In this essay for The New York Review of Books I look at a arts and culture space in Xi’an that is managing to keep the spirit of debate alive in China.

The essay is part of a series I do for the Review on public intellectuals in China, and how they’re surviving these difficult times–arguably the worst in the 40-years since the Reform and Opening period began. Three of the people in the article have separate Q&As on the magazine’s blog (NYR Daily), grouped in the “Talking About China” series that I started in 2011. (Two of the Q&As have been published; one is in the queue.)

As always, a series like this is only possible thanks to the support of many people. The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting covered my travel costs with this grant, while the Magnum Photos nominee Sim Chi Yin took time from her busy schedule to shoot portraits of the main characters as well as pictures of the space.

Mostly, thanks also to the Review, which indefatigably has kept up its tradition of reported pieces on oppressed communities. Thanks to Matt Seaton and the other editors at the NYR Daily for running the Q&As, and Michael Shae and Gabe Winslow-Yost for their edits of the essay. Not many magazines run this sort of work anymore–the space for it shrinking, not to mention the pay–but the Review perseveres! 

Note that this piece is paywalled but will be made available by the good folks at ChinaFile in 30 days. Check here in mid-May.

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