Megan Shank is a wordsmith, entrepreneur and educator in New York.
October 25th, 2013

For the Los Angeles Review of Books

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As the Nobel awards approached, the Asia editors at Los Angeles Review of Books wanted to check in with Yu Hua, the spirited Chinese author of Chronicle of a Blood Merchant, To Live, and Brothers, among others, who also has a short story collection, Boy in the Twilight: Stories of the Hidden China, coming out in January. But Yu didn’t want to talk about the Nobel — “Let’s talk about literature instead. It’s more important.” Thus, Los Angeles Review of Books Asia Co-editor Megan Shank and Yu exchanged Chinese-language e-mails about history’s most over- and underrated Chinese writers, the evolution of an ancient language and why Yu will never read Anna Karenina on a cell phone. Below, Shank’s translation of excerpts from their conversation.


September 23rd, 2013

For the Los Angeles Review of Books

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“AM I MAD or is this society mad?”

One young Chinese man’s miserere echoed a nation’s widespread disillusion. In an online essay, the young man expressed feeling lost among peers devoid of traditional values. He had discovered that the academic environment lacked intellectual earnestness, and the political climate seemed bereft of meaningful vocation. Only the internet proved he was not alone — his 10-page screed garnered thousands of reposts.

November 5th, 2012

For Prospect

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At a bus stop near Beijing’s Dashanzi art district, shoppers swayed with bulging bags. Horns swelled. Trucks rumbled. Saturday. Six o’clock. Stuck.

Beside me, my friend, Wang Shuyue, murmured in the lyrical Mandarin of the capital city: “The traffic in Beijing is really over the top.” She kicked a pile of ashy fallen leaves. The days had grown short. We waited in the dark.

Beijing, once the kingdom of bicycles, is being colonised by the car: there are now more than five million in the city. Traffic has become such a problem that in January 2011 the government enforced new licence plate restrictions to ease congestion. Now over a million Beijingers compete in a monthly lottery for the right to buy a new car. About 20,000 car registrations are up for grabs each time and unfortunate would-be buyers can end up waiting for a over a year without seeing their number come up.

January 5th, 2012

For Dissent

On July 1, 2011, halfway through a speech commemorating the ninetieth anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, President Hu Jintao stressed the importance of a people-centered approach to governance. Going forward, he said, the Party must “follow the principle of putting people first…we must consult the people on policies, learn about their needs and seek suggestions from them. We must listen to their views, truthfully reflect their wishes, help alleviate their hardships, and protect their economic, political, cultural and social rights and interests in accordance with the law.” Hu called on officials to develop closer bonds with the communities they serve. Alienation from the people, he warned, “poses the greatest risk to the Party.”

That is true—but it also smacked of irony. For during the preceding four months, the Party had received many clear signals that multiple segments of the country’s population felt that it was ignoring their needs…

July 25th, 2011

For Bloomberg.com

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When serial entrepreneur George Ji Wenhong and private equity investor Huang Jin launched luxury goods and fashion clothing online retailer Xiu.com during the global recession in 2008, they relied on word-of-mouth to generate interest. “Huang was data-driven and convinced that advertising couldn’t positively impact sales, particularly in the short-run. He thought our competitors were stupid for spending so much on ads,” recalls Ji, who first met Huang when the two were roommates in college in Beijing in 1988

July 1st, 2009

For Archaeology

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From a distance, the mausoleum of China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, looks like a verdant hill, a welcome resting place among craggy peaks. According to the Han Dynasty historian Sima Qian, the unopened 2,200-year-old tomb contains countless treasures, including replicas of palaces and rivers of mercury. Other parts of the memorial complex in Xi’an have yielded incredible finds–most famously, a life-sized terracotta army 8,000 strong. A century after the emperor’s death in 210 B.C., Sima Qian wrote that it took more than 700,000 workers to complete the massive project. Though some scholars argue that number is inflated–greater than the population of any city in the world at that time–it remains widely used by Chinese historians. Even if the true number of workers at the emperor’s tomb was a fraction of that, they still represent a large and largely unknown population. Who were they? Where did they come from? Knowing their origins could tell archaeologists and historians a great deal about labor resources, movement and migration during an important period, when Qin Shihuangdi sought to expand his newly unified nation…