The Other China

The Other China is not the China of stentorian slogans, cutting barbs, sarcastic put-downs. It is not the China of clichéd patriotism and exaggerated public performance; nor is it the China of crude stereotypes and bottomless grievance. It is a China of humanity and decency, of quiet dignity and unflappable perseverance. It is a China that finds expression in myriad ways in a country dominated by a political party that would bend all to its will; it is a China that survived the depredations of the Mao era (1949-1978) and increasingly flourished during the decades of reform from 1978 to 2008.

The Other China is not limited to the People’s Republic of China, for it is part of a global culture unique to itself but also with universal aspirations and appeal.

Throughout the Xi Jinping era Official China strains to impose uniformity on the Chinese world. In its attempts discipline, corral and silence the voices of difference, The Other China, or what elsewhere we have referred to as the Invisible Republic of the Spirit, an ‘inland empire’ if you will, persists; cowed at times it proves to be resilient. Long after the droning monotone of Xi Jinping and his minions has died down, The Other China will flourish in variegated and ever-newer ways.

China Heritage is devoted to listening to and understanding aspects of The Other China. Many of our essays, translations and commentaries offer access to, as well as insights into China’s parallel worlds and in this section of China Heritage we focus on works and creators who advance our understanding of the rich and evolving Chinese multiverse.


‘How would you explain the three Covid years to a rabbit?’ Painting by Lao Shu 老樹, late winter, Year of the Tiger


It is over forty-five years ago since, after three years at Maoist universities in the mid 1970s, I had my initial encounter with ‘The Other China’. It was in the home of the renowned translators Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang and, through the warm embrace of their friendship, I was granted entry to a realm that existed both in parallel to, and often in spite of, Official China:

‘From the dying days of the Cultural Revolution, Xianyi and Gladys’ sitting room became the scene of a unique and unforgettable salon, for Chinese and non-Chinese friends and visitors alike. It was also something of an alien realm, a post-colonial ‘extra-territorial zone’, for although the Yangs were still under constant surveillance, even their past minders, keepers and in some cases oppressors would out of curiosity and wonderment come calling, sometimes sincerely to pay their respects. As time went on and as the shrill nonsense of Maoist revolution faded both from reality and from memory many who had shunned the Yangs in the past, or those who had been given the cheerless task of making their lives a misery, began to sense that what had been of such moment was merely transitory folly, while the world of letters and conversation, understanding and engagement represented by Gladys and Xianyi would outlast them all.’

The People’s Republic of Wine, China Heritage Quarterly, March 2011

In China Heritage ‘The Other China’ both celebrates and strives to introduce readers to that invisible republic of the spirit.

The lively tension between Substance, Shadow and Spirit 身、影、神, as revealed in the poetry of Tao Yuanming, best reflects my notion of The Other China. While aspects of the The Other China can be conveyed in words 言傳 yán chuán, others call for an intuitive appreciation 意會 yì huì.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
January 2023


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晴耕雨讀  日知所亡 ‘Work the fields when the skies are clear and read at home when the weather is inclement. With each passing day you will learn something new.’ Calligraphy by Dasheng Liu Chan 大生劉蟾



Also published in China Heritage

明月飛天際 潮頭湧到門前 ‘The shining moon flees to heaven’s horizon as the tide surges at the doorstep’ — after Matsuo Bashō 松尾芭蕉 and in the hand of Dasheng 大生 (Liu Chan 劉蟾)