ZGBriefs | June 29, 2023

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Featured Article

Temple visits rise in China as jobless young people seek spiritual assistance (June 22, 2023, The Guardian)
The phrase “incense-burning youth” has caught fire on social media, referring to young people who have turned to spiritual offerings in an attempt to increase their prospects. “Between going forward and going to work, I choose incense,” is one popular catchphrase.

Government / Politics / Foreign Affairs

New images show Chinese spy balloons over Asia (June 26, 2023, BBC)
Working with Synthetaic, an artificial intelligence company which sifted through huge amounts of data captured by satellites, the BBC has found multiple images of balloons crossing East Asia. The company’s founder, Corey Jaskolski, found evidence of one balloon crossing northern Japan in early September 2021. These images have not been published before.

Podcast: How China is using folk religion to woo Taiwan (June 27, 2023, Drum Tower)
The Economist’s senior China correspondent, Alice Su, meets devotees at a Mazu procession in Yuanlin, central Taiwan, and speaks to worshippers at a temple in Taipei which participates in pilgrimages to the mainland. Alice and The Economist’s Beijing bureau chief, David Rennie, discuss whether the Communist Party’s plan to use Mazu will help it win over Taiwan.

China’s ‘no-limits’ partnership with Russia shaken by mutiny (June 27, 2023, Christian Science Monitor)
Russia is a key partner in China’s challenge to the United States. Last weekend’s mercenary mutiny against Moscow is prompting doubts in Beijing about how reliable an ally its northern neighbor really is.

Chinese citizens find ways to dissent despite the risks (June 28, 2023, Global Voices)
To have a sense of the scale and nature of dissent in China today, Global Voices talked to Taiwan-based Kevin Slaten, who is a Program Manager for Asia at Freedom House, a US-based think tank. 

China’s Communist Youth League no longer path to party power as former chief shuffles to yet another deputy role (June 28, 2023, South China Morning Post)
Qin Yizhi’s new position on ethnic affairs commission is latest sign of stalled political career. The youth organisation, once the power base of top leaders, is increasingly sidelined, having been ordered to revamp by President Xi Jinping in 2015.

China signs pacts with ‘friend and partner’ New Zealand (June 28, 2023, Reuters)
The two sides agreed in a joint declaration to strengthen trade and expand cooperation in areas such as e-commerce, the green economy, and establish a dialogue mechanism on new energy vehicles, Chinese state media reported. They agreed on strengthening cooperation on food security and agriculture, based on recent talks on areas including diplomacy and defence, state media reported.


The Short Missionary Service of Nellie and Topsy Saunders. (June 12, 2023, Field Partner)
But in 1889, Hudson Taylor visited Melbourne and shared about the needs of China. After hearing him, the sisters responded to a call to meet the needs of women and children. They were then accepted as missionaries by the Church Missionary Association (CMA) as their first (and the youngest ever) missionaries to China.

Roundtable: How Should the Church React to the Immediate Needs of the Aging Population? (June 22, 2023, China Christian Daily)
With the growth of China’s aging population in the last three to five years, many families have faced the situation of sick and dying elderly members. Many older adults need care in the previous two stages of illness and death, and many children are unfamiliar and helpless because the elderly are about to die. Therefore, society must realize the importance of hospice care and death education. Recently, three scholars and Christians from Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Guangdong shared their experiences on this topic in the first-person narrative. 

3 Questions: Songs from the Heart (January 23, 2023, ChinaSource Blog)
Scott has now compiled his compositions into a hymnbook titled 《心中音乐》(Xin Zhong Yinyue, Songs from the Heart). Songs from the Heart includes 41 hymns written in Chinese with Western music notation, Chinese-style numerical notation, and guitar chords for each hymn. […] I recently talked with Scott to find out more about how a former submariner from Texas ended up composing hymns in Chinese.

The Promise of a Bright Future: A Letter of Encouragement (June 26, 2023, China Partnership Blog)
In 2023, we will be periodically publishing letters of encouragement to the church in China from the global church. We hope these letters will remind Chinese Christians that they are not alone or forgotten, but that around the world, their brothers and sisters in Christ care and pray for them regularly.

Barriers to Apologizing, Part 2 (June 26, 2023, ChinaSource Blog)
Generally speaking, Chinese people view apologizing as a weakness. If I apologize to you, I automatically lose; you win. Being a white American, I was surprised by Li Qiang’s description of how significantly apologizing impacts one’s perception of their position and identity relative to others

382 Students Graduate from Three Seminaries (June 26, 2023, China Christian Daily)
Graduation ceremonies were conducted at three eminent seminaries located along the southeast coast of China. Nanjing Union Theological Seminary hosted a ceremony and service on June 20 for 166 students who graduated, comprising 128 undergraduates, out of whom 106 majored in theology, along with 38 graduate students, out of whom 36 studied theology. This year’s graduation recorded the highest number of graduates in the history of the school, according to CCC&TSPM.

Reflecting on the Pentecostal Church in China (June 28, 2023, ChinaSource Blog)
While pastoring in Beijing, I was invited by Dr. Kim-Kwong Chan, with the Hong Kong Christian Council, to join him on a tour of churches in Hebei province. To my surprise, the provincial leader of the Hebei Three-Self churches had a Pentecostal heritage (Assemblies of God). I discovered that many of the larger churches in the region were being led by men and women who considered themselves Pentecostal. The gospel came to Hebei in large part through Pentecostal single women from Scandinavia.

Society / Life

Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Asian Girl Name (May 31, 2023, Christianity Today) (registration required)
The ubiquity of the name Grace among predominantly East Asian and East Asian American women has been both anecdotally remarked upon and at times given larger cultural attention. When I shared social media posts asking to connect with Asian women named Grace for this story, one person tweeted, “I know fifty.” Another said that CT would need “3 issues and a podcast” to adequately represent the plethora of Graces in Asian American communities.

Yinchuan: China restaurant gas explosion kills 31 (June 22, 2203, BBC)
Nine people have been detained over an explosion at a barbecue restaurant in north-west China which has killed at least 31 people. A gas leak is suspected to have caused the explosion in Yinchuan city on Wednesday night local time. President Xi Jinping has called for “all-out efforts” in the rescue and an investigation into the blast.

No Job, No Marriage, No Kid: China’s Workers and the Curse of 35 (June 28, 2023, The New York Times) (subscription required)
It’s widely discussed in China: Employers don’t want you after 35. Some job listings say it plainly, leaving a generation of prime-age workers feeling defeated.

Economics / Trade / Business

China owns 380,000 acres of land in the U.S. Here’s where (June 26, 2023, NPR)
Indeed, during the past four decades, Chinese companies and investors have bought up land in the U.S. as well as purchased major food companies like Smithfield Foods, the United States’ largest pork processor. Corporations own the majority of that land. Now legislation in Congress would restrict Chinese ownership of U.S. land.

China steps in to stem yuan slide, shore up confidence (June 27, 2023, Reuters)
China’s monetary authorities took forceful action against a sliding currency for the first time in nearly eight months on Tuesday, with the country’s state banks acting to put a floor under the yuan even as officials pledged more stimulus for the flagging economy.


Xi Closes the Door for the Next Generation of Analysts (June 22, 2023, China Talk)
A rural school shuttered, study program gone, and research and job opportunities too politically taboo today — they all point to the withering hopes of experiencing China under Xi.

Following Gaokao, Chinese Students Watch Livestreams to Choose Universities (June 25, 2023, Sixth Tone)
In contrast with in-person recruitment events, livestreams can reach a larger audience. They may also help students from disadvantaged backgrounds access much-needed information.

Zhongkao, Not Gaokao, Now the Make-or-Break Exam, Parents Say (June 26, 2023, Sixth Tone)
China dictates that roughly half of all middle school graduates enter regular high school while the other half either attend vocational school or drop out. This policy, as well as longstanding concerns about the quality of vocational schools, are raising the stakes for students taking China’s high school entrance exam.

Planned Chinese law would mandate the study of ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ in schools (June 27, 2023, Radio Free Asia)
Under a proposed law to boost patriotic education in China, schools would be required to have students study “Xi Jinping Thought,” the latest step by authorities to indoctrinate the country’s youth with propaganda about the Communist Party and its leader.

Health / Environment

Northern China swelters in record temperatures (June 24, 2023, The Guardian)
Beijing and parts of northern China are experiencing record temperatures, with authorities urging people to limit their time outdoors. The Nanjiao observatory in southern Beijing on Saturday for the first time recorded temperatures above 40C (104F) for a third consecutive day, according to the newspaper Beijing Daily, citing the national weather bureau.

History / Culture

Hua Guofeng’s short-lived reign as chairman and leader of China (June 28, 2023, The China Project)
Given that his role was to succeed Máo Zédōng 毛泽东, who had ruled China for four decades largely through a robust cult of personality, Hua was hardly prepared for success. Largely forgotten, does Hua live up — down? — to his reputation as one of the world’s least competent leaders?

Travel / Food

Tourism industry official deplores collapse of inbound tourism (June 23, 2023, Pekingology)
Xiao Qianhui, president of the Smart Tourism Branch of the China Tourism Association (ATA), delivered the speech 振兴入境游迫在眉睫 No Time to Spare to Revitalize Inbound Tourism on May 9 at an ATA meeting in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. Below is a condensed version of his speech.

How a Chinese Village Defied the Odds and Became a Climbing Hub (June 27, 2023, Sixth Tone)
For years, international climbers and authorities were locked in a standoff over Liming’s sandstone cliffs. Now, the sport’s popularity and China’s success on the global stage have transformed climbing into a valuable resource.

Tencent’s WeChat Pay to accept Visa cards to help foreign tourists survive in cashless China (June 28, 2023, South China Morning Post)
Foreign tourists may find it easier to pay for taxi rides, restaurant meals and attraction tickets in China’s cashless society from next month, as Tencent Holdings begins to facilitate payments by Visa and other international bank cards through WeChat Pay, following a similar move by Ant Group’s Alipay.

Arts / Entertainment / Media

5 Chinese Films to Watch For From the Shanghai International Film Festival (June 26, 2023, The World of Chinese)
After a long hiatus, China’s largest film festival is back and, with it, some of the best Chinese films of the year so far.


‘What Kind of Wish Is This?’: A Q&A with Author Murong Xuecun (June 23, 2023, China File)
In 2020, Murong traveled to Wuhan and documented the lives of eight ordinary people at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. He left China in order to safely publish the resulting book, Deadly Quiet City, which was released earlier this year in the United States. He now lives in Australia. Angeli Datt spoke with Murong at the offices of the writers’ advocacy organization PEN America in New York City.

Mao’s ‘coalitions of the weak’ and the governance of China (June 28, 2023, The China Project)
I recently spoke with Victor Shih about his book Coalitions of the Weak: Elite Politics in China from Mao’s Stratagem to the Rise of Xi, published by Cambridge University Press in 2022 and what we can learn about the governance of China from Chinese history, particularly the Máo Zédōng 毛泽东 period and Mao’s governance through “coalitions of the weak.”

Links for Researchers

Doing Fieldwork in China During and Beyond the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Study (June 26, 2023, Made in China Journal)
Against this backdrop, we—a team of early-career China scholars based in Australia—sought to explore how the pandemic has affected the fieldwork and research of internationally based China specialists. We aimed to explore the challenges of conducting fieldwork and the tactics used to manage them. We were also keen to understand how the domestic academic environment in China has evolved over the past three years for those conducting social science research, fieldwork, and engaging in international collaborations. In this essay, we summarise and reflect on our findings and hope to contribute to a smoother transition for scholars looking to resume their fieldwork research in China as the country reopens its borders.

Pray for China

July 4 (Pray for China: A Walk Through History)
On July 4, 1813, pioneer missionaries William Milne (米怜) and his wife Rachel Cowie Milne arrived in Macau after a 10-month voyage. China’s first Protestant pastor, Liang Fa (梁发牧师), came to Christ under Milne’s ministry and was baptized by him on Nov. 3, 1816. While working with Liang Fa, Milne published Two Friends, a tract that Prof. Daniel Bays described as “the most famous of all nineteenth century Christian tracts” in China. Bays estimates that as many as two million copies may have been distributed. Milne wrote that “Learning the Chinese language requires bodies of iron, lungs of brass, heads of oak, hands of spring steel, eyes of eagles, hearts of apostles, memories of angels, and lives of Methuselah.” Rachel died in 1819 and William in 1822 at age 37. Pray for Chinese and foreign Christians to partner effectively in reaching the world for Christ. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. 2 Timothy 4:11

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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