All our favorite stories this week are about people or communities that are on the margins of Chinese society, either culturally or geographically: Orthodox Christians, Uighur factory workers, Hong Kong taxi drivers, and Miao villagers in Guizhou.
Orthodox Christianity in China: A comb worth fighting for (October 31, 2014, The Economist)
Much is written about the Protestant and Catholic churches in China, but less is known about the Orthodox in China. Part of that is because, unlike Protestantism and Catholicism, the Orthodox faith, is not one of the five legally approved religions in China. An article in last week's edition of The Economist provided an interesting and much needed glimpse into the history and present condition of the Orthodox church in China.
As a colleague has written in this week's print edition, Christianity in China is experiencing spectacular, but turbulent, growth; by one estimate, the number of Chinese Christians could by 2030 have reached 250m—the largest Christian population of any country in the world.
Unless something extra-ordinary happens, only a tiny fraction (less than 0.1%) of those Christians will be followers the eastern Orthodox church, which you might have expected, on geographical grounds, to be the faith's prevailing form. Why is it so relatively weak? In part, perhaps, because Chinese Orthodoxy's position has been affected by some arcane jurisdictional disputes, which to outsiders can seem like bald men fighting over a comb. On the other hand, China's Orthodox Christians have a distinguished heritage and they may not have said their last word.
The story is a feast for church history buffs. Despite the Chinese authorities' strong aversion to religions with "foreign" connections, Orthodoxy can stake a claim to legal existence in China because it is the historic (though hardly practised) faith of two small communities in northern China: the Albazinians who descend from Cossack prisoners who settled in the 17th century; and the Evenks, a people who straddle the Chinese-Siberian frontier.
Labor Program in China Moves to Scatter Uighurs Across Han Territory (November 6, 2014, The New York Times)
Edward Wong filed an interesting story this week about a Chinese government program to send Uighurs from Xinjiang to other parts of the country to work in factories, in an attempt to promote assimilation.
As a winter chill settled across China's far northwest, 489 people boarded a chartered train in the city of Urumqi for the 50-hour ride to the country's opposite corner, in semitropical Guangdong Province, to take up new factory jobs.
"If I can adapt to life in Guangdong, I would consider opening a restaurant and settling down there," said one passenger, Tahir Turghun, a farmer in his 30s, according to an article in the state-run newspaper Southern Daily. He said he had never traveled outside the western region of Xinjiang, and when the opportunity to work in Guangdong arose, he immediately registered himself and his wife.
As violence upends the social order in swaths of Xinjiang, where resistance to Beijing's rule has been growing among ethnic Uighurs, officials there and elsewhere in China are pushing new measures — like chartering entire trains — to bring Uighurs and members of other ethnic minorities to parts of the country where the Han, the nation's ruling ethnicity, are the majority.
Strengthening the labor export program is a major component of a push by the central government to try to assimilate Uighurs, a mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking people, into mainstream Han culture. But such programs have themselves contributed to past ethnic hostilities, including an explosive episode in 2009.
Video: Hong Kong Taxis: Driving the Occupy Debate (November 3, 2014, China Real Time)
The students in Hong Kong are now in their seventh week of protests that have shut down some of the cities main arteries. The Wall Street Journal decided to ride around town with some of the taxi drivers to find out what they think about the protests. It's a fascinating short video.
Farm to Table Feast, Miao Style (November 3, 2014, Life on Nanchang Lu)
And finally, something for the "foodies" among our readers. Fiona, who blogs at Life on Nanchang Lu, gives us a blow-by-blow of a traditional Miao meal in Guizhou Province, complete with photos. Be sure not to drool onto your keyboard.
Farm to table. It's an well-worn phrase on city restaurant menus, but what does it really mean?
Many would say it means using seasonal ingredients, with the fewest delays and distance possible between farm and plate, and a high degree of transparency in this process. Others would say it means local farmers deliver directly to restaurants. In rare cases, it means that some items on the menu are actually grown in the restaurant's own kitchen garden. But that's pretty uncommon.
The appeal of farm to table is obvious - the food is fresh, local, and has maximum flavour because it's at its seasonal peak. I would argue almost all our food should be 'farm to table. The disadvantages of our current food supply are that we don't know exactly where our food comes from, how long it took to get to us, or what was done to it along the way.
Two weeks back, in stunning Guizhou once again, I had a revelation. After eating four very special home-cooked meals in four different Miao homes, and watching the preparation of these meals, I realised that here was the fundamental essence of farm to table.
The farm-to-table distance was less than fifty metres, the farmer was also the cook, and every single thing on the plate had been grown, raised or made by the person cooking the food. It was magic. It's also how Miao people eat every single day.
Photo by Joann Pittman