In 755, the Sogdian-Turkish general An Lushan rebelled against Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang dynasty after a dispute with a cousin of the emperor’s favorite concubine. Within a year, the general had captured the eastern capital of Luoyang and declared himself emperor; the next year, his forces seized and sacked the capital of Chang’an (present-day Xi’an), then the most populous city in the world. Although An—blind, crazed, and so obese that he was said to crush horses to death under his own weight—was assassinated in 757 by a eunuch conspiring with his son, the rebellion continued for several years until finally being put down by the imperial army in 763. As many as 36 million people were killed or displaced during the insurrection—three-quarters of the population. The Tang dynasty never fully recovered, and after suffering another uprising in the ninth century, China descended into civil war, ending what many consider its Golden Age.
This era of war and famine coincided with an immense flowering of calligraphy, painting, and poetry. In the eighth century, Chang’an had become a bustling, cosmopolitan city with countless canals, parks, teahouses, and monasteries and a diverse population that included Uighurs, Turks, Japanese, and Koreans. With the imperial examination system, which recruited bureaucrats on the basis of their knowledge of classical literature and philosophy, poetry was elevated to a stature that it has rarely, if ever, reclaimed: a class of scholar-officials governed the empire, and no one could rise in the ranks without the ability to compose an elegant quatrain or a witty couplet.
The Tang Dynasty, which lasted more than 270 years, produced China’s greatest poets: the Daoist drifter Li Bai, the Confucian poet-historian Du Fu, the painter-poet Wang Wei, the Buddhist hermit Han Shan, and many others. Their lives were marked by unceasing political turmoil. Refugees and fugitives, they spent their years wandering from place to place, falling in and out of imperial favor and all the while drinking, singing, and writing. Their poetry—for the most part regulated verse comprising linked couplets of between five and seven characters—is what we think of when we think of Classical Chinese poetry.
The astounding influence that Chinese poetry in translation has had on the English language throughout the 20th century—from the Modernist, Imagist revolution of Ezra Pound’s Cathay (1915) through its mid-century, counter-cultural incarnation by Gary Snyder, Kenneth Rexroth, and others—can be traced to this ragtag assortment of drunkards, hermits, and exiles. Very few collections, however, situate the Tang poets fully within their political and historical context, drawing out both the urgency and stakes of their verse. Many anthologies… simply follow the model of Three Hundred Tang Poems (1763) compiled by the Qing scholar Sun Zhu, which for many decades remained the standard text. In the Same Light (The Song Cave, 2022), translated by the Chinese-Singaporean-Irish poet Wong May, does something different. Collecting 200 poems by 38 poets, Wong May promises to find parallels between their time and the present and, in so doing, update them “for our century.” To do this, she excavates her own story and its resonance with those of the Tang poets.
This video of military vehicles moving to #Beijing comes immediately after the grounding of 59% of the flights in the country and the jailings of senior officials. There’s a lot of smoke, which means there is a fire somewhere inside the #CCP. #China is unstable. https://t.co/hSUS3210GR
— Gordon G. Chang (@GordonGChang) September 24, 2022
On paper, it looked like a fantastic deal. In 2017, the Chinese government was offering to spend $100 million to build an ornate Chinese garden at the National Arboretum in Washington DC. Complete with temples, pavilions and a 70-foot white pagoda, the project thrilled local officials, who hoped it would attract thousands of tourists every year.
But when US counterintelligence officials began digging into the details, they found numerous red flags. The pagoda, they noted, would have been strategically placed on one of the highest points in Washington DC, just two miles from the US Capitol, a perfect spot for signals intelligence collection, multiple sources familiar with the episode told CNN.
Also alarming was that Chinese officials wanted to build the pagoda with materials shipped to the US in diplomatic pouches, which US Customs officials are barred from examining, the sources said.
Federal officials quietly killed the project before construction was underway.
The canceled garden is part of a frenzy of counterintelligence activity by the FBI and other federal agencies focused on what career US security officials say has been a dramatic escalation of Chinese espionage on US soil over the past decade.
Since at least 2017, federal officials have investigated Chinese land purchases near critical infrastructure, shut down a high-profile regional consulate believed by the US government to be a hotbed of Chinese spies and stonewalled what they saw as clear efforts to plant listening devices near sensitive military and government facilities.
F.E. Warren Air Force Base, a strategic missile base, is located in Cheyenne, Wyoming, an area near a host of cell towers using Huawei equipment. – From F.E. Warren Air Force Base/Facebook
US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Richard P. Donoghue announcing indictments against China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, several of its subsidiaries and its chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on January 28, 2019.
The Financial Times tells us today, in Mid-October, that China last August tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle featuring new technology that our military doesn’t understand and giving China a first-strike capability we have no way to counter.
China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August that circled the globe before speeding towards its target, demonstrating an advanced space capability that caught US intelligence by surprise.
Five people familiar with the test said the Chinese military launched a rocket that carried a hypersonic glide vehicle which flew through low-orbit space before cruising down towards its target.
The missile missed its target by about two-dozen miles, according to three people briefed on the intelligence. But two said the test showed that China had made astounding progress on hypersonic weapons and was far more advanced than US officials realised.
The test has raised new questions about why the US often underestimated China’s military modernisation.
“We have no idea how they did this,” said a fourth person.
The US, Russia and China are all developing hypersonic weapons, including glide vehicles that are launched into space on a rocket but orbit the earth under their own momentum. They fly at five times the speed of sound, slower than a ballistic missile. But they do not follow the fixed parabolic trajectory of a ballistic missile and are manoeuvrable, making them harder to track.
Taylor Fravel, an expert on Chinese nuclear weapons policy who was unaware of the test, said a hypersonic glide vehicle armed with a nuclear warhead could help China “negate” US missile defence systems which are designed to destroy incoming ballistic missiles.
“Hypersonic glide vehicles . . . fly at lower trajectories and can manoeuvre in flight, which makes them hard to track and destroy,” said Fravel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In Foreign Affairs, Michael Beckley and Hal Brands explain why the Chinese Miracle is soon going to be over.
China’s multidecade ascent was aided by strong tailwinds that have now become headwinds. China’s government is concealing a serious economic slowdown and sliding back into brittle totalitarianism. The country is suffering severe resource scarcity and faces the worst peacetime demographic collapse in history. Not least, China is losing access to the welcoming world that enabled its advance.
Welcome to the age of “peak China.” Beijing is a strong revisionist power that wants to remake the world, but its time to do so is already running out. This realization should not inspire complacency in Washington—just the opposite. Once-rising powers frequently become aggressive when their fortunes fade and their enemies multiply. China is tracing an arc that often ends in tragedy: a dizzying rise followed by the specter of a hard fall.
Read the rest of this entry »
A Chinese skyscraper had to be evacuated Tuesday afternoon after it began inexplicably swaying on its foundation, prompting scores of bystanders to flee in terror, as seen in a series of viral videos circulating social media.
The shaky incident occurred around 1 p.m. at Shenzhen’s SEG Electronics Building, which is one of China’s tallest structures in the city at a whopping 980 feet tall.
“The people in the building and downstairs fled for their lives!” read the caption to one of the Twitter clips, which depicts petrified shoppers stampeding across a plaza like scene out of a monster movie.
A follow-up clip posted by local media shows the top of the 73-story structure, on which two white conductor poles can be seen wobbling precariously.
The building was sealed off around 2:40 p.m. after all the residents had been evacuated, the Daily Mail reported.
Nonetheless, authorities remain baffled by the cause of the mishap as there “was no earthquake in Shenzhen” that day, according to a statement by emergency services. Meanwhile, weather reports clocked the local wind speed at 27 miles per hour, which is not nearly powerful enough to shake a building.
“The cause of the shaking is being verified by various departments,” the statement read.
This isn’t the first structural catastrophe to occur in China, which has been criticized for erecting buildings in haste amid its rapid urbanization campaign.
If cookies go a few weeks without getting eaten, they turn weirdly soft or dissolve into fine dust. If cookies go 1,300 years without getting eaten, they get carefully preserved in a case at the British Museum.
In the winter of 1915, the British-Hungarian archeologist Marc Aurel Stein opened a tomb in Xinjiang. Known as the Astana cemetery, these gravesites were where residents of the nearby oasis city of Gaochang buried their dead, roughly between the 3rd and 9th centuries. As the membrane between Central Asia and China, and the path to the Middle East, Xinjiang has been fought over for centuries (a fight that continues today, as China uses an iron fist to control it as an autonomous province). Gaochang, meanwhile, lies in ruins. But the Astana cemetery, with more than a thousand tombs preserved in the dry heat of the Turpan Basin, tells the story of the once-prosperous ancient city.
The Astana cemetery shows how Gaochang was once a prominent stop on the Silk Road, especially for Sogdians, a people from Eastern Iran who often traveled across Eurasia as merchants. Opening the tombs, Stein found heaps of evidence pointing to Gaochang’s role as a place of “trade exchange between West Asia and China.” Though the vast majority of the dead at Astana were Han Chinese, Stein saw corpses with Byzantine coins in their mouths and Persian textiles included as grave goods.
But inside one tomb, Stein found neither of these things. Grave robbers had emptied it of everything, “except [for] a large number of remarkably preserved fancy pastry scattered over the platform meant to accommodate the coffin with the dead,” he recalled later. Stein was taken aback by the beauty of the cookies and their wide variety of shapes—flat wafers with elaborate designs, delicate, lace-like cookies, and “flower-shaped tartlets … with neatly made petal borders, some retaining traces of jam or some similar substance placed in the [center].” In the arid earth of the cemetery, the sweets managed to survive to modern day.
Today, the pastries are owned by the British Museum, as part of what Stein described as his “haul” of artifacts sent back to the United Kingdom. During his expeditions, Stein also helped himself to priceless cultural objects, such as the first-known printed book. Stein’s plundering of the Diamond Sutra caused vociferous protests in China. In 1961, the National Library of China released a statement saying that Stein’s book theft was enough to cause “people to gnash their teeth in bitter hatred.” The cookies, in comparison, are regarded more as curiosities. A 1925 article in The Times of Mumbai, describing an exhibition of Aurel Stein’s finds in New Delhi, noted how “the most remarkable of all the objects are the actual pastries deposited with the dead as food objects,” with the author writing that they closely resembled “the ‘fancies’ of a modern confectioner’s shop window.”