The Cyberflâneur #15: Kaiser Kuo

We’re delighted to feature Kaiser Kuo as our latest cyberflâneur. Kaiser, who hosts the excellent Sinica podcast on current affairs in China, is known not only for his stellar work in journalism and technology but also – a remarkable achievement! – for co-founding the first Chinese heavy metal band, Tang Dynasty! A cyberflâneur par excellence, Kaiser has trawled through our stacks and has chosen some intriguing pieces on China, ranging from a podcast on its climate strategy to a statistics-packed report on its space ambitions,

This is what he had to say about The Syllabus:

I don’t know how I’ve lived so long without this service. The Syllabus is a fantastic resource, delivering an embarrassment of intellectual riches.

As always, you can browse the selections by our previous cyberflâneurs here.

~ Evgeny Morozov


Kaiser’s Selections

I.

Guide to Chinese Climate Policy

David Sandalow served in the Department of Energy under the Obama Administration, and is a longtime observer of Chinese environmental and climate policy. For several years Sandalow has tracked China’s progress in his annual Guide to Chinese Climate Policy. This overview of the 2019 edition, which includes for the first time a chapter on the environmental impact of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, hits the highlights of the report, providing a clear-eyed, comprehensive, and data-heavy picture of China’s efforts to date. Three short presentations and a panel discussion follow, but Sandalow’s opening presentation (from 5:00 to 24:00) is particularly rewarding.


II.

On The Civil Unrest in Hong Kong

Robert Koepp of The Economist offers an admirably dispassionate presentation examining the multiple factors contributing to the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong, indulging in neither the narrowly economic explanations favored by Beijing, nor the blithe cheerleading for youthful democratic aspirations favored by many commentators.


III.

Railroads and the Transformation of China

The podcast series New Books in East Asian Studies is an indispensable resource for busy academics looking to keep current on the literature. This particular conversation with Elisabeth Köll is especially rewarding. Her book, Railroads and the Transformation of China, offers the first comprehensive history in any language of railroads, from the late Qing to the present day. The author treats railroads as an institution, and the development of this particular institution provides an excellent lens through which to view the transformation of Chinese society and economy. The interviewer’s familiarity with the book, and the author’s ability to offer succinct and articulate answers, makes this not only an edifying but also a deeply enjoyable listen.


IV.

Hong Kong, China, and the Nationalist Moment

University of Chicago historian Jake Werner has produced a growing body of critical work looking at contemporary Chinese politics and U.S. – China relations from a perspective that is careful, balanced, and historically-informed – but that is also unambiguously of the left. In this podcast, he examines the Hong Kong unrest through this lens, looking at attenuating social mobility, intensifying competition, and competing nativist/nationalist challenges to the cosmopolitanism of a crumbling neoliberal order. He speaks with a refreshing candor about anti-mainlander bigotry in the Hong Kong protests as a manifestation of this nativist reaction.


V.

Inside China’s Staggeringly Profitable Influencer Economy

This year, China’s influencer economy is tipped to reach $43 billion, in endorsement and sponsorship deals for the ever-growing ranks of online celebs on WeChat and Douyin (the Chinese app marketed outside China as TikTok) to livestreamers on YY. This is no mere “weird China” story about the strange world on the other side of the “Great Firewall” but is instead, in all likelihood, a glimpse of a future to which the West is, like it or not, also inevitably headed. Disclaimer: this piece was published on SupChina, my employer.


VI.

To Get Rich Is Glorious: Challenges Facing China’s Economic Reform and Opening at Forty

This collection of essays features writings by some of the most highly-regarded academics writing on the Chinese economy today, including Barry Naughton, Yasheng Huang, David Dollar, and Victor Shih. The introductory essay by Jacques deLisle and Avery Goldstein provides a succinct overview of the forty years since Deng Xiaoping’s inauguration of the era of reform and opening, eloquently framing the major issues that China continues to face in the Xi Jinping era.


VII.

The Art of Political Control in China

As civil society advances, authoritarianism retreats – or so the Whiggish notions informing modernization theory would have us believe. Dan Mattingly has advanced a very different idea: that in China (and other authoritarian states), civil society organizations are often coopted as instruments of state control. Well-argued and bracing.


VIII.

China in a World of Orders: Rethinking Compliance and Challenge in Beijing’s International Relations

In the last two years a debate has raged over the question of whether, or to what extent, China is a revisionist power. Does China seek to supplant the United States, or to overthrow the “rules-based international order” that has notionally prevailed since the end of the Cold War? Or does China only seek, as Jessica Chen Weiss has argued, to “make the world safe for autocracy”? Alastair Iain Johnston weighs in with this thoughtful paper, challenging as ahistorical the casual equation of the international order, on the one hand, and U.S. interests, on the other, and even more fundamentally, rejecting the idea that a single international order existed in the first place. Johnston posits that there are at least eight international orders – military, trade, information, to name a few – and that China accepts some and rejects others.


IX.

Maoism: a Global History

Julia Lovell discusses her book on Maoism not only in China, but its stubborn and – given its death toll in Mao’s own country – surprising popularity among revolutionary movements from the Khmer Rouge to Peru’s Sendera Luminosa to the longstanding insurgencies in Nepal and Northeastern India. Lovell is highly listenable and articulate, and the sound quality of this podcast is top-notch.


X.

How is China Advancing Its Space Launch Capabilities

This CSIS overview of China’s space capabilities is an excellent one-stop explainer with ample data. Be sure to listen to the podcast, linked toward the bottom of the article, featuring CSIS’s Bonnie Glaser interviewing Todd Harrison and Kaitlyn Johnston.


More by Kaiser Kuo – from our Stacks

Our archive of high-quality content across text, video and audio – our “Living Syllabus” as we call it – has already reached over 10,000 items and grows larger every week.

Here are some recent pieces by or featuring Kaiser from those archives:


More About our Cyberflâneur Series

To learn more about how this particularly eclectic edition of our syllabi works, head over here. Note that if you subscribe to any of our weekly syllabi, we’ll keep you posted on our latest cyberflâneurs too.

You can also take a look at the previous versions of the Cyberflâneur: Brian Eno, Hito Steyerl, Adam Tooze, Rana Foroohar, Samuel Moyn, Rem Koolhaas, Paul Mason, Shehla Rashid, Holly Herndon & Matt Dryhurst, Raquel RolinkLaleh Khalili, Zephyr Teachout, Quinn Slobodian, and Katrina Forrester.


Scroll to Top