‘Virtual water’

July 31, 2014 § Leave a comment


An interview I did for china dialogue on China’s water scarcity and agriculture is now online.

What We Talk About When We Talk About ‘the Uyghurs’

June 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

Back street in Urumqi, September 2013

Back street in Urumqi, September 2013

Firstly, apologies to Raymond Carver for being yet another desecrator of his great title.

Secondly- this is the title of my latest piece on Xinjiang, which is in the Summer issue of Dissent mag.

Talk on Xinjiang in Chinese and Western Media

March 7, 2014 § 3 Comments

escalation- Quartz

I’ll be talking at Westminster University, London, on March 19th about how Western and Chinese media tends to represent the  Xinjiang issue in different yet equally distorting ways  – details here.

After Kunming

March 5, 2014 § Leave a comment


I attempt to make sense of the horrible killings in Kunming on the LRB Blog

Free Ilham Tohti

February 28, 2014 § Leave a comment


Ilham Tohti, the respected Uyghur economist, has been charged with separatism and faces ten years to life in prison in China. It’s the kind of thing that’s a reminder of how China’s judicial and political system hasn’t made the same kind of progress as its economy. I wrote about the case on the LRB Blog.

The Death of Old Kashgar

January 17, 2014 § 2 Comments


I went back to Kashgar, in southern Xinjiang, in September last year for the first time in 13 years. In 2000 it was a place that I was sorry to leave; I didn’t feel the same this time. More words and pictures about that can be found at Unmapped, a new travel magazine that’s publishing the kinds of pieces that are in short supply: well-written, insightful reports from places that the news agenda doesn’t seem concerned about.

Behind the Dunes

January 17, 2014 § Leave a comment


My piece on Lisa Ross’ exhibition in London of photos from Xinjiang is up on the London Review of Books Blog.

My interview with her earlier this year is at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Smog in Shanghai

December 11, 2013 § Leave a comment


A blog I wrote with my other hat on…

‘Terrorism’ in Tiananmen Square

November 8, 2013 § Leave a comment


There was an explosion in Tiananmen Square last week. On the LRB Blog I write about why it wasn’t terrorism.

In Balykchy

October 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

My first dispatch from Kyrgyzstan is now up on the London Review of Books Blog

Here are some other photos of the town:






Afghan War memorial








October 1, 2013 § Leave a comment


My interview with photojournalist Sean Gallagher on his new book, Meltdown: China’s Environment Crisis, is up at chinadialogue.

Travelling the Silk Road of Pop

September 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

Verbally, that is. My Q and A with the director of this wonderful documentary about Uyghur music is now up at China File


The many trials of Mr Horse

September 23, 2013 § Leave a comment


My new essay on knowing a Chinese James Bond is in the new issue of The Dublin Review

This is how it starts:

Everyone in Shaoyang Teachers’ College said Mr Ma had been a spy. If this was supposed to be a secret, it was badly kept. When I first met him, in 1999, Mr Ma was in his mid thirties. He wore black glasses with thick lenses; his hair was in retreat; there was frequently a look of astonishment on his face. He was bashful, polite, prone to excessive laughter. But the fact that he didn’t look or act like a spy only made the rumours more plausible. It meant that he had been a good spy.

Bo Xilai and ‘seeking truth from facts’

September 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

The nicest looking picture of Bo Xilai I could find

The nicest looking picture of Bo Xilai I could find

My take on the Bo Xilai trial, the biggest political trial in China for decades, now up at the LRB blog

Cheating in China

July 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

Middle school students in Hunan briefly distracted from the dreaded gao kao by the presence of a foreigner.

Middle school students in Hunan briefly distracted from the dreaded gao kao by the presence of a foreigner.

My piece on cheating in Chinese education is on the LRB blog.

Learning the Wrong Lessons in Xinjiang

July 3, 2013 § Leave a comment


A show of force in Urumqi this week

My piece for the 4th anniversary of the Urumqi riots is at Dissent magazine.

For a Song and a Hundred Songs

June 4, 2013 § Leave a comment


My review of Liao Yiwu’s prison memoir is now up at The LA Review of Books.

Living Shrines

May 16, 2013 § Leave a comment


My interview with Lisa Ross on Uyghur shrines in the desert is at the Los Angeles Review of Books- thanks again to her for answering my questions in such a thoughtful manner.


Dead Pigs, Toxic Smog

April 24, 2013 § Leave a comment


I write about the apocalyptic pollution in China on the LRB Blog

Previous ‘Pollution in China!’ posts:

Climate Change?

China’s Big Society

‘Medieval Lifestyle’

April 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

A mining project in Xilinhaote, Inner Mongolia

A mining project in Xilinhaote, Inner Mongolia

Isobel Yeung, who works for CCTV, China’s state broadcaster, recently wrote a piece for The Independent in which she argued that the Western media are misrepresenting China’s policies towards ethnic minorities in Inner Mongolia. She argued that the government aren’t trying to destroy the culture of nomadic herders by moving them into cities- they just want to improve their ‘medieval lifestyle’. Here’s my response to this in The Independent.

The Art of Escape

March 4, 2013 § Leave a comment


I have a review of Sven Lindqvist’s The Myth of Wu Tao Tzu up at the Los Angeles Review of Books

Tigers, Buttering of, now online

February 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

My Dublin Review piece on corruption and factories in China is now online.

No Middle Way

January 1, 2013 § Leave a comment


I have a short piece on the LRB Blog about the Tibetan self-immolations, of which there have been almost 100 since 2011. Click here to read.

‘One Big Unhappy Family’

October 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

Here’s the review of The Tree That Bleeds from the April issue of Literary Review. Click on the images to enlarge.


China’s Big Society

September 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

View from the old city gate of Shaoyang, 2010

In my latest post on the London Review of Books Blog I write about rubbish, murder and the gap between the cities of China’s east coast and those of its interior. For more on wonderful Shaoyang see my piece at the LA Review of Books.

Buttering the Tiger

September 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

My essay on Chinese factories and corruption is in the latest issue of  The Dublin Review, along with an interesting piece about being a fake priest in Japan. I originally wrote this as the middle section of my LARB piece, but it ended up breaking free from that and hopefully works fine on its own.

The DR is one of the few magazines still interested in publishing longform pieces about foreign countries that aren’t based around conflict or suffering. As such, it deserves our support. A 4 issue subscription costs £36.

I’d also like to thank the gone, but not forgotten, and very much missed Scottish Arts Council for helping to fund the trip to China that led to the LARB piece, the  DR piece, and the afterword of The Tree That Bleeds.

Jumping the Dragon Gate

August 30, 2012 § Leave a comment


My piece on two of my former students is now up at the Los Angeles Review of Books, and features kidnapping, a cow’s vagina,’Peter Burger’ and the house of wasps. I may, perhaps, have burnt some bridges by writing this piece- in which case, dear bridges, I’m sorry. There was so much kindling I could not resist.

You can see accompanying photos here.

Interview about The Tree That Bleeds now up on China File

August 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

There’s a short video of me speaking about The Tree That Bleeds now up at China File, where there’s a lot of other great content. Thanks to Maura Cunningham for doing the interview and for editing my rambling into coherent form.

Climate Change?

August 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Qidong protest, July 28th 2012. Blue = police

My post on Chinese environmental protests is now up at the LRB Blog.

‘Great Changes after the Liberation’

July 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

I have a new piece on the LRB Blog on Chinese propaganda comics from 1950 that some have used to critique modern China. The only thing I’d add to what I say there is that to argue that China has gone back in time is overlook the many achievements made by the PRC, albeit sometimes at catastrophic cost to its people. Despite the apparent similarities, the problems of contemporary China are those of a very different kind of society and system.

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