ZGBriefs | February 2, 2023

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Video: China’s New Civil Religion (February 1, Center for Religion and Culture, Fordham University)
How is the Chinese government combining patriotism with local faiths? Can authoritarianism and religious life coexist? Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist, Ian Johnson, discusses these questions and more. 

Government / Politics / Foreign Affairs

China Suddenly Abandoned Its Zero COVID Policy. How Did It Start In The First Place? (January 28, 2023, The Diplomat)
We tend to think China has a strict, top-down COVID-19 policy, but local variation is what really shaped the outcome, from beginning to end. 

Where Does Xi Jinping Go from Here? (January 31, 2023, China File)
Popular narratives about Chinese leader Xi Jinping are in flux. Just a few months ago, he was widely seen as an unassailable force. But unusually widespread protests in late November, followed by a complete reversal of his zero-COVID policy, have prompted some to question whether Xi is losing his grip.

Taiwan activates defenses in response to China incursions (February 1, 2023, AP)
Taiwan scrambled fighter jets, put its navy on alert and activated missile systems in response to nearby operations by 34 Chinese military aircraft and nine warships that are part Beijing’s strategy to unsettle and intimidate the self-governing island democracy.


Who Moved My Church? (January 27, 2023, ChinaSource Blog)
The key to the Western church’s ongoing effectiveness may well be its ability to learn from majority world believers, many of whom have experience in living out their faith in the face of political and cultural restrictions. For Western Christians who have long taken for granted their ability to affect societal change at the ballot box, these may be difficult lessons. 

A Tsinghua University Mathematician Finds Rest in Christ (February 1, 2023, Chinese Church Voices)
My childhood education put me in a bit of an awkward situation. My parents would say: “We are all created by God. Our Lord Jesus loves us; he is our savior.” The teacher at school would say: “We are all evolved from ancient apes.” At school we sang, “The world has never had a savior, nor immortal gods or kings. For humanity to have happiness, it all depends on us.”

Society / Life

After 3 years of Covid, CNN went into rural China for Lunar New Year. Here’s what we found and how officials tried stopping us (January 27, 2023, CNN)
Everyone I interviewed on camera said no one around them had been infected. A few elderly villagers I spoke to said they were fully vaccinated and hadn’t gotten sick. But I ran into a group of young people, eating hot pot outside, who said otherwise.

‘It was all for nothing’: Chinese count cost of Xi’s snap decision to let Covid rip (January 29, 2023, The Guardian)
Xi’s extraordinary backflip left analysts alarmed and confused. China was not the only country to choose a zero-Covid strategy, and certainly not the only one to “let it rip” once it dropped it. But it was the last, and global health experts say there were plenty of lessons it could have heeded – primarily, making sure vaccinations and health resources were high before the tsunami of cases hit.

China’s Sichuan frees unmarried people to legally have children (January 30, 2023, Reuters)
From Feb. 15, married couples and any individuals who want offspring will be allowed to register with the government in China’s fifth most populous province, with no ceiling on the number of children they can register for. The measure aims to “promote long-term and balanced population development,” Sichuan’s health commission said in a statement on its website.

The Hunt for China’s Ugliest Building (January 31, 2023, Sixth Tone)
For 13 years, the “China’s Ugliest Buildings” poll has documented the misfires and gambles that defined the country’s urban building spree. What can the results teach us about taste in architecture?

Economics / Trade / Business

With COVID lockdowns lifted, China says it’s back in business. But it’s not so easy (January 30, 2023, NPR)
China is emerging from nearly three years of self-imposed isolation, which has been a drag on the world’s second-largest economy. Earlier this month, Chinese officials reported 3% economic growth in 2022 – the second-lowest in at least four decades. But now that stringent COVID lockdowns have been lifted, officials say the country is back in business. Analysts, however, say it won’t be easy.


Visa delays await Chinese students returning to Australia after sudden ban on online learning (June 30, 2023, The Guardian)
More than 40,000 university students have been left scrambling to make it to Australia in time for the new semester after the Chinese government announced a snap ban on recognising online degrees obtained from foreign institutions. Under the new rules, all Chinese students enrolled to study online with overseas providers must be on campus for semester 1 – due to start in a matter of weeks in Australia.

Health / Environment

Covid in China: Officials say current wave is ‘coming to an end’ (January 30, 2023, BBC)
Chinese health officials say the country’s current wave of Covid-19 infections is “coming to an end”. The number of severe Covid cases and deaths is trending downward, the country’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a report. It also said there had been “no obvious rebound” during Lunar New Year holidays last week, where millions reunited for family gatherings.

Science / Technology

U.S. stops granting export licenses for China’s Huawei – sources (January 31, 2023, Reuters)
The Biden administration has stopped approving licenses for U.S. companies to export most items to China’s Huawei, according to three people familiar with the matter. Huawei has faced U.S. export restrictions around items for 5G and other technologies for several years, but officials in the U.S. Department of Commerce have granted licenses for some American firms to sell certain goods and technologies to the company.

History / Culture

Video: Chinese New Year – Through the Five Passes (January 12, 2023, Apple)
Welcome the Year of the Rabbit with a story about a young man, his love for opera, and the spirit of persistence. Apple and director Peng Fei come together to reinvent the renowned Chinese Opera “Through the Five Passes”.

New home for China’s ancient treasures to display many more Palace Museum artefacts (January 27, 2023, South China Morning Post)
The centrepiece of the project will be the new north campus consisting of 12 exhibition halls totalling 35,000 square metres (376,737 sq ft) of space. Once completed, the museum will be able to display up to 30,000 pieces annually, the museum’s party secretary and vice-chairman, Du Haijiang, told state television broadcaster CCTV on Thursday.

Travel / Food

China’s Spring Festival 2023 in Numbers (January 28, 2023, Sixth Tone)
Sixth Tone lists notable statistics that suggest how businesses are gradually recovering this holiday season after China eased most of its pandemic control measures last month.

Arts / Entertainment / Media

Four Films to Kick Off the New Year (January 29, 2023, The World of Chinese)
With a sizable box office and a diverse lineup, the Chinese film industry is off to a good start in the Year of the Rabbit.

Chinese TV Drama Sheds Light on Anti-Corruption (January 29, 2023, Sixth Tone)
With an award-winning cast, “The Knockout” tells the story of a police officer’s 20-year journey combating the criminal underworld and people involved in gangs.

Language / Language Learning

Beginner Chinese listening practice: What to listen to and how (January 31, 2023, Hacking Chinese)
Finding comprehensible input is mostly a problem for new learners, so let’s look at the best Chinese listening practice for beginners!

Living Cross-culturally

Arguments about Origin – a TCK post (February 1, 2023, Communicating Across Boundaries)
This particular argument started out as a benign comment by a friend to something I had posted online. I don’t even remember the original post, but it was about belonging and my connection to my childhood home – Pakistan. In the post I called Pakistan “home.”  “But it’s not really home for you.” she stated matter-of-factly. “I’m not sure what you mean.” I said “I grew up there, so yes, it was my childhood home.” “But you’re not from there.” she was not going to let this go. Fair enough, but it really depends on what “from there” means. 


On Jiang Zemin and inter-Party struggle, Willy Wo-Lap Lam’s book remains a gold standard (January 27, 2023, The China Project)
‘The Era of Jiang Zemin’ is dense with detail, built up from a wide range of interviews with Chinese executives, officials, academics, diplomats, and businesspeople. In that sense, the book itself was a product of a more open political system under Jiang.

Saving Grandmother’s Face and Other Tales from Christian Teachers in China: A Book Review (January 30, 2023, ChinaSource Blog)
Cookie cutter tales from a country where “plans can’t keep up with change” would not have made the book the authentic read that it is.

Red Memory by Tania Branigan review – the Cultural Revolution up close (January 30, 2023, The Guardian)
In gathering histories from one of the country’s darkest, most divisive periods, the former Guardian China correspondent has created a gripping and important document.

Jing Tsu’s Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern (January 30, 2023, China Rhyming)
In Kingdom of Characters, Jing Tsu shows that China’s most daunting challenge was a linguistic one: to make the formidable Chinese language – a 2,200-year-old writing system that was daunting to natives and foreigners alike – accessible to a globalized, digital world.


Voice of the Martyrs 2023 Global Prayer Guide

Pray for China

March 8 (Pray for China: A Walk Through History)
Cambridge Seven missionary Cecil Polhill (宝耀庭) went to be with the Lord in England on Mar. 9, 1938. Polhill served with the China Inland Mission from 1885-1900—much of that time in Tibetan areas of western China and India. In 1888 he married fellow missionary Eleanor Marston (尔斯顿) in Qinghai, and they had six children. The Polhills left China in 1900 due to Cecil’s poor health. He soon came into a large inheritance and lived out his life as an active benefactor of Pentecostal and other missions; he also made several visits to Tibetan areas. As International Women’s Day is observed today in China, pray for Chinese Christian men to bless single Chinese Christian women by being zealous in witnessing to unsaved single men. Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14

Image credit: Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio