Daughter, Warrior, Woman: The Evolution of Hua Mulan

In the first part of my Mulan article, I discussed what the Disney animation meant for the Chinese in China, as well as for global audiences; looked at the initial trailer of the new live action film and talked about what I hope to see in it. To understand Mulan’s significance as a cultural icon fully, we need to go to her origins and see how she evolved. I will focusing on two relatively recent film adaptations that have made the greatest impact around the world (China included), so we could see where Mulan is culturally, particularly in terms of her representation in cinema, just before a new major work comes out. 


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The Boss Behind the Cowherd and Weaver Myth

This time last year, I launched my book “From Kuan Yin to Chairman Mao: An Essential Guide to Chinese Deities” in the UK. Vivian Ni, the wonderful manager of Guanghwa in London, my bookshop of choice for the launch, wrote a lovely article for the occasion of Qi Xi, which she published on WeChat. I liked it so much that this year, I have translated it into English to share with my English-language readers on the same occasion of Qi Xi. The article contains a brief interview with me, I hope you enjoy it.


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Forgotten Planets: Exploring China’s Long-Running Sci-Fi Film Tradition

In the 18th and 19th centuries, when exploration was a hobby of the British upper classes, you’d regularly hear about the discovery of Brand New Civilizations — as though indigenous people’s generational histories did not pop into existence until someone with a pith helmet and a camera stumbled into the clearing. I had my own “Dr. Livingstone Presuming” moment this week, when I began to read headlines in such stalwarts of the British press as the Financial Times (as well as digital newcomers like The Verge) stating that the just-released film adaptation of The Wandering Earthmarked China’s first tentative foray into sci-fi cinema, before scuttling back and forth between comparisons with contemporary American blockbusters and classic American sci-fi quicker than you can say “White Gaze Genesis.”


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Jin Yong: An Orbituary

Jin Yong, one of the greatest Chinese writers of the twentieth century, passed away earlier this week on Tuesday the 30th of October. Aged 94, he died of organ failure after battling  long-term illness, at the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital.


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The Culture Behind the Pantheon: Exclusive with RADII

Though often portrayed in Western media as a monolithic, atheistic monoculture, China has one of the most complex histories of religion and spirituality among the world’s civilizations. Understanding the histories, myths, and enduring spiritual and pop-cultural appeal of China’s long list of deities is essential to understanding the country as it exists today, says Xueting Christine Ni, who has a book on the subject out on Friday (June 1).

Ni, also somewhat of an authority on Chinese pop culture (she wrote about ghosts and ghouls for us around Halloween), has put together a “shortlist” of 60 beings — gods and goddesses, along with “spirits, immortals, heroes, elementals, sages, guardians and so forth” — showing the connective tissue of deep-seated spirituality connecting figures From Kuan Yin to Chairman Mao as the book’s title has it, to Chinese society and culture.

Ahead of the book’s release, RADII caught up with Ni for a dive into China’s complex canon of mytho-historical legends, and to hear why she thinks getting a handle on them can help anyone hoping to understand the country’s role in the world today.


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On the Representation of Chinese Arts in Western Media

Recently numerous friends on social media have pointed out to me the shockingly underinformed or dubious ways in which the Chinese arts have been represented in the Western media. I have been impressed by your astuteness and I thank you for your kindness.


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From Sandmonks to Spirit Bombs: A Taster

In the 7th century, the monk Xuanzang traveled from the capital of China to the middle of India. He journeyed through hundreds of states and countries, over 17 years and brought back 657 sutras. He recounted his experiences to the imperial court, and these were transcribed as Records of Western Regions Visited During the Great Tang. Xuanzang’s disciples / then wrote his biography, embellishing it with encounters and examples of Buddhist teaching. In the same way that any story told often enough begins to grow, the story of Xuanzang’s journey to the west would become the stuff of legends.


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Condors and Falcons

When I heard that Jin Yong’s Wuxia classic “The Condor Heroes” was being published in English, (translated by Anna Holmwood, and first volume released earlier this year), I was delighted. As a Chinese cultural commentator, I was happy to read the articles that this publication had generated, even by the old white academics who seem to have recently discovered the existence of Wuxia. One article however, did leave me mulling the content. In its use of journalistic shorthand, Vanessa Thorpe’s article in The Guardian a few weeks ago, described Jin Yong as being “China’s Tolkien”. Whilst I understand the reasoning for this, I feel that she’s missed the mark. In terms of story, character, genre, not to mention cultural significance, the world of “Condor Heroes” can be more appropriately described as China’s Star Wars.


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Please Don’t Call Me Human: A Review

It’s not hard to tell from the cover that this book is going to be an unpalatable sort of satire. Whilst I find Wang Shuo very interesting as a writer, I found myself waiting for the suitable moment to start this book. When I finally did, the stark committee meeting scene it opens with put me off a couple of times. Having been exposed to the Chinese media in my childhood, there is something in the tone of official committee meetings that is inevitably soporific and dulling to one’s senses. It was not until the plot device of the Big Dream Boxer is revealed at the end of the first chapter, that I really started to engage with the story.


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On Chinese Children’s Sci-Fi

Chinese science fiction is still a relatively new concept for Western readers. It is not so in China. An encounter during my trip to China earlier this year vividly illustrates domestic attitudes to science fiction. While browsing at a major national book shop, I asked the assistant where I could find the science fiction. She directed me to one end of the shop, where I found children’s literature and educational books. Baffled, I returned to the assistant and inquired again, providing an example of the sort of books I was looking for. “Liu Cixin’s Three Body? Oh, why didn’t you say so before?!” I was re-directed to a section at the end of a row of shelves, where, albeit small, I found the selection an elegant sufficiency to keenly pique my interest.


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