97 episodes

A fortnightly podcast from the Spectator on the latest in Chinese politics, society, and more. From Huawei to Hong Kong, Cindy Yu talks to experts, journalists, and long time China-watchers on what you need to know about China.

Chinese Whispers The Spectator

    • News
    • 4.5 • 114 Ratings

A fortnightly podcast from the Spectator on the latest in Chinese politics, society, and more. From Huawei to Hong Kong, Cindy Yu talks to experts, journalists, and long time China-watchers on what you need to know about China.

    China's vendetta against Nato

    China's vendetta against Nato

    Last week, President Xi Jinping visited Serbia. An unexpected destination, you might think, but in fact the links between Beijing and Belgrade go back decades. One event, in particular, has linked the two countries – and became a seminal moment in how the Chinese remember their history.

    In 1999, the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was bombed by US-led Nato forces. Three Chinese nationals died. An accident, the Americans insisted, but few Chinese believed it then, and few do today. The event is still remembered in China, but now, little talked about in the West.

    Xi’s visit was timed to the 25th anniversary of the bombing itself. ‘The China-Serbia friendship, forged with the blood of our compatriots, will stay in the shared memory of the Chinese and Serbian peoples’, Xi wrote for a Serbian paper ahead of the visit.

    So what exactly happened that night in May, and what does the event – and its aftermath – tell us about Chinese nationalism today?

    Cindy Yu is joined by Peter Gries, Professor of Chinese Politics at Manchester University and author of numerous books on China, including China’s New Nationalism: Pride, Politics and Diplomacy.

    • 46 min
    How China is quietly cutting out American tech

    How China is quietly cutting out American tech

    Last week, President Joe Biden finally signed into law a bill that would take TikTok off app stores in the US, eventually rendering the app obsolete there. This is not the end of the saga, as TikTok has vowed to take legal action. In the US, the drive to decouple from Chinese tech continues to rumble on.

    In this episode, we’ll be taking a look at the reverse trend – the Chinese decoupling from American tech. It’s a story that tends to go under the radar in light of bans and divestments from the US, but you might be surprised at how much China is cutting out American tech too – and doing it much more quietly.

    I'm joined by the journalist Liza Lin, who has been following this story in her detailed coverage for the Wall Street Journal. She is also a co-author of Surveillance State: Inside China's Quest to Launch a New Era of Social Control.

    You can also join Cindy Yu at The Spectator's Chinese wine lunch on June 14th. To find out more and buy tickets, visit spectator.co.uk/chinesewine.

    • 32 min
    Was Marco Polo a 'sexpat'?

    Was Marco Polo a 'sexpat'?

    When I recently came across a book review asking the question ‘was Marco Polo a "sexpat"?’, I knew I had to get its author on to, well, discuss this important question some more. The 13th century Venetian merchant Marco Polo’s account of China was one of the earliest and most popular travelogues written on the country. Polo spent years at the court of Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis, and whose family founded the Yuan dynasty in China.

    My guest today, and the author of that book review, is the historian Jeremiah Jenne. Jeremiah has lived in China for over two decades, and he is also the co-host of the fascinating podcast Barbarians at the Gate, all about Chinese history. He has been doing a series of historical book reviews for the relatively newly established website China Books Review, and in re-reading The Travels of Marco Polo, he noticed that there was a lot of sex.

    We talk about all of this, of course, but there’s a serious point here too. How much do Europeans observe when they go to China and how reliable are their accounts, understood and told through the perspective of the outsider? How much has Marco Polo’s portrayal of China moulded the western mindset on the country in the centuries since, and even today? And what does it say about the China of the 13th century that a trio of Venetian merchants could make it to the heart of the Mongol empire?

    • 24 min
    What Chinese hackers want

    What Chinese hackers want

    Over the last week the UK has been rocked by allegations that China was responsible for two cyber attacks in recent years – one on the Electoral Commission, where hackers successfully accessed the open register, which has the details of 40 million voters; and a set of attempts to access the emails of a number of China critics within parliament. 

    So what do we know about China’s cyber capabilities? What are its goals? And now that the UK knows about these attacks, what should we be doing?

    Joining me on the podcast today is Nigel Inkster, senior advisor for cyber security and China at the think tank IISS, formerly director of operations and intelligence at MI6, and author of China’s Cyber Power, a 2016 book on precisely this question.

    You can also join Cindy Yu at The Spectator's Chinese wine lunch on June 14th. To find out more and buy tickets, visit spectator.co.uk/chinesewine.

    • 26 min
    Life on the margins pt II: Li Ziqi and the phenomenon of the rural influencer

    Life on the margins pt II: Li Ziqi and the phenomenon of the rural influencer

    In the last episode, I discussed Chinese rural lives with Professor Scott Rozelle. One point he made which particularly stuck with me was the dying out of farming as an occuption – he'd said that most rural people under the age of 35 have never farmed a day in their lives.

    So that got me thinking, what do they do instead? In this episode I’ll be looking at one, very high profile, alternative – vlogging. I’ve noticed through my hours of scrolling through Chinese social media that there is a huge genre of rural, pastoral content. 

    This is an interesting phenomenon both for what it says about the rural population today, as well as what it reveals about the – often – urban viewers on the other end. So today I’m joined by Yi-Ling Liu, a writer on Chinese society who has had bylines in the New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine and WIRED. She’s looked in detail at the phenomenon of the rural influencer.

    On the episode, we talk about a few of our favourite rural influencers. You can watch Li Ziqi's videos on YouTube here and 王大姐来了 (the middle aged rappers I mention) here.

    • 22 min
    Life on the margins: how China's rural deprivation curbs its success

    Life on the margins: how China's rural deprivation curbs its success

    Too often our stories about China are dictated by the urban experience, probably because journalists inside and outside of China are often based in the big cities; Beijing specifically. Those who live in the cities also tend to be more educated, more privileged, and so able to dominate the global attention more. 

    That’s why I’m particularly keen to hear about the lives of those who still live in the countryside, or at least are still considered ‘rural residents’ by the Chinese government. They make up a sizeable proportion of the population, and you’ll hear that in my first question to my guest today, we discuss just how big this group is.

    How do the poorest in China live today, considering the government has announced that there is no more extreme poverty? Just how wide are their gaps in living standards, education, health, compared to their compatriots who live in the cities? 

    Professor Scott Rozelle joins me on this episode. He is the co-director of the Stanford Center on China’s Economy and Institutions, a developmental economist who has been conducting research in China for over three decades. He is also the co-author of Invisible China: How the Urban-Rural Divide Threatens China’s Rise.

    Further listening from the archive:
    Second class citizens: the lives of China’s internal migrants: https://www.spectator.co.uk/podcast/second-class-citizens-the-lives-of-chinas-internal-migrants/
    Is China turning away from the world?: https://www.spectator.co.uk/podcast/is-china-turning-away-from-the-world/

    Produced by Cindy Yu and Joe Bedell-Brill.

    • 41 min

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5
114 Ratings

114 Ratings

Jonathan Kyle, Washington DC ,

Highly Informative and Engaging

This podcast is absolutely essential listening for anyone interested in China. But even if you have never thought much about China, really any person with a curious and analytical mind seeking to better understand the world should get a lot out of it. Highlights include the episodes on Chinese cuisine, Chinese dialects, Chinese characters, ketamine use in China, and of course the numerous deep dives into current affairs, social issues and politics in China. The host, Cindy Yu finds a wide range of interesting guests to talk with. She is a skilled interviewer who is clearly deeply knowledgeable about the subject matter. I highly recommend giving it a listen!

listeningformore ,

worthwhile listen

cindy yu is a fantastic host — critical, engaging and knowledgeable. i appreciate the perspective and energy she brings to each conversation. i enjoy many of the topics as a chinese-born american who also lived in london for a few years. i always keep an eye out for new episode drops.

xi didi ,

You can’t whisper to deaf ears

Long time listener, great podcast!
The host is trying her hardest, knowing the westerners sensibility, without offending their ignorance or hurting their unfounded superiority, harnessing her Cambridge accent, to see if she can whisper some sense and good info into the audience.
To the Chinese reviewers who are upset about her “stand”, you have to understand that you are not the target audience. She is trying to make peace and build bridges.
But comparing with a couple years ago when the show started, it has not been successful and the world has gone madder.

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