non-fiction

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Black Shadows

Harrowing new evidence from the underworld

 

Geng Longyue is 6.8 years old and says she has exactly 26 secrets. I met her during the long, middle stretch of an 18-hour train ride from Kunming into Sichuan where she and her parents were going to visit Chengdu for the first time. Longyue and I sat opposite a small, plastic table beside the window and gazed out at the morning landscape – rubble-strewn mountains, rice paddies, damp red-brown clay trails and leather-skinned peasants bent over in the muck. The rail line between the provinces weaves through countless tunnels and it was after one of those 30-second dips into darkness, as Longyue and I squinted at each other back in the sunlight, that she asked if I had ever heard of a Black Shadow.

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The Boss of Houhai

 

A hutong mafiosa in pajamas – by Tom Pellman

 

He sits on a wooden bench outside the hot dog and burger stand at the corner of Nanluoguxiang and Jingyang hutong, near Houhai lake, dragging hard on his cigarette with the coolness of a Mafia boss. He’s wearing flannel pajamas, flip-flops and a thick gold chain around his neck, a pack of Yuxi’s drooping low in his breast pocket. His nose looks like it’s been broken and he has a prominent black mole that extends from the corner of his right eye like a fat tear.

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The Miao and the moviestar

Hanging with the minorities – by Sasha Draggeim

 

After my performance on the glittery and crowded stage of Hunan TV, I decided to go to an area untouched by maddening economic growth, heavy pollution and large-scale performances (or so I thought). Guizhou province in China’s relatively undeveloped southwest seemed perfect, and the work was meaningful – visiting the countryside to help set up programs to improve living conditions for villagers, many of whom belong to ethnic minority groups.

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Dung sweeping festival

Forced labour on the Inner Mongolian grasslands – by Alec Ash

 

The blades of a hundred wind turbines chugged languidly, stirring the dry morning air over an expanse of cracked grasslands pock-marked with horse droppings. A klick away, inside our ger, we reluctantly pushed off our blankets to meet the morning and rubbed the sleep from our eyes. It was a grudging start to the day, but missing breakfast would be worse.

We were in the Huitengxile grasslands, Inner Mongolia – an Englishman, a French woman and a Russian, like the start of a bad joke. It was 2010, it was Qingmingjie – tomb sweeping festival – and we had the long weekend off from our language school in Beijing. None of us had been to Inner Mongolia. It sounded exotic. Horses and horizons, that kind of thing.

Our host, who had rented us the ger, gave us each a plate of flat noodles with chopped veg and a mischievous smile. I may have imagined the mischievous smile.

“Would you like to participate in a traditional Mongolian activity today?” he asked, stoking the dung-fueled samovar.

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Beijing beatdown

Why not to quibble over a bill in Sanlitun – by Tom Sampson

 

It was December 31st – New Year’s eve!

Most of my friends at Beijing Language and Culture University had gone home for the holidays. The foreign population on campus had declined dramatically. The grounds were covered in untouched snow. The bare branches of the trees were as defenceless and vulnerable as I would feel later in the night.

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