ChinaTalk's Year in Review
Reflections on a difficult year in China-watching, best of the newsletter and podcast, and plans for 2023
2022 was not an easy year to be a China analyst. It was painful to watch from afar this year’s lockdowns and protests. The 20th Party Congress gave us the worst of all possible outcomes for China’s domestic governance trajectory. The buildup over Pelosi’s Taiwan visit and seeming normalization of discussions about war in both Washington and Beijing was troubling to say the least. I’m pessimistic US-China relations will hit an inflection point anytime soon. Covering these storylines on ChinaTalk, week after week after week, took a toll.
I recently read a book by an American historian of Spain who started studying the country in the 1950s. In the early years of his career, American academics held an essential place in the discussion as Spanish scholars during Franco could not safely write about contemporary issues. But “by the 1980s,” he wrote, “the era had passed in which foreign Hispanists might play a dominant role in the historiography dealing with contemporary Spain, given the democratization of the country and great expansion of research and publication by Spanish historians, more interested in contemporary history than in any other period.”
I could not do this work without my US passport. I’m thankful I live in a country where I don’t have to look over my shoulder writing about politics and technology and look forward to the day when my coverage gets blown out of the water by Chinese nationals able to write without second-guessing themselves. But until then, ChinaTalk’s coverage will remain essential to informing the global conversation. I’m deeply grateful for all of your support that makes this work possible.
ChinaTalk in Review
ChinaTalk’s coverage of the US semiconductor export controls was some of the best on the internet. After the regs dropped, I hosted an "emergency" podcast with former BIS official Kevin Wolf, broke news about the impact of the US Persons clauses on the Chinese semiconductor ecosystem, assembled a roundtable with the ‘Chips Avengers’, translated elite Chinese responses to the policy, and then wrote what I think is the defining piece on the long term implications of the actions.
Beyond just export controls, I expanded coverage to the full gamut of America’s competitive response to China. That included extensive coverage of the CHIPS Act and broader semiconductor industry, efforts to reform the State Department, and the analytical holes that underlay the basis for much of America's policy towards China and technology.
ChinaTalk featured deep coverage of the ‘White Paper Movement’. I wrote a column the weekend of the protests and put out an interview with Ling Li on how the CCP would react. We also translated viral social media posts and ran a fantastic guest column by ‘Munching Rhino Sausage’.
The best podcast I’ve recorded in years was with Paul Kennedy sharing memories of the late historian Jonathan Spence. The other gem this year was my discussion with artist Arnold Chang and MET curator Joseph Scheier-Dolberg on how Chinese landscape painting survived the 20th century.
The weekend following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, I recorded seven shows in two days, donating the ad revenue to charity. The episode most worth revisiting is my conversation with Adam Tooze and Matt Klein which captures the fear of the moment.
Blown away by the progress in diffusion and large language models in the past few months, I’ve added more AI coverage to the mix as I try to grapple with what the technology means for US-China and society more broadly. I’ve put out one show on the military implications of AI, another on AI and creativity, and have five shows in the tank you’ll be hearing in the coming weeks featuring everyone from think tankers to rabbis meditating on what change AI might bring.
My deepest piece of public writing was a submission for Open Philanthropy’s Cause Exploration Prize entitled War Between the US and China: A case study for epistemic challenges around China-related catastrophic risk. In this essay, I argued for renewed investment in China Studies as a pathway to reduce catastrophic risk or, for that matter, increase US competitiveness. I also collected my advice for aspiring China analysts entitled China Policy: an Early Career Guide and put out a piece in Foreign Policy elaborating on the ‘NATO for Trade’ theme called Only a Financial NATO Can Win the Economic War.
The newsletter ran fantastic guest columns on smart cities, the 20th Party Congress, China’s masculinity crisis, and China’s lessons from the USSR’s fall. We put out translations of Party Congress analysis, a leading CCP scientist on China’s S&T failings, as well as roundups on elite responses to the midterms and export controls.
After a pretty flat first half of the year, newsy coverage and tweet threads drove the free subscriber count from 13,000 in September to 19,762 today (so close!).
ChinaTalk now occupies a leading place in the global China discussion. We dive deep, surfacing the best thinking on China and US technology policy and giving it space to breathe through the podcast and newsletter. In turn, ChinaTalk supplies critical context for policymakers, journalists, academics, and business leaders.
ChinaTalk’s coverage today is more important than ever. To build off this past year’s momentum, I’m hoping to devote more of my time and keep growing the team to increase the scope and depth of ChinaTalk’s coverage. However, this can’t happen without more financial support.
So, please consider
Upgrading to a paid subscription
Subscribers receive access to an ad-free podcast feed, a subscriber-exclusive chat within the Substack app, my eternal gratitude, and starting this year, exclusive paywalled content.
Telling one person you know to check out ChinaTalk
Newsletters and podcasts don’t really go viral like YouTube channels. People forwarding these emails is the main way I grow! I have to believe that you, loyal ChinaTalk reader, have at least one other person in your life who would enjoy this newsletter. So do:
Advertising on ChinaTalk
Next year, we’ll be starting to incorporate more native advertising, co-creating sponsored content and, where the fit is right, paid interviews.
The ChinaTalk audience is as influential as it gets. Thousands of senior government officials and business leaders rely on ChinaTalk to inform their decision-making. From key leadership in the White House to senior appointees, career officials at every relevant US agency, and senior Congressional staff, ChinaTalk readers quite literally write the policies that govern America’s relations with and response to China. And it’s not just in the US; half of the podcast’s listenership is abroad, with policymakers from capitals and embassies around the world engaging regularly with the platform.
ChinaTalk boasts deep readership in C-suites and executive ranks at Fortune 500 companies, the world’s largest sovereign wealth and hedge funds, as well as leading VC and PE investors.
ChinaTalk also drives coverage. For over a thousand journalists worldwide, ChinaTalk is a must-read. The newsletter boasts over a hundred active subscribers from the NY Times, WSJ, and FT alone.
Lastly, we’re launching a job board, a fantastic way to help your organization tap into ChinaTalk’s elite talent pool with deep expertise in China and technology policy.
If this is an audience you’re interested in reaching, respond to this email for a pitch deck and to start a conversation! ChinaTalk has recently brought on an experienced partnerships development professional who will be able to help bring your organization’s message to our global audience of policymakers, business executives, and key stakeholders in the China policy space.
Thanks again for your support and have a happy new year!
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I asked ChatGPT to summarize this blogpost and represent it visually, and it gave me results like this.
I kept asking ChatGPT questions along this line, and put the best results into Midjourney.
A great reflection post, Jordan!
Even US passport holders of Chinese heritage who have deep familial ties in China have a hard time speaking and writing freely due to fear of retaliation. Your work is essential.
I like the incorporation of ChatGPT and an abstract rendition from Midjourney of your journey into your post!