Editor’s note for Monday, July 27, 2020

A note from today's editor of the SupChina Access newsletter.

There’s also much more below in our links section in the bottom half of this email, including something new we’re trying out today: a section called “What we’re reading,” highlighting a few additional stories each day that we recommend you keep an eye on. Let me know what you think by replying to this email, or to all our editors on editors@supchina.com.  

My thoughts today:

How bad are things? Pretty bad. At least when it comes to U.S.-China relations.

The closure of America’s Chengdu consulate, celebrated by crows in that city and no doubt by Mike Pompeo, is another sad marker of a transpacific relationship gone very wrong, and the attitudes that are behind these political decisions. As Americans consider whether Donald Trump is a “fascist,” what do we make of his hardman counterpart in Beijing, supreme leader Xí Jìnpíng 习近平?

Zhā Jiànyīng 查建英, author of Tide Players: The Movers and Shakers of a Rising China and many other interesting things, perhaps has an answer for us: Xi Jinping may be a Legalist, heir to a 2,000-year-old tradition of authoritarianism that may be more important to understanding contemporary China than Confucius, that prudish, sexist, Asian Santa Claus who is so often — and so lazily — used to explain Chinese thinking.

Legalism is most closely associated with Hán Fēi 韓非 (280–233 B.C.), a prince, philosopher, and statesman during the Warring States period, and not someone you want to come across in a dark alley.

“‘China’s Heart of Darkness’ is a five-part study of a political duo — Han Fei and Xi Jinping — that binds an autocratic tradition to contemporary political practice,” according to China scholar Geremie R. Barmé, who introduces Zha’s essay:

An appreciation of Han Fei and Legalist thought is not merely of academic interest…Rather, as the world learns more about China under Xi Jinping, in tandem with its complex political, intellectual, historical and cultural underpinnings, figures like Han Fei and their ideas rightly have a pressing contemporary relevance.

Our word of the day is Legalism (or Legalist): 法家 fǎjiā.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief