New Studies in Socialist Performance

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Xiaomei Chen’s “New Studies in Socialist Performance: A Review Essay,” which reviews Staging Revolution: Artistry and Aesthetics in Model Beijing Opera during the Cultural Revolution, by Xing Fan, and Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy, by Emily Wilcox. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/xiaomei-chen/. My thanks to Jason McGrath, MCLC book review editor for media studies, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

New Studies in Socialist Performance: A Review Essay

Staging Revolution: Artistry and Aesthetics in Model Beijing Opera during the Cultural Revolution, by Xing Fan
Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy, by Emily Wilcox


Reviewed by Xiaomei Chen
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright June, 2020)


Xing Fan, Staging Revolution: Artistry and Aesthetics in Model Beijing Opera during the Cultural Revolution Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2018. 308 pp. ISBN: 978-988-8455-81-2 (cloth).

Emily Wilcox, Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy Berkeley: University of California Press, 2018. 322 pp. ISBN: 9780520300576 (cloth).

This review essay examines two outstanding recent books in Chinese performance studies: Xing Fan’s monograph Staging Revolution: Artistry and Aesthetics in Model Peking Opera during the Cultural Revolution (Hong Kong University Press, 2018) and Emily Wilcox’s Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy (University of California Press, 2019). Both books are substantial and significant contributions to theatre studies, contemporary Chinese literary and cultural studies, and comparative Asian theatre history, with a sharp focus on aesthetic traditions in the context of intellectual and political history.

Xing Fan’s Staging Revolution focuses on the complexities of the “revolutionary modern Peking opera” promoted during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), also widely known as “model theatre.” She is among the very few in English language scholarship to fully delve into the aesthetic features of Peking opera (jingju 京剧) in the modern period, with an emphasis on five major components of jingju arts: playwriting, acting, music, design, and directing. Staging Revolution expands the scope of Barbara Mittler’s remarkable book A Continuous Revolution: Making Sense of Cultural Revolution Culture (Harvard University East Asian Center, 2013) and Rosemary A. Roberts’s excellent study Maoist Model TheatreThe Semiotics of Gender and Sexuality in the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) (Brill, 2010)With a comprehensive study of the artistry of model theatre, Fan’s Staging Revolution has raised to a new level the academic study of the model theatre, and by extension, the cultural legacy of the Cultural Revolution.

The scope of her book, moreover, reaches beyond the period of the Cultural Revolution. Her succinct narrative of jingju history and practice—from the late eighteenth century to the Yan’an period of the 1930s-40s and on to the high Maoist period before the Cultural Revolution—delineates a rich history of the sociological and ideological functions of jingju and its artistic heritage and development, with the latter being the most innovative contribution of Fan’s book. Continue reading

Illiberal China review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Gabriele de Seta’s review of Illiberal China: The Ideologicial Challenge of the People’s Republic of China, by Daniel F. Vukovich. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/de-seta/. My thanks to Jason McGrath, MCLC media studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

Illiberal China: The Ideological Challenge
of the People’s Republic of China

By Daniel F. Vukovich


Reviewed by Gabriele de Seta

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright April, 2020)


Daniel F. Vukovich, Illiberal China: The Ideological Challenge of the People’s Republic of China London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. 250 pages. ISBN: 9789811344466 (Paper); 978-9811305405 (Hardcover).

Daniel F. Vukovich’s Illiberal China is an unabashedly provocative book, both in the sense of stringing together provocations that spare no academic field or political camp (except, perhaps, the author’s own) and in the sense of being thought-provoking (if, at times, in a maddeningly disagreeable way). The title of this book is almost a détournement of Elizabeth J. Perry’s 2012 article “The Illiberal Challenge of Authoritarian China,”[1] which is herein repeatedly referenced and functions as a springboard for Vukovich’s own argument. A few pages in, it becomes rapidly clear how Vukovich has taken Perry’s sensible conclusion—that “under certain conditions, a robust civil society may actually work to strengthen and sustain an attentive authoritarian regime” (Perry, 15)—and subtly reshuffled the terms of her formulation: instead of the illiberal challenge posed by Chinese authoritarianism, the author identifies instead China’s illiberalism as a challenge to the liberal world. The latter is often equated with the West, which conveniently overlaps with the other target of the book’s critique: orientalism, and more specifically the brand of “Sinological orientalism” that was the target of Vukovich’s previous monograph (2013).[2] Illiberal China is chronologically situated after 1989—Vukovich has previously written about orientalist interpretations of the Tiananmen square protests[3]—and maps the vicissitudes of liberal and illiberal politics during China’s “definitive and even epochal” rise on the world stage (vii). Continue reading

Animation in the Sinosphere

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of “Animation in the Sinosphere: A Review Essay,” by Evelyn Shih. The essay reviews two recent publications on animation in China and Taiwan. The review appears below, and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/evelyn-shih/. My thanks to Jason McGrath, MCLC media studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

Animation in the Sinosphere: A Review Essay

Puppets, Gods, and Brands: Theorizing the Age of Animation from Taiwan, by Teri Silvio
Animated Encounters: Transnational Movements of Chinese Animation, 1940s-1970s, by Daisy Yan Du


Reviewed by Evelyn Shih
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright May, 2020)


Teri Silvio, Puppets, Gods, and Brands: Theorizing the Age of Animation from Taiwan Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2019. 290 pages. ISBN: 9780824881160 (Paper); 9780824876623 (Hardcover).

Daisy Yan Du, Animated Encounters: Transnational Movements of Chinese Animation Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2019. 276 pages. ISBN: 9780824877644 (Paper); 9780824872106 (Hardcover).

Has the age of animation begun? And if it has, to whom does it belong? Two new books on Chinese and Taiwanese animation bring these questions into focus using materials that have thus far received scant attention in English-language scholarship. In global animation studies, by far the dominant loci for animation have been America and Japan—the former beginning with the worldwide stardom of Mickey Mouse, and the latter beginning with the post-WWII boom of anime, which subsequently drew interest to earlier animation and related media. The modes of animation that emerged from these locations have come to define the paradigms through which most scholars approach animation, and included among these framing paradigms is the specter of national cinema. While both Teri Silvio’s Puppets, Gods, and Brands: Theorizing the Age of Animation from Taiwan and Daisy Yan Du’s Animated Encounters: Transnational Movements of Chinese Animation engage with that framework, they also work to push the model forward with new perspectives.

Silvio challenges “Japanamerica” through the lens of post-colonialism, taking as her case study a past colony of Japan and a neo-colonial client state of the US: Taiwan.[1] More importantly, however, she broadens the field of animation studies by finding an interdisciplinary interface with anthropology and religious studies—that is, she engages seriously with media studies, especially areas such as fan and reception studies, film analysis, and production studies, but her strength is in cultural theory. The “age of animation” that she proposes in her title is not just an acknowledgement of increasingly sophisticated digital technologies and virtual realities reaching a new level of omnipresence in contemporary life; it also redefines animation as a mode of post-humanism. As she puts it, “animation in the narrow sense (a kind of cinema or video) is popular because animation in the broad sense (giving objects lives of their own) is good to think with—specifically, to think through what is happening right now in the intersections of technology and capitalism, of the global and the local, of the human and the nonhuman” (3). In one deft move, Silvio provincializes Japanese and American animation, which is after all just “a kind of cinema or video,” and finds a larger question that puts a relatively marginal mode of Taiwanese puppet animation at the center. Puppets, after all, are objects that exist precisely to have a “life of their own.” Continue reading

After Eunuchs review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Elise Huerta’s review of After Eunuchs: Science, Medicine, and the Transformation of Sex in Modern China, by Howard Chiang. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/huerta/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

After Eunuchs: Science, Medicine,
and the Transformation of Sex in Modern China

By Howard Chiang


Reviewed by Elise Huerta

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright April, 2020)


Howard Chiang, After Eunuchs: Science, Medicine, and the Transformation of Sex in Modern China New York: Columbia University Press, 2020. xx + 391 pgs. ISBN: 9780231185790 (Paper); Hardcover published 2018: ISBN: 9780231185783.

Since the late 1980s, China scholars have produced a steady stream of research on sex, gender, and feminism that has critically reframed the way the field approaches major topics such as love, labor, nationalism, and modernity. Despite the vast magnitude of  existing work on sexuality and same-sex desire, Howard Chiang’s After Eunuchs: Science, Medicine, and the Transformation of Sex in Modern China (2018) is the first book-length history of sex change to appear within the field of Chinese studies. In this meticulously-researched interdisciplinary study, Chiang unearths a plethora of archival evidence to not only shed fresh light on decades-long debates about shifting discourses of sex in modern China, but also to reveal the precise mechanisms and conditions that made such discourses possible. Chiang’s detailed close reading of visual and literary texts, his rigorous engagement with queer, Sinophone, and post-structuralist theories, and his sensitive treatment of the archive culminate in a coherent and convincing genealogy of sex in China, from the demise of eunuchism in the late imperial period through the emergence of public discourse on transsexuals in 1950s Taiwan. The book’s major historical intervention is its establishing of an unexpected relationship between these two phenomena, arguing that the conceptual foundation necessary for “transsexual” to emerge as an intelligible category in 1950s Taiwan can be traced back to a three-pronged “‘epistemic nexus’” that came to the fore during the early twentieth century (13). This nexus, which posited a new conceptualization of sex as composed of  “elements of visibility, carnality, and elasticity,” was constructed by Chinese sexologists and self-proclaimed “sexperts” who developed globally-circulating ideas within the context of examples from traditional culture, among which was the body of the eunuch (14). Continue reading

The Book of Shanghai review

Source: China Channel, LARB (5/11/20)
Map of Shanghai’s Neglected Crannies
By Kevin McGeary
Kevin McGeary reviews a new story collection, The Book of Shanghai

Cover of The Book of Shanghai.

In 2019, the Globe and Mail published an op-ed titled ‘Welcome to Shanghai: Capital of the Future.’ In it, the author describes his experience of visiting the city as like “walking through the looking glass into the future.” Citing the city’s “muscular” building strategy, colossal scale, citizens’ entrepreneurial energy, and (of course) China’s ancient history, much of the article would not have been out of place in The Global Times. While he says London and New York are “the world’s current leading cities,” some of his arguments as to why Shanghai is primed to overtake them are strong.

Yet fiction leaves more room for exploring the conflict between how a city sees itself and how the world sees it. At its best, literature can capture both the appealing and the abhorrent aspects of a particular time and place. As editor Jin Li mentions in his introduction to a new collection of fiction based in the city, The Book of Shanghai, unlike Beijing, Xi’an or nearby Hangzhou, Shanghai did not become a major city until after the first Opium War when the colonial powers used it as a port. From its hey-day in the 1920s, Shanghai was an important hub through which an ancient culture entered the modern world. Continue reading

Manchukuo Perspectives review

fMCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of of Pei-Yin Lin’s review of Manchukuo Perspectives: Transnational Approaches to Literary Production, edited by Annika A. Culver and Norman Smith. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/pei-yin-lin/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC book review editor for literary studies, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

Manchukuo Perspectives:
Transnational Approaches to Literary Production

Edited by Annika A. Culver and Norman Smith


Reviewed by Pei-Yin Lin
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright May, 2020)


Annika A. Culver adn Norman Smith, eds., Manchukuo Perspectives: Transnational Approaches to Literary Production. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2019. xii + 315 pgs. ISBN: 978-988-8528-13-4.

Since the 1990s, a growing body of scholarship on the Japanese Empire has embarked upon a systematic “de-imperialization.” This effort is manifested primarily through two interrelated reappraisals. The first is that of the literary production from Japan’s former colonies, such as Taiwan and Korea, as well as its occupied areas, such as Manchuria. The impetus of this type of de-imperialization is to eschew the rigid colonizer-colonized and collaboration-resistance dichotomies, in order to paint a more nuanced picture of how individual writers navigated the muddy waters between censorship and identity[1] in their literary negotiations with “colonial modernity”; this approach also sheds light on how the subjectivity of Japanese citizens was artistically renegotiated in relation to Japan proper and its colonies.[2] The second type of reappraisal explores the transnational (or trans-colonial) literary interactions within the Japanese Empire or Japanophone cultural representations,[3] offering an alternative framework through which to understand dynamic exchanges across Japanese colonies and semi-colonies. Continue reading

The flowers blooming in the dark

Source: NYRB (3/26/20)
The Flowers Blooming in the Dark
By Ian Johnson

(Getty Images) A visitor reads ‘One Day in 2003,’ a diary story also broadcast over a loudspeaker at The Factory, which housed exhibitions during the first Beijing International Art Biennale, in northern Beijing, September 21, 2003.

Voices from the Chinese Century: Public Intellectual Debate from Contemporary China
edited by Timothy Cheek, David Ownby, and Joshua A. Fogel
Columbia University Press

Rethinking China’s Rise: A Liberal Critique
by Xu Jilin, translated from the Chinese and edited by David Ownby
Cambridge University Press

Minjian: The Rise of China’s Grassroots Intellectuals
by Sebastian Veg
Columbia University Press

Ever since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, Chinese people have sought to give voice to how they would like their country to be run. In 1956, Mao Zedong announced a brief flourishing of free speech called the “Hundred Flowers Campaign,” referring to a vibrant era in antiquity that gave rise to Confucianism, Daoism, Legalism, and other ideas that went on to dominate Chinese thought for thousands of years. Of course, Mao didn’t really want such an atmosphere to take hold; it was a trap, and people who spoke out in favor of political reform or against government abuses were quickly snapped up by the security apparatus. China entered a 20-year period of brutal policies that only ended with Mao’s death and the purging of his allies in the late 1970s.

In 1978, Deng Xiaoping began to relax government control over the economy and society, allowing a freewheeling decade of spirited discussion in which the country’s future seemed up for grabs. It ended with the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, setting China on what many people now take to be its inevitable course: that of a development dictatorship, in which economic growth is guided by a repressive state that brooks little opposition. Continue reading

A Stormy Petrel review

Source: The International (4/28/20)
‘A Stormy Petrel’: Hong Kong Governor John Pope Hennessy
P. Kevin MacKeown’s biography ‘A Stormy Petrel’ (City University of Hong Kong, 2020) argues for John Pope Hennessy as a character full of contradictions, bridling against his historical circumstances but never quite transcending them.
Reviewed by Nicholas Haggerty

The only physical vestiges of British colonial governor John Pope Hennessy in Hong Kong, other than a street or public space named after him, is the foliage. He pioneered a reforestation campaign, planting over a million trees along the avenues and hillsides.

This longevity contrasts with Pope Hennessy’s short-lived political vision. He was neither an especially effective political operator nor an anti-colonial visionary. His plans were typically flustered by his ease at making enemies or, more often, just the structures of colonial rule.

The biographer P. Kevin MacKeown’s purpose in A Stormy Petrel is not so much restoring Pope Hennessy’s reputation as an important historical figure but an appreciation of him as a fascinating character. He makes for an intriguing comparison with Carrie Lam, as she likewise makes decisions with an eye toward their reception in a distant capital. Continue reading

The Journey of Liu Xiaobo review

Soure: SCMP (4/18/20)
The Journey of Liu Xiaobo reveals how Chinese dissident went from ‘dark horse’ to Nobel laureate
Friends and colleagues recall the late Nobel Peace Prize winner and a fearless champion of human rights and democracy in China
By Ajay Singh

Chinese dissident and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. Photo: EPA

Chinese dissident and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. Photo: EPA

The Journey of Liu Xiaobo: From Dark Horse to Nobel Laureate
edited by Joanne Leedom-Ackerman with Yu Zhang and others
Potomac Books

Towards the end of a book launch held in Taipei in July 2017, bestselling Chinese author and demo­cracy advocate Yu Jie invoked a quote that was also the title of his latest work: “Take out a rib and use it as a torch.” Socrates had used these words, the author told the gathering, but Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo had practised them throughout his life.

Liu Xiaobo was someone who used his rib as a torch to light the darkness of China after the June 4 massacre,” said Yu, alluding to Liu’s non-violent activism and prolific writing following the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Moments later, Yu received a text message, informing him that Liu had died.

Yu describes the loss of his best friend and winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize in an emotionally charged article included in The Journey of Liu Xiaobo: From Dark Horse to Nobel Laureate, a marvellous collection of 70 essays and reflections – and a few poems – by the late dissident’s friends, acquaintances and academic colleagues. Continue reading

Chinese Grammatology review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Shuheng (Diana) Zhang’s review of Chinese Grammatology: Script Revolution and Literary Modernity, 1916-1958, by Yurou Zhong. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/shuheng-zhang/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

Chinese Grammatology:
Script Revolution and Literary Modernity, 1916-1958

By Yurou Zhong


Reviewed by Shuheng (Diana) Zhang
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright April, 2020)


Yurou Zhong, Chinese Grammatology: Script Revolution and Literary Modernity, 1916-1958 New York: Columbia UP, 2019. Xiii + 279 pages. ISBN: 9780231192637 (paper); ISBN: 9780231192620 (cloth).

Yurou Zhong’s Chinese Grammatology: Script Revolution and Literary Modernity, 1916-1958 is a noteworthy study of a monumental contestation that took place roughly during the first half of the twentieth century between advocates of Chinese logographs and proponents of various phonocentric efforts “to eliminate Chinese characters and implement a Chinese alphabet” (p. 1). Below, I have structured this review of Zhong’s book around a parsing of its title, which provides an efficient way to approach the book’s main foci/contents and to evaluate the author’s achievements.

While the key term, “grammatology,” may not be known to many readers, it is fairly clear what Yurou Zhong means by it: the science of writing (p. 4). But this is “Chinese grammatology,” which we might think of as “grammatology with Chinese characteristics.” And what would that be? It is grammatology that focuses on the special features and nature of the Chinese writing system that are all too often overlooked in universal schemes of the history of writing and the history of linguistics. That is to say, Zhong wishes to take grammatology seriously, but not at the expense of ignoring the stark differences between phonetic scripts and Chinese characters. In the end, she aims to find a new path that combines phoneticism and logography as the vital embodiment of yǔwén 語文, which is how Chinese language textbooks and classes are denominated in China today. Continue reading

Chinese Surplus review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Howard Y. F. Choy’s review of Chinese Surplus: Biopolitical Aesthetics and the Medically Commodified Body, by Ari Larissa Heinrich. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/choy/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

Chinese Surplus: Biopolitical Aesthetics
and the Medically Commodified Body

By Ari Larissa Heinrich


Reviewed by Howard Y. F. Choy
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright April, 2020)


Ari Larissa Heinrich, Chinese Surplus: Biopolitical Aesthetics and the Medically Commodified Body Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018. xi + 246 pgs. ISBN: 978-0-8223-7053-6 (Paper) / ISBN: 978-0-8223-7041-3 (Cloth).

Seven months after Ari Larissa Heinrich’s Chinese Surplus: Biopolitical Aesthetics and the Medically Commodified Body was published by Duke University Press in March 2018, the BBC’s health correspondent Matthew Hill followed up his earlier news report titled “China’s Questionable Organ Transplant Trade.”[1] Although organ harvesting from executed Falun Gong 法轮功 sectarians and political prisoners of conscience is not Heinrich’s main concern (briefly mentioned, p. 127), the appearance of Heinrich’s book, which addresses representations of the medically commercialized body in contemporary Chinese literature, art, and film, is timely. The monograph is a sequel to the author’s The Afterlife of Images: Translating the Pathological Body between China and the West (Duke UP, 2008), which investigated how the modern Chinese body and identity were defined by the languages of medicine, science, and realism through literary and cultural translations in the early twentieth century. Crossing the boundaries between biotech and culture, Heinrich continues to explore how the Chinese body is narrated, displayed, and visualized in the postcolonial context with “the emergences of new medical technologies designed to map, quantify, and ultimately aestheticize hard knowledge of the body” (p. 9). Continue reading

Mai Jia’s The Message review

Source: SCMP (4/10/20)
The Message, Mai Jia’s flawed wartime novel, can be read as disguised criticism of Chinese Communist rule
A fiction about the hunt for a spy among wartime codebreakers combines with a metafictional narrative about a writer looking for the story. The popularity of this bloated book is puzzling until it is read as a comment on the trauma of the Cultural Revolution
By Mike Cormack

Chinese author Mai Jia, whose best-selling novel The Message was recently translated in to English. Photo: Getty Images

Chinese author Mai Jia, whose best-selling novel The Message was recently translated in to English. Photo: Getty Images

The Message [風聲], by Mai Jia, tr. Olivia Milburn
Head of Zeus

Mai Jia’s books, now being translated and published in English, make great play of his huge sales in China. With global sales of 10 million, he is “the bestselling author you’ve never heard of”, according to the market­ing hype.

His first novel, Decoded (2002), earned positive reviews from English-language media when it was translated in 2014 and has now been published in 33 languages. A large part of Mai Jia’s appeal, no doubt, derives from his background in the Chinese intelligence services, with Decoded focusing on crypto­graphy and espionage, although it is set during World War II, which eases matters when publishing in the mainland.

The Message, which was published in Chinese in 2007, has a similar premise. In 1941, five codebreakers (Chief of Staff Wu Zhiguo, Section Chief Jin Shenghuo, cryptographer Li Ningyu, Secretary Bai Xiaonian and Gu Xiaomeng, a subordinate of Li) are taken to a comman­deered villa in occupied Hangzhou by the Imperial Japanese Army. They are informed of communist activity in the area and given an intercepted message from a Commander Zhang to decode. Continue reading

Creating the Intellectual review

MCLC and MCLC Resource Center are pleased to announce publication of Sebastian Veg’s review of Creating the Intellectual: Chinese Communism and the Rise of a Classification, by Eddy U. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/veg/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

Creating the Intellectual:
Chinese Communism and the Rise of a Classification

By Eddy U


Reviewed by Sebastian Veg
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright April, 2020)


Eddy U, Creating the Intellectual: Chinese Communism and the Rise of a Classification Oakland: University of California Press, 2019. xix + 226 pgs. ISBN: 9780520303690 (paper).

Eddy U has been studying intellectuals in the communist and PRC context for a number of years, and it is very pleasing to see many of the strands he has previously explored collected and reorganized into a new monograph. Creating the Intellectual is devoted not so much to the people usually called “intellectuals” in various contexts as to the category of zhishifenzi (知识分子), which U argues is mutually constitutive with Chinese communism. Rather than examining a pre-existing group, the book investigates how Chinese communism instituted a top-down reordering of people into class subjects based on Marxist ideology, and how this reordering defined the party’s governing practice. U adopts a theoretical approach that he terms “institutional-constructivist” (4), in which he examines how the category of zhishifenzi was constructed both through institutions of classification and registration that “objectified” intellectuals, and through the representations that made the category visible and meaningful in social interactions. In his argument, classification is a tool of domination, but also the result of ongoing negotiations within society. From an early date, the party felt a need to harness expertise and at the same time to contain the political threat posed by the holders of that expertise. For this reason, it became expedient for the party to define communism against the ideas and lifestyles of intellectuals. This in turn stimulated an oppositional identity among intellectuals, and the imaginary enemy became real, in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Continue reading

The Unworthy Scholar of Pingjiang review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Roland Altenburger’s review of The Unworthy Scholar of Pingjiang: Republican-Era Martial Arts Fiction, by Christopher John Hamm. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/altenburger/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

The Unworthy Scholar from Pingjiang:
Republican-Era Martial Arts Fiction

By John Christopher Hamm


Reviewed by Roland Altenburger
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright April, 2020)


John Christopher Hamm, The Unworthy Scholar from Pingjiang: Republican-Era Martial Arts Fiction New York: Columbia University Press, 2019. ix + 299 pgs. ISBN: 9780231190565 (hardback).

Chris Hamm is acknowledged as the leading English-language scholar of twentieth-century Chinese martial arts fiction (武俠小說), hitherto primarily on the basis of his acclaimed Paper Swordsmen, which since its publication has become the standard work on Louis Cha’s (pseud. Jin Yong 金庸, 1924-2018) fictional oeuvre.[1] Hamm’s latest book, The Unworthy Scholar from Pingjiang: Republican-Era Martial Arts Fiction, is a “prequel” of sorts to Paper Swordsmen, examining the oeuvre of Xiang Kairan (向愷然, pseud. [平江]不肖生, 1889-1957), who has often been credited with the single-handed “invention” or “creation” of the genre of martial arts fiction, based on his two landmark serial novels Marvelous Gallants of the Rivers and Lakes (江湖奇俠傳, 1924-1930) and Chivalric Heroes of Modern Times (近代俠義英雄傳, 1926-1929). Hamm unpacks this as, at least partly, a myth forged by editors and publishers, but nevertheless confirms Xiang’s key role in the establishment of martial arts fiction within the landscape of commercial entertainment fiction, and posits Xiang’s two serial novels, with their specific features, as seminal to the genre. Hamm also brings Xiang’s earliest major publication, The Unofficial History of Sojourners in Japan (留東外史, 1916-1922), a novel of social scandal (黑幕小說), into the picture, thereby situating Xiang’s oeuvre as a window into old-style fiction more generally. Consequently, Hamm manages to expand what at first may seem a rather conventional author-and-works approach into a much broader and more ambitious investigation of literary genre, the milieu and networks of commercial entertainment fiction writing, and the mode of publication by serialization in periodicals. This thoughtfully organized book proceeds from the contexts to the texts, from bio-bibliography to literary genre, then on to form and media, before finally turning to a detailed discussion of the author’s main works. Incorporating a host of paratextual sources, he admirably and thoroughly fleshes out the various contexts before undertaking an insightful analysis of these three Xiang Kairan novels. Continue reading

Hard truths about China’s soft power

Source: The American Interest (3/30/20)
Hard Truths About China’s “Soft Power”
Is China’s brand of coercive “soft power” a contradiction in terms? A new edited volume helps cut through the morass.
By MARTHA BAYLES

Soft Power With Chinese Characteristics: China’s Campaign for Hearts and Minds
edited by Kingsley Edney, Stanley Rosen, and Ying Zhu
Routledge, 2020; 296 pages; priced from $155.00 (hardback) to $22.48 (six-month e-book rental)]

When opening Soft Power With Chinese Characteristics, a timely new volume that arrives amid a flood of COVID-19-fueled disinformation, it is important to notice the irony embedded in the title. The phrase “with Chinese characteristics” is used by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) whenever it borrows a Western idea or practice to utilize for its own purposes. For example, in the early 1980s, when Deng Xiaoping was introducing market forces into China’s dead-in-the-water planned economy, the new system was not described as “capitalism”—that term would have conceded far too much ground to the enemies of socialism. Rather it was dubbed “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

This touch of Newspeak did not bother Deng’s free-market champions in the West; they knew what Deng meant, and many a capitalist smiled knowingly at his motto: “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white; if it catches mice, it’s a good cat.” But the phrase “with Chinese characteristics” is no longer so benign. For Deng, it was a way to camouflage the fact that he was moving the Chinese economy in the direction of capitalism. For today’s Communist rulers, by contrast, it is a way to camouflage policies that are profoundly anti-democratic. Continue reading