Mainstreaming Stories: A Day of Solidarity with Uyghurs

Dear colleagues,

I am writing to notify signatories to the Xinjiang Initiative of a global event being held April 26, 2019.

[To sign the Xinjiang Pledge:]

The event is being called Mainstreaming Stories: A Day of Solidarity with Uyghurs. Participation is simple: each volunteer delivers a talk about the crisis in western China at her/his home institution (no money, travel, jet-lag, expensive meals, etc.). We’ve already established rapport with our colleagues and students, so this type of intimate talk may be more effective in encouraging action than organizing large symposiums and publishing more op-eds.

The event borrows from some of the organizational and advertising strategies used by the annual China Town Hall meetings. In other words, we give a “local” talk, but promote the event as an international, coordinated program. We already have several volunteer speakers representing three countries.

Officially, the event will begin at 12PM EST on April 26, but timing is of secondary importance. It might even be powerful to have a day in which there are several hours devoted around the world to the crisis.

Also, if you know of anyone else who may be interested in speaking this day, please, by all means, feel welcome to share this idea with them.


Tim Grose
Via Xinjiang Initiative

2nd Annual Flushing Poetry Festival


The 2nd Annual Flushing Poetry Festival (2019法拉盛詩歌節) will be held on Saturday, April 20, 2019 at the Queens Public Library in Flushing, NY, from 11 am – 4 pm.  The event celebrates contemporary Chinese poets living overseas, writing in Chinese, and it encourages cross-cultural conversation and translation of poetry from diaspora poets. Winning poetry from the juried competition will be published in a subsequent online publication in Chinese Poetry New York (纽约诗刊).  The event is free and open to the public, and will be in Chinese and English.

The day’s agenda includes an award’s ceremony, a poetry reading, a small poetry book stall and an afternoon panel discussion.

The poetry reading will include a selection of poems in Chinese and English read by invited guests.

The panel discussion includes the following poets and translators: WANG Yu [王渝], YAN Li [嚴力], ZHANG Er [張耳], XIE Jiong [謝炯, Joan Xie], and Denis Mair [梅丹理], and will be moderated by Connie Rosemont.  Panelists will explore challenges translators face – both philosophical and practical, and they will talk about how they navigate the profound difference between the Chinese and English languages, including issues of syntax, sound, meaning, and the written word itself, and the role of translation in promoting cross-literary culture. Continue reading

An Open Letter to Tsinghua University

An Open Letter to Tsinghua University
Dr. Qiu Yong
President, Tsinghua University

Dear President Qiu,

Tsinghua University, one of the most highly ranked universities in the world, has suffered severe damage to its academic reputation as a consequence of the university’s punishment of Professor Xu Zhangrun.

As members of the international academic community, we urge the university to restore Professor Xu’s normal status in the university, including his teaching and research duties, and to refrain from any further sanctions against him.


To sign this letter, please email your name and affiliation to:

This letter is open until April 19, 2019, after which it will be sent to Tsinghua University. It will also be made public.

Initial signatories:

Geremie R. Barmé, The Australian National University
Jean-Philippe Béja, CNRS/CERI-Sciences-Po (Centre de Recherches Internationales)
Ian Buruma, Bard College
Steven I. Levine, University of Montana
Perry Link, University of California, Riverside
Andrew J. Nathan, Columbia University
Orville Schell, Asia Society

Institution names are for identification purposes only.

Interview with Wilt Idema


Insects in Chinese Literature: A Study and Anthology by Wilt L. Idema was just published and launched at the 2019 AAS conference in Denver two weeks ago. There was much interest in this unusual book, and so we have conducted the following interview with Professor Idema.

Cambria Press: In the introduction to your book, you mention that that insects, especially “anthropomorphized insects that talk to each other,” are quite rare in animal tales. What sparked your interest in this rare subset of animal tales?
Wilt Idema: I have always been interested in animal tales, animal fables, and beast epics, likely because Van den vos Reynaerde (Reynard the fox) is one of the most famous and enjoyable works of Dutch medieval literature. Perhaps because I was frustrated by the near-absence of texts involving talking animals in Chinese literature, I have been keeping track of those tales I did encounter. Once I thought I might have enough for a book on the topic, I only intensified my search. When looking for insect tales, I was quite surprised to find a considerable number of tales about the weddings of insects, the funerals of insects, their battles and wars, their disputes and court cases in Chinese popular literature, and once I had found those materials I wanted to compare the depiction of insects in popular tales to those in classical poetry and in vernacular prose. The result in my Insects in Chinese Literature. Continue reading

Ko Ch’ing-ming (1946-2019)

Scholars devoted to modern literature from Taiwan will be very saddened to learn of the passing of Ko Ch’ing-ming (Ke Qingming) 柯慶明 (March 12, 1946-April 1, 2019). Professor Ko was a voluminous publisher of books of literary scholarship, prose essays, and poetry. His knowledge spanned the premodern and modern periods and both sides of the Taiwan Strait. For over thirty years, his wide-ranging essays on poetry and aesthetics were a regular feature, especially in journals such as Chung-Wai Literature, Lianhe Wenxue, Shi Tansuo, and other prominent venues. Professor Ko was a beloved teacher and mentor to countless students at National Taiwan University and served in a number of leadership roles, including as Director of the Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature and the Taiwan University Press as well as a consultant to the government on cultural, literary, and linguistic matters. All of this would be enough for an illustrious career, but Professor Ko will likely be best known for his ebullience, warmth, and supportive attitude in his interactions with all sorts of students, colleagues throughout Taiwan, mainland China, and Hong Kong, and internationally in Japan, North America, and Europe. He was especially talented in public settings where he would offer his unique blend of intellectual acumen, stunning humor, and gentle treatment of others. He was a delight to know and one of a kind. The last couple years he had been encountering health issues and was mainly confined to a wheelchair. Despite this, he was still always bubbling over with enthusiasm, insight, and kind words. Recently, he participated in a ceremony awarding an honorary doctorate to the scholar Pang-yuan Ch’i (Qi Bangyuan 齊邦媛). I was really looking forward to seeing him during a planned visit to Taiwan in September and am sorry that we won’t have that chance. Colleagues can find more details on his life from the Department of Chinese Literature, National Taiwan University, which has posted a lengthy tribute and a bibliography, and most major newspapers in Taiwan. A very large tree has fallen. Rest In Peace, 慶明兄.

Christopher Lupke <>
University of Alberta

AAS statement on Xinjiang detentions (2)

“Concerned” — Really? It is certainly appropriate for AAS to have something to say about the deplorable situation in Xinjiang, but “concerned”? Surely there is more to be said about the mass detentions of people who make the Beijing authorities insecure in their governance. AAS is clearly aware of the persecution of academics in Xinjiang, but limiting its response to that alone as a matter of “concern” seems quite weak. Where is the powerful voice of Western intelligentsia?

Ron Janssen <>

AAS statement on Xinjiang detentions (1)

The AAS statement on Xinjiang is an excellent statement, but in my view still does not go far enough.

We should decry the mass detentions, including how the Chinese state targets the cultural elite of the Uighurs, Kazakhs, etc., with mass arrests of academics, artists, poets, and so on. But, the wholesale targeting of ethnic culture and language, means that this is now much bigger than even the up to 2 million people locked away in the concentration camps system.

Millions more face a concerted forced-assimilation campaign of which the detentions is a part: They are forced to denounce and abandon their culture and adopt Chinese ways, break food taboos, go into forced marriages, to stop speaking their own language (as mentioned below), and many children are taken and sent to Chinese -only ‘orphanages’ while parents are in camps. The list goes on. Continue reading

AAS statement on Xinjiang detentions

AAS Statement on Extra-Judicial Detention of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, PRC
March 27, 2019

The Association for Asian Studies expresses its strong concern over the detention of at least 800,000 and up to 2 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in political “re-education centers” in Xinjiang, Northwest China.1 Turkic Muslims have been interned, imprisoned, or forcibly “disappeared” since April 2017.2 Such detention constitutes a major violation of human rights and, in the case of our academic colleagues, a clear disregard for academic freedom.

We are particularly dismayed at the disappearance of at least 386 Uyghur intellectuals and scholars, including 21 staff of Xinjiang University, 15 staff of Xinjiang Normal University, 13 staff of Kashgar University, 6 staff of Xinjiang Medical University, 6 staff of the Xinjiang Social Sciences Academy, 4 staff from Khotan Teachers’ College, and 101 students.3 Turkic Muslims have been denied the freedom to use their mother tongue, to pursue Qur’anic studies, or to study and research abroad.4 Those returning to China from periods of study or research have been recalled, detained, questioned, or caused to disappear into internment camps.5 Five deaths of students and scholars while in custody have been confirmed during this period.6 Continue reading

Fifth Generation retrospective at HKIFF

Source: SCMP (3/12/19)
How China’s Fifth Generation filmmakers defied censorship and criticism to break new ground
New ways of storytelling and rich political allegories were the innovations that this new breed of maverick directors introduced. Bold in abstraction and symbolism, their films relied on images rather than dialogue for expression
By Richard James Havis

A still from Zhang Yimou’s directorial debut Red Sorghum (1988).

A still from Zhang Yimou’s directorial debut Red Sorghum (1988).

It has been 41 years since China’s Fifth Generation filmmakers started classes at the Beijing Film Academy, and 35 years since The Yellow Earth, directed by Chen Kaige and photographed by Zhang Yimou, changed the face of filmmaking in the country.

The Chinese film industry has modernised so quickly that the innovations this disparate group brought to filmmaking in the country, and the courage they showed in the face of censorship by the state authorities, has been all but forgotten.

A retrospective at this year’s Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) aims to set the record straight. The five-film retrospective presents classic early works by the Fifth Generation, including The Yellow Earth, Tian Zhuangzhuang’s semi-abstract masterpiece The Horse Thief, and the cheeky satirical comedy The Black Cannon Incident. Continue reading

Love in the New Millennium nominated for Man Booker

Source: Radii (3/13/19)
Can Xue’s “Love in the New Millennium” Nominated for 2019 Man Booker International Prize
The 2019 Man Booker International Prize long list has been announced, with Chinese author Can Xue’s fantastical Love in the New Millennium among the nominees

Chinese avant-garde author Can Xue’s “darkly comic” novel Love in the New Millenium has made the Man Booker International Prize 2019 long list. The story follows “a group of women [that] inhabits a world of constant surveillance” and represents the “most ambitious work of fiction by a writer widely considered the most important novelist working in China today”, according to its English language publisher, Yale University Press.

Deng Xiaohua, the author behind the Can Xue pseudonym, was born in Changsha, in China’s southern province of Hunan. Her father, the one-time editor-in-chief of a prominent newspaper in the province, was labelled an “Ultra-Rightist” in the late 1950s along with other intellectuals of the period, and was sent to the countryside for two years for allegedly leading an anti-Communist group at the paper. Continue reading

The Forgotten 1910s

I would like to announce the existence of my new website: “The Forgotten 1910s – 尋找辛亥文風.”

This website is conceived as a translation platform for long ignored literary pieces of the early 1910s. Its main purpose is to provide China focused scholars and students with a representative selection of famous literary works of that time, which covers the end of the Qing empire and the first years of the Republican era. Most of the pieces translated here were written in Classical Chinese, usually in the elite form of pianwen 駢文 (paralleled prose), and serialized in political newspapers such as People’s Rights (Minquanbao 民權報, 1912-1914).

I choose to focus on what I suggest to label “early Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies” (1912-1918) writers. This group, contrary to others novelists and writers often conveniently gathered under the deceptive label “Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies,” manifested and claimed a sense of unity. Acting as leading figures of this group were Xu Zhenya 徐枕亞 (1889-1937), Wu Shuangre 吳雙熱 (1885-1934), Xu Tianxiao 徐天嘯 (1886-1941), Li Dingyi 李定夷 (1890-1963), and Liu Tieleng 劉鐵冷 (1881-1961).

Joachim Boittout <>

Li Xueqin dies at 85 (4)

I have been trying to think of how to respond to Magnus Fiskesjö’s remarks, which astonished me because they seemed so totally off the mark and indicated that he was not really acquainted with Li Xueqin’s publications. Thus, his response to Ian’s Johnson’s clarification is useful in at least giving me some idea of where he is coming from. I do not know the context of the statement Li made to this group of Western scholars about believing the ancient texts, but it does show that he was never a sycophant whatever his audience.

Li was not a deeply conservative scholar. He was, in fact, steeped in the Gushibian. He once told me that he had read every word of it as a teenager and it was surely one of his inspirations for entering the field. He was also acquainted with Western scholarship and made a point of introducing it to his students and encouraging them to read broadly. However, he did not see Doubt Antiquity as standing for healthy skepticism, as Western scholars tend to, but as a specific set of arguments about the ancient texts. With the discovery of excavated texts, beginning with Mawangdui, he increasingly began to doubt the validity of those arguments. Nevertheless, Li did not, simply revert to accepting the tradition uncritically. Leaving Behind the Era of Doubting the Ancients (Zouchu yigu shidai 走出疑古时代) is not, as Fiskesjö stated, a book that Li wrote, but a collection of his essays on various topics. In the eponymous article (originally a talk), Li did not call for giving up skepticism and believing the ancient texts (xin gu 信古). He advocated using two-pronged evidence of archaeology and transmitted texts, which he called, shi gu 释古, “explaining the ancients,” after Wang Guowei. He did think that the Xia Dynasty was historical. I am well-known for having written about the Xia as a myth, but there are legitimate scholarly reasons for identifying Erlitou culture with a Xia Dynasty, even if I don’t think they are correct. Continue reading

Li Xueqin dies at 85 (3)

I want to thank Ian Johnson for the clarification. Glad to be corrected on that score (#1). I should not have lumped both obituaries together like I did there. I guess I got hung up on the end where he comes across as a critically thinking scholar, “But now we can see that the past is always changing.” It might be that those things could go together, and perhaps could go together in him.

I feel a bit awkward to bring up criticism so soon after his passing, and so I tried to acknowledge he was indeed a great scholar — but also, deeply conservative, in a truly harmful way. — I’m grateful for the impetus from your obituary — in contrast to the other one, which is also valuable, but does not mention these issues — to look again at the whole idea of “Believing the Ancients,” that Li pushed: One worthwhile piece is Lin Yun’s article 真该走出疑古时代吗?——对当前中国古典学取向的看法 [Should the Era of Historical Skepticism be Transcended?] in Shixue jikan No. 3, 2007, in which Lin argues forcefully and explicitly against Li Xueqin, that no good reason has emerged in the various new discoveries of recent decades (bamboo strip versions of books, etc.) for scholars to abandon their skepticism of the ‘old books’, and the general critical spirit inherited from Gu Jiegang and others. On the contrary, such a stance should to be a permanent stance going into the future.

Yet at the conference on ancient China where I once met and heard Li Xueqin, outside Chicago in about 1992, Li’s chief mantra was ‘wo xiangxin gushu,’ “I believe the old books,” spoken to a roomful of Western scholars as if to correct us foreigners in what he suspected was our wrongheaded stance of looking critically at everything, no matter how revered.

–Magnus Fiskesjö <>

Li Xueqin dies at 85 (2)

Two small clarifications about Magnus Fiskesjö’s post (“Li Xueqin dies at 85 [1]”):

  1. My piece in the New York Times did not fail to mention how Li “actively helped build up and promote the currently dominant reactionary view of culture and heritage.” In fact, I wrote in the 1st paragraph of my New York Times obituary that  Li helped change the focus of Chinese historiography “toward emphasizing the wonders of the country’s past, a traditionalist approach in line with the Communist government’s efforts to identify itself with ancient China.” 

I also devoted a large chunk of the obituary to his work in pushing 信古, including his work on the Xia-Shang-Zhou project and how it was criticized by many scholars.

  1. Professor Fiskesjö’ perceptively asked about the Guardian’s statement that Mr. Li was 86 years old. I wondered about this myself. This was the age given by the official obituary in China, which adopts a way of dating people that I’ve found common in China. It isn’t quite the traditional way, as the person doesn’t gain a year right after 過年, but instead the age is simply calculated based on the birth and death years (in this case, 1933 and 2019). And so the obituary might have simply adopted that. However, Mr. Li was born on 28 March 1933, and as a western publication the Times used the western way of only adding a year to someone’s age after they’ve passed their birthday. Hence, to us, he was 85 years old when he died. 

best regards,

Ian Johnson <>