DOWNLOAD the latest issue


  • Book Report: Post-CCP China
    Jan 30, 2024 / By Petula Parris

    In Post-CCP China, Taiwanese author Fan Chou sets out by clarifying a seemingly obvious point – China is not the CCP. In this book, Fan draws on his own experience and dealings in China – where he spent more than 20 years running various businesses – to unpick the current state of the CCP and make predictions for China’s future. Fan views the CCP as an inflexible authoritarian regime approaching the end of its natural lifespan, and thus treats its eventual demise as an inevitability. However, rather than focusing on “whether” the CCP will disintegrate (as was the premise of Gordon Chang’s The Coming Collapse of China in 2001), Fan seeks to identify the stakeholders – domestic and foreign – that are likely to decide the various potential outcomes in a post-CCP era.


    This book contains nine chapters. The first three chapters focus on the book’s main premise, China’s economic development and status quo, and China’s political development and status quo, respectively.


    Chapter One aims to define what is meant by the “disintegration” of the CCP. In Fan’s opinion, the CCP’s political legitimacy largely relies on China’s economic performance and wealth creation and, as such, the CCP’s fiscal competence is closely correlated to its survival. In his trademark style, Fan mixes hard facts and light-hearted metaphors to prime the reader on China’s current economic challenges, for example: In 2008, China had $375 billion worth of external debt and $1.95 trillion in foreign exchange reserves. In 2021, it was $2.75 trillion and $3.25 trillion, respectively. Put another way, if [my friend] Old Wang had $1.95 trillion worth of cash stashed under his bed in 2008, he owed $375 billion of that to his fellow villagers. In 2021, the pile of cash under his bed had grown to $3.25 trillion, but he owed his fellow villagers $2.75 trillion.


    In Chapter Two, Fan explores why so many people are reluctant to contemplate the impossible: that a political behemoth such as the CCP could possibly cease to function. Fan takes the unexpected fate of the Titanic and Twin Towers as metaphors to identify the most vulnerable point in the CCP’s power structure. Again, in his witty narrative, Fan takes the reader through the main junctures of China’s stunning economic development and explains why he believes Xi Jinping’s policies threaten to speed up the CCP’s demise – while also pointing out that it is not too late for political reform.


    Meanwhile, Chapter Three walks the reader through China’s political development prior to and after 1949. He challenges common rhetoric around the CCP’s political ideology (which, in Fan’s opinion, is more rooted in Chinese legalism than Marxism), and also points out what he considers to be glaring anomalies in the story of “one China” (such as the fact that Mao Zedong once advocated carving China up into 27 independent states). In this chapter, Fan also analyzes Xi’s wavering attempts to settle on an effective ideology for his rule. He warns that by overturning China’s presidential term limit and further centralizing his power, Xi is taking China and the CCP into dangerous, uncharted territory.


    The book’s next two chapters focus on the domestic and international forces that could potentially affect China’s outcome should the CCP disintegrate. Chapter Four subdivides Chinese society along a multitude of political and geographical lines, giving a brief outline of the main traits and importance of each subdivision. In doing so, Fan underscores that China is a vast society with significant cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity. Again, this is not an academic analysis; rather, Fan provides his own sharp – and sometimes provocative – view on the status of each subdivision of China’s political system or national territory. For example, he says of the Chinese army in the face of fiscal troubles: “Nationalism is the only way to hold the PLA together. Shouting about it loud enough avoids a military coup. But soldiers can’t eat nationalism. Once the [CCP’s] money runs out, the PLA will fragment. Or on the region of Xinjiang, which accounts for one sixth of China’s total area: A person’s view on Xinjiang can be used as a litmus test for their concept of ‘China’, as well as to measure their views on a ‘unified China’. If you observe carefully or push for opinions, you will discover that many people wishing to see the end of the CCP are, at the same time, opposed to an independent Xinjiang. How does this make any sense? If you understand this phenomenon, you will also likely understand Putin’s difficulty in accepting an independent Ukraine.”


    Chapter Five deals with international factors, as it assesses the significance of different countries and regions on China’s future. For example, Fan points out how conflict around water sources is a potential flashpoint between India and China, how post-CCP China could learn from the experience of Vietnam’s communist government in terms of political reform, and that the success of Taiwan in building a democratic Chinese-speaking society poses one of the biggest threats to the future of the CCP.


    Although for Fan the demise of the CCP in its current state is inevitable, Chapter Six begins by summarizing the main arguments for and against the possible collapse of the CCP. This is followed by a “spectrum” of scenarios that might occur should the CCP disintegrate – from minor changes (such as changing the name of the CCP and enacting Vietnamese-style political reform) to major upheavals (such as China becoming a federation). In a similar vein, Chapter Seven discusses various ways China may reorganize itself according to which foreign forces are more successful at vying for influence.


    As this book was written for a Taiwanese audience, Chapter Eight addresses Taiwan-specific issues and offers recommendations as to how Taiwan should ready itself for a potential conflict with China. Similarly, the book’s final chapter mostly takes the form of a “letter” written to the citizens of the PRC (mirroring the “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan” released by the Chinese government in 1979) from the Taiwanese people.


    The author’s somewhat provocative take on China and the CCP strikes a similar tone to that of The Invention of China by Bill Hayton. However, unlike The Invention of China (which makes for denser reading and requires a firm grounding in Chinese history), Post-CCP China explains China’s political history, economic situation, and cultural matters in a more anecdotal, op-ed style and, therefore, minimal knowledge of China is required to enjoy this book. The book is also structured in short, easy-to-digest sections. As such, this book would be suitable for a general readership with an interest in China.


    Fan Chou is a writer, columnist, and entrepreneur. He writes regularly on cross-strait issues for various news publications in Taiwan and has published several books on related topics. He holds an MA in Philosophy from Columbia University.

  • Book Report: Chinese Medicine: A Guided Tour with Illustrations & Comics
    Jan 30, 2024 / By William Ceurvels

    The story of Chinese medicine in Taiwan over the last century has been one of survival: the profession was nearly eradicated through a Japanese modernization campaign during the occupation, then suffered from a serious legitimacy crisis surrounding the use of steroids in Chinese patent medicines mid-century, and in the modern era, this age-old medicine now struggles to remain relevant in a world increasingly dominated by western and scientific worldviews. Against this rather dire backdrop, Chinese Medicine: A Guided Tour with Illustrations & Comics is a necessary and welcome addition to the Taiwan book market – an accessible, but thorough introduction to Chinese medicine meant to engage and secure the attention of scroll-happy zoomers and millennials with a blend of humor, relatable real-life scenarios, illustrations and a down-to-earth writing style.  


    With its cryptic, symbolic language and ancient conceptual models, Chinese medicine must seem like an archaic relic of the pre-modern Chinese world to a younger generation of Taiwanese whose only exposure to such concepts comes from passing references in Jin Yong novels and fantasy mobile games. Chinese Medicine: A Guided Tour with Illustrations & Comics aims to translate the abstruse conceptual landscape of Chinese medicine into a language that the younger generation can easily identify with and understand through the prism of their own modern worldview. To this end, Faces Publishing has enlisted “Siwutopia”, a group of young Chinese doctors at the China Medical University Affiliated Hospital who has built up an impressive following on Instagram and Facebook by creating Chinese medicine-related content that blends cutesy and humorous graphics with culturally relevant topics such as, “is your constitution suited to drinking coffee?” and “what to do about period pain?” The book maintains the relatable style of Siwutopia’s online content and employs a variety of strategies to ensure a “painless introduction to Chinese medicine”, as the cover advertises.


    But why would any introduction to Chinese medicine be “painful”? As it turns out, the ancient healing modality can actually be overwhelmingly complex to the uninitiated – Chinese medicine employs a gamut of pre-modern logic systems such as five-element theory, root and branch theory, five movements and six qi etc., and its understanding of how the body functions, the body’s constituent parts and the pathogenesis of disease all vary significantly from Western medicine. Thus, presenting all this information in a way that doesn’t make cram school-weary youngsters feel like their reading another textbook is no small task, but Chinese Medicine: A Guided Tour with Illustrations & Comics accomplishes this feat quite successfully.


    The first thing that stands out is the language – Siwutopia’s prose is highly conversational; they addresses the reader directly and often refers to himself in joking asides. This conversational style helps to draw the reader in and alleviate any sense of alienation that may result from the highly technical and unfamiliar nature of the material. Additionally, by referring to themselves as the “clinic director” and peppering his speech with Taiwanese phrases, Siwutopia evinces an avuncular quality that instills both comfort and trust in the reader.


    Siwutopia has also created a cast of characters that imbue a human element to otherwise difficult and unfamiliar theory: Lanky Joe and Miss Curves are a brother-sister duo whose misadventures appear in short comics at the beginning of every chapter and demonstrate how each subject is relevant to the life of an average person. In most of the comics, the two teens are also joined by a pair of ghost-like characters named Lil’ Yin and Lil’ Yang. The two function almost like a Chinese cross-talk duo, with Lil’ Yin playing the straight man who explains difficult Chinese concepts to Lanky Joe and Miss Curves, while Lil’ Yang just tries to cook up trouble and find the punchline. In one of the early chapters on Chinese vs. Western medical theory, Miss Curves complains to Lanky Joe that her Chinese doctor told her she had a wind stroke. Lil’ Yang feigns concern for her “serious condition”, but Lil’ Yin quickly intervenes to assure Miss Curves that this is simply a matter of differing terminology and she has nothing to worry about. These comics offer a nice reprieve after the more theory-laden back halves of each chapter and zoomers will no doubt identify with the brother-sister duo’s humorous misunderstanding of concepts in Chinese medicine.


    Explaining Chinese medical concepts to a lay audience is a difficult task, but Siwutopia is skilled at using analogy and familiar examples from everyday life to lend context and clarity to the reader. Particularly admirable is Siwutopia’s explanation of the Chinese medical concepts of qi, blood and fluid by way of a steam-powered train. Qi, Siwutopia explains, can be likened to the steam that powers the engine, while blood and fluid are like the raw materials used to produce the steam. Despite qi being an inscrutable and hard to define concept, the steam engine image will be immediately comprehensible to lay audiences on an intuitive level. Going along with the transportation theme, Siwutopia likens Chinese medicine’s channel system to “highways and byways”, while describing acupoints as “checkpoints along the highway that can signal an issue in that locality”. Just like the steam-engine analogy, this portrayal of the channels and acupoints is instantly comprehensible without sacrificing any accuracy. Siwutopia also makes expert use of common ailments familiar to even the least medically-minded teen to demonstrate certain less obvious Chinese medical concepts. In Chinese medicine, wind is considered an external pathogen that has a swift, protean, and unpredictable nature, but this can be a difficult concept to grasp. Siwutopia uses the common skin disease urticaria to bring the concept of wind to life, noting how Chinese physicians recognize urticaria as a wind-related disease because the skin lesions come and go quickly and without any predictable pattern.

    Ultimately, even after deploying all the ingenious strategies described above, the average young reader may inevitably still tire from a ceaseless stream of didactic material, but Siwutopia has yet another ace up their sleeves – sandwiched between theoretical material at the beginning and end of each chapter, are practical guides for putting all this new knowledge to use. For instance, in the chapter on eye strain, Siwutopia recommends massaging two acupoints when the eyes become sore after reading and even shares an herbal tea that can be used to “nourish the eyes”. In the section on acne, an interactive chart teaches the reader how to diagnose their own acne by location: acne on the forehead is a “heart” issue, suggesting an overactive mind, while acne on the left cheek indicates a “liver” disfunction for which the afflicted party should avoid going to bed too late. This interactive content compels the reader to experience the medicine for themselves, further reducing the distance between the westernized Taiwanese zoomer and this ancient healing system.


    Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Chinese Medicine: A Guided Tour with Illustrations & Comics is that despite all the attempts to humanize and simplify the medicine in this volume, Siwutopia manages to sneak in a surprising level of detail and depth in their descriptions of various ideas. I was amazed to find a table containing differential diagnosis for various organ-related coughs, detailed discussion of the role the Chinese medical notion of the “lung” plays in constipation, and a section on the lesser-known, eye-based diagnostic system called “five wheels and eight belts”. If not for the histrionics of Siwutopia’s motley cast of characters, the illustration-heavy presentation style and informal, vernacular feel of the prose, such in-depth material would certainly be too much for the tik-tok attention spans of the average teen, but the headier content is broken up just enough to maintain that “painlessness” while also delivering a substantive representation of the medicine’s theoretical precepts.


    Chinese Medicine: A Guided Tour with Illustrations & Comics is the perfect remedy for an ancient medical system struggling to remain relevant, a volume that balances a hyper-awareness and attentiveness to the aesthetic of its audience while never compromising the complexity and, indeed, the dignity of this profound and powerful system of medicine. As Taiwan continues to westernize, Siwutopia’s “painless” didactic model may well serve as an effective and important strategy for transmitting this valuable knowledge to successive generations.

  • Editor’s Note: Beastosis
    Jan 30, 2024 / By Kaiting Chan ∥ Translated by Joel Martinsen

    Are you familiar with Plato’s Cave? People in a dark cave discuss the shadows that firelight projects onto a wall and are convinced they are real, when in fact reality can only be reached by facing the flames, leaving the cave, and experiencing pain. Inspired by this allegory, novelist Chiou Charng-Ting tells the story of an epic journey of two brothers between a shadow world and the real world.


    Like the firelit images on the wall, the shadow world is entirely an imitation of the real world. This is the starting point for the author’s fantasy worldbuilding, with analogues for Taiwan and China, Han and Indigenous peoples, power and oppression, transgender issues, incest, environmental destruction, extinction, and the craft of fiction. Its sumptuous literary feel is spiced with the genre flavor of fantasy: magic here is called “mimesis” (the pronunciation of the two terms is similar in Chinese), and the abilities of magicians – “mimesists” – emanate from “believing the world is false in order to obtain the greatest mimetic power”. They can raise the dead, summon typhoons, transform gender, and cause pregnancy – nothing short of omnipotence.


    In addition to the mimesists, there are other magical beings – beast spirits that can talk – who exist only in the shadow world, born of the love and memories people in the real world have for extinct creatures. There they seek out people chosen by fate and dwell within their spiritual voids, granting contentment and wondrous powers to the sad and lonely and serving as humanity’s eternal animal companions.


    Beastosis opens on the Isle of Wan, a stand-in for Taiwan, where five clans under the dominion of the powerful state of Midong rule with ruthless brutality over a destitute people. A pair of brothers, Taibang and Luan, light the fuse of revolt on the island. For the sake of his younger brother, elder brother Taibang refuses his destined union with a clouded leopard spirit, but the witch Utux, a person with a bird spirit bent on provoking a rebellion, needs his power. She schemes to separate the brothers so that Taibang will unite with the clouded leopard and join the revolutionary army. The revolution falters, and when Taibang dies, his bones are carried off by a Midong scholar for display in a foreign museum. However, having foreseen his death, Taibang had entreated the shaman Ivivigi to carve a mimetic totem into his skull bearing blessings that will one day be conveyed to the heart of his still-living younger brother.


    Luan is fated for great things but lives a complicated life: his male body houses a woman’s mind and he is in love with Taibang. When Utux separates the two, she commands her underlings to take Luan to safety, but they are waylaid by the golden rooster goddess, the head of the powerful Chin clan, who reveals Luan’s identity as the heir to the Chin family. She cannot permit him anywhere near the five families, so she erases his memory and sends him into exile.


    Over the next decade, Luan grows up abroad, his love for his elder brother forgotten, and lives as a woman under the name Lily. In college, she befriends Yasuko, whose subsequent murder puts her on the path to crime. After hunting down and killing the murderer and awakening her mimetic power, she learns that this has been “a mimesist test”. The examiner, using the name Black Antelope, informs Lily that the answers she’s looking for can be found in a foreign museum. There, she finds Taibang’s skull. The sound of his last wish causes her lost memories to return, and she makes a deal with Black Antelope: if he instructs her how to resurrect Taibang, she will infiltrate the five clans on the Isle of Wan so he can play a game with another mimesist called White Ape.


    The five clans are embroiled in a storm of their own. Although the revolution failed, it left the clans splintered, and now a series of assassinations have targeted the leadership at the most inopportune moment. Chin heir Chin Hsueh and his bodyguard Liu Amo want to find the assassin, stop the fighting, and rebuild the family fortune, but the ruthless killer is not their only enemy, for a young woman called A-lan is also bent on revenge. The inheritor of Utux’s beast spirit and unrealized final wish, she aims to wipe out the five clans. But she is also searching for a young woman called Wagtail who taught her the meaning of love during her exile but was caught by the Chin family. The assassinations are actually the work of powerful mimesists: White Ape and Black Antelope are using the Isle of Wan as a chessboard to play a fatal game, a grand final chapter before the ultimate destruction of the five clans.


    Having told of a revolution against the powerful, murders in foreign lands, family power struggles, a young woman’s vengeance, and a murder game for mimesists, Beastosis transitions to a new phase in which the real world, the source of the shadow world’s imitations, is facing the end of days. As a strange, fatal disease originating in South America sweeps across the globe, a young man named Taibang spends his time writing Beastosis, a story first told by his younger brother Luan. When Luan hanged himself, Taibang’s psychiatrist advised him to use writing as therapy. Then things start to change: as the disease mutates, people’s personalities alter and they shout strange words as they die. The disease attacks Taibang’s tribe, causing feverish children to babble things that only exist in his story. On his bathroom mirror, writing appears in his brother’s hand: FIND ME. The tribe’s shaman Ivivigi tells him that he is the key link between this world and the other, where Luan is calling out to him. The mirror writing and backward music are clues he uses to guide Taibang on a great journey.


    That journey ends on the icy surface of a frozen lake, a magic mirror that shows him two faces. One is a grown-up Luan – Lily in the shadow world – and the other is Luan at the age of eight, wreathed in green flame like a mythical malevolent spirit. It turns out that Luan, foreseeing the extinction of the human race, used suicide as a means of reaching the shadow world and had not only guided Taibang but had abducted Lily – and with her the power to restore life she had learned from Black Antelope. After Lily’s resurrection of Taibang left him with an incomplete soul, an evil spirit convinced her that a mirror could make him whole – but that mirror is actually a portal between the two worlds. By killing the shadow world Taibang and separating the real world Taibang from his flesh, his body would bestow new life on anyone who acquired. Lily does not want Taibang to die and fights with the evil Luan. The clouded leopard that vanished ten years ago after the revolution manifests and reveals it is the vessel for Taibang’s spirit.


    Meanwhile, Black Antelope’s motive for seeking out Lily’s assistance in his games with White Ape was to stem his string of losses and gain the upper hand to force White Ape to reveal himself. As children, Black Antelope and White Ape were inseparable friends under the tutelage of Red Phoenix, Midong’s most powerful mimesist and master of the phoenix spirit’s power of eternal life. A failed mimesis trial drove White Ape mad, and when Black Antelope was tasked with traveling on missions, the two gradually drifted apart. Over time, Black Antelope’s observations of Red Phoenix revealed his secret scheme: probing the extremes of mimetic power, he believed the ultimate mystery could be found in the real world, and although the access mirror was in his possession, among the many conditions for passage was the need for a special body. His worldwide search had turned up just one suitable candidate – White Ape – and so he infiltrated his soul into White Ape’s body and waited for the opportune moment. Sensing something amiss on the Isle of Wan, Black Antelope realizes that White Ape’s broken mind has been invaded, and he follows him back to Midong with the aim of battling the mimesist who has taken control of his body to reach the real world.


    The novel reaches a climax with a duel between brothers and a battle between mimesists across the real and illusory worlds, and Black Antelope and White Ape ultimately reunite to defeat Red Phoenix, losing their lives in the process. Evil Luan at last steps back and bids his elder brother farewell. Although young Taibang is unable to stop the extinction of humanity, the beast spirits will eternally preserve the souls of those in union with them, pointing the way to the next step in human evolution.


    The denouement is wistful but not sad. The ensemble cast may appear complicated, but it’s all in the service of a simple goal, to depict a boy unable to accept a loved one’s absence, who straddles real and imaginary worlds to turn death to life. Mimesists in the shadow world are like gods who pass the time playing games with human emotions and desires. This is an adventure on a magnificent scale: the unknowns of the shadow world are ripe for exploration, while the real world offers up the evolved species of the future. But at the same time, this is a story of rich emotions in which beast spirits born of the love and memories people have for the departed give the mimetic world its shape, where the dead are reborn, and where every character fights for the love they hold in their heart. The metaphor of the shadow world is the relationship between story and reality: story responds to and creates reality. And fiction, so long as it produces meaning and emotion in the reader, is eternal truth.