Introducing: The Chaoyang Review of Books
A new Chaoyang Trap series. Write reviews for us!
In the house this week: Everyone.
Krish: Hello. This is an announcement.
Tianyu: We’re starting a regular series of reviews here on Chaoyang Trap. It’s called The Chaoyang Review of Books. Or for short, just The Chaoyang Review. Of Everything.
The format is simple: Three 600-word reviews per episode, covering anything worth consideration and critique in Chinese contemporary culture. From apps, comics, beers, exhibitions and escape rooms to films, video games, and wanghong restaurants.
We’re open to submissions. We pay 75 USD (500 CNY) on acceptance.
Krish: The “review” is an exercise in paying attention. If there’s something (anything) that ties our chaotic newsletter together, it is this discernment towards what feels under-explored in English writing about China. Cultural critique—rigorous, reflective, current—felt like a big one.
Krish: It’s a specific lack we’ve all observed from our various perches within Chinese subcultures. The ground for independent critique in China has largely been ceded to platforms and gatekeepers. Tied permanently to ratings-based platforms like Dianping or Douban, the “review,” such as it is, often fails to distinguish between “i don’t like this” and “this is not good.”
More seriously, what passes as common knowledge within scenes, be it toxic masculinity inside Chinese indie music, or complicity/disavowal in Chinese art museums, stays silo-ed and rarely brought up in public-facing critical evaluations.
Sometimes it feels like the Chinese web is structured to feed desires, creating fandoms that become fiefdoms, paranoid and sensitive to evaluation.
Criticality itself is thriving, but the too-online in China (i.e. us) learn to read it in absence, in shifting incompleteness and skepticism. You learn to “feel” a lack of response as a stand-in for critique, reading silence as a scream. What our new senpai Margaret Hillenbrand calls “looming at the edge of outcry.”
Emily: With increasingly rampant ads and sponsored content on Xiaohongshu/Douyin there's hardly ever "genuine" reviews anymore. No one even remembers that XHS started as a “Yelp mixed with Tripadvisor” platform for reviews.
Krish: This, then, is our attempt at putting it all on some kind of record
on the blockchain? The hope is that our choice of review subjects (and our multi-voiced perspective) can highlight the overlooked, analyze the popular, and reflect unfolding reactions. At the very least, maybe we can help create a more info-rich, expansive idea of where the actual cultural conversation on the Chinese web is. Maybe we can stop people from recommending the same dad-rock band everytime the music scene comes up. Maybe we can stop celebrating the mere existence of culture in China, and demand more.
“HOW 2 PITCH??”
Send us reviews! Review everything!
Jaime: NO MORE "here are six Fujianese underground acts you should know about." ONLY "this band sucks and this is why."
Simon: Chaoyang Trap reviews other traps, i.e. Thucydides Trap.
Krish: Just email us with your idea and a few lines about your approach. We’ll aim to reply to everyone but we’re slow and sad. =( :(
If you’ve read us regularly, you know that we love the niche, the underground, and the obscure. But not all review subjects have to be! Each contribution will receive the full group chat treatment, with tangents and love and sidenotes. If it works, every episode will look something like 4Columns.
To pitch reviews, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with a few lines on what you intend to review and how.
Read past issues to get a sense of how we write, or 4Columns for how we wish we wrote. We pay 500 RMB (75 USD) for a 600-word review. This is paid on acceptance of pitch. The bulk of editing and conversation will happen post-payment!
You own all rights to anything you produce.
Reviews are going to be a big part of how we move forward.
Krish: Our mainstay is still the sprawling deep-dive, but it’s been a struggle for us to keep them going. We’re now scattered across seven time zones, making our usual “2am text rant” and “see you in maizidian in 20 mins” methods unfeasible. Writing in self-contained “seasons” was our way of recognizing our transient, precarious lives, and Season 3, if we get there, will have to look different.
We’ve got a few more regular novella-sized episodes on the way, including a season two finale in June. After that, who knows. It’s all murky. As my favourite Youtuber puts it: “you give the Internet your soul, it gives you back an abyss.”
At least this way, we get to rate the abyss.
Tianyu: The first Chaoyang Review drops next week. See you then!