So, you wanna learn about China, but you can barely read Chinese street signs, much less longform. Well, that’s ok! There’s plenty of English-language coverage to keep you busy. You can also console yourself with the fact that there’s actually a lot of news about China you can only get in English!
- The godfather of Chinese mailing lists. Frequently running over three thousand words, its forte is hard politics, but also has links to economic, tech, and culture news. To get up to speed, there’s no better way than investing a few mornings a week to reading Sinocism and the links you find interesting. While I do find it a little odd to be paying for links as opposed to the subscribing, what you’re paying for is his curation and commentary. After most news articles, he’ll write a few sentences or paragraphs giving you a sense of why this story is important, how it relates to broader trends, or just a bit of snark to keep you going. Bill Bishop plays the same role Mike Allen has for years on his Politico and later Axios morning briefs: his newsletter arrives in every important inbox for US-China relations, and he frames what matters and what doesn’t in China news.
- If you can’t bring yourself to spend the $100+/year that Sinocism wants out of you, Bill Bishop does an abbreviated weekly summary out of Axios you can find here. https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-china
- With a more reliable daily publishing schedule and featuring original reporting that Sinocism lacks, SupChina also delivers the goods as a general interest China newsletter. It tends to clock in at a more manageable 600 or so words per email, while still giving you enough links for you to find one or two pieces worth clicking through. Plus, unlike Sinocism, it’s free!
- South China Morning Post newsletters
- Fears around Alibaba buying the formerly independent Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post have so far proven unfounded—it still produces some of the best English-on the ground reporting of mainland China.
Society and Culture
If you’re living in China, it really behooves you to follow this sort of stuff. What’s been most rewarding personally is not actually the hard news about politics, but the softer content. Through culture, society and tech newsletters you just get a better sense of what’s going on around you. You’ll know what are the new cool apps, what tv shows everyone’s watching, and what folks are actually talking about. This will hopefully start a virtuous cycle where you start using more Chinese apps, watching more Chinese tv, and keep improving your Mandarin. Plus, if you’re sick of talking about where you’re from and whether you like Chinese food, you can use the stuff you get interested in through these newsletters for new topics of conversations with Chinese people.
- A monthly newsletter on what Chinese people think about trending topics. Ma Tianjie, though Shanghai-native who never studied abroad, has better English style than any other of the newsletters linked to here.
- What’s on Weibo
- Led by the indefatigable Manya Koetse, What’s on Weibo give you updates on what’s trending on Weibo, “China’s Twitter” but so much more than that. Topics often include issues that are quickly scrubbed from the internet, but that your Chinese friends are doubtless discussing.
- Sixth Tone
- This Shanghai-based outlet features some of the best reporting on social issues and trends in China. Be advised, however, that this is a news organization based in the mainland and faces the sorts of obstacles you might expect from reporting in a country without a free press.
- Magpie Kingdom
- A well-written occasional newsletter covering a wide variety of social issues, usually with some digital connection, facing modern China. Past topics have included trending tv shows and video games, shopping habits, gaokao and hip hop.
- Radii China
- A culture-focused site. I particularly appreciate Adan Kohnhorst’s obsessive attention to Chinese hip hop.
- A monthly newsletter round-up of non-fiction writing in Mandarin. Great for finding little bits of interesting and relevant Chinese to try your Mandarin on.
Tech and Economics
- Strong English-language straight news reporting on the Chinese economy. It comes at 200$/year, or $50/year at a student rate.
- China Hive
- A weekly roundup of the biggest tech stories coming out of China. It’s brief, to the point, and well presented.
- 996, written by a former reporter for The Information who now works at GGV capital, treads similar ground as the Hive. Do note that this is a VC’s production, not a news outlet, so their reporting may at times be shaded by their investment interests.
- Abacus News
- A new venture by the South China Morning Post to cover Chinese tech. I’ve personally enjoyed its gaming coverage.
- Another new independent news outlet focusing on tech.
- Another new independent news outlet focusing on tech which has been around longer and is a little more developed than Pandaily. Plus it has a Chinese version if you’re looking for articles with translation to practice.
Podcasts (I linked to the websites, just search the names on your podcast app of choice)
- Sinica Podcast
- The granddaddy of Chinese podcasts, Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn interview guests across the spectrum of China issues. After over a decade of putting out a weekly show, they’re real pros and know If you’re made it to this link, you’ve probably already subscribed to them.
- The Little Red Podcast
- Another well-executed generalist interview-based China podcast hosted by two journalists. The Australian accents are a plus!
- New Books on East Asia Studies
- Leisurely interviews with the authors of recent academic books from a wide range of fields on East Asia. Hit or miss, but the hits give you access to knowledge you’re not going to come across anywhere else unless you’re the type of person who, say, reads early 20th-century Chinese children’s picture books in their spare time? If you think ROK and Japan are lame there’s enough of a back catalog to keep you busy with just China topics, though the comparative perspective can prove interesting at times.
- Think tank podcasts usually underwhelm…but not this one! ChinaPower focuses mainly on Chinese foreign relations. A subject-matter expert in her own right, CSIS’ Bonnie Glaser has a real touch for interviewing. She strikes a great balance of developing questions to make sure they’re interesting while not too often inserting her views in the discussion and getting in the interviewer’s way. Her audio quality also is second to none.
Econ and Tech
- (Please excuse the shameless self-promotion) ChinaEconTalk is an interview-based podcast in the model of Russ Roberts’ EconTalk covering everything from the tech startup scene to macroeconomics. Shows last around 45 minutes and close with the subject’s favorite Mandarin-language song. I try to find interesting guests, do alot of prep, and let them do the talking.
- 996 Podcast
- Hourlong interviews with leading CEOs and investors about tech in China. Be mindful of the fact that this is run by a VC firm, not a media outlet, so sometimes they omit asking potentially awkward questions (i.e. not probing a senior person at Bytedance about government-required shutdowns). Overall a good window into China’s tech landscape.
- Caixin-Sinica Business Brief
- More akin to a news broadcast than a freewheeling podcast, the segments are a little hit and miss (I prefer to scroll through Sinocism or go to the Caixin website to read this news). If you’re looking for a more traditional straight news prodcast this is the best on offer about the Chinese economy.
- Tech Buzz China by Pandaily
- A new show brought to you by Pandaily covering one trending tech topic per week. While the delivery is still a little stilted, the show shows a lot of promise.
- A TechNode affiliated interview and discussion-based podcast. Sometimes the show drags and a few episodes have had barely audible sound, but some guests have been really interesting.
- China Money Podcast
- Focusing on the PE industry, this show suffers from PE investors simply not being the most exciting people around. But if you pick the industries you’re interested in and avoid the episodes with poor audio quality, you can definitely learn from this show.
- The Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast
- Click the link for an exceedingly endearing introduction that will hook you on the book and the narrator. The Three Kingdoms is a 14th-century novel, a classic of world literature, featuring more backstabbing and bloodshed than the reader has any right to deserve. Host John Zhu isn’t quite reading an audiobook, rather he’s retelling the story for a western audience who didn’t grow up on the stories., making the story both accessible but not dumbing down the plot. If you’re a Total War fan, it will prep you for the new game.
- The History of China
- This show features weekly 45-1hr long really well-researched episodes starting from the beginning of China’s “5000 years of history” and slowly but surely working its way up to the present.
- Teacup Media
- The China History Podcast
- You’re either gunna love or hate Laszlo Montgomery…but let’s be honest, you’ll probably love him. In this podcast, Laszlo with his unrusted delivery style takes you wherever he finds interesting in Chinese history. With over 200 episodes so far, you’ll definitely find a series you’ll take to. It’s a great Mandarin learning resource as well as he takes the time to make show notes featuring all the Chinese words he uses.
- The Chinese Sayings Podcast
- Wanna learn come chengyus? In quick 10 minute episodes, Laszlo tells you some random story from the Spring and Autumn Period and teaches you a phrase you can use to show off.
- The China History Podcast
Society and Culture
- In the Name of the Podcast
- ‘In the Name of the People’ (you can watch with eng sub here) was China’s hottest show of 2017. It’s an odd blend of police procedural and Xi Jinping Anti-Corruption Campaign propaganda. Each episode of the podcast corresponds to a different episode of the show.
- WoMen podcast
- Radii China’s Yajun Zhang and Jingjing Zhang chat about social issues.
If I’ve missed anything please throw your suggestions in the comments.