• Since the third edition of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know touches on current events, Jeff Wasserstrom and I knew that there was a chance something we discussed might require updating even before the book’s official publication date. My money was on Jiang Zemin going to meet Marx, but instead I woke up this morning to find that in the book’s fourth edition Jeff and I will have to tweak our analysis of Chinese leadership politics and succession, specifically the part where we speculate about what might happen when Xi Jinping’s two terms as China’s president end in 2023. We offer a couple of possible scenarios, including the one that has come true: the CCP announced today that it is ending the two-term limit on the presidency, clearing the way for Xi to stay in power indefinitely.
My take: I, and many other China-watchers, absolutely expected Xi to find a way to remain in charge, especially after he failed to appoint a successor at last October’s 19th Party Congress. Some thought Xi would hold on to power Putin-style, by designating a weak placeholder who would assume the presidency for one term while Xi called the shots from behind the scenes, biding his time until he could return to office. I always thought that eliminating the two-term limit was a possibility, but I am surprised that it happened so quickly after the start of Xi’s second term; I thought he would play coy about the succession question a while longer.
I’m sure there will be many more in-depth analyses of this move in the days to come, so for now I’ll leave you with a short roundup of reactions from Chinese internet users compiled by What’s on Weibo—including a suggestion that Xi Jinping is becoming King Winnie the Pooh. (For an explanation of the Xi Jinping-Winnie the Pooh connection, see my earlier post on the topic.)
• This week’s writing about reading: at Goodreads, I reviewed A Distant Heart by Sonali Dev and Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan.
• I was a huge ER fan back in high school and was really excited when it finally became available to stream on Hulu last month. Even as I started watching, though, I braced myself for disappointment: I’ve re-watched and re-read plenty of things that I once enjoyed, only to find that they don’t stand the test of time. ER, however—at least seasons one through five or six—is still a pretty great show, as Todd VanDerWerff writes at Vox. Yes, there are some misguided plot lines and a fair amount of melodrama, but for the most part the show feels remarkably non-dated, even 24 years after its debut. Now, having worked in an ER during college, I notice how shabby and real the ER set feels (down to the water-stained ceiling tiles) compared to the pristine facilities depicted in medical dramas like Grey’s Anatomy, and how accurately the show captures the unpredictable rhythms of an emergency department—a day can start off slow and turn chaotic with the arrival of only two or three patients. I also appreciate that nurses get the respect they’re due, rather than being unnamed background extras, since they’re the ones who handle the majority of patient care in an ER.
I was, however, a little taken aback to read that “around 5,000 Hulu subscribers finished the entire series in its first month on the service—which works out to around eight hours of ER per day.” That is … a lot of ER. I watched through the first episodes of season eight and then needed a break, so I’m taking some time off from County General right now to reacquaint myself with The O.C. (talk about melodrama …).
• If you’re a writer, I recommend reading this essay on “The Joy and Intimacy of the Personal Writing Outlet,” by Zan Romanoff at LitHub. For a while, it seemed like every writer I knew was turning away from blogging and starting his (or more commonly, her) own TinyLetter newsletter, and I probably subscribe to about 50 of them at this point. I stuck with blogging because I didn’t really see an advantage to making my erratic postings less public; it seemed like too much work to build and grow a base of TinyLetter subscribers. But I also stuck with blogging, which as Romanoff points out, doesn’t necessarily make financial sense: “Writers have had to insist vocally and persistently on the professional and economic value of what we do. But that also hasn’t stopped us from simultaneously making space to do it for free, for ourselves.”
My response to this is one that some of Romanoff’s interviewees express to her: here, I can write about whatever I want, whenever I want, and I don’t have to deal with gatekeepers (publication editors or academic peer reviewers). I can explore topics that are hobbies for me, whether that means analyzing ER or reviewing books about India and Russia. It is, I suppose, possible that an editor might let me do the latter, but not at all likely that I’m ever going to find work as a television critic. In Romanoff’s words,
These personal outlets allow us to write without having to claim professional expertise, or submit to professional editing; they encourage us to make for the fun of making, to think as an exercise in which we [are] allowed to explore widely, and conclude without a graceful kicker.
This blog, in other words, is a place where I can have fun and talk about things I find interesting but can’t claim to be an expert in, all without worrying about deadlines. That’s the best explanation I can give for why I continue to come back to it, even after long absences. I know not everything here is of interest to everyone, but thanks for reading—I really appreciate it.
Image via What’s on Weibo.