Zhang Yimou: Globalization and the Subject of Culture review

MCLC and MCLC Resource Center are pleased to announce publication of Chris Berry’s review of Zhang Yimou: Globalization and the Subject of Culture (Cambria 2017), by Wendy Larson. The review appears below, but is best read at its online home here: http://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/chris-berry/. My thanks to MCLC media studies book review editor, Jason McGrath, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk A. Denton, editor

Zhang Yimou: 
Globalization and the Subject of Culture

By Wendy Larson

Reviewed by Chris Berry
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright March, 2018)

Wendy Larson. Zhang Yimou: Globalization and the Subject of Culture Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2017. xv, 420pp. ISBN: 9781604979756 (Hardback).

In Zhang Yimou: Globalization and the Subject of Culture, Wendy Larson asks us to take Zhang Yimou 张艺谋 seriously again. This is a very welcome intervention. Few Chinese film directors seem to have been more widely—and diversely—reviled than Zhang. As Larson nimbly lays out in her introductory chapter, he was first attacked for alleged self-orientalism in pursuit of foreign film festival awards in the early 1990s. Then, his martial arts megahit Hero (英雄, 2002) was condemned for promoting “fascist” submission to authoritarianism. Worst of all, his more recent films, such as the Matt Damon vehicle The Great Wall (长城, 2016), have been ridiculed and dismissed. Nevertheless, Zhang remains China’s only director with a global reputation beyond the festival scene, and the only one with enough clout to put together a project like The Great Wall. Even though many of us might be more comfortable with festival favorites like Jia Zhangke 贾樟柯, we should not ignore directors with wider impact like Zhang Yimou, Feng Xiaogang 冯小刚, and the host of younger genre filmmakers that have emerged as the industry has boomed in the People’s Republic. Continue reading

The Age of Irreverence review

MCLC and MCLC Resource Center are pleased to announce publication of David Moser’s review of The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China (University of California Press, 2015), by Christopher Rea. The review appears below, but is best read online at: http://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/moser/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC book review editor for literary studies, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk A. Denton, editor

The Age of Irreverence:
A New History of Laughter in China

By Christopher Rea

Reviewed by David Moser
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright March, 2018)

Christopher Rea, The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015. ix-xvi + 335 pp. ISBN: 9780520283848 (Hardcover: $70.00)

Chinese Humor and its Discontents

A generation ago, China scholars were to be forgiven for having the impression that Chinese culture suffered from a puzzling humor deficit. Much was made of the fact that the Chinese word for “humor” youmo 幽默 is borrowed from English (in the same way the loan word luoji 逻辑 “logic” was used as evidence that Chinese philosophy lacked this feature as well). Anthologies of Chinese folk humor were usually just joke collections framed as anthropological data (usually badly translated) rather than case studies of laughter. Early popularizing books on Chinese humor tended to merely highlight nuggets of subtle irony mined from Zhuangzi or Dream of the Red Chamber, or to cherry pick passages from the works of a Lao She or Lu Xun. This paucity of examples left the impression that Chinese culture may have produced a few gems of gentle mockery, but the full, variegated range of what we call “humor”—particularly humor that is irreverent, challenging, and even cathartic—was simply not in the Chinese cultural DNA. Continue reading

Review of Chinese sci-fi

Posted by: Chaohua Wang <sm.ca.wangchaohua@gmail.com>
Source: London Review of Books 40 No. 3 (2/8/18)
Even what doesn’t happen is epic
By Nick Richardson

  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
    Head of Zeus, 416 pp, £8.99, January 2016, ISBN 978 1 78497 157 1
  • The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu, translated by Joel Martinsen
    Head of Zeus, 512 pp, £8.99, July 2016, ISBN 978 1 78497 161 8
  • Death’s End by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
    Head of Zeus, 724 pp, £8.99, May 2017, ISBN 978 1 78497 165 6
  • The Wandering Earth by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
    Head of Zeus, 447 pp, £8.99, October 2017, ISBN 978 1 78497 851 8
  • Invisible Planets edited and translated by Ken Liu
    Head of Zeus, 383 pp, £8.99, September 2017, ISBN 978 1 78669 278 8

Science fiction isn’t new to China, as Cixin Liu explains in Invisible Planets, an introduction to Chinese sci-fi by some of its most prominent authors, but good science fiction is. The first Chinese sci-fi tales appeared at the turn of the 20th century, written by intellectuals fascinated by Western technology. ‘At its birth,’ Cixin writes, science fiction ‘became a tool of propaganda for the Chinese who dreamed of a strong China free of colonial depredations’. One of the earliest stories was written by the scholar Liang Qichao, a leader of the failed Hundred Days’ Reform of 1898, and imagined a Shanghai World’s Fair, a dream that didn’t become a reality until 2010. Perhaps surprisingly, given the degree of idealistic fervour that followed Mao’s accession, very little utopian science fiction was produced under communism (in the Soviet Union there was plenty, at least initially). What little there was in China was written largely for children and intended to educate; it stuck to the near future and didn’t venture beyond Mars. By the 1980s Chinese authors had begun to write under the influence of Western science fiction, but their works were suppressed because they drew attention to the disparity in technological development between China and the West. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s, when Deng’s reforms began to bite, that Chinese science fiction experienced what Cixin calls a ‘renaissance’. Continue reading

China’s Leftover Women review (2)

I first became interested in the topic of Chinese leftover women in 2010, when the term was already common in China and had been reported on in English-language media. I am grateful for Leta Hong Fincher’s work on the subject and have cited it in articles that I wrote for Salon and Foreign Policy in 2012, after she and I had corresponded over the phone and email.

Since 2010, I have researched and written on the topic and have also raised awareness of it through creative means, including the Chaoji Shengnu cartoon series that was published starting in 2013, and a stage play called “The Leftover Monologues” that debuted in Beijing in 2014. When Leta’s book was released, I decided not to read it because I was working on the manuscript for my own book, and I chose to stay focused on the stories of the women whose lives I feature in it.

The topic of gender and dating dynamics is such a fascinating lens through which to understand modern China, and as is true of so many China stories, it is complex, nuanced, and benefits from multiple perspectives. I recognize Leta’s important contributions to the topic and the awareness she has raised for it. The women I interviewed led me to see things from a different perspective and I have relied on the work of other scholars, as referenced in my book, to relay their stories.My publisher stands with me as I say that ultimately, we are all rooting for the same women.

Roseann Lake <roseannlake@economist.com>

China’s Leftover Women review (1)

Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower by Roseann Lake

With regard to the above-referenced book — a review of which was posted yesterday on MCLC — I would like to draw attention to the fact that the author, Roseann Lake, appears to nowhere acknowledge in print how much her work and her text are indebted to Leta Hong-Fincher, whose 2014 book, Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, Lake’s work closely parallels. Lake seems to poach upon the latter’s research, thematics, and acumen, while never citing Hong-Fincher as either source or inspiration. Since Hong-Fincher’s 2011 Ms. magazine article on “leftover women,” through to the publication of her book in 2014, Lake has been in contact with Hong-Fincher a number of times; Hong-Fincher even sent Lake an early summary of the book’s argument and research in the form of a paper written in 2012 for a Sociology conference. In addition, Lake has been at numerous of Hong-Fincher’s presentations in Beijing. In short, Lake was well aware of Hong-Fincher’s work and the thematics of Lake’s book are very similar to Hong-Fincher’s. And yet Lake has deliberately presented her work as unique and as uniquely her own.

This is very troubling. At the very least, Lake should acknowledge publicly the prior work upon which her narrative and analysis stand, and Norton, her publisher, should compel her to do so. As of 2/16, Norton has written to Hong-Fincher to acknowledge the problem and apologize. It is unclear what remedy will be pursued.

Rebecca Karl <karl.rebecca22@gmail.com>
New York University

Chinese Visions of World Order review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Salvatore Babones’s review of Chinese Visions of World Order: Tianxia, Culture, and World Politics (Duke, 2017), edited by Ban Wang. The review appears below, but is best online at: http://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/babones/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

Chinese Visions of World Order: 
Tianxia, Culture, and World Politics

Edited by Ban Wang

Reviewed by Salvatore Babones
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright February, 2018)

Ban Wang, ed. Chinese Visions of World Order: Tianxia, Culture, and World Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017. 336 pp. ISBN: 978-0-8223-6946-2 (Paperback: $27.95)

Tianxia 天下! The word itself sounds more like the title of a movie or video game than of a political program. In fact it is a video game (now in its third edition), and the word played a key role in the 2002 film Hero, in which the hero (played by Jet Li) spares the life of the ruthless Emperor Qin for the sake of “tianxia,” controversially subtitled in the original American release as “our land.” The translation was controversial because it gave tianxia, usually rendered as “all under Heaven,” a poetically patriotic connotation. Perhaps critics should not be so critical. The title of the film is, after all, Hero.

Asked about the tianxia translation, the film’s director Zhang Yimou was quite frank. “We struggled for a long time with the translation because it’s difficult. There’s a Chinese proverb that goes, ‘to suffer yourself when all under Heaven suffer, to enjoy only when all under Heaven enjoy.’ In the Chinese tradition, the idea of ‘tianxia’ has a very profound significance, and a true hero can hold ‘all under Heaven’ in his heart. If you ask me if ‘our land’ is a good translation, I can’t tell you. All translations are handicapped. Every word has different meanings in different cultures.” Continue reading

China’s Leftover Women review

Source: What’s on Weibo (2/9/18)
Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower by Roseann Lake
In a new book on China’s Leftover Women, author Roseann Lakes highlights the strength and merit of China’s unmarried women.
By Manya Koetse

With Leftover in China – The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower, author Roseann Lake brings a deeply insightful and captivating account of China’s so-called ‘leftover women’ – the unmarried females who are shaping the future of the PRC. A must-read book for this Spring Festival holiday.

As the count-down for China’s most important event of the year, the Spring Festival, has started, countless unmarried daughters and sons anticipate the reunion with their parents and relatives with some horror. “Why are you still single?” is amongst the top-dreaded questions they are facing during the New Year’s dinners at the family dining table. Continue reading

Elegy of a River Shaman review

Source: Writing China (1/26/18)
The Last Human Tiger: Review of Fang Qi’s Elegy of a River Shaman
By Astrid Møller-Olsen


In a fantastic blend of folk song, ecocriticism and historical fiction, the novel Elegy of a River Shaman chronicles four generations of the Tribe of the Tiger and their Tima (shaman) in the Three Gorges (san xia 三峡) region along the Yangzi River. It opens with the clan patriarch Li Diezhu’s decision to build a pioneer settlement in the fertile Lihaku ridge and moves on to relate how macro-historical events, such as the Japanese invasion of 1937 and the civil war between communists and nationalists, affected the lives and traditions of this local community.

After trailing the fates and misfortunes of the dwindling tribe, the novel ends on a hopeful note, with Diezhu’s ageing widow assuring their great-grandson of the continued survival of his people and their totem animal: “when a tiger turns five hundred years old, its fur turn white. They can live a thousand years” (467). Continue reading

Homesickness review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Lei Qin’s review of Homesickness: Culture, Contagion, and National Transformation in Modern China (Harvard UP, 2015), by Carlos Rojas. The review appears below and can also be read online here: http://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/leiqin/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

Homesickness: Culture, Contagion, and 
National Transformation in Modern China

By Carlos Rojas 

Reviewed by Lei Qin
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright January, 2018)

Carlos Rojas, Homesickness: Culture, Contagion, and National Transformation in Modern China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015. 352 pp. ISBN: 9780674743946 Hardcover: US$45.00

Carlos Rojas’s book Homesickness: Culture, Contagion, and National Transformation in Modern China (hereafter, also abbreviated as Homesickness), which came out in 2015 with Harvard University Press, can be seen as a paradigm for a truly interdisciplinary project. In his exploration of a vast range of literary and cinematic texts, as well as historical discourses and ideas from China’s late nineteenth century to contemporary times, Rojas bridges the fields of medicine and science with Chinese literature, cinema, and history.

Homesickness can first be seen as expanding the cross-disciplinary subject of “medical humanities,” which, according to Howard Y. F. Choy, became popular in China following in the launch of the journal Chinese Medical Humanities Review (中国医学人文评论) by Peking University Medical Press in 2007 and the subsequent establishment of the Peking University Institute for Medical Humanities (北京大学医学人文研究院) a year later.[1] While medical humanities may be a nascent field of study rising in prominence, research into the understanding of disease as historically situated, socially meaningful, and culturally manifested has a long history both in Western and Chinese scholarship. A brief survey of this scholarship will help us to better situate Rojas’s contribution. Continue reading

Hollywood Made in China review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Darrell William Davis’s review of Hollywood Made in China (University of California Press, 2017), by Aynne Kokas. The review appears below, but is best read online at: http://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/ddavis/. My thanks to Jason McGrath, MCLC media studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, MCLC Editor

Hollywood Made in China

By Aynne Kokas 

Reviewed by Darrell William Davis
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright January, 2018)

Aynne Kokas, Hollywood Made in China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017. 272pp. ISBN: 9780520294011 (Cloth: $85.00) ISBN: 9780520294028 (Paperback: $29.95)

Hollywood Made in China is an elegant account of Hollywood’s evolving engagements in China’s commercial film environment. In six concise chapters, Aynne Kokas details the myriad flows of policy, investment, deployment, and rewards of Sino-US media co-productions. Her aim is mostly large-scale entertainment schemes, including contemporary blockbusters, theme parks, and studio co-ventures. Because China is now becoming the world’s largest film market, Hollywood is courting Chinese executives and regulators, the better to ensure access to viewers and returns for American pictures. The objective is market access, in return for which Hollywood players are willing to cede control, a tradeoff the author calls “transformative” (33). This is a transaction not available to Silicon Valley (e.g., Google, Facebook, Netflix), and despite frustrations of piracy and capricious regulations, Hollywood may well count itself fortunate. In any case, Kokas demonstrates that the Sino-US co-production enterprise is a work in progress, always in a state of renegotiation and revision, as she aptly puts it: “The Hollywood dream factory and the Chinese Dream work together, while mired in a state of perpetual negotiation” (20).  A combination of Hollywood “thirst” for ever-larger markets (old) and China’s “cultural trade deficit” (new) brings potential synergies and symbiosis (2-3). It also brings evolving forms of contention and conflict (13). With every new co-production, new standards and practices appear in the playbook. Aynne Kokas makes a strong case for the “interaction and variability” (8), the unpredictability inherent in this volatile relation. Continue reading

Liu Waitong’s Wandering Hong Kong with Spirits

Source: Jacket 2 (11/15/17)
Liu Waitong’s ‘Wandering Hong Kong with Spirits’

Photo of Hong Kong (right) via Wikimedia Commons.

Wandering Hong Kong with Spirits 和幽靈一起的香港漫遊
Liu Waitong 廖偉棠, trans. Enoch Yee-lok Tam, Desmond Sham, Audrey Heijns, Chan Lai-kuen, and Cao Shuying
Zephyr Press and MCCM Creations 2016, 184 pages, $15.00. ISBN 978-9881311535

What is it to be a Hong Kong poet writing now? Specifically, a Hong Kong poet who grew up over the border in Guangdong, who has lived also in Beijing; whose poems register the pull of other cities from Lhasa to Paris, and the pull of China not only as a literary inheritance all the way back to Zhuangzi, but also as a geopolitical giant changing daily even as Hong Kong itself changes? For Liu Waitong, it means to be accompanied always by ghosts. But it means also to seek them out and keep them company in turn — to haunt with them. Working through questions of displacement, citizenship, and competing visions of Hong Kong’s and China’s future, Liu’s poems insist that a careful attention and receptivity can be revolutionary. For Liu, that attention is what we owe our pasts and each other. Continue reading

Socialist Cosmopolitanism

I thought the MCLC list might be interested in Matt Turner’s review of Nicolai Volland’s Socialist Cosmopolitanism. 

Lucas Klein <lklein@hku.hk>

Source: Hyperallergic (11/11/17)
The Past and Future of China’s Socialist Literature
The story Nicolai Volland tells will surprise those who believe communist China was closed to the world, and anyone who thinks communist literature is dull or irrelevant.
By Matt Turner

Socialist Cosmopolitanism: The Chinese Literary Universe, 1945-1965, by Penn State professor Nicolai Volland, will not find its way onto many bedside tables — which is too bad. Although peppered with academic tics and Heideggerian terms, it’s nevertheless an engaging study of Chinese communist literature. The story he tells will surprise those who believe communist China was closed to the world, and anyone who thinks communist literature is dull or irrelevant. Volland’s thesis — that voices in Chinese literature from 1945 to 1965 were aware of, participated in, and helped shape international literary conversations — bucks notions that communist China was an intellectual police state and literary backwater.

Volland’s narrative goes something like this: During the nominally democratic period immediately preceding the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, foreign literature was frequently translated. Two major writers of the period, Lu Xun and Mao Dun, helped found Yiwen (Translations), a magazine devoted to translation and poetics. During that time, Chinese literature drew widely from Western, as well as other models of modern literature for inspiration, as did Yiwen, promoting internationalism in letters and leftism in politics. The magazine was published for a year. Continue reading

Literate Modernism (1)

Thanks for posting my article. It’s come to my attention that I very unfortunately wrote two inaccuracies in my review: that Shu Zhendong’s typewriter was a commercial failure, and that Mullaney’s article in Foreign Policy was a direct attack on Moser and his book.

The article has now been corrected, including an editor’s note regarding the corrections. See:



Matt Turner <mateo.tornero@gmail.com>

Literate Modernism

Source: Asian Review of Books (10/12/17)
Literate Modernism: How and Why China Has Shaped Chinese
By Matt Turner


In mid-19th century China, after suffering multiple humbling defeats by imperial powers, a movement to modernize China’s military developed. The idea was that the national essence or culture of China could be better defended with superior Western methods and technology than outdated Chinese methods—seen as the extension of a static political culture. That the methods and technology were Western did not matter—they were not tied to the imperial aims which produced them; they could be adapted by anyone, and were essentially culture-less.

Modernity in this instance was technical, an application used to preserve something unchanging—Chinese culture. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century and again in the early 20th century that questions of modernity were recast as residing in the cultural sphere, yoking the military to political representation to women’s emancipation to literature. Part of this new modernization of China was the question of language: was it explicitly or implicitly political, but also whether or not it would aptly serve as an instrument of modernization, a technique by which modernity is formed. Continue reading

New Literary History of Modern China review

Source: LARB China Channel (10/9/17)
Republic of Letters
Eleanor Goodman reviews A New Literary History of Modern China, edited by David Der-Wei Wang
By Eleanor Goodman

One evening this summer as I was waiting for a table at a restaurant, I overheard a well-dressed woman describing a bike trip she was planning to take to Japan. “I’m so excited about it,” she told her companion, “that I just picked up Memoirs of a Geisha.”

That literature is a window onto a culture – a point of access that can be utilized even from afar, a safe mental space in which one’s own attitudes, prejudices, preconceptions, and expectations can be challenged and even altered – is an idea that is not only true but important. In an era in which globalism is a simple fact and travel to previously remote places is easy and ordinary, while simultaneously xenophobia and racial fear-mongering are on the rise, there is an increasing need for exposure to other cultures in many forms. Then again, reading a book written by a white man about sex workers in the 1930s and 40s does not necessarily offer the most accurate picture of Japan as it exists today. Continue reading