The Little Red Podcast provides fresh, expert takes on China that go beyond the obvious. Combining journalistic sensibilities with academic rigour, we discuss the pressing issues of Xi Jinping’s China, and how their impact is felt far beyond the Beijing beltway. From East Timor to Eastern Qinghai, we take listeners to forgotten places that are missed in mainstream narratives of modern China. Hosted by Graeme Smith, China studies academic at large, and Louisa Lim, former China correspondent for the BBC and NPR, now with the Centre for Advancing Journalism at Melbourne University. Follow them @limlouisa and @GraemeKSmith, and find show notes on the Facebook page of the Podcast.
The Communist Party’s shadowy United Front Work Department has emerged stronger than ever before after the most recent government reshuffle. This body, whose job has historically been to win hearts and minds among the Party’s opponents, is now also responsible for all work related to ethnic minority groups, religious management and contact with overseas Chinese. But exactly how does the United Front Work Department gain support for China abroad? In this episode, Graeme is joined by Gerry Groot from the University of Adelaide, who demystifies the inner workings of the body dubbed a Magic Weapon by Xi Jinping.
China’s preoccupation with cartography now seems to be reaching into classrooms, websites and academic journals around the world, with an increasing number of demands for retractions and apologies for maps that do not comport with Beijing’s view of its borders. In this episode, John Zinda, a sociologist from Cornell University, and James Miles, China editor for The Economist, join Louisa and Graeme to discuss the politics of cartography in China.
China’s aid and growing influence in the South Pacific is causing alarm with an Australian minister recently complaining about Chinese-funded ‘roads to nowhere’. In this month’s episode, Louisa and Graeme are joined by award winning journalist Jo Chandler to discuss the challenges brought by a wave of Chinese aid and migration to the Pacific’s largest nation, Papua New Guinea. From migrant shopkeepers and counterfeit drugs to rumours of bases and political corruption, China’s footprint is expanding, leading to burgeoning anti-Chinese sentiment among ordinary Papua New Guineans.
Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream has a dark side exemplified by the emergence of villages specialising in a single type of crime, from ‘hand-cutting’ pickpockets to ‘cake-uncles’ expert in accounting fraud. Officially, China boasts one of the lowest murder rates in the world, claiming a forty-three percent drop in severe violent crime over the past five years. But Børge Bakken, a specialist in Chinese criminology, argues that all Chinese crime statistics are falsified for political, propaganda, and administrative reasons. With the authorities focussing on clamping down on civil society and seemingly turning a blind eye to criminality, is China becoming an ‘uncivil society’?
Reviled in the West, the slimy bottom-feeders known as sea cucumbers or bêche-de-mer (BDM) have recently been described as the ‘the gold of the sea’. Skyrocketing demand for this prized feature of Chinese wedding banquets has driven up the price of bêche-de-mer (lit. ‘worm of the sea’), causing knock-on impacts ranging from sea cucumber smuggling rings to a collapse in sea cucumber stocks to starvation in some parts of the world. In this episode we examine the cautionary tale posed by the fate of the sea cucumber with Kate Barclay and Michael Fabinyi from the University of Technology Sydney. China’s growing appetite for these slow-moving slugs has sparked ecological and social crises, with at least 24 countries trying to close their sea cucumber fisheries following the sudden collapse of stocks.
A new brand of Chinese political artists is using the once borderless expanse of cyberspace as a virtual studio, a collaboration space and a digital museum, crowdsourcing and sharing work about China that could never be shown there. But as Beijing’s influence—and censorship—extends beyond China’s borders, being in exile is no longer is a guarantee of safety. As these artists struggle to find ways to vault the Great Firewall, the Chinese government is developing increasingly sophisticated censorship methods. In this episode, Graeme and Louisa talk to the mysterious Chinese artist Badiucao, who works under a pseudonym, and Sampson Wong from Hong Kong’s Add Oil Team about how the Chinese state corrals and controls the imagination of its people.
Beijing’s failed attempt to force Cambridge University Press to censor its own catalogue is just one prong in an escalating campaign to tighten control over China’s recent historical record. Western scholars of China are struggling to function in an environment with little access to historical records and increasingly sophisticated censorship of electronic archives, as well as more overt surveillance of their activities and pressure on their Chinese research partners. With censorship and intimidation reaching ever-greater levels of intensity, some are even drawing comparisons with Emperor Qianlong’s literary inquisition of the eighteenth century. Louisa and Graeme are joined by Glenn Tiffert from the Hoover Institution, Dayton Lekner from the University of Melbourne, and Timothy Cheek and Morgan Rocks from the University of British Columbia to discuss their recent experiences researching China.
Under Xi Jinping, history in China is a moving feast. This year, China’s Ministry of Education increased the length of the Second World War by six years, to ‘place a greater emphasis on China’s ‘red revolution’. And from September, China is rolling out new school textbooks which claim disputed islands in the East China Sea as their own. To drill down into the bitter history between the two countries, Louisa and Graeme are joined by Richard McGregor, who is releasing a new book called Asia’s Reckoning: China, Japan, and the Fate of U.S. Power in the Pacific Century, and a scholar of Chinese nationalism, the University of Melbourne’s Sow-Keat Tok. In this episode, we unpick the toxic relations between China and Japan, and ask what role the United States have played in fueling tensions. Could the world’s three largest economies be sleepwalking towards war in the East China Sea?
The Chairman of Everything is tightening his grip over the media, pushing control into new spheres ahead of the Nineteenth Party Congress. As the state-run media—traditionally the tongue and throat of the Party—moves onto digital platforms, innovations in control include a welter of new regulations and theoretical concepts like the idea of cyber-sovereignty. Louisa and Graeme are joined by David Bandurski and Qian Gang of the China Media Project to discuss innovations in news production and control in China. Also the question of Xi: he is no longer Xi Dada, but will President Xi be defined by a Theory, a Thought, or an Ism?
Chairman Mao urged the Chinese people to never forget class struggle. But they not only forgot, they stopped using the word at all. Louisa and Graeme talk to Wanning Sun from the University of Technology, Sydney, and Yingjie Guo from Sydney University about how class has become a dirty word in China. So much for the workers, peasants, and soldiers; in today’s China, everyone wants to be middle class, even the new rich. Class anxiety is rife as class mobility is ever harder as traditional routes of advancement shut down. And class is at the heart of one of the Communist party’s biggest conundrums: how to square its official Marxist-Leninist ideology with the consumption-centered society that’s emerging on the ground. Will President Xi Jinping, who often finds himself compared to Mao, ever be tempted to revisit this part of the Chairman’s legacy?
As Hong Kong gears up to mark the twentieth anniversary of its return to Chinese sovereignty, the country’s number 3 leader Zhang Dejiang has made clear Beijing’s intention to tighten its control over the former British colony. He has spoken recently of the need to enact anti-subversion legislation and warned against any attempts to turn Hong Kong into an independent entity. But Hong Kong localists made a strong showing in the September 2016 election, winning six seats and securing twenty percent of the vote. In this episode, we look at the roots of the localism movement, and what impact China’s approach is having. As Beijing signals its tightening control, are parallels emerging between the Basic Law and the seventeen-point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet signed in 1951? Louisa and Graeme discuss Hong Kong’s future with Kevin Carrico of Macquarie University, who is writing a book on Hong Kong’s localist movement.
Sydney academic Feng Chongyi, whose detention in Guangzhou created international headlines, warns that his experience is designed to intimidate academics researching topics deemed sensitive by Beijing. He describes heightened surveillance by China’s state security apparatus and increasing curbs on his research into human rights lawyers. Feng, who is still a Chinese citizen and Communist Party member, attributes his release to the fortuitous timing of Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Australia, combined with media attention and a high-profile campaign. He firmly rejects the notion that backroom negotiations were instrumental in securing his release. Feng is issuing a warning that China’s influence risks influencing academic and press freedom in Australia.
Is President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign working, or is it simply driving corruption underground? This episode we are joined by Minxin Pei from Claremont McKenna College, who has just released a forensic analysis of China’s corruption market, with insights gained from an examination of court cases. Among his findings are the fact that eighty-four percent of convicted officials were promoted while engaged in corruption, that those caught taking bribes had been doing so for an average of nine years, and that the higher the level of corruption the longer officials get away with it. Pei not only argues that China has reached the late stage of regime decay, he is even willing to estimate how much longer he believes Communist rule can last.
China is a world leader in resettlement, having resettled eighty million people since 1949. Before 2020, a further one hundred million people will be moved for environmental protection, poverty relief, and development. So who ultimately benefits from China’s massive resettlement programmes? And has China invented an entirely new academic discipline—resettlement science—to provide academic respectability to its far-reaching resettlement campaigns? This episode we are joined by Brooke Wilmsen from LaTrobe University and Sarah Rogers from the University of Melbourne to drill down into China’s resettlement industry.
In this episode we visit a theatre, a prison and an analyst’s chair to ask: are China’s little emperors really spoiled and lonely, or is this just lazy stereotyping? We meet Wang Chong, who’s directing Little Emperors; a play written by Australian playwright Lachlan Philpott about how one family has been affected by the One Child policy. It’s now playing at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne. We’re also joined by Lisa Cameron, a behavioural economist from Monash University, who has tested how altruistic, risk loving and neurotic the little emperors are, and come up with surprising findings that suggest the One Child policy could be one factor driving China’s lonely hearts to crime.
In Asia’s newest nation, East Timor, China’s influence is clear to see. Beijing built the Presidential palace, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the army barracks, and even offered training in China to more than one thousand Timorese civil servants. In this episode, we discuss the new Great Game playing out over East Timor’s geostrategic position with Swinburne University’s Michael Leach.
Is mainland Chinese money compromising the independence and quality of higher education in Australia? In this episode, the panel includes Latrobe University’s James Leibold, University of New South Wales’ Louise Edwards, and Paul Macgregor, a historian and former curator of the Chinese Museum in Melbourne.
Operatives in the studio, loyalty pledges by media outlets, and state security hounding advertisers. This week we hear from insiders about the range of strategies used by the Chinese government to tame the Chinese-language media in Australia—ranging from cooption to intimidation to outright censorship. The panel includes Raymond Chow from Sameway Magazine, John Fitzgerald from Swinburne University, and Yan Xia from Vision China Times.
In this episode, guest Gerald Roche from the University of Melbourne introduces Tibet’s language diversity and explains how it is paradoxically being threatened by a resurgence in Tibetan identity.
China produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other country in the world, and more than all the rest of the world put together. Its emissions had been set to peak between 2025 and 2030, but researchers are wondering whether Beijing’s emissions have already begun falling, more than a decade earlier than expected. Fergus Green from the London School of Economics explains how changes in the Chinese economy are having an impact on China’s emissions.