Anthony Kuhn | WABE 90.1 FM

Anthony Kuhn

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Bejing, China, covering the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Throughout his coverage he has taken an interest in China's rich traditional culture and its impact on the current day. He has recorded the sonic calling cards of itinerant merchants in Beijing's back alleys, and the descendants of court musicians of the Tang Dynasty. He has profiled petitioners and rights lawyers struggling for justice, and educational reformers striving to change the way Chinese think.

From 2010-2013, Kuhn was NPR's Southeast Asia correspondent, based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Among other stories, he explored Borneo and Sumatra, and witnessed the fight to preserve the biodiversity of the world's oldest forests. He also followed Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, as she rose from political prisoner to head of state.

During a previous tour in China from 2006-2010, Kuhn covered the Beijing Olympics, and the devastating Sichuan earthquake that preceded it. He looked at life in the heart of Lhasa, Tibet's capital, and the recovery of Japan's northeast coast after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Kuhn served as NPR's correspondent in London from 2004-2005, covering stories including the London subway bombings, and the marriage of the Prince of Wales to the Duchess of Cornwall.

Besides his major postings, Kuhn's journalistic horizons have been expanded by various short-term assignments. These produced stories including wartime black humor in Iraq, musical diplomacy by the New York Philharmonic in Pyongyang, North Korea, a kerfuffle over the plumbing in Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Pakistani artists' struggle with religious extremism in Lahore, and the Syrian civil war's spillover into neighboring Lebanon.

Previous to joining NPR, Kuhn wrote for the Far Eastern Economic Review and freelanced for various news outlets, including the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek. He majored in French Literature as an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis, and later did graduate work at the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies in Nanjing.

Over the weekend, China pledged tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure financing and development aid, and elicited support from scores of countries to promote economic integration and free global trade through the creation of what Beijing is calling a "new Silk Road."

U.S. diplomats staged a rare intervention to rescue the family of a human rights lawyer held in China. The attorney was released last week, after having been swept up in a two-year-old crackdown that has put most of the country's rights lawyers and legal activists out of business.

Human rights groups have been watching to see whether the Trump administration will take a more or less muscular approach to human rights in China than their predecessors, and this case highlights some of the issues at stake.

On a back street in Osaka, the sound of schoolchildren floats out of Tsukamoto Kindergarten. A cuckoo clock and a stand of bamboo sit in front of the school building's orange facade — and Astro Boy, a cartoon figure, looks down from a window.

From its exterior, there's no visible sign that the school is at the center of a scandal on which the leader of Japan has staked his political future.

The school's owner is accused of using his relationship with Japan's first family to secure a plot of land for a new, right-wing primary school at a massive discount.

A court in Indonesia has sentenced the capital's Christian governor to two years in prison for blasphemy against Islam, in a decision that has cheered Muslim conservatives and crushed the hopes of advocates of a more pluralistic and tolerant path for their nation.

Jakarta Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, nicknamed "Ahok", had not been expected to do time in jail, as prosecutors had sought only a suspended sentence.

Ming Jun snaps some dusty twigs and drags them indoors to cook lunch for his daughter and heat his mud brick home.

The Chinese farmer is down to his last pile of firewood, and he can't afford any more. It's just ahead of the Lunar New Year, but Ming says he feels no holiday cheer.

"Other families buy their kids meat to eat and new clothes to wear. My daughter wears old, donated clothes," he says dejectedly. "Forget it, I'm not going to visit other folks' homes. I'll just stay at home and sleep."

"The Art of the Deal" appears to have edged out the "The Art of War" for now, as the presidents of the U.S. and China spoke of agreements reached at their summit at President Trump's resort in Palm Beach, Fla., last week, including an apparent deal to cooperate in grappling with the North Korean nuclear issue.

What President Trump may refer to as "the art of the deal," his guest at Mar-a-Lago on Thursday and Friday — Chinese President Xi Jinping — might call "win-win cooperation."

In this first summit meeting between the two leaders, both sides have things they are willing to give and get. Both will be sizing the other up to see to what extent they can do business with each other.

On the afternoon of April 14, 2016, Yu Huan, 22, and his mother were working at their brake disc company in eastern China's Shandong Province, when 11 men arrived and blocked the company's entrance, set up a grill and started drinking alcohol and barbecuing outside. It was the second day in a row that they'd been harassing the family.

On the fringes of Beijing, surrounded by affluent housing compounds and the headquarters of some of China's leading high-tech firms, there's a slum folks call Didi Village.

Cars with mainly out-of-town license plates are parked under makeshift shelters outside crowded, ramshackle dwellings.

Many of the village's inhabitants are migrant workers who, until recently, worked for Didi Chuxing, China's largest ride-hailing service.

With fires crackling in the peat soils, smoke billowing up and hot ash raining down just a stone's throw from his house, farmer Arif Subandi chokes up as he surveys the scene.

"Now our land is burned, our environment neglected," he says, sobbing. "Where will my children and grandchildren go?"

The 48-year-old father of five, who lives just outside the capital of Indonesia's West Kalimantan Province on Borneo, says he doesn't have enough to support his family. He's worried about local companies trying to take the land from him.

Rex Tillerson concluded his first trip to Asia as secretary of state, sounding optimistic about the prospects for U.S. cooperation with China on the North Korean nuclear issue.

The upbeat notes he struck in Beijing contrasted with his remarks on Friday in Seoul about how all options, including military strikes against North Korea, remain on the table.

In Chinese, the back story to a movie or news item is called huaxu, or flower catkins. In other words, fluff.

That's the headline describing a video clip of me on Sina Weibo, China's answer to Twitter, and the country's main microblogging platform, with more than 500 million registered users.

The clip shows me asking a question at a government press conference on March 6. Less than a day after its posting, the clip had been viewed 5 million times.

The Indonesian island of Java has long been synonymous with coffee. But it's only in the past decade or so that Indonesians have begun to wake up and smell the coffee — their own, that is.

Big changes are brewing in the country's coffee industry, as demand from a rising middle class fuels entrepreneurship and connoisseurship.

The trend is clear at places like the Anomali Coffee shop in South Jakarta. It roasts its coffee just inside the entrance on the ground floor.

Malaysia and North Korea are wrangling over whether a man who died at the Kuala Lumpur airport last week is indeed Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Among the many countries trying to figure out what to make of it is North Korea's neighbor and sole ally, China.

Officially, China has said little except that it is closely monitoring the situation. But in China, Kim Jong Nam's apparent assassination has triggered a debate about what it means and how to respond.

President Trump spoke to around 20 world leaders before calling China's president, Xi Jinping.

But he finally did it Thursday evening.

And despite earlier remarks threatening to upend long-standing U.S. policy, Trump promised Xi that Washington will stick to the "One China" doctrine.

That policy was enacted when the U.S. established diplomatic relations with Beijing almost 40 years ago. It allows the U.S. to maintain relations with both China and a de facto independent Taiwan.

As he wends his way through the crowded alleys of a low-income neighborhood, Jakarta Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama stops to pick up a young Muslim girl in a headscarf, as residents and reporters snap pictures.

He stops at a local mosque, where an all female-percussion team strikes up a groove with drums and tambourines to cheer him on in his campaign for re-election.

None of his supporters seem to mind that Basuki, commonly known by his Chinese nickname, "Ahok," is Christian and an ethnic Chinese — the first time such a person has governed the capital.

Little white chips fly off in every direction with each blow of master ivory carver Li Chunke's chisel.

Gradually, the folds of a robe, tassels and hands of an ancient Chinese woman begin to emerge from a rough piece of ivory in front of him in his Beijing workshop.

Li says nothing looks as smooth, nothing can be carved as intricately or expressively as ivory. Wood and jade are too brittle.

"Whether I'm carving animal or human figures, I try to express their feelings," he says. "That's what Chinese consider most important."

China's police are under fire this week as citizens blast Beijing authorities' decision not to prosecute police following the death of a 28-year-old environmentalist, Lei Yang.

Many observers see this as a landmark case that flies in the face of pledges by China's leaders to prevent miscarriages of justice and curb the arbitrary exercise of state power.

Earlier this month, China's Supreme Court reversed a lower court's ruling and proclaimed Nie Shubin not guilty of raping and murdering a woman in a cornfield in northern Hebei Province more than two decades ago, in 1994.

Nie's mother, Zhang Huanzhi, has long campaigned on her son's behalf. She says she hurried to inform him of the verdict.

"I sent him a photocopy of the verdict," she says. "That is, I sent it to him by burning it. I feel he must be happy about it."

She burned the document before her son's grave, believing it would reach him in the afterlife.

Tourists are drawn to the shores of Lugu Lake in southwest China by tales of an exotic "Kingdom of Daughters," where the women of the Mosuo ethnic group head one of the world's relatively rare matrilineal societies.

In fact, the tourists have created their share of problems over the years.

The Mosuo's "walking marriages," in which Mosuo women traditionally were allowed to have multiple lovers, have enticed some tourists to try to take liberties with local women.

In the year 1054, Chinese astronomers of the Song Dynasty recorded a star in the sky so bright that it was visible to the naked eye even during daytime for several weeks.

China was the world's leading scientific power at that time. But its people also saw astronomical events as omens of earthly affairs. And so the astronomers carefully recorded the location of the star and the time it was visible.

China's ruling Communist Party is pledging tighter discipline than ever for its 88 million members and no let up in a four-year anti-corruption campaign that has seen more than 1 million officials investigated for graft.

Huang Xian'er came of age while watching Internet celebrities' streaming videos on her smartphone in western China's Yinchuan city.

"My mom knew I was watching Internet stars in school," she recalls. "She simplistically thought that all Internet stars sell clothes, get plastic surgery and all look the same."

For the past couple of decades, night owls with the munchies have flocked to a certain street in Beijing that is packed with all-night restaurants. The sidewalks are jammed with cars and have a perpetual patina of rancid-smelling cooking oil.

One of the trendier restaurants on the block is called A Very Long Time Ago. The decor is upscale Paleolithic, with silhouettes of cavemen traipsing across the walls. The clientele is not so fossilized. They're mostly 20-somethings who roast skewers of food over hot coals.

The relationship between the U.S. and China these days is fraught with political tensions. But both countries are committed to sending more of their young people to study language and culture in each other's countries — and a component of that is sending more U.S. minority students to China.

That's both to provide more students of color with the opportunity to study overseas, and to create a student body abroad that is more representative of U.S. diversity.

According to China's education ministry, 21,975 American students studied in China in 2015.

China was rattled physically and politically Friday by North Korea's nuclear test, its second this year and fifth overall. It caused a magnitude 5.3 seismic event that caused strong tremors in towns and cities on the border between the two countries, according to the Chinese media.

But as with previous tests, it's unlikely to provoke a strong Chinese response.

Autograph-seeking fans and journalists thronged China's newly minted Olympic sensation, 20-year-old swimmer Fu Yuanhui, at the Beijing airport on Tuesday.

Just days after editors ended publication of China's leading liberal history journal last month, a new edition of the magazine is out again. But the original publishers are calling this a pirate edition — and they're preparing to fight it in court.

The magazine, the Annals of the Chinese Nation, or Yanhuang Chunqiu in Chinese, is seen as the standard bearer of the embattled liberal wing of China's ruling Communist Party. The publication has made bold calls for democratic reforms and questions the party's version of history.

At first glance, it looks like an ordinary gym class at a public school in Yibin, a city of about a million people in southwest China's Sichuan province.

But then you notice that the students are wearing signs: "Nitrate," "Sulfate," "Phosphate." In their game of tag, they chase the classmates they need to start a chemical reaction.

This is how gym and chemistry classes are combined at the Cold Water Well Middle School. Upstairs, in a combined history and math class, students use statistics to find patterns in the rise and fall of nations.

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