Sinica Live with Zha Jianying: Dealing with the troublemakers


This week, Sinica is live from Fordham Law School in New York City! This episode features Zhā Jiànyīng 查建英, journalist and author of China Pop: How Soap Operas, Tabloids, and Bestsellers Are Transforming a Culture and Tide Players: The Movers and Shakers of a Rising China, who joined Jeremy and Kaiser at a Sinica Live Podcast event on January 14. The three discuss the experiences of Zha’s half-brother, Zhā Jiànguó 查建国, a democracy activist in China who was charged with subversion of state power and subsequently jailed for nine years. In addition, they pore over the political realities of contemporary China, the likelihood of reform, and the pressures that “moderate liberals” encounter in the face of rising suppression of political freedoms in the country.

What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:

3:34: In the era of “stability maintenance” in China, netizens have coined unique nicknames for actions that censorship and security officials take to maintain order. “To be harmonized” (被和谐 bèihéxié), or to have speech censored, is the most well known, but there are many others. “To be touristed” (被旅游 bèi lǚyóu), or sent packing on a mandatory vacation accompanied by friendly police officers, is the subject of Zha’s writing, in this case. Zha elaborates: “I think this is a very eerie kind of symptom of the police state moving, in fact, you might say a little more sophisticated way of silencing or [getting] rid of those troublemakers in different spheres, right? Some of them are Party officials, others are critics like petitioners, NGO activists, or civil rights lawyers.”

18:24: Jeremy asks if Zha has ever been concerned whether her work as a journalist could potentially put her brother in danger. She says no, but adds that she intentionally kept him in the dark when writing her 2007 piece “Enemy of the State,” which was featured in The New Yorker, to protect him. Zha: “Still, the one point I did insist on was to not have the famous New Yorker fact-checkers call him beforehand because I knew all his phones and everything was tapped and monitored. And so I didn’t tell him I was writing this.”

29:58: Zha and Kaiser talk about political dissidents and activists. According to Zha, some of them endorse unfortunate and dated ideologies: “I don’t know, I used to think of them as liberals. Now I think maybe they need a different hat or label, you know — they’re sexist, because some of them in more recent phenomena really had a lot of trouble with #MeToo. The movement had kind of a short play in China…and there’s lots of people who have trouble with Islamic culture as well.”

32:17: High-profile Chinese dissidents and activists on a growing number of “sensitive” dates are often “touristed” for weeks on end. However, there is one caveat: No cell phones are allowed. Zha elaborates: “Back then, there were just these certain anniversaries or Party congresses. But now, China has emerged into this global powerhouse. So all kinds of global forums that are held in Beijing or in Qingdao or in Shanghai have also become sensitive days. And so, in such locations, the police would usually take selective numbers of ‘troublemakers’ out of the site of that city.”

57:53: Kaiser asks Zha about the modern Chinese intelligentsia: What role do Chinese intellectuals play in the political life of a country? Is their role understood in circles outside of China scholars? She responds, “Basically, the intellectuals played a very particular, important role of advising the emperor then, and now the leaders about the direction of the country, or they also are seen as the spokespeople for the common people…so they’re given this special kind of status or platform to govern or change the society. So that’s why this whole crackdown, right now, this whole ruthless crackdown on the intellectuals by stripping or removing platforms for their voices is so disturbing and casts such a chilling effect.”


Jeremy: Red Moon, by Kim Stanley Robinson, an interstellar work of speculative fiction.

Zha: The Ceremony 大典, by Wáng Lìxióng 王力雄. Also a podcast, The History of Rome, by Mike Duncan.

Kaiser: A Beijing-based band called The Spice Cabinet.

This podcast was edited and produced by Kaiser Kuo and Jason MacRonald.