The Diaries of Chiang Kai-shek


Years ago, in the late 1980s, I found myself stranded at the station in Taian, Shandong Province after I missed my train because I was unaware that China had implemented daylight savings time and the clock had moved ahead an hour. The first ticket I could get back to Shanghai was for the next day, standing-room-only in hard seat. So, with a night to spend on a train station bench, I did what any good traveler would do: wrote in my diary. The station was packed to the rafters with other travelers who had made the same mistake (problems with … [Read more...]

“Old Bei” in China


The first time my husband, Jindong Cai, heard a Beethoven symphony was as a child in Cultural Revolution (1966-76) Beijing. His close friend, Wang Luyan, had somehow got hold of an old wind-up phonograph and a complete set of 78 RPM records containing Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony;" each record held about five minutes of music per side. Because music by "Old Bei" was deemed subversive – all Western composers were lumped together as "bourgeois capitalists" and Chinese traditional music was banned in favor of "model revolutionary operas" – the two … [Read more...]

Pope Francis and the PRC


The election last week of the first Jesuit pontiff in history brings to mind the storied China mission begun by Pope Francis’ Jesuit predecessor (and indirect namesake) St. Francis Xavier.  Though undertaken for religious purposes, the Jesuit involvement in China was arguably most successful as a cultural exchange. It began in 1552, when Francis Xavier, frustrated at his inability to make Catholics out of the Japanese, concluded that his best hope was to convert the Chinese first.  In a letter  to Rome, he explained that when he preached the … [Read more...]

Tocqueville In China: The Communist Party Studies “The Old Regime”


Newspapers and magazines have recently been filled with reports of the surprising popularity in China of Alexis de Tocqueville’s The Old Regime and the Revolution (旧制度与大革命) which was first published in 1856 and has now reached Chinese best-seller lists. Tocqueville, of course, was the French political historian whose best-known work is the classic Democracy in America, a staple of American high school history classes that is not only remarkably astute but also a delightful read. China Daily reports that The Old Regime is featured front and … [Read more...]

The Three Highs Philharmonic

San Gao Dress Rehearsal

Here is a story Sheila wrote about the "Three Highs" Philharmonic; the story was published today on Chinafile and is copied below.  To see some video of the orchestra, go to Youku. Classical Music with Chinese Characteristics The Party Elites of the Three Highs Philharmonic Orchestra SHEILA MELVIN 02.28.13 On a frigid Friday morning at the end of 2012, a stream of expectant concertgoers poured through the cavernous lobby of the China National Center for the Performing Arts. They had come to the stunning, egg-shaped arts complex … [Read more...]

Go West, Young Orchestra


  It was not so very long ago that a concert tour in the United States was a dream come true for a Chinese orchestral musician – but times have changed. Indeed, the head of a major Chinese symphony recently told us that just a decade ago his main worry on a US tour was that one or more of his musicians wouldn’t come back to China.  Nowadays, he said, laughing, his biggest problem is getting his musicians to agree to go to the US (or Europe) in the first place.  They complain, he said, of jet lag, long flights, too little time for … [Read more...]

Xu Bing: New Writing for a New Era


Xu Bing continues to astound with his creativity and productivity.  Here is an article that I wrote about one of his latest projects, “Book from the Ground.”  The story was commissioned by the Asia Society’s terrific new website Chinafile and then picked up by The New York Times Chinese edition.  Here it is, in English and Chinese: A New Tower of Babel SHEILA MELVIN December 04, 2012  用图标讲述城市白领自己的故事 SHEILA MELVIN 2012年12月04日 Xu Bing, the renowned Chinese artist whose many laurels include a MacArthur Foundation “genius” … [Read more...]

An “Ocean China” New Year Concert


When the Communist Party of China held its annual plenum in the fall of 2011, it released a communiqué in which it announced its intention to become a major cultural power.  This autumn, it held its five-yearly congress – the 18th since it was founded in 1921 – and pledged to become a maritime power.  So, to ring in the New Year at the Great Hall of the People – the same august venue in which these annual political gatherings were held – the Party combined both goals and held “The First Annual ‘Ocean China’ New Year’s Concert.” The New … [Read more...]

Mo Yan Gets the Nobel Prize for Literature


Nobel Prize for Literature Goes to Chinese Writer Mo Yan   A Nobel Prize has at long last been awarded to a Chinese who lives inside China, and outside prison. Mo Yan, the 57-year old author of numerous novels and short stories, was awarded the prize this morning.  He is the second Chinese to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.  However, the first – Gao Xingjian – lives in Paris and is a French citizen who says he has no intention of ever returning to China.  Liu Xiaobo, the winner of the 2010 Peace Prize, is a literary critic … [Read more...]

Measuring China’s “National Revival”

Scene from song and dance epic "Road to Revival"

Citizens of the PRC are accustomed to having reams of statistics thrown at them – indeed, contemporary Chinese rhetoric demands that any important speech begin with a recitation of numbers and percentages.   The accuracy of such statistics is not taken for granted – even officials at the State Statistics Bureau have been known to advise that the stats they themselves release are best viewed as orders of magnitude. Even so, a statistic released in early August – and circulated widely on Weibo, the popular Chinese microblog service– came so … [Read more...]