Socialist Cosmopolitanism review

MCLC and MCLC Resource Center are pleased to announce publication of  Tie Xiao’s review of Socialist Cosmopolitanism: The Chinese Literary Universe, 1945-1965 (Columbia UP, 2017), by Nicolai Volland. The review appears below, but is best read online at: My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Enjoy, Kirk Denton, editor

Socialist Cosmopolitanism: The Chinese Literary Universe, 1945-1965

By Nicolai Volland

Reviewed by Tie Xiao
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright May, 2018)

Nicolai Volland. Socialist Cosmopolitanism: The Chinese Literary Universe, 1945–1965 New York: Columbia University Press, 2017. x-xii + 281 pp. ISBN: 9780231183109. (Hardcover: $60.00 / £47.00).

This learned study examines the “world-orientedness” of Chinese literature of the 1950s. Socialist literature of the young PRC, as Nicolai Volland has convincingly demonstrated, was “a literature in the world, a literature of the world, a literature for the world” (3). It was shaped by and shaped the multiple and multidirectional flows of texts across national and linguistic borders, which constituted and characterized the emerging socialist literary universe. Reading the transnational and transcultural literary imaginaries as “configurations of world-ing” (4), Volland examines the roles that the literary world played in the making of the socialist world in the mid-twentieth century, tracing the transnational traffic in literary imagination. ​More important, reading world literature as a world-making activity reaffirms the importance of understanding, to borrow Pheng Cheah’s apt words, “the world as an ongoing, dynamic process of becoming, something continually made and remade . . . a dynamic process with a practical-actional dimension instead of a spatio-geographical category.”[1] Socialist Cosmopolitanism invites the reader to rethink the relationship between the force of literature and the openness of the world. Continue reading

Supernatural Sinophone Taiwan review

MCLC and MCLC Resource Center are pleased to announce publication of Alvin K. Wong’s review of Supernatural Sinophone Taiwan and Beyond (Cambria 2016), by Chia-rong Wu. The review appears below, but is best read online at: My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Enjoy, Kirk Denton, editor

Supernatural Sinophone Taiwan and Beyond
By Chia-rong Wu

Reviewed by Alvin K. Wong
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright May, 2018)

Chia-rong Wu. Supernatural Sinophone Taiwan and Beyond Amherst, NY: Cambria, 2016. vii-viii + 230 pp. ISBN: 9781604979213. (Hardcover: $ 109.99).

Chia-rong Wu’s Supernatural Sinophone Taiwan and Beyond is a most welcome addition to the burgeoning field of Sinophone studies. Sinophone, in its inaugural definition by Shu-mei Shih, refers to “a network of places of cultural production outside China and on the margins of China and Chineseness, where a historical process of heterogenizing and localizing of continental Chinese culture has been taking place for several centuries.”[1] Wu’s book makes three important contributions to the field of Sinophone studies. First, in connecting the zhiguai (志怪) tradition from the large canvas of premodern Chinese literature to contemporary Sinophone literature in Taiwan, Wu argues that “the ancient Chinese tradition of strange writing is still undead and further transforms in the literary production of Sinophone Taiwan” (8). Second, while it highlights manifestations of traditional strange writing in terms of issues of ethnicity, race, gender, and localism in the context of modern Taiwan history, the book also contributes to trans-spatial and trans-historical studies of both Chinese and Sinophone literature. This becomes apparent when Wu traces how figurations of the strange, the supernatural, and the spectral are linked to often traumatic narratives of border-crossing from the rich and painful history of Taiwan’s colonial past and postcolonial present. Finally, the “Introduction” demonstrates how strange narratives exemplify “an act of writing back” to dominant discourses of Chineseness, patriarchy, utilitarianism, and various forms of Sinocentrism (15). Continue reading

After-shocks of the 2008 earthquake

Source: NY Review of Books (May 9, 2018)
After-Shocks of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake
By Ian Johnson

Ruins from one of the most significant earthquakes in Chinese history, pictured a month before the tenth anniversary of the earthquake, Beichuan county, Mianyang, Sichuan, China, April 5, 2018. VCG/VCG via Getty Images

The province of Sichuan is a microcosm of China. Its east is flat, prosperous, and densely settled by ethnic Chinese. Its mountainous west is populated by poorer minorities, but possesses resources that help make the east rich.

In Sichuan, the highlands’ bounty is water and silt, which rush down from the Tibetan Plateau to the plains below through an ingenious set of irrigation waterworks at the town of Dujiangyan. Soon after this system was built, some 2,300 years ago, the intensive agriculture that it made possible turned the region into one of China’s economic dynamos, producing so much wealth that it helped the first emperor of China consolidate numerous fragmented states into one powerful realm. Continue reading

The Making and Remaking of China’s “Red Classics” review

MCLC and MCLC Resource Center are pleased to announce publication of Yizhong Gu’s review of The Making and Remaking of China’s “Red Classics”: Politics, Aesthetics and Mass Culture (Hong Kong University Press, 2018), edited by Rosemary Roberts and Li Li. The review appears below, but is best read online at: My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC  book review editor for literary studies, for ushering the review to publication.

Enjoy, Kirk Denton, editor

The Making and Remaking of China’s “Red Classics”: 
Politics, Aesthetics and Mass Culture

Edited by Rosemary Roberts and Li Li

Reviewed by Yizhong Gu
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright May, 2018)

Rosemary Roberts and Li Li, eds. The Making and Remaking of China’s “Red Classics”: Politics, Aesthetics and Mass Culture. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2018. v-xix + 199 pp. ISBN: 9789888390892. (Hardcover: $60.00 / £47.00).

The Making and Remaking of China’s “Red Classics” not only reveals the mechanisms and operations of Maoist ideology within a variety of cultural products, it also teases out how aspects of the Maoist legacy have been inherited, twisted, and channeled to serve sociopolitical purposes in the reform era (chapters are broadly divided into those addressing issues from the “Maoist Era” and those from the “Reform Era”). In the process, this volume both instantiates a rigorous methodology for the scholarly analysis of “Red Classics” and demonstrates how socialist works of art and aesthetics continue to inform PRC cultural production in the present.

Since the origin of the term “red classics” is unclear, the volume wisely circumvents the question that could lead to a deadlock: which literary and art works can be counted as “red classics”?[1] Instead, it adopts “the broadest understanding of the scope of the ‘red classics’” (ix), investigating not just literature but “films, TV series, picture books, cartoons, and traditional-style paintings” (xi). The editors address this array of media according to three key characteristics: “their sociopolitical and ideological import, their aesthetic significance, and their function as a mass cultural phenomenon” (xi). The volume engages in dialogue between English- and Chinese-language scholarship (two essays are translated from Chinese), a quite welcomed effort since Chinese scholarship on socialist literature is relatively limited for English readers. Although essays vary greatly in subject matter and discipline, the volume still reads like an organic whole (the volume emerged from a 2015 University of Queensland symposium). The authors cross-reference one another’s essays and trace some key theoretical features shared among “red classics” that will be of interest and inspiration both to China studies scholars and general readers who are interested in modern Chinese literature, politics, and culture. Continue reading

Taiwan’s laws on language

Source: Quartz (5/9/18)
Taiwan’s laws on language are showing China what it means to be a modern, inclusive country
By Nikhil Sonnad

Supporters react during a rally after Taiwan’s constitutional court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to legally marry, the first such ruling in Asia, in Taipei. All are welcome. (Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

Taiwan was once considered an economic miracle. Now economic progress there has slowed to a halt as China, Taiwan’s imposing neighbor, grows bigger by the day.

But in terms of social progress, Taiwan is decades ahead—showing people in China that a modern, multicultural, and tolerant Chinese society is possible.

Consider the difference between Taiwan and China’s language policies. Legislators in Taiwan are preparing to redefine what constitutes a “national language.” If the new definition is enacted, which is likely, Taiwanese—the local variant of the Minnan language of southern China—will receive equal treatment with Mandarin. That would be unthinkable in China, where Mandarin’s status as the sole standard language is absolute.

The Taiwanese language is everywhere in Taiwan. It is spoken at home by over 80% of the population. Would-be politicians feel the need to campaign in Taiwanese in order to win elections. Yet it has not been given the status of a national language. That is in part because the language has endured long periods of inequity relative to Mandarin, even in Taiwan. When the Kuomintang party arrived on the island in the 1940s, fleeing its losing battle with the Chinese communists, it banned the use of Taiwanese in schools and in the media, declaring that Mandarin should be the language of the island.

The new rule would change that, expanding on a separate act passed last year that gave several indigenous languages “national” status. Areas with large populations that speak Taiwanese will be allowed to use them in official documents and legal affairs. And the government will have an obligation to teach Taiwanese and the indigenous languages as part of the standard, 12-year curriculum, as well as to develop writing systems and dictionaries in those languages.

That level of commitment to minority languages would be impressive even for a Western country. In the United States, for example, it is hard to find national efforts to support any language other than English. But more than anything, the new rule reveals the growing cultural distance between Taiwan and China, and how much Taiwan has developed socially.

China doesn’t like the Minnan that can be heard in shops and food stalls across Taiwan. It considers Minnan, or Taiwanese, the language of the Taiwan independence movement. The prospect of possible retaliation from Beijing has long delayed Taiwan from giving the language a more official status.

China’s policies on minority languages, meanwhile, are stuck in the 20th century. Linguistically, China is extremely diverse. It is home to at least 100 distinct languages. Yet the Chinese government’s policy is based on the Stalinist assertion that a nation must have a single shared language, and that everyone in the nation must speak it. “A national community is inconceivable without a common language,” Stalin wrotein 1913. In 2000, China enacted a law to that effect, establishing putonghua—or “common speech,” as Mandarin is called in China—as the sole national language for the “unification of the country.” That means that Mandarin should come before all other languages.

The official rules in China don’t ban minority languages. And the same law that established Mandarin as the national language states that citizens “shall have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages.”

But in many cases, the Communist Party perceives minority languages as being in conflict with higher-priority concerns, such as the nationwide promotion of Mandarin, national sovereignty, and cultural unification of the kind that Stalin advocated.

“If you promote the use of those [minority] languages in public domains, then the government might have a different view,” says Minglang Zhou, a professor at the University of Maryland who studies minority language policy in China. “They think that threatens the use of putonghua, and citizens’ identification with the Chinese nation.”

The Tibetan language is a good example of how these priorities shake out in practice.

“If you look at Tibetan, you can see this gradual shift from using Tibetan for instruction in classrooms to using Chinese,” Zhou adds. This is mostly the result of the 2000 language law. China might allow minority groups to develop their own languages, but the national effort is focused on getting 80% of citizens speaking Mandarin.

The two goals can be mutually exclusive. Mandarin-speaking teachers are sent to areas where Chinese is not spoken as well, and where they might not be able to speak the local language. The result is that in Tibet, the local language is, at best, relegated to a language class, and not used as the medium of instruction.

In addition to challenging the primacy of Mandarin, the party views the Tibetan language as a threat to Chinese sovereignty and identification with the nation of China. It doesn’t want citizens seeing themselves as Tibetans first. A strong Tibetan language movement might bring that about. China may claim that minorities have the right to develop their languages, but it also put on trial an activist who wanted more Tibetan in schools, accusing him of “inciting separatism.”

Essentially, China is not concerned with making minority languages more frequently spoken. It wants them to be preserved as interesting bits of Chinese history, like artifacts in a museum.

Therein lies the difference with Taiwan. Giving Taiwanese equal status will allow the language to thrive in everyday life, whether in schools, official documents, or popular media. It is not meant to be a historical artifact. If Mandarin is preferred in some setting, it will be because it is a common language, not because it has been deemed so from on high.

Taiwan has had enough time being governed independently from China to develop its own identity. The renewed emphasis on the Taiwanese language is one symptom of that. At the same time, its language policies show how Taiwan has developed into a pluralistic democracy, even as China moves in the opposite direction, toward greater unification. Taiwan’s renewed promotion of indigenous languages tries to reckon with historical injustices, even as China arrests Tibetan language activists. Last year, Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage as China shut down a popular lesbian dating app.

In addition to being an act of pluralism, Taiwan’s proposed language law probably has political motivations. It sends a message to China that Taiwan does not need, or want, to abide by Beijing’s rules. But it also shows people in China that top-down unification is not the only way to govern an ethnically and linguistically diverse country where Mandarin is the lingua franca.

Anger over earthquake-themed model photo shoot

Source: SCMP (5/9/18)
Anger over Sichuan earthquake-themed model photo shoot
Organisers cancel event after criticism of plans to take pictures of models amid rubble to mark the 10th anniversary of the disaster that killed 69,000 in southwest China
By Keegan Elmer

A file picture of a memorial to the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. Photo: Simon Song

A social media channel in China has been strongly criticised online for promoting a photo shoot with attractive models on the theme of the Sichuan earthquake, a newspaper reported.

The channel on the messaging app WeChat invited photographers to pay 999 yuan (US$157) to take pictures during the shoot called “Blooms in the Rubble”, marking the 10th anniversary of the disaster, Beijing Morning Post reported. Continue reading

Rare bird gift to Japan

Source: SCMP (5/7/18)
The two rare birds that could give a lift to China’s ties with Japan
Beijing might announce the donation of a pair of crested ibises during the Chinese premier’s trip to Tokyo, the first gift of its kind in more than a decade
Kyodo News

The crested ibis was thought to be extinct in the wild until seven were found in Yang county in 1981. Photo: Xinhua

China is expected to agree to donate a pair of crested ibises to Japan during a summit meeting later this week in the hope that it will mark the two countries’ improving ties, bilateral diplomatic sources said.

If Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang agree to the donation in Tokyo on Wednesday, it will be China’s first donation of the endangered birds to Japan in 11 years. Continue reading

The Moving Target

The Moving Target: A Workshop on Translation and Chinese Poetry
June 1–2, 2018 | Leiden University
Convened by Maghiel van Crevel and Lucas Klein

From the Book of Songs to 21st-century migrant worker poetry and from Yu Xiuhua in English to Paul Celan in Chinese:

Papers by Joseph Allen, Lucas Klein, Nicholas Morrow Williams, Zhou Min, Tara Coleman, Chris Song, Christopher Lupke, Jenn Marie Nunes, Meng Liansu, Joanna Krenz, Jacob Edmond, Eleanor Goodman, Nick Admussen, Rui Kunze, Maghiel van Crevel, and Wilt Idema. Full program:

Posted by: Maghiel van Crevel <>

Marx Got It Right (1)

Marx is indeed still relevant in China.  R. D. Laing offered an elegant summary of his most pertinent doctrine:

Marx used the concept of mystification to mean a plausible misrepresentation of what is going on (process) or what is being done (praxis) in the service of the interests of one socioeconomic class (the exploiters) over or against another class (the exploited).

By representing forms of exploitation as forms of benevolence, the exploiters bemuse the exploited into feeling at one with their exploiters, or into feeling gratitude for what (unrealized by them) is their exploitation, and, not least, into feeling bad or mad even to think of rebellion.

A. E. Clark <>

Writers arrested for slurs about dairy company

Source: Sup China (5/7/18)
A murky tale from Inner Mongolia — writers arrested for ‘slurs’ about dairy company
Jeremy Goldkorn

The South China Morning Post reports on two Chinese writers who were detained and accused of “defamation and picking quarrels and provoking troubles” (诽谤罪、“寻衅滋事罪 fěibàng zuì, “xúnxìn zīshì zuì) for online “slurs” about the giant dairy company Yili.

  • The two writers, Zou Guangxiang 邹光祥 and Liu Chengkun 刘成, were arrested at their homes in Beijing by police officers from Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia,according to Xinhua (in Chinese). Yili’s headquarters are in Hohhot.
  • Liu, a former journalist, is accused of posting to WeChat a “fictional” story about a company very similar to Yili. The “fictional” company is run by a chairman similar to Yili boss Pan Gang 潘刚. Based on Liu’s story, Zou posted to his WeChat public account that Pan had been detained recently when he returned to China from the U.S.
  • Liu’s and Zou’s posts went viral on March 26, and on the same day, Yili’s share price fell by more than 3.5 percent. Yili’s response has been to state that Pan had been in the U.S. receiving medical treatment, but that he continued to participate in regular decision making and important meetings while abroad.
  • “Starting and spreading rumors: fame and profit by making a WeChat public account go viral” is how Xinhua characterizes Liu’s and Zou’s work (造谣传谣:让公众号“火”起来以博取名利 zàoyáo chuán yáo: ràng gōngzhòng hào huǒ qǐlái yǐ bóqǔ mínglì).
  • The arrests “came after an official inquiry into the case, which also triggered a national outcry over Beijing’s ever-tightening grip on people’s right to free expression online,” according to the SCMP.

Marx Got It Right

Source: NYT (5/5/18)
On This Chinese TV Show, Participants Have Nothing to Lose but Their Chains
查看简体中文版 | 查看繁體中文版
By Chris Buckley

“Marx Got It Right,” a new TV show, is among the Communist Party’s attempts to reach a younger audience.CreditChina Central Television

BEIJING — Regal orchestral music strikes up, a computer-animated train races by and an old man with a bushy white beard looms onto the television screen. Then the studio audience applauds as an effervescent host opens an episode of China’s latest prime-time entertainment.

It looks like another Chinese talk show, but the bearded man is Karl Marx. This is “Marx Got It Right,” a slickly produced program that is part talk show, part indoctrination session — and a vivid illustration of the quirky efforts that the Communist Party under Xi Jinping is making to win over China’s millennials. Continue reading

Can literary imports change Chinese perceptions of Africa

Source: Sixth Tone (5/7/18)
Can Literary Imports Change Chinese Perceptions of Africa?
The continent’s best-loved texts are increasingly being translated into Chinese, but publishers are skeptical of their wider influence.
By Bruce Humes

A man reads a book at a bookstore in Beijing, May 6, 2018. Bo Xiang/IC

Western media frequently depicts China as a neocolonial power that seeks to import Africa’s natural resources at fire-sale prices, with precious little interest in the continent’s people or culture. At the same time, certain Chinese media outlets have recently come under the spotlight for their representations of Africans, while many black people in China complain that interactions are rife with racist stereotypes.

While economic considerations drive much cross-cultural exchange between China and Africa, the latter’s cultural exports have the potential to profoundly shape the ways Chinese people view the continent. The translation of African literature, for example, may give Chinese readers valuable insights into the sheer diversity of human culture and experience across the region. Continue reading

TAP Review, spring 2018

The spring 2018 issue of the Trans Asia Photography Review is now available at You may need to refresh your browser to see the new contents. Addressing the theme of “Voyages”, this issue features the following articles and book reviews:

Book Reviews

Wu Yao, Review of Tong Bingxue, History of Photo Studios in China, 1859–1956 中国照相馆史

Carlos Quijon, Jr., Review of  Zhuang Wubin, Photography in Southeast Asia: A Survey

Articles/Curatorial Projects

Qiuzi Guo, The Odyssey of an Amateur Chinese Photographer: Nostalgia, War, and Exile in the Work of Jin Shisheng Continue reading