Handover Day

On this day in 1997, Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereingty after being a British colony for 99 years. The negotiations for the handover and begun back in the 1980’s when Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiao-ping were in power in their respective nations. Those negotiations culminated in a lavish handover ceremony in Hong Kong on July 1, 1997.

Jiang Zemin shakes hands with Charles, Prince of Wales at the handover ceremony for Hong Kong at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, at midnight of 30 June 1997.

(Source: SCMP)

To commemorate the occasion, I’m reposting a blog I wrote a couple of years back about the confusing relationship between Hong Kong and Mainland China. It is titled Hong Kong, China. Really? 

Way back in 1997 I was the director of a Chinese language program at a major university in Changchun. As the semester was coming to an end, one of the students (they were all Americans) let me know that he needed to go to Hong Kong at the end of June.

This was back in the days before multiple entry visas, so every time we planned to leave the country, we had to obtain exit and re-entry visas before we left. (As you can imagine, this made emergency departures for medical or personal reasons quite challenging!)

The tricky thing in this student’s case was that he was going to Hong Kong the last week of June, and would be returning to Changchun mid-July. During his time in Hong Kong, the city was due to be “handed over” to China after 99 years of British colonial rule.

The fact that Hong Kong was reverting to Chinese sovereignty was a matter of great pride in China, and we had been bombarded with slogans and propaganda about  Hong Kong’s “return to the Motherland” for months and months.  Let’s just say the Communist Party was milking this one for all it was worth!

As for the student, clearly, he was leaving China in June, but would he be ‘returning’ to China in July. If Hong Kong was to become a part of China on July 1, wouldn’t he then already be in China? And if he was, by virtue of the July 1 handover in China, would he need a visa to return to Changchun?

It was a great question, and one that I had no idea how to answer, so off we went to the foreign student office to see what they would have to say about the matter. Since they were the ones who handled visa paperwork, surely they would know.

I handed the passport to Mr. Y. and explained that Mr. G. was going to Hong Kong, so would need an exit visa. “But when he returns in July,” I said, “Hong Kong will be a part of China….so will he need a re-entry visa?”

My question stumped Mr. Y, so he decided to call the local Public Security Bureau, which was in charge of actually issuing visas. The conversation went something like this:

Mr. Y: I have an American in my office who will go to Hong Kong at the end of June, but return to China mid-July. Will he need a re-entry visa?

Mr. Policeman (he was on the other end of the phone, but Mr. G and I could hear him clearly): Of course. Why wouldn’t he need a visa?

Mr. Y: Because by that time Hong Kong will have returned to the Motherland.

We could “hear” silence on the other end of the line as the absurdity of the situation began to dawn on Mr. Policeman. Then he began laughing hysterically, and soon we were all laughing hysterically!

After a few minutes, we regained our composure and waited for Mr. Policeman’s response.

Mr. Policeman: That’s true, but he will still need a visa to return.

And so it is — Hong Kong is a part of China, but it isn’t. Flying from Beijing to Hong Kong is considered an international flight, and thus requires a passport — even for Chinese. And a foreigner wanting to travel from Hong Kong to China must get a visa. But remember, it’s a part of China.

Are you confused? Never fear; this short video explains it all! (email readers: go here.)

And now you know why “Is Hong Kong a part of China?” is a tricky question.

Related Posts:

Friday Photo: Descending into Hong Kong

East and West and Hong Kong

I (Heart) Hong Kong

Chungking Mansions: A Global Village

May 35 Reading

Today is June 4, the 27th anniversary of the military assault on Tiananmen Square to clear it of student protesters. In China it is simply known as “Six Four” (the Chinese way of saying June 4), and it is such a sensitive anniversary that numbers 6 and 4 get censored on the internet. Never mind, though, if anyone really wants to reference it, they just call it Five Thirty-five (or May 35).


I was not in China that spring, but watched with the rest of the world as the events unfolded on live television. When I returned to China the following year, the aftermath of the event still hung heavy in the air as the people waited to see which direction the Party would take the nation — back to Maoism, or forward with economic reform and development. Between 1989 and 1992, it was not at all clear that China would pursue the course she did.

For those of you wanting to get up to speed on the June 4 movement and events, these books are a great place to start:

Tiananmen Diary: Thirteen Days in June, by Harrison E. Salisbury

Tiananmen Diary: 13 Days in June

Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic, by Bettie Bao Lord

Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic

The Tiananmen Papers, by Liang Zhang and Andrew Nathan

The Tiananmen Papers

Red China Blues: My Long March From Mao to Now, by Jan Wong

Red China Blues: My Long March From Mao to Now

The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited, by Louisa Lim

The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited

Related Posts:

A Book for Today

Guarding Tiananmen Square

My Favorite China History Books

A Nation Mourns

Image credit: History News Network

50 Years from the Cultural Revolution

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution, a political campaign launched by Chairman Mao. The purpose was supposedly to give a new generation the experience of revolution; however, it was actually an outcome of a power struggle between Mao and the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.

84 slideshow 36

During the ten years that it lasted (ending with Mao’s death in 1976), the nation was thrown into chaos. Schools and colleges were closed, intellectuals were persecuted, religious activities were banned, and there was little economic activity, much less growth. A cult of personality was built up around Chairman Mao that allowed him to rule as an absolute dictator.

By the time Chairman Mao died, the country was on the brink of economic bankruptcy and the people were emotionally exhausted. Chinese young people who came of age during that time period are sometimes (still) referred to as “the lost generation.”

When I was studying with a professor in Beijing nearly twenty years ago, I was able to get him to talk to me about his experiences as a youth in the city during the Cultural Revolution. I was also seeking some personal insight on how it could have happened.

“Simple,” he said to me.

“Chairman Mao went crazy and we all went with him.”

To many working in China today—a land of skyscrapers, shopping malls, and high- speed trains—the Cultural Revolution may seem like ancient and irrelevant history. That is not the case, however, since the scars left on Chinese society, politics, and individuals remain today.

In China, very little is written or said about the Cultural Revolution because it is still considered a “sensitive topic” to discuss or research. That’s not the case outside of China, however, and this past month has seen a veritable flood of articles examine the the Cultural Revolution and its enduring legacy.

Evan Osnos, writing for The New Yorker in a piece titled “The Cost of the Cultural Revolution, Fifty Years Later,” says this:

In examining the legacy of the Cultural Revolution, the most difficult measurement cannot be quantified so precisely: What effect did the Cultural Revolution have on China’s soul? This is still not a subject that can be openly debated, at least not easily.

On May 3, The New York Times published a Q and A with Rod MacFarquhar, a Harvard scholar of Chinese history and politics, in which he discusses the enduring legacy of the Cultural Revolution today:

However, there is a strong resemblance with the Cultural Revolution in Xi’s anticorruption drive. Mao tried to make the country revolutionary by unleashing the Red Guards. Xi Jinping tries to make the people good, to purify them, by the anticorruption campaign. Both Mao and Xi wish to change the Chinese people.

NPR’s Fresh Air program posted an interview with historian Frank Dikotter in which he discusses newly available archives which reveal the chaos of the decade.

In Shanghai alone, a quarter of a million homes of ordinary people are raided by Red Guards. Much of what is seized is being destroyed. And then, of course, Red Guards attack the very people they believe are opposed to communism, attack them physically. Tens of thousands are hounded out of cities like Shanghai and Beijing in an effort to purify these cities. 

It is my belief that having at least a working knowledge of the Cultural Revolution is important for anyone serving Chinese people today, whether in China or in their home countries.

For those of you who like to learn by listening and or watching, these are your best places to start:

The China History Podcast: The Cultural Revolution (an 8-part series)

This is one of my favorite sources of anything related to Chinese history. Hosted by the indomitable Lazlo Montgomery, and California-based businessman, these podcasts are a great way to soak up history while driving or exercising or doing whatever it is you like to do while listening to podcasts. The 8-part series on The Cultural Revolution is outstanding.

Video: China: A Century of Revolution, 1949-1976 (PBS)

This excellent series produced by PBS traces the upheavals in China from 1911 to the 1990’s. This particular episode looks at the early days of the People’s Republic of China, as well as the Cultural Revolution.

And if you prefer to expand your knowledge base the old-fashioned way, by reading a book, these are the ones I would recommend. Some are historical accounts, and others are memoirs.

The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History 1962-1976, by Frank Dikotter

Mao’s Last Revolution, by Roderick MacFarquar

Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution, by Ji-Ji Jiang

Son of the Revolution, by Liang Heng and Judith Shapiro

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Cheng

The Secret Piano: From Mao’s Labor Camps to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, by Zhu Xiao-mei

Colors of the Mountain, by Da Chen

Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now, by Jan Wong

Finally, if you are a Twitter user,  you can track the campaign “in real time” as @GPCR50 live-tweets the Cultural Revolution.

Note: This is a slightly edited version of a post that was first published at ChinaSource on May 9.

Related Posts:

Cultural Revolution Tea

Farewell to a China Hand

Three Decades in China; Four Trends

Voices from the Past

In a world where we are bombarded daily by voices from our phones, TV’s, and radios, sometimes it’s good to put them all down and listen to some voices from the past. My friend Andrew Kaiser has just published an e-book that allows us to do just that.

Voices from the Past: Historical Reflections on Christian Missions in China is a collection of 30 extended quotations from past missionaries in China.

Voices from the Past: Historical Reflections on Christian Missions in China

Here’s what Andrew has to say about his book in the preface:

Over the years, the words of wisdom contained in the letters and diaries of these spiritual ancestors have profoundly shaped my own sense of purpose and calling, informing my identity and my life and work in China. This booklet is an attempt to share these lessons from history with other expatriates around the world who are committed to building God’s Kingdom in China. The quotations contained herein were chosen for purely subjective reasons, betraying my own struggles and interests. The selections are arranged in no particular order, with only the briefest comments added to provide sufficient context for understanding. Readers are encouraged to linger over each quotation, perhaps reading only one entry a day, and to spend time afterwards in prayer, reflecting on the theme in light of their own experiences.

Whether you are serving in China, thinking about serving in China, or are just interested in a broader historical perspective of the history of Christianity in China, this book is for you!

And here’s the great news — it’s only $0.99 on kindle!

Related Posts:

Eric Liddell, Running the Last Race

Learning Chinese in the 1920’s

The Flying Lutherans

Passengers on “The St. Paul”

The School on the Hill

Catholic or Christian?

Holy Trinity Church, Shanghai

Matteo Ricci (1552-1610)

Typing in Chinese

I am often asked how, given the fact that the Chinese language has no alphabet, one types in Chinese using a standard English qwerty keyboard. The answer, of course is that modern Chinese also uses a romanization system called Pinyin, which uses English letters to represent Chinese sounds. If you type a Pinyin word, a list of Chinese characters associated with that word appears. Select the correct one, and — viola! — you have typed a Chinese character.


It wasn’t always like that, of course. When I first went to China, computers and keyboards were not yet a part of everyday life (not even for Americans, if you can believe it), and Chinese typing was still done on machines pictured above. The typist would hunt for the desired character, use the contraption to grab it, move it to the paper, press it on the paper, then put it back in its proper place. As you can imagine, typing a document was a mind-numbingly laborious task.

Stanford University will be holding an exhibition on Chinese typewriters called The Chinese Typewriter: The Design and Science of East Asian Information Technology. It will run from January 20 to August 22, 2016 at the Lathrop East Asia Library. Here’s the description:

During the 19th and 20th centuries, groundbreaking information technologies like the telegraph, the typewriter, and the computer changed the world. All of these technologies were designed with the alphabet in mind, however, leaving open the question: what about China, Japan, and Korea? In this exhibition, the history of modern East Asian information technology is explored through artifacts from the personal collection of Professor Thomas S. Mullaney (History) and the Stanford East Asia Library. Opening Reception and Guest Lectures by Jidong Yang (EAL) and Thomas S. Mullaney (History) on Wednesday, January 20 at 5pm.


If you’re in the Bay Area, you might want to check it out. I’m almost tempted to fly out there to see it myself.

Image credit: Derek Fox, via Flickr and Stanford University

Related Posts:

Learning Chinese in the 1600’s

Learning Chinese in the 1920’s

Learning ABOUT Chinese and Language Learning

Fun with Chinese Adverbs

How Long Does it Take to Learn Chinese?

Imagine Learning Chinese Without Pinyin

What Does Ju Mean?

China Under Mao

I recently stumbled across a great new blog called Everyday life in Mao’s China. Each post is a photo or photos taken in China when Chairman Mao was in power. They are very interesting glimpses of a China that is hard to imagine these days. Here are a couple of my favorites:

St. Joseph’s Church in China, taken over by the red guards:


Little red guards:


Watching a movie outdoors:


Click on over to the site to see lots more!

Remembering Jewish Refugees in Shanghai

Last week, China staged a huge parade to commemorate the end of World War II. While everyone was focused on the pomp and ceremony in Beijing, there were a couple of events in Shanghai to honor the city’s role in taking in Jewish refugees during the war. In fact, on September 6, the city opened the Jewish Memorial Park.


Here’s the story from The Times of Israel:

Beginning in 1938, as Jewish persecution by the Nazis went into high gear, approximately 20,000 Jewish refugees fled to Shanghai, one of the few safe havens in the world that did not require a visa.

On Sunday, a Jewish Memorial Park was opened at the Fushouyuan cemetery in that city’s Qingpu district in their honor.

Israeli Consul-General Arnon Perlman, speaking at the dedication, said it is very important “to remember the friendship between China and Israel and between Shanghai and Israel.” On a patch of newly laid grass, a Star of David made of stone forms the centerpiece of the park and serves as the base of a sculpture of interlocking stones with another Star of David, and a menorah, at its center.

One of the stones pays tribute to Dr. Ho Feng-Shan, the Chinese consul general of Vienna during the war, who defied orders and issued over 3,000 visas to Austrian Jews to allow them to travel to China (while visas were not required to enter Shanghai, they were required to leave Austria).

The mostly German and Austrian Jews who came to Shanghai in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s joined another several thousand Jewish residentswho had made the country their home in the previous 50 years, either as merchants or to escape Russian pogroms.

You can read the full article here.

The Consulate General of Israel in Shanghai released a video thanking Shanghai for being a safe haven for Jews:

The World Jewish Congress had a story about the reopening of a cafe that had once been a gathering place for the Jewish community in Shanghai:

On Wednesday, an iconic café in the former Jewish ghetto of Shanghai, which served as a meeting place for Jewish refugees during World War II, was re-opened in the presence of 300 dignitaries, including a representative of the World Jewish Congress (WJC).

At the time, the White Horse Café (‘Zum Weissen Rössl‘) was a café where the Jewish refugees met.

The White Horse Café first opened in 1939. It has been rebuilt in a new location opposite tothe Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum with its original look. The three-story wooden and brick structure that combined Western and Eastern architecture served as a popular shelter for Jewish residents living nearby.

The owner sold the café to a local after the war. It was demolished in 2009 to make room for a subway. The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum collected the building’s blue prints and key components such as beams and some wooden curving on walls for the rebuilding.

Among the guests at the ceremony on Wednesday was Ron Klinger from Australia. His grandparents, who had come to Shanghai from Vienna in 1938, had opened the inn. “A lot of people visited, Jewish people and non-Jewish people. It was like cafe, bar and nightclub. It was very popular,” recalled Klinger.

The new coffee house was rebuilt in accordance with the original style. It displays some old photos donated by the Klinger family.

Two interesting stories on a little-known part of Shanghai’s past.

Nixon in China, 43 Years Ago

Forty-three years ago this week, President Richard Nixon made his historic visit to China. It was 1972, and I was a junior high student at Karachi American School in Karachi, Pakistan. I remember our social studies teacher taking us to the US Consulate where we were able to watch news reports of the visit (some live, some taped). Even as a young teenager I knew it was a momentous occasion.


Of course no one knew at the time (probably not even Nixon himself) how much things would change, not simply in regards to US-China relations, but within China itself over the next 40 years. And I certainly never imagined that I would spend a good portion of my adult life living there!

What we also didn’t know at the time was that Pakistan had played an important role in the trip. The year before, Henry Kissinger had feigned an illness during a visit to the country, and while the world thought he was resting in his hotel, he snuck onto a plane and flew to China to lay the groundwork for the trip. 

Since Chairman Mao was still alive at that time (barely), the changes wouldn’t come right away. Following his death in 1976, and the rise to power of Deng Xiao-ping, however, China would set out to re-invent itself. It’s doubtful that they could have done that without a re-engagement with the world; and the Nixon visit and the subsequent re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States was the first step in that re-engagement.

The website All Day has posted a collection of photos of Nixon’s visit. This one is my favorite. Wouldn’t you love to know what the President was thinking as he stared intently at his chopsticks? (“Oh no, not kung pao chicken again!”)


If you’re interested in reading more about this historic week and the changes that followed, I’d recommend the following excellent books:

Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World, Margaret Macmillan.

Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World


About Face: A History of America’s Curious Relationship with China, from Nixon to Clinton, by James Mann.

About Face: A History of America's Curious Relationship with China, from Nixon to Clinton

On China, by Henry Kissinger

On China

Image Sources: wikipedia, allday.com.