In this section you will find announcements about all project-related activities: talks, conferences, guests, and virtual events.

VLS 8: Stealthy Reading and Collective Reading in the Mao Era

2021-01-12 00:00:00 +0000

In the Mao-era, multifaceted strategies of reading were existing next to one another. The eighth session explores two such poles on the spectrum of reading acts. On the one side are hidden readings of suppressed or even forbidden texts during the radical phase of the Cultural Revolution. On the other side are officially organized group reading sessions in the mid-1970s. The first speaker, Eddy U (University of California, Davis) investigates stealthy reading of books, letters, poems, and other material practiced by victims of abuse during the Cultural Revolution for purposes of self-preservation. The second speaker, Damian Mandzunowski (University of Freiburg), analyses depictions of collective reading activities in posters and photographs created during a mass-reading campaign in 1975 to explore their integrative aspects. Both forms of reading are crucial to take into account when researching the history of reading in the Mao era. Jennifer Altehenger (Oxford University) will act as discussant.

Date: 2021-01-19

Time: 5 pm (Freiburg) / 11 am (New York) / 12 am (Beijing)

To attend: Signup once for your access code or, if you already have, directly join the session via Zoom.

Reading Literature, Reading People, and Reading Risk during the Cultural Revolution

Eddy U

Abstract:

Reading was an essential activity during the Cultural Revolution. Individuals read “big-character posters,” newspapers, and official instructions to assess danger and development. They read Mao’s works to show political devotion. They read their own confessional statement to weigh whether the content could help them fend off abuse. This paper investigates a different but no less important kind of reading for purposes of self-preservation—stealthy reading of books, letters, poems, and other material practiced by victims of abuse. Stealthy reading, which occurred between physical abuses, was crucial for restoring among the victims a sense of hope, control, and autonomy. Because the reading activities occurred surreptitiously, they inevitably involved cautious reading of people nearby and reading of potential risk of punishment. I identify three analytical different types of stealthy reading: reading as healing, reading for safety purposes, and reading for love. Evidence comes from recollections of abused writers.

I’ve Seen That Reading Group Before: Late Mao-Era Collective Reading Acts in Posters and Photographs

Damian Mandzunowski

Abstract:

Officially organized group reading sessions were a constant element in the system of political communication during the Mao era. Yet, how did ordinary women and men know what patterns of behavior were expected of them during such collective reading activities? Visual texts—films, comic books, posters and photographs—were of substantial aid. In this paper, I zoom in on posters and photographs created during the “Campaign to Study the Theories of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat 学习无产阶级专政理论运动” in early 1975. These materials, I show, were employed by state propaganda in order to re-activate memories from previous collective reading activities as well as to communicate to first-time collective readers too. The paper concludes that the relation between the visual depictions of collective reading acts to the formation of actual communities around the activity of collective reading was not only formative, but also sustaining.

VLS 7: Reading Media and Reading Places in Post-Mao China

2021-01-05 00:00:00 +0000

Media and places of reading are often seen as primarily the context of reading acts. Foregrounding these “peripheral” aspects of reading, however, will supplement our understandings of reading cultures and the social-cultural mechanisms behind reading. Moreover, analyzing media and places of reading promotes reevaluations of literary figures and literary history, brings into being new forms of reading, and constantly (re-)defines cultural legacies and cultural concepts in a rapid-changing society such as that of the post-Mao China. In the seventh session, Paola Iovene (University of Chicago) will investigate how local museums and the national radio have recreated the authorial persona of the writer Lu Yao (hailed as a “literary giant”) and popularized his fiction beyond the written page. The other speaker, Eve Lin (University of Freiburg), will discuss the vicissitudes of post-Mao China’s reading culture and its high culture legacy by tracing how the concept of “Avant-Garde” mutates over the years in bookstores. Nicolai Volland (Pennsylvania State University) will act as discussant.

Date: 2021-01-12

Time: 8 pm (Freiburg) / 2 pm (New York) / 3 am +1 (Beijing)

To attend: Signup once for your access code or, if you already have, directly join the session via Zoom.

The Making of a “Literary Giant,” or Reading Lu Yao across Media

Paola Iovene (University of Chicago)

Abstract:

Lu Yao occupies a controversial place in Chinese contemporary literary history. Born to a destitute peasant family from the area around Yan’an in 1949, he published his first novel Life in 1982, won the Mao Dun Literary Prize with the three-volume Ordinary World in 1991, and prematurely died in 1992. His work was initially met with mixed critical reactions and his name is barely mentioned in the influential History of Contemporary Chinese Literature by Hong Zicheng (1999). Nonetheless, a movie, a radio broadcast, and multiple TV series adaptations have made him popular among the youth, and from 2005 onwards, major academic conferences have been organized on his writings, biographies and critical monographs have been published, and four museums dedicated to him have been built. On the cover of the English translation of Life released by Amazon Publishing in 2019 Lu Yao is hailed as a “literary giant,” an epithet that would have been unthinkable just twenty years ago.

Based on research conducted in Shaanxi in Fall 2016, this paper investigates the reading acts that have contributed to Lu Yao’s growing fame, focusing on how local museums and the national radio have recreated his authorial persona and popularized his fiction beyond the written page. Through the case of Lu Yao, we learn how reading acts are imbricated within provincial networks that are distant from and yet connected to the capital and the wealthier coastal cities that have been the hotbed of literary experimentation over the last four decades. As the result of multiple reading acts that deliberately blur the line between the author and his fictional characters, Lu Yao is now seen as a victim of academic elitism and as a model of endurance, hard labor, and sacrifice. His recent reevaluation is an important aspect of the ongoing rewriting of the literary history of the 1980s, as he has come to epitomize a popular form of realism that was (allegedly) repressed by academically trained critics who valued modernist experimentation. Through this process, Lu Yao himself has become a quasi-fictional character at the center of a narrative pitting metropolitan elites against provincial ordinary folks, contrasting their literary tastes and needs and reclaiming a larger role for more readerly forms of writing inspired by the Yan’an Talks.

Cultural Biography of “Avant-Garde”: Reading China’s High Culture from the Intellectual Bookstore

Eve Y. Lin (University of Freiburg)

Abstract:

Bookstores are places with distinctive cultural identities where the encounter of books and reading activities are staged in a well-designed cultural atmosphere. Reading into post-Mao China’s bookstores – charting their historical development, analyzing narratives of their cultural identities and cultural images, and interpreting cultural messages through their spatial designs – reveals new forms of reading in post-Mao China’s consumerist society and its changing reading culture. Moreover, through its sensorial and symbolic space and its self-narration, the post-Mao China’s bookstore helps to define and constantly re-defines cultural legacies and cultural concepts in a rapid-changing society.

This paper explores the symbiotic state between post-Mao China’s high culture legacy (in full fledge during the 1980s) and the consumerist reading culture (deemed as rapidly taking the upper hand since the 1990s) by focusing on the development of China’s bookstores and the changed reading culture revealed in their space. While taking note of the broad historical picture of post-Mao China’s bookstores, this paper will focus on one bookstore for case study: the “Librairie Avant-Garde” (先锋书店),a typical “intellectual bookstore” with cultural reputation and historical value. Tracing how the cultural concept of “Avant-Garde” as a representative for China’s high culture legacy mutates over the years in the bookstore, this paper argues that the process of commercialization in post-Mao China does not “kill” the high culture legacy as much as casts the latter into a prolonged re-shuffling with the consumerist culture, until the distinctions between the highbrow and the popular, modernism and postmodernism, artistic/spiritual autonomy and the consumerist lifestyle become blurred and highly ambiguous. The pictures of the reading culture, and more broadly, of the entire cultural field in post-Mao China, are hence much more intertwined and complex than the one with a clear historical rupture marked by the 1980s-1990s turn.

Two Distinctions for Our Team Members

2020-12-10 00:00:00 +0000

Dr. Lara Yuyu Yang has been named Visiting Scholar at The International Center for Studies of Chinese Civilization (ICSCC) at Fudan University for a period of six months. Lara will take up her visiting scholar position in Spring 2021.

Damian Mandzunowski has been awarded the Max Weber Foundation – German Humanities Institutes Abroad China Travel Grant (Reisestipendium China) for a three-month-long fieldwork and archival research stay in China. Damian will commence the trip, if the situation allows, in March 2021.

We are very happy for both of our colleagues and look forward to seeing the results of their stays in China!

VLS 6: Digital Reading and Online Reading

2020-12-08 00:00:00 +0000

We are living in a world that has been greatly influenced, even transformed, by digital and Internet technologies in various aspects. Reading practices and studies of reading are no exception. In the 6th session, Duncan Paterson (data manager of READCHINA) will address the value of new digital approaches (adopted by the READCHINA team) in the study of reading. He will then discuss the impact and potential insights from reading born-digital texts in contemporary China. The second speaker, Dylan Suher, will unfold his studies on the “YY fiction” – a prominent genre in contemporary Chinese Internet fiction. Not only will he investigate the outline, the origin and genealogy of YY fiction, he will also suggest a re-reading of the older, allegedly realist novel as a work of YY fiction. For both speakers, digital and Internet technologies offer more than a new field in (the study of) reading, but can transform our overall perceptions on reading and on literary interpretation. Paola Iovene (University of Chicago) will act as dicussant.

Date: 2020-12-15

Time: 2 pm (Freiburg) / 8 am (New York) / 9 pm (Beijing)

To attend: Signup once for your access code or, if you already have, directly join the session via Zoom.

Glamour, Glare, and Gallantry: Reading Strategies of Contemporary Online Fiction

Duncan Paterson (University of Freiburg)

Abstract:

This paper explores how digital practices can augment our understanding of reading practices in two parts. The first part concerns digital approaches to the study of reading, as they are implemented throughout the research infrastructure of READCHINA. At its core is the research database ReadAct, which allows researchers to conduct work on heterogeneous aspects of reading in the PRC from within a unified conceptual framework. To the best of our knowledge such a formalized data-model is the first of its kind. While it is true that designing a model that balances the strict demands of machine logic and humanistic research is challenging to both machines and researchers, I argue that the two are not in opposition but mutually enhancing. Machine readers uncover hidden assumptions and argumentative weaknesses in places where human readers do not. Humanistic research questions, on the other hand, can help us to counteract algorithmic biases and reductionism.

The second part, addresses reading of born-digital texts, such as online literature, games, and augmented reality textbooks. As the sheer scale of ephemeral on-screen reading exceeds the ability of human readers to keep up, it unduly distorts our view of reading practices in contemporary China. We can address this blind-spot using the same computational tools responsible for the first non-human authors / literature bots. I argue that born-digital reading, with its distinct legal framework, social setting, and economic incentives can only partially be addressed by concepts that are rooted in the codex. A study of digital reading “on its own terms” can therefore shed light on both reading practices on screen and in print.

Lust of the Machine: The Technologies and Traditions of YY Fiction

Dylan Suher (University of Hong Kong)

Abstract:

This paper will outline “YY fiction,” a key concept in contemporary Chinese internet fiction, and trace its genealogy from the works of the internet literature writer Maoni to Lu Yao, author of realist epics of the early Reform Era, to its purported origins in the classic novel Dream of the Red Chamber. “YY” (yiyin, “lust of the mind”) is a term which is used to describe fiction which satisfies basic human needs and allows for escape into immersive fantasy. This affect is achieved in Maoni’s novel Joy of Life through sprawling, slow-paced narratives that invest heavily in “worldbuilding” and are built around a main character who serves a point of identification for the reader; it is reinforced by an interface and set of practices on the Qidian platform which encourage total and habitual immersion in a text. Although the space of YY is realized through the technologies of the internet, members of the Chinese internet literature community trace back to the quotidian wish-fulfillment of Lu Yao’s Ordinary World, and, ultimately, to the utopian reading community of Dream of the Red Chamber. Re-reading Ordinary World as a work of YY fiction offers a new interpretation of the literary ecology that shaped that novel and blurs the lines arbitrarily drawn between realism and fantasy, utopia and heterotopia.

VLS 5: Rural Reading in Maoist China

2020-12-01 00:00:00 +0000

As a site of reading and of its various representations, rural China has its own contexts and aspects. Nevertheless—or perhaps: because of it—the rural was of great significance for various reading-related campaigns and political movements of the Maoist state. In the first paper of the fifth session, Dr. Emily Graf focuses on “barefoot doctors” in the countryside in relation to reading. By investigating their double roles as both the subject of reading acts and the depicted objects in the representations of reading, Graf shows how barefoot doctors engaged in world-making practices, and asserted their place in a newly mapped world of revolutionary health. The second speaker, Dr. Sisi Dong (lecturer at Minnan Normal University), discusses the development of the Campaign to Study Mao Zedong Thought and His Works (学习毛泽东思想及其著作的运动) in southwestern China's rural societies. Focusing on a small village in Fujian province, Dong analyses the concrete reading situations, related difficulties and corresponding methods to deal with them, as well as the historical impact of the campaign at large. The discussant this week is Damian Mandzunowski, a core member of the READCHINA project.

Date: 2020-12-08

Time: 2:30 pm (Freiburg) / 8:30 am (New York) / 9:30 pm (Beijing)

To attend: Signup once for your access code or, if you already have, directly join the session via Zoom.

Self-Teaching and Self-Affirmation: Reading Barefoot Doctors and Practices of Worldmaking in the PRC

Emily Graf (Freie Universität Berlin)

Abstract:

The term “barefoot doctor” (chijiao yisheng 赤脚医生) gained currency in 1968 during the Cultural Revolution, after Mao Zedong’s Directive had insisted that medical work needed to focus on the countryside. Doctors from urban areas were increasingly “sent down” to the countryside to train individuals in basic hygiene and primary medical care, offering classes for part-time health workers, so-called “barefoot doctors”. The image of the barefoot doctor became key in visualizing the revolution of health care in the PRC. This paper investigates the imagined reading practices of barefoot doctors. Three questions lead me through this investigation, starting from a very fundamental question: Did barefoot doctors read? If so, what did they read? Manuals, textbooks and medical journals for the implied barefoot doctor as reader give insights into the making of a new kind of (medical) knowledge. Barefoot doctors were presented as autodidacts, largely self-taught through independent study of “little red (medical) books”, illustrated manuals, political texts, but above all through learning-by-doing in practicing medicine. Collective reading in groups and oral transmission broke with established knowledge transmissions based on medical texts handed down from generation to generation within families or during apprenticeships. The young, low-literate, female barefoot doctor appeared as a new reader and new actor in depictions of revolutionary medicine. Taking a further step into the visual history of barefoot doctors, I inquire how barefoot doctors were depicted as reading in texts and images that aimed for a larger readership beyond the medical field. Depicted “reading acts” by the protagonists of three comic books published in 1970, 1971 and 1976 by the Shanghai People’s Publishing House manifest the importance of such acts to communicate the equal importance of political education and medical education. They, however, also reveal the visual contradictions that arise from arguing for learning-by-doing instead of reading in medical education through the means of visualizing reading barefoot doctors. And, surprisingly, they return to the private and secret reading act as the ultimate way to gain a ‘correct’ political outlook and Weltanschauung. By investigating what barefoot doctors read or were meant to read, and how they are depicted reading, this paper shows how barefoot doctors engage in worldmaking practices, self-constituting and self-affirming their place in a newly mapped world of revolutionary health.

Learning Chairman Mao’s Works Movement in the Rural Society of Eastern Fujian in 1960s

Sisi Dong (Minnan Normal University)

Abstract:

My research focuses on the Learning Chairman Mao’s Works Movement in the rural society. Although the movement has gained much attention from contemporary researchers, most of them have relied on public archives, which means that they mainly analyzed the movements through significant changes in the political system. However, the practices of the mass in local societies are missing. Thanks to the grassroots resources that contain local historical documents from the “collective era”, in recent years, we are able to look at everyday practices in local societies. My main resources in the present research include local archival documents about the Learning Chairman Mao’s Works Movement in the collective era in S village, a village under the administration of the Yongtai County, which I discovered in eastern Fujian since 2016 during my fieldworks. I will structure my talk in four parts. The first part is about the stages of the Learning Chairman Mao’s Works Movement. Secondly, I will talk about difficulties in learning Chairman Mao’s works in rural societies. And then the third part is about the methods for solving the above problems. Finally, I will discuss the influences brought by this movement.

VLS 4: Reading Practices, Social Practices, and the Everyday

2020-11-24 00:00:00 +0000

Different from the privatized view of reading, in the Chinese cultural field, reading through a certain medium or of a certain artistic form often binds the individual to macroscopic social programs and to the politics of the everyday. In the fourth session, Haiyan Zhou will discuss how the reading of images of labor are linked to the broader image of the global socialist movement presented in newspapers in the 1950s China. The other speaker, Benjamin Kindler, will then discuss the practices of the Chinese literary form “short short story” across a long historical arc, highlighting the extend to which this form dislocates reading from its location in an individual subject, makes room for collective reading, and transforms the contents of everyday life. Robert Culp will be acting as discussant to this session.

Date: 2020-12-01

Time: 2 pm (Freiburg) / 8 am (New York) / 9 pm (Beijing)

To attend: Signup once for your access code or, if you already have, directly join the session via Zoom.

Image and Imagination: The Politics of labor in Newspaper Reading Groups (1950-1956)

Haiyan Zhou (Nanjing University)

Abstract:

The research of China’s propaganda system is an important issue in China studies. But previous research doesn’t focus on how exactly did the propaganda system influence common people, and how people in turn adopted the official discourse in their individual social practice. There are some unanswered questions. 1. How do people produce and share meaning during collective newspaper reading, which is essentially a practice of political discourse? 2. How does this discursive practice transform into other types of social practices (political, societal, cultural), depict new types of social landscape, and propel the formation of new types of social relationship? In the case study of the stories of Xigou, I will argue that images and pictures with verbal depictions have facilitated cognition, and inspired imagination and subsequent actions, which in turn contributed to a process of meaning production that influenced the society. In the 1950s, the images of labor were linked to the broader image of the global socialist movement presented in newspapers, which formed the blueprint for the future of the “new China”. By reading these stories, people could “see” a new China, see their own positions in this new China, and imagine their own lives in the future. The actions of newspaper reading groups, therefore, have played an important role in the communal imagination of the new China.

Maoist Miniatures: The Proletarian Everyday, Collective Reading and the Politics of Revolutionary Form

Benjamin Kindler (Columbia University)

Abstract:

Across an extended historical arc, from the 1930s up to the early reform period, Chinese authors and literary theorists located in “small forms” (xiao xingshi) the possibility of a cultural practice that would embody the ambitions of the total transformation of social relations. This paper develops a genealogy of one particular instance of such small forms, namely the “short short story”, which, having appeared under various names at different historical and political junctures – the qiangtou xiaoshuo, xiao xiao shuo, and weixing xiaoshuo – marks an as of yet understudied dimension of Chinese revolutionary culture. The paper undertakes this analysis from the perspective of the historical avant-garde, tracing the recurrent emergence and transformation of this form with a view to the production of a practice of reading that would not be beholden to the extended temporalities and exacting demands of the long-form novel. This fractured and uneven genealogy takes in the role of Japanese proletarian literature in China, the politics of form in the Great Leap Forward, and the relations between textual and visual media. At its most radical, the practice of the short short story sought to dislocate reading from its location in an individual subject and its temporal bifurcation from the time of labour in order that collective reading would take place in the interstices of collective labour itself, as a basis on which to transform the contents of everyday life.

VLS 3: Readership in the Context of Heightened Political Controls

2020-11-17 00:00:00 +0000

Politics has always had an impact on readership in a given society. In Maoist China, the degree of political controls over the practices of reading and communication becomes particularly interesting. The third session will reach this topic from the angles of the receivers and the reception/dissemination processes of political forces. The first talk, Peidong Sun discusses the state censorship on personal readings during the Cultural Revolution, with further suggestions on the limitations of censorship in the everyday life and reading. The second talk, given by Puck Engman, suggests an understanding of political communication in a context of “decoding.” A top-secret bulletin for the political elites will be discussed as a case, with a focus on how the intelligence provided through this bulletin is circulated and consumed. Perry Link (UC Riverside) will be acting as discussant to the session.

Date: 2020-11-24

Time: 5 pm (Freiburg) / 11 am (New York) / 12 am (Beijing)

To attend: Signup once for your access code or, if you already have, directly join the session via Zoom.

“Fragrant Flowers” and “Poisonous Weeds”: Censoring Personal Readings during the Cultural Revolution

Peidong Sun (CERI, Science Po Paris)

Abstract:

This paper studies the dynamic relationship between censorship and readership in the cultural governance of China. Using previously untapped CCP documents, private archival collections, oral history, personal and work journals, I examine the motivations, mechanisms, impact, and evolution of state censorship on personal readings during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Specifically, I explore how books that were labeled “fragrant flowers” (xiang hua 香花) and “poisonous weeds” (du cao 毒草) evinced the state’s cultural sensibility and its interactions with official censorship. On the one hand, through “singing red and striking black” (chang hong da hei 唱红打黑), the system of cultural governance was both normative and punitive: official censorship and self-censorship induced “political side-taking” (zheng zhi zhan dui 政治站队) and “habitual following” (xi guan xing jin gen习惯性紧跟) within the society, which in turn normalized political power and transformed censorship into a cultural norm. On the other hand, a thriving literary underground, as seen in the hoarding of forbidden titles and their partial unbanning since 1970, suggests the limitations of censorship and shows how networks of information percolated through official politics and entered everyday life through reading and writing.

Reading the Xuanjiao Dongtai: A Note on the General Significance of Conspiracy in the Chinese Communist Party

Puck Engman (University of Freiburg/UC Berkeley)

Abstract:

Some fifty years ago, Franz Schurmann proposed that the investigation of the Chinese Communist Party’s system of communication should move into “the context in which the decoding of communication takes place.” Today, students of Chinese political communication still favor the field of production and representation over the challenging terrain of influence and reception. Historians of the People's Republic of China have become highly sensitive to the power of language and, to a lesser degree, to how it was conditioned by the institutional context that a former aide to Premier Zhao Ziyang has labeled "documentary politics.” However, a complete understanding of political process cannot be formed on the basis of the construction of state categories alone, but requires equal attention to the means of their dissemination and how formalized language was translated into terms of everyday discourse at the level of decoding. This note represents the first few steps in the exploration of a newly available corpus: the Xuanjiao dongtai was a top secret bulletin and a must-read for members of China’s political elite between 1953 and 1966. I will look at the consumption and circulation of the intelligence provided through this bulletin at the very top of the party hierarchy and present some preliminary thoughts on how we might think of political control in the context of decoding.

VLS 2: Textuality and Materiality in Reading Practices

2020-11-10 00:00:00 +0000

Textuality and materiality are two key properties of reading practices that are often studied separately. The second session, however, engages both into discussion through back-to-back talks. In the first talk, Lena Henningsen will share her thoughts on intertextuality and transtextuality based on the reading of Chinese science fiction. In the second talk, Lara Yuyu Yang treats the second-hand book reading practices as mostly material-centred, and goes on to discuss the tension between materiality and digitalization in China’s online second-hand book reading culture. The role of discussant is taken by Michel Hockx (University of Notre Dame)

Date: 2020-11-17

Time: 3:30 pm (Freiburg) / 9:30 am (New York) / 10:30 pm (Beijing)

To attend: Signup once for your access code or, if you already have, directly join the session via Zoom.

From Intertext to Transtextuality: Reading Acts in Chinese Science Fiction as Interfaces to (World) Literature

Lena Henningsen (University of Freiburg)

Abstract:

In this paper, I propose the concept of transtextuality as an expansion of intertextuality. Transtextuality arises when two texts operate as interfaces to each other. Text and intertext open up into a transtextual space in which they mutually impact on each other, serving as interpretative frames to each other. The focus in this paper is on a particular type of intertextuality which I refer to as “reading acts”. In my analysis, these refer to scenes in which the protagonists of literary texts read other texts. The sample for this paper consists of Chinese science fiction texts. Reading acts, intertextuality and transtextuality are, of course, neither a privilege of Chinese fiction nor of Chinese science fiction. Rather, literary figures often read themselves, and science fiction seems to be a particularly intertextual genre. What I am interested in, however, are two concerns, one related to literary and intellectual history in China and one related to theorizing intertextuality, interfaces and transtextuality. I aim at situating the texts within their respective historical and literary field in order to trace which texts were popular at what times in China, how they were read and in how far this impacted both on notions of the intertext and on interpretations of Chinese literary texts. The analysis serves as an examination of the literariness, the literary status and the literary claims of the texts at hand. Employing the frameworks of the interface and of transtextuality on different forms of intertextual references in Chinese science fiction, I argue that, first, these texts provide their readers with knowledge about and interpretations of science fiction literature and beyond. Second, the texts reflect on the role of literature and, third, they make claims about their own literariness and position within the literary cosmos of their time and within the literary canon, be it a canon of science fiction literature or of world literature.

Dust Hunters in the Confucius-dot-com Era: Identity, Materiality and Sensory Attachments in Second-hand Book-reading Culture in the Time of the Internet in China

Lara Yuyu Yang (University of Freiburg)

Abstract:

What distinguishes a used book from a new book? After a new book has travelled between countless anonymous hands of book sellers, readers, garbage dealers and librarians etc., it is gradually remoulded into a singular entity with traces of marks and stains. I refer to these traces as “dust” in my work. These are material changes that manifest hints of reading activities. It is the dust that classifies a book into the “second-hand” category. Every reader of second-hand books, in this sense, is a dust hunter, and their reading practices, as I will maintain, are mostly material-centred. However, the dust attached to the physical books cannot necessarily be conveyed onto the internet when the books are digitalised. How, then, is it possible, both logically and pragmatically, for dust hunters to interact with other practitioners on the material aspects of a book through digitalised platforms? By analysing three online second-hand book-selling platforms, including kongfz.com (孔夫子), booyee.com.cn (布衣书局) and the Déjà vu (多抓鱼) app, with a view to analysing the historical transformation of this reading culture, in this talk I focus on the cultural identities of dust hunters in China from 2003 to the present, a period that I call, after the most influential platform, the “Confucius-dot-com era”. I argue that, traversing the gap between on and offline systems, the identity hierarchy and the cultural expectations placed on dust hunters have been altered with a new ecology, which has further restructured the field and induced sensory changes in second-hand book-reading practices.

VLS 1: Target Audiences of Official Publications in Early PRC

2020-11-03 00:00:00 +0000

The initial session concerns the target audiences of official publications in the early PRC with Emily Graf (Free University of Berlin) as discussant. The first talk, by Robert Culp, focuses on the young readers of the Youth League publications in Shanghai. Those readers gained authorial voices while serving as a self-mobilizing collective subject under Maoism. The second talk by Chang Liu, focuses on a short-lived official women’s magazine. The magazine failed allegedly because of its gendered perspective. The talk reveals the situation of the magazine’s target audience at the time.

Date: 2020-11-10

Time: 2 pm (Freiburg) / 8 am (New York) / 9 pm (Beijing)

To attend: Signup once for your access code or, if you already have, directly join the session via Zoom.

Patriotic young classmates…! Young Readers as Authors and the Politics of Self-Mobilization through Shanghai’s Youth League Publications

Robert Culp (Bard College)

Abstract:

In 1951 at the height of the Resist America, Aid Korea Campaign, youth league publications in Shanghai were filled with testimonials by student volunteers for military cadre training schools, student reporters’ accounts of their school’s volunteer recruitment drives, and volunteers’ guidance on how to convince parents to agree to let young Shanghainese students abandon their studies to join military forces on the Korean front. Youth league publications, in other words, were co-authored by the very categories of educated youth (zhiqing) and young workers (qinggong) that composed their intended readership. In this paper I survey Shanghai New Democratic Youth League publications produced for early 1950s political campaigns to explore how testimony from youth activists were incorporated into the publications to create texts that were often multi-vocal in various ways. This multi-vocality created an echoing effect that served to realize a mass line politics discursively (“from the masses, to the masses”). Youth authors’ testimonials authenticated the state’s political messages by having them voiced already and seemingly spontaneously by the target audience. Youths seemed to be directly appealing to other youths, with the youth league’s and party’s mediating roles largely muted or erased. Young activists’ reflexive narratives also contributed to constituting and empowering them as state subjects. In broader, comparative terms, this process points to ways that Maoism eroded the distinction between author and reader, with complex implications for discursive (and perhaps political) authority, as “the people” appeared to emerge as a self-mobilizing collective subject, speaking to itself.

Reaching All Women: One Local Magazine and ‘the work among women’ in Early 1950s Shanghai

Chang Liu (Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen)

Abstract:

The period from 1949 to the early 1950s saw the short-lived publication of a number of women’s magazines such as Beijing Women, Tianjin Women, and Northeast Women by the newly established regional women’s federations. Despite the CCP’s rich experience in propaganda and Shanghai’s resourcefulness as China’s centre of the print industry and women’s education, the official publication of Shanghai Women’s Federation Modern Women, also failed its objectives and stopped issuing within two years. This paper explores the short history of Modern Women, especially the editorial concerns behind it. Since the Federation was an organ of the Party, the magazine was born with a mission in women-work. Drawing on archives and interviews, the paper argues that the Federation’s attempt to reach all women through the magazine was undermined by women’s high rate of illiteracy and the gaps in the life experience among different classes. Young cadres did not share the experience of workers and housewives, nor were the latter able to write their own stories. When the Federation adopted a new strategy of approaching women personally in their mundane life, it also stopped publishing the magazine. Modern Women thus reveals the intersection of gender and class in the Federation’s women-work. It also shows the congruity and incongruity of the Party’s political principles with the objective of women’s liberation, as well as the Federation’s pragmatism in women-work. Therefore, the paper offers a gendered perspective to understand the CCP’s adaptation to state-formation and city governing in the early 1950s.

Visual Repository of People Reading during China's Long Twentieth Century

2020-10-02 00:00:00 +0000

Source: Fernand Gigon / Fotostiftung Schweiz

READCHINA’s Damian Mandzunowski is curating a digital repository of images of people engaging in the act of reading in China during the long twentieth century. Although other visual texts—such as posters, paintings, and films—shall be eventually included in the collection as well, its primary focus is on photographic depictions of reading.

When discussing the relationship between photography and history, Roland Barthes suggested that they add layers of “infraknowledge” to the researched subject; layers only hardly found elsewhere. The initial idea to start the collection of photographs of reading acts arose from a similar desire: to assemble a large body of evidence that can potentially expand our understanding of where, when and how people in China consumed texts. Given that, as described by John Berger, photographs “quote from appearances”, and that, as Susan Sontag impactfully theorized, photographs are “an ethics of seeing” that “miniaturize experience [and] transform history into spectacle”, the images here collected need to be seen in the given context of their creation and (intended) usages. Yet, and herein perhaps lies the essential power of images, first and foremost these photographs transfer us in time and space; they invite us to read over the shoulder of the historic reader in China.

Visit Reading Acts in Twentieth-Century China to see the images and to further read about the curatorial process. Get in touch with Damian on twitter @zhong_daming.

Humboldt-Fellowship Award for Dayton Lekner

2020-09-21 00:00:00 +0000

Dayton Lekner has been awarded a prestigious Alexander von Humboldt fellowship and will join the institute in spring 2021 and cooperate with the READCHINA team. Lekner will work on a social history of listening in the Mao era PRC, taking a three-tiered approach to explore state intent, local practices, and individual perceptions of the sonic during the formative years of the PRC.  We are looking forward to welcoming him in Freiburg!

The Role of Women in Society Through the Lens of Chinese Science Fiction Literature

2020-07-01 00:00:00 +0000

Guest virtual lecture by Frederike Schneider-Vielsäcker (FU Berlin)

In the wake of the recent heyday of Chinese science fiction literature, the genre has become more diverse in terms of authorship and themes. Compared to its Western counterpart where female characters raised in importance thanks to the New Wave writers, only a small number of contemporary works from China voice a feminist viewpoint. One reason might be the government’s turn against feminist movements which are regarded as a threat to social stability. Chi Hui (b. 1984) and Chen Qiufan (b. 1981) are among those Chinese science fiction authors who have the courage to challenge gender stereotypes, to enhance the varieties of roles for women, and to provide progressive role models for female readers. This lecture explores the existing gender inequalities of present-day China through science fiction writings. I will discuss the two short stories Nest of Insects (虫巢, 2008) by Chi Hui and G Stands For Goddess (G代表女神, 2011) by Chen Qiufan as well as their different narrative approaches to women’s empowerment.

Bio

Frederike Schneider-Vielsäcker is a PhD candidate at the Seminar of East Asian Studies of the Free University of Berlin. Her thesis focuses on contemporary Chinese science fiction literature. She recently co-organized and moderated a discussion with Chinese author Chi Hui and scholar Prof. Dr. Song Mingwei at the Confucius Institute Frankfurt and co-hosted an event series with major science fiction writers from China at Kunsthaus ACUD in Berlin.

Black Skin, Yellow Masks: Translation and Representation of Africa in China from 1949 to 1965

2020-01-14 00:00:00 +0000

Guest talk by Mingqing Yuan, MA (Bayreuth University)

This paper intends to review the translation and introduction of African literature and representation of Africa and blackness in China from 1949 to 1966 to see how Africa and blackness, as the colonised racialized other, feature in China’s nation building, conceptualization of revolution and perception of the world. It will focus on the magazine Yiwen (《译文》,后《世界文学》) and its selected translation and introduction of African literature as well as the play War Drums on the Equator (《刚果战鼓》, 1965), which uses blackface to represent Congolese people. Questions in regard to the selection, circulation, context and impacts of these works will be closely looked at. Both translated works and literary representation of Africa not only reflect the effort of “socialist cosmopolitan” to define itself, world literature and revolution, but also jointly construct blackness, nation and the world both conceptually and emotionally.

Barefoot Doctors on the Move: Tracing a Concept and its Image Across Space

2019-11-26 00:00:00 +0000

Guest talk by Dr. Emily Graf (FU Berlin)

The term “barefoot doctor” (chijiao yisheng 赤脚医生) gained currency as a term and concept with Mao Zedong’s Directive in 1968, in which he insisted that medical work needed to be focused on the countryside. This involved great change for the health sector of the PRC that had previously been dominated by the strategies of the Health Ministry, which was run with the support of Soviet specialists, and which focused on fully-trained doctors in urban areas, aiming at developing higher expertise and specialization in their respective medical fields. With Mao’s Directive, doctors from urban medical establishments were increasingly “sent down” to the countryside to work in medical centers of the People’s Communes and train individuals in basic hygiene and primary medical care. Here they would offer classes for part-time health workers. The term barefoot implied that these newly-trained health workers would, ideally, also continue to work in the fields, which farmers did barefoot due to the flooded rice fields. Hence the term. By the early 70s, barefoot doctors added up to over one million and the basic health care coverage in rural areas increased drastically to finally cover up to 90%. The image of the barefoot doctor thus became key in visualizing the revolution of health care not only within the PRC during the Cultural Revolution, when it circulated in form of posters, but also globally. Images of the barefoot doctor as a symbol of support for and aid to Africa, for example, were key in creating a transcultural visual rhetoric of the Revolution. While in 1978 the “barefoot doctor” concept was viewed favorably by the World Health Organization (WHO), the term and practice would lose its recognition in the PRC after the Reform and Opening Period. This talk traces the history of the concept of rural health care in China and inquires how the image and concept of the barefoot doctor in particular moved beyond China. How did it travel? How was it received? And how did it shape how rural health care and community health workers are conceived in debates on Global Health today?

Bio

Emily Graf is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Chinese Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin. She received her PhD in 2018 in Sinology and Transcultural Studies from Heidelberg University. Her primary research focuses on author museums dedicated to Lu Xun in the PRC, Bertolt Brecht in the GDR and Lai He in Taiwan. Taking a global perspective, she investigated how each author is represented as a left-wing writer and revealed how “world literary heritage” is thereby constructed through the display of their literary estates. A Visiting-PhD Fellowship at Renmin University of China, Beijing (2013-14) enabled her to visit author museums across China and Taiwan, interviewing museum directors, staff and visitors. She has taught classes on the writers Lu Xun and Lai He, on the contemporary writer Yan Lianke, as well as on past and present cultural politics in the PRC. In her recent research, she approaches the visual and cultural history of “barefoot doctors” and its relation to the field of Global Health.

Monday, Nov. 25, 2019: 18:00-19:30, Erbprinzenstraße 12 (Seminarraum Institut für Sinologie)

Revolutionary Fibres: Materials and Industrial Design in Maoist China

2019-07-23 00:00:00 +0000

Guest talk by Dr. Jennifer Altehenger (King’s College London)

23.7.2019 16-18 Uhr Erbprinzenstr. 12, 79098 Freiburg

The People’s Republic of China is one of the world’s main producers of engineered woods and wood furniture today. Plywood, particleboard, and fibreboard (which can be made of different fibres including timber and bamboo) are widely used for furniture manufacture in China and abroad, and they are familiar materials to many Chinese citizens, even if they do not know it. Older generations often associate these materials with the increased availability of consumer goods brought about by the economic reforms of the “post-Mao” period after 1978. And yet, as this paper illustrates, these materials and many of the different objects made from them have a distinctly Maoist history and heritage. Throughout the first decades of CCP rule, engineers, chemists, timber experts and material scientists working in factories and research institutes, but in also in local communes, conducted experiments to find the best recipe for producing ‘modern materials’ and especially engineered woods, and for working with the woods most readily available such as bamboo. Designers in arts academies, factory workshops, and handicraft cooperatives, meanwhile, sought to create advanced furniture for the masses. The ideal socialist furniture would combine cost-efficient and durable materials with space-saving, functional, and equally cost-efficient designs. And all of this was to be easily mass-produced in advanced factories. In the end, much of this ideal furniture and many of these materials were only produced as prototypes, restricted to urban consumers, or sold for export. Still, their stories can help reconsider the history of the Mao period and explore the role materials and design were supposed to play and actually played in bringing a socialist modern into everyday life. This talk, part of a larger project on the everyday history of industrial design since 1949, will discuss these larger themes by looking at two examples in particular: research into and production of fibreboard and particleboard in Beijing and Tianjin, and the work of one experimental bamboo goods factory in Fuzhou.

Bio

Jennifer Altehenger studied at Cambridge, Qingdao and Heidelberg, and is Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Chinese History at King’s College London. She is the author of Legal Lessons: Popularizing Laws in the People’s Republic of China (Harvard Asia Center, 2018). She has also published articles and chapters on the history of propaganda, lexicography, and on China’s links to other socialist countries. Funded by the British Academy and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, her current work examines the history of materials and everyday industrial design in the PRC. Mit freundlicher Unterstützung des Konfuzius-Instituts an der Universität Freiburg.

The Chinese Internet: Freedom and Control on the Chinese Internet

2019-01-22 00:00:00 +0000

Guest lecture by Prof. Dr. Perry Link (UC Riverside)

The appearance of the Internet in China gave a huge boost to free expression by Chinese citizens, not only because it provided vast new sources of information but also because it offered platforms from which people could speak to the world, whether anonymously or not. The Chinese regime, rightly perceiving a major challenge to the control of information it had long coveted, established effective systems of censoring the Internet and—even more effectively—of prescribing what should go onto the Internet in the first place. Newspapers, magazines, and websites are regularly advised about which topics to stress and which to downplay, even to the detail of which page a news item should appear upon and what size characters should be used in its headline.

Bio

Perry Link teaches and writes about modern Chinese language, literature, popular culture, and politics. He is professor emeritus of East Asian Studies at Princeton University and is currently Chancellorial Chair for Teaching Across Disciplines at the University of California at Riverside. His most recent single-authored book is An Anatomy of Chinese: Rhythm, Metaphor, Politics, and he is author, co-author, or editor of nineteen other books. Two of these are widely-used Chinese language textbooks. He has written about popular Chinese fiction and the popular Chinese performing art called xiangsheng (“comedians’ dialogues”). He has translated the work of leading Chinese dissident writers including Liu Binyan, Fang Lizhi, and Liu Xiaobo, and serves on the boards of directors of several human rights organizations. He writes and does interviews for the Western press and has been a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books. His current project is a biography of Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner who died in July, 2017 while serving an eleven-year prison sentence for “suspicion of subverting the state.”

China’s Authoritarian Renaissance and the Scholarly Response

2018-12-19 00:00:00 +0000

Guest talk by Dr. Daniel Koss (Academia Sinica)

Over the past decade, scholarship on Chinese politics and society has been gaining in diversity, with significant contributions to both social science and to area studies. In addition, since the authoritarian turn of 2013, productive skepticism has replaced previously confident arguments about the gradual institutionalization of Chinese authoritarianism, the superiority of quasi- liberal tactics even in the country’s non-democratic setting, an advance of market regulation in economic governance, and optimism about accommodating the rising global power into the existing international order. There are indications that the search for better-fitting arguments will result in fruitful dialogue between area specialists and social scientists, while avoiding the risk of China being classified as one of the rare remaining cases of fully functional, unambiguously non-democratic regimes. The veil of ignorance over the question whether strong-armed methods signify unparalleled strength, or rather whether China’s authoritarian renaissance is headed for an impasse, is already provoking vivid debate.

Bio

Daniel Koss is an Assistant Research Fellow at the Institute of Political Science at Academia Sinica, Taipei; and an Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. He studies political parties through cases from East Asia, with a distinct focus on historical legacies and their transmission to the present. His first book is on the Chinese Communist Party, and his articles have appeared in The Journal of Asian Studies and Studies of Comparative International Development.

Cinema at the Grassroots: Film Exhibition and Reception in Mao’s China

2018-12-01 00:00:00 +0000

Guest lecture by Prof. Dr. Jie Li (Harvard University)

The field of Chinese cinema studies has flourished over the last three decades, but most scholars have focused on film texts and their production histories. What did cinema mean to their audiences in China? How were films shown, experienced, and remembered at the grassroots? My book project shifts the focus from “Chinese cinema” to “cinema in China” by examining exhibition, reception, and audiences. It does so by asking three sets of questions: Where were the movies in China? Who showed and watched movies? What did audiences see and remember from the films? Whereas most existing studies consider cinema as a manifestation of urban modernity, cinema at the grassroots refers to movie screening sites in villages, townships, and counties as well as urban factories and neighborhoods, and cinemagoing as a part of people’s everyday lives. I also consider grassroots as a methodological approach that is both bottom-up and reception-oriented, drawing on local archives, flea market materials, oral histories, memoirs, and ethnographic fieldwork.

Bio

Jie Li is a John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities at the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. She is the author of Shanghai Homes: Palimpsest of Private Life and co-editor of Red Legacies in China: Cultural Afterlives of the Communist Revolution.

Relationale Sinologie? Netzwerkanalyse als Tool für die sinologische Forschung

2018-11-14 00:00:00 +0000

Guest talk Dr. Henrike Rudolph (Erlangen University)

Dieser Workshop soll eine Einführung in die Methoden und Theorien der historischen Netzwerkforschung geben und einige Beispiele zu Netzwerkforschungen aus dem Bereich der Sinologie vorstellen. Das Hauptaugenmerk des Workshops liegt jedoch auf der praktischen Arbeit mit Netzwerken. Wir wollen gemeinsam Ideen entwickeln, wie man Netzwerkvisualisierungen und -analysen in kleinem Rahmen in eigene Seminar- und Abschlussarbeiten einbauen kann, wie man Daten dafür aufbereiten und strukturieren muss und welche Hilfsmittel zur Visualisierung zur Verfügung stehen. Softwarekenntnisse (und auch Chinesisch-Kenntnisse) werden nicht vorausgesetzt, sodass auch Studierende der ersten Bachelorsemester eingeladen sind, am Workshop teilzunehmen.

Bio

Henrike Rudolph ist wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin am Institut für Sinologie der Universität Erlangen. Sie hat in Hamburg Sinologie und Politikwissenschaften studiert und wurde dort 2017 mit einer Arbeit über das Gesundheitswesen während der Republikzeit promoviert. Zu ihren Forschungsinteressen gehören neben der Historischen Netzwerkforschung die Minderheitenparteien im modernen China, Bildungsgeschichte sowie die Geschichte der deutsch-chinesischen Beziehungen

I Just Want to Be Normal

2018-09-11 00:00:00 +0000

Conference Talk at TEI 2018 Tokyo, Japan

Duncan Paterson joined fellow panelist on Confronting Challenges in Marking Up Pre-modern East Asian Documents to present his work on character normalization in Unicode and TEI.

The work presented at the conference is based on a number of technical issues whose implementation and discussion can be found at the TEI central repository issue tracker.

Address

Belfortstr. 18 Rooms 03 004-05
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Germany