Over 20 years covering China, travel, and culture for publications across the Americas, Asia, and Europe. Author of multiple books on China.
Germany’s Covid-delayed 389-year-old Passion Play brings half a million visitors to a village, as a cast of 1,800 fulfils a promise made during plague
This year, for the 42nd time in nearly four centuries, much of the population of the Bavarian village of Oberammergau will skip school or take time off work to perform a Passion Play - a staging of the story of the last days of Jesus Christ.
During over 100 performances from May to October the play will bring half a million visitors to a village of 5,000 people, in what has become both one of Europe's greatest pilgrimages and one of its hottest tickets.
The Last Days of Roger Federer: And Other Endings by Geoff Dyer is not a book about tennis but about the ‘things one comes around to at last’
Despite its title, Geoff Dyer’s The Last Days of Roger Federer is not a book about tennis, but rather, as the 63-year-old writer of other equally hard-to-classify non-fiction puts it, about “things one comes around to at last, late in the day, things one was in danger of going to one’s grave without having read or experienced”.
More than 150 years after British and French troops sacked and razed the Summer Palace, in Beijing, the incident is regularly revisited in the Chinese press. Articles usually appear around the October anniversary of the destruction, after yet another announcement of plans to catalogue looted antiquities now overseas, or when Summer Palace items appear at foreign auction houses.
As well as their incomplete and inaccurate descriptions of the palace and its destruction, these stories often contain transparently false accusations against foreign institutions holding collections of Chinese treasures, as well as unsustainable claims of a legal right to them and demands for their uncompensated return.
In pre-reunification Berlin, a handful of officers from East Germany's much-feared secret police, the Staatssicherheitsdienst or Stasi, and workers in their private compound, would regularly sit down in a specially reserved conference room to discuss not police work, nor politics, but poetry.
‘I’m the worst daughter ever,” says Delia Hou over the music of a tango orchestra. The lissome 35-year-old Taiwanese-American quotes her parents: “You graduated once and you’re still not married. You graduated twice and you’re still not married.”
Ms. Hou has degrees in astrophysics and law, but here in a milonga, or tango-dancing club, they are forgotten. She and other Asian milongueras speak of the dance in almost metaphysical terms.
“Tango is about what you really genuinely want but you don’t even dare to admit,” says Ms. Hou. “Here you are, you don’t have a serious respectable job, you’re spending your evenings pressing your body against strange men. It’s not really typically Asian behavior.”
Hollywood has long been willing to censor itself to enter profitable markets, having forbidden negative depictions of Mexicans in the 1920s, when that market mattered, and adapted films to Nazi wishes in the 1930s – not only for Germany but for worldwide distribution.
“The quickest defence that a lot of people in Hollywood make when I ask about the concessions they’ll make to China is that Hollywood has always made concessions to the global marketplace and you’re a bad businessman if you don’t,” says Schwartzel.
The internet’s ‘evil’ designers made it as addictive as opioids. But is it also ‘a delayed achievement of the Enlightenment’?
The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is: A History, A Philosophy, A Warning by Justin E.H. Smith pub. Princeton University Press
If you’re feeling a vague sense of disquiet at the omnipresent and invasive nature of the internet, reading this book may make clear exactly what it is you dread.
As Justin E.H. Smith, a professor of the history and philosophy of science at the University of Paris, points out, we are so distracted by the internet, and distracted so thoroughly, that we often fail even to notice we are being distracted.
In all but the largest of China's treaty ports there was a hunger for new faces, for news of home and details of the latest shows in London’s West End. Visitors might hop along the coast by steamer, bearing introductions from newly made acquaintances at the last port to friends of friends at the next, all eager for the novelty of new acquaintance.
When translating Chinese into English could be dangerous – Britain’s failed 1793 embassy to China seen through interpreters’ eyes
Britain's Lord Macartney's interpreters for his embassy to China's Qianlong emperor were an exiled Chinese priest and a boy who'd had a crash course in Mandarin
The priest stayed on in China but was a wanted man; the boy grew up, went back there, translated for a second embassy but fled after threats from the emperor
The Perils of Interpreting - The Extraordinary Lives of Two Translators between Qing China and the British Empire by Henrietta Harrison, pub. Princeton University Press
As its title suggests, Stephen C. Angle's new book is not simply an introduction to Confucianism - although it functions very well as that - but a prospectus for it.
Why Unesco can do little to prevent World Heritage sites being destroyed – nowhere is that shown better than in China
In the nearly 50 years since the creation of the Unesco World Heritage List, in 1972, it has grown to include some 1,154 cultural and natural properties in 167 countries. But the big news at the World Heritage Committee's recent 44th meeting was not the accession of 34 new sites to the list, but rather the deletion of one - only the third time this has occurred in the programme's history.
Despite a reputation for difficulty as old as the book itself, the centenary of its publication on February 2, 1922 should be nudging everyone to give this most famous of all Irish novels a first (or second) glance.
Ulysses is one of those volumes that, like tomes by Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard and Proust, is to be kept visible under the undergraduate’s arm or in the bicycle basket. It’s the intellectual equivalent of having a sports car to impress.
"The whole purpose of CERN has always been, 'What are the building blocks of the universe? What are the Lego bricks that you can no longer break any more?'" says Goldfarb.
So by the end of my visit am I going to understand the origins and the meaning of the universe?
"Oh yes," says particle physicist Steven Goldfarb, cheerfully. "We can get that done in the first five minutes."
It seems to have passed by largely unnoticed, but 2021 was the European Year of Rail, an initiative intended to promote trains as a relatively sustainable form of travel and reintroduce them to the youth, who in recent decades have instead taken to the skies with Europe’s innumerable budget airlines.
Professor rewrites the history of disease and explains why Covid-19 was inevitable – we’re living in a bugs’ world
Classics professor Kyle Harper gives a lucid historical account of how diseases spread and how they shaped the development of human societies.