MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Gina Anne Tam’s review of Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern, by Jing Tsu. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/gina-tam/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, our literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.
Kirk Denton, MCLC
Kingdom of Characters:
The Language Revolution That Made China Modern
By Jing Tsu
Reviewed by Gina Anne Tam
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright September, 2023)
Jing Tsu believes that Americans do not understand China well. With an eye on deteriorating US-China relations in the past several years, the prolific literary scholar has repeatedly made public her concern about the information gap between China and the West, a reality she sees as increasingly dangerous. Scholars who have deep, lived experience in China, she contends, have an increasingly important responsibility. She states that the “days of armchair scholarship are over,” instead imploring fellow specialists to do all we can to help readers understand China on its own terms—as a place that is textured and complicated, not a two-dimensional caricature of a dangerous and threatening hegemon.
It was to further this goal that Tsu wrote Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern, a work that has topped best-seller lists and gained widespread attention by mainstream audiences around the world. The book is a history of Chinese language modernization as told through several compelling biographies placed vividly into the context of the tumultuous history of China’s twentieth century. It is meant, Tsu purports, to help bridge the understanding gap between the average American and citizens of China. Language, she believes, is a vector through which we can understand China today—from the state processes that control and shape culture, to the economics of technological advancement, to ideas about foreignness, nativity, and power. Continue reading