Zhang 张大禹 documents how Protect the Children, a citizen’s volunteer group in Hong Kong, tries to protect young protestors from police brutality and communicates with the police. “Please be humane. Please,” an 80-year-old volunteer says as he bows to the police.

🌿 Cannabis Made in China
China has tough drug laws, yet farmers in the country’s northwestern Yunnan province are growing cannabis plants. Why? In a multimedia story, South China Morning Post’s Viola Zhou 周易 reports with Arman Dzidzovic that investors are betting on the demand of cannabidiol, or CBD, in the U.S.

🇺🇸💵 Yang and the Gang
How popular is the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang? Is he the opposite of Donald Trump? BBC’s Zhaoyin Feng 冯兆音 writes about Yang, his campaign strategies, and his devoted base.

🚚📘 New York’s Punjabi Drivers
In 2017 there was a shortage of more than 50,000 truck drivers in the U.S. As the number is expected to grow, many in New York’s South Asian communities are joining the trucking industry. But many Punjabis in the city are left out. Why? Wufei Yu 余物非 tells their stories on The Juggernaut, a publication for South Asian stories.

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Thoughts from our members and beyond on topics about the media industry, diversity and more.

It could be painful to talk about one’s feelings toward one’s home country when so much truth of the land is deliberately buried by its ruling government. The very act of seeking truth risks punishment for appearing “unpatriotic,” and one’s unavoidable sense of belonging could engender feelings of complicity.  

Below we hear from people with thoughts on love for their country, their journeys seeking truth, and their struggles to talk about it. 

Joyce Du 杜涓, a former journalist with The Financial Times in China, became “teary-eyed” after seeing the play “The Kings of Hell’s Palace,” adapted from Dr. Wang Shuping’s life story:  

The story is very close to heart as an ex-journalist who spent the first seven years of her career in China reporting, with much passion and conviction, on stories such as SARS, desertification and land seizure in Gansu Province, the cancer village caused by chemical water pollution in a Tianjin suburb, the slavery of black kilns in Shanxi, the relocation of thousands of people to make way for the Three Georges Dam, the heart-wrecking Sichuan earthquake and the petitioning journey of the young parents who lost their children seeking justice of shoddy school buildings, and so on. 

Some may think this is a post too depressing on the day of the 70th anniversary of the PRC but I believe true love, either for a person or for a country or its people, includes revealing, understanding and accepting the weaknesses and flaws. I love my country for what it really is.

Jin Ding 丁进, program manager at the International Women’s Media Foundation and a former sports journalist, weighs in on the current NBA controversy that touches on many thorny issues: nationalism and patriotism, business and politics, as well as freedom of speech in both the U.S. and China.

Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a seat during the national anthem in the 2016 NFL preseason. Before it turned into a movement, his action went unnoticed for two full weeks. Daryl Morey was not as ‘lucky.’ His tweet caught fire with patriotic Chinese within one day.

Some Americans chose not to support Kaepernick’s freedom of speech and encouraged punishment toward any NFL player who took a knee before a game. But when it comes to the NBA, one of America’s most successful overseas brands, the voices seem quick to unite. After all, racism is an issue too close to home, but China’s lack of freedom of speech is a much easier target. On the other side, instead of looking beyond biased media and seeking dialogue with Hong Kong protesters, Chinese evaded a difficult discussion and chose to protest an American franchise–another easy target–online.

If the national anthem protests have created a chance for dialogue about racism in American society, would this NBA storm over Hong Kong protests leave a legacy in China?

Zhang Yan 张妍, senior editor of Initium Media 端传媒, who works in a newsroom in Hong Kong with colleagues from the mainland, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, pays attention to details when communicating with colleagues to show respect. 

As a mainlander, I switch my keyboard input from simplified to traditional Chinese when I write to my colleagues from Hong Kong and Taiwan. The reason I’m doing this is I’m afraid the simplified Chinese will offend them. I try to avoid things that may cause them unpleasant feelings. Because in the context of recent political unrest, any symbol related to the country, like language, flag, or song, could be regarded as a standpoint, a tool or even a value which represents the regime.

It’s not timid. It’s the first step to start real and respectful communication. It took time for me to understand why a person would be seen as a “perpetrator” only because s/he speaks mandarin on Hong Kong’s streets, and simultaneously a victim, who shoulders a heavy burden from the system and cannot be accepted by other communities. The only way I could help make things better is to find other communication channels beyond those symbols and let the outside world know we are human beings who would like to be understood.  

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We recognize our members’ professional achievements (and flatter them).

🎥In the Spotlight: Xinyan Yu 余心妍 is featured by VCspotlight, a bi-monthly interview series with documentary filmmakers and video journalists: How to Explain Beyond the Anger and Chaos.

📷The Multi-skilled Talent: “My American Surrogate,” a documentary film co-produced by Yan Cong 丛妍, is featured on The New York Times’ Op-docs. In addition, Yan Cong’s photos on the transformation of the Chinese ski town Chongli are on exhibit at the Indian Photo Festival.

🎙️ Explains China: Yangyang Cheng 程扬扬 appeared on BBC, ABC Australia PM and PRI The World, sharing insights as a Chinese scientist exploring identity, history, China’s power and more.

🎓Different Views: Shen Lu 沈璐 shared her thoughts with NPR Boston (WGBH) on why some students in the U.S. from mainland China and Hong Kong had different views on what the Hong Kong protest and China’s National Day mean to them.

🙌🏽 New Responsibilities: After nearly six years working at the Pulitzer Center, Jin Ding 丁进 started a new role this month as a program manager for grants and awards at the International Women’s Media Foundation. 

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Jobs, gigs, grants, fellowships, etc.

Scripps Howard Fellowship - [U.S.]
The Scripps Howard Foundation is taking applications for its 12-month fellowship program, offered in conjunction with the Scripps News Washington Bureau/Newsy and ProPublica. Application deadline is October 18, 2019. APPLY

International Women’s Media Foundation has several reporting fellowships accepting applicants. APPLY

The Business of Fashion Editorial Apprentice - [Shanghai]
The Business of Fashion is seeking a driven and dynamic native Mandarin speaker as an Editorial Apprentice. APPLY

WE, WOMEN - [U.S.]
The initiative calls for community engagement and collaborative photo-based projects from women, transgender, and non-binary artists. Application deadline is November 1, 2019. APPLY

👀Find more on the #opportunities channel on Slack.

Writer: Kiki Zhao; Editors: Muyi Xiao, Xinyan Yu; Copy Editor: Miles Goscha

Chinese Storytellers is a community that empowers Chinese non-fiction content creators. Follow us @CNStorytellers. Questions? Suggestions? Comments? Tell us.