Vol. 32, no. 1 of MCLC

MCLC is pleased to announce publication of vol. 32, no. 2. Below find a table of contents, with links to essay abstracts. Those of you who are subscribers will be receiving your print copies in the next few weeks. If you have any questions about the status of your subscription or if you would like to initiate a new subscription, please contact Jennifer Nunes, my new editorial assistant, at mclc@osu.edu.

Enjoy,

Kirk Denton, editor

Volume 32, Number 2 (Fall 2020) 
Articles

Detecting Chinese Modernities review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Jeffrey Kinkley’s review of Detecting Chinese Modernities: Rupture and Continuity in Modern Chinese Detective Fiction (1896-1949), by Yan Wei. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/detecting-modernities/. Many thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk A. Denton, editor

Detecting Chinese Modernities: Rupture and Continuity in
Modern Chinese Detective Fiction (1896-1949)

By Yan Wei


Reviewed by Jeffrey Kinkley

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright December, 2020)


Yan Wei, Detecting Chinese Modernities: Rupture and Continuity in Modern Chinese Detective Fiction (1896-1949) Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2020. 283 pp. ISBN 978-90-04-43127-0 (hardback), 978-90-04-43128-7 (e-book).

China has known and loved the “detective story” formula of Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle for more than 120 years. Detecting Chinese Modernities, a thoughtful, instructive, and well-researched monograph by Yan Wei, notes that after the first translation of a Sherlock Holmes story appeared in 1896, “detective fiction immediately became the most novel and popular Western literary genre among Chinese readers” (33). The mystery stories that swamped Chinese publishing in the first decade of the twentieth century were mostly translations, adaptations, and imitations, but soon Chinese authors contributed their own styles to the global fiction phenomenon. “The popularity of native Chinese detective fiction crested during the Republican period, in the 1920s to 1940s—the ‘golden age’ of the genre,” Wei affirms (4). After 1949, native crime and detective fiction fell on hard times, not only in the PRC, where it was banned for political reasons, but throughout the Sinophone world. Meanwhile detective novels flourished in Japan, in quantity and quality. Translations of them are bestsellers in the PRC today. Continue reading

The Organization of Distance review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Benjamin Ridgway’s review of The Organization of Distance: Poetry, Translation, Chineseness (Brill 2018), by Lucas Klein. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/ridgway/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

The Organization of Distance:
Poetry, Translation, Chineseness

By Lucas Klein


Reviewed by Benjamin Ridgway

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright November, 2020)


Lucas Klein, The Organization of Distance. Leiden: Brill Press, 2018. xi + 298 pgs. ISBN-978-90-04-36868-2 (cloth).

To disuss the contributions of Lucas Klein’s The Organization of Distance, Poetry, Translation, Chineseness, as well as its flaws, one needs to start at the ending. Klein draws on the insight made by Friedrich Schleiermacher in 1813 that translators tend to either leave the writer of a work alone and endeavor to move the reader toward the unfamiliar culture of that work, in an act that Klein terms “foreignization,” or move the work closer to the reader’s horizon of expectations, making it more familiar and palatable, in an act he calls “nativization.” These two terms, informed by his understanding of debates on translation and translingual practice in the study of both modern and premodern Chinese literature, form the critical fulcrum for his interrogation of the “Chinesenss” of poetry written in both modern and classical Chinese. To grasp what Klein means by “Chineseness,” one needs to link points raised in the conclusion of his book back to the introduction. On the one hand, Klein intends to upset the binary between modern and premodern Chinese poetry through a reinterpretation of poetry of the Tang (618-907). His resistance to a static notion of Chineseness is deeply informed by the 1990s debates spurred by Stephen Owen’s article “What Is World Poetry.” In his introduction, Klein discusses the range of reactions to one of Owen’s most controversial claims—that modern Chinese poets wrote under the assumption/anticipation their poetry would be translated into Western languages. Klein notes that in this debate both those critics who, like Owen, disparage modern poets for cutting themselves off from a rich “native” classical poetic tradition and those who praise the radical clashing of the modern with the staid “Chineseness” of this tradition share a common blindness. He keenly observes that “For both of them, upholding premodernity as the seat of Chineseness lost, mournfully or gleefully, to a changing world is afforded by the fact that neither side looks very closely at the cross-cultural and translational elements of premodern Chinese poetry” (pp. 12-13). Continue reading

Gu Hongming’s Eccentric Chinese Odyssey review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Kristin Stapleton’s review of Gu Hongming’s Eccentric Chinese Odyssey, by Chunmei Du. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/kristin-stapleton/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

Gu Hongming’s Eccentric Chinese Odyssey

By Chunmei Du


Reviewed by Kristin Stapleton

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright October, 2020)


Chunmei Du, Gu Hongming’s Eccentric Chinese Odyssey Chunmei Du. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019. 251 pgs. ISBN-9780812251203 (cloth).

Gu Hongming 辜鴻銘—the notorious Qing loyalist who spoke out for bound feet and against democracy in the midst of the May Fourth movement—was at the center of a set of cross-cultural conversations among Chinese, European, and American intellectuals during and after World War I, Chunmei Du shows in this engaging biography. She notes that he was “the first principal Chinese spokesman of Confucianism to the Western world” (p. 49), promoting it as a universal solution to the global problems of industrialization and endemic conflict. At the same time, though, Gu displayed a most un-Confucian love of shocking and provoking his fellow humans. Du’s goal is to help us understand the influences that produced such a paradoxical character. In the end, as Du acknowledges, Gu Hongming stubbornly defies analysis. Still, her account of his life is fascinating, particularly for what it reveals about global currents of thought in the early twentieth century. Continue reading

The Condition of Music and Anglophone Influences in the Poetry of Shao Xunmei review

MCLC and MCLC Resource Center are pleased to announce publication of Nick Admussen’s review of The Condition of Music and Anglophone Influences in the Poetry of Shao Xunmei, by Tian Jin. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/poetry-of-shao-xunmei/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

The Condition of Music and Anglophone
Influences in the Poetry of Shao Xunmei

By Tian Jin


Reviewed by Nick Admussen

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright September, 2020)


Tian Jin, The Condition of Music and Anglophone Influences in the Poetry of Shao Xunmei Wilmington: Vernon Press, 2020. li + 123 pgs. ISBN: 978-1-64889-051-2.

Shao Xunmei (邵洵美, 1906-1968) is a fascinating figure. A poet, translator, critical essayist, and editor, his cosmopolitan, decadent, deeply Shanghainese voice both influenced and, in some ways, epitomized a certain strand of Republican-era literature. Shao also led a famously romantic life, some of which was captured by his literary collaborator, opium-partner, and lover, Emily Hahn, in a series of books and New Yorker articles. But Shao’s legacy has been much colored by leftist disdain for his upper-class background and rightist excoriation of his licentious tastes. Lu Xun said that “Money makes the world go round, maybe even the universe, but it won’t make you a good writer, and the poetry of the poet Shao Xunmei demonstrates this” (xvii). Dismissals like this meant that after 1949, even critical consideration of his writing became difficult, and the Cultural Revolution-era charge that he was engaged in international espionage (for writing a letter to Emily Hahn asking for money) was not vacated until 1985.

Tian Jin’s monograph, The Condition of Music and Anglophone Influences in the Poetry of Shao Xunmei, is therefore an early entry into the field of Shao studies, which is a decade behind the study of other writers from the same period. It is a short dissertation-style book with a healthy 42-page introduction that sets out Shao’s biography and reception history, especially useful since Shao has been left out of most literary histories. The book focuses on the way that tropes of music in Shao’s poetry and criticism are drawn from Anglophone writers, specifically Algernon Charles Swinburne, Edith Sitwell, and George Augustus Moore. As it does so, it uses feminist critique to demonstrate that Shao’s gender politics are affected by, and affect, his poetics. Continue reading

Little Smarty introduction

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce Lena Henningsen’s introduction to the translation of Little Smarty Travels to the Future we published last week. The introduction appears below, but is best read at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/online-series/little-smarty-intro/. My thanks to Prof. Henningsen for sharing her work with the MCLC community.

Kirk Denton, editor

Little Smarty Travels to the Future:
Introduction to the Text and Notes on the Translation

By Lena Henningsen[1]

Translation of Little Smarty Travels to the Future


MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright September 2020)


Ye Yonglie with Little Smarty. Source: Weibo

Little Smarty Travels to the Future (小灵通漫游未来) is an early post-Mao science fiction (SF) story, adapted into a comic book (lianhuanhua 连环画). Originally composed in the early 1960s, Ye Yonglie 叶永烈 (1940–2020) was not able to publish the short novel until 1978. The comic book adaptation that is the basis for our translation followed two years later and enjoyed tremendous success with at least 3 million copies printed. Paola Iovene rightly describes the story as “as much a jump forward in imagination as it was a resumption of aspirations of the past” (Iovene 2014: 1). At the same time, the story is firmly grounded in the early post-Mao years and in Deng Xiaoping’s Four Modernizations, which legitimated political and economic change and ushered in China’s dramatic economic growth. In this introduction, I position this text in this specific historical moment in the development of Chinese SF. I sketch the development and status of Chinese SF and of comic books within the Chinese literary field and point out to what extent Little Smarty Travels to the Future may be seen as an illustration or vision of the implementation of the Four Modernizations.

Science Fiction in China

Chinese SF used to be a marginalized genre, both in terms of scholarly research and in terms of its status within the literary field. Recent years, however, have seen an increase in attention to the genre both among academics and the general readership, not least thanks to the commitment of translator Ken Liu. He has been crucial for bringing Chinese SF to the attention of English readers and for introducing Chinese authors into the global SF award circuit, which culminated with Liu Cixin 刘慈欣 winning the prestigious Hugo award in 2015 (Chau 2018). Today, the global circulation of Chinese SF even impacts perceptions of China. Continue reading

Little Smarty Travels to the Future

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Little Smarty Travels to the Future (小灵通漫游未来), by Ye Yonglie 叶永烈 and translated by Lena Henningsen et al. Little Smarty is a 1980 comic book (连环画) based on a 1978 novel, also by Ye Yonglie. The translation includes all 150 panels from the comic book and English translations of each caption. Find below the first few panels of the translation. To read the whole text, go to: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/online-series/little-smarty-travels-to-the-future/. We will be publishing Lena Henningsen’s introduction to the text in the next few days. Enjoy.

Kirk Denton, editor

Little Smarty Travels to the Future

By Ye Yonglie 叶永烈, Pan Caiying 潘彩英 (adaptation),
Du Jianguo 杜建国 and Mao Yongkun 毛用坤 (illustrations)[1]

Tr. by Adrian Ewald, Lena Henningsen, Lars Konheiser, Elena Mannich,
Federica Monchiero, Franziska Roth, Joschua Seiler, and Sen Wei (Freiburg University)


MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright September 2020)



Introduction: This is a science fiction comic book (科学幻想连环画). Through a reporter’s–Little Smarty’s–travel to Future City, [this comic book] vividly unfolds before [our] eyes future high developments in science and technology and the splendid prospect of limitless magnificence in people’s lives. It also tells its young readers: Only if [we] painstakingly study and only if [we] are bold in climbing scientific heights during the advance of the Four Modernizations, can [we] build our motherland to become as thriving and prosperous as Future City. Continue reading

Interview with Li Er

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Riccardo Moratto’s interview with the writer Li Er, entitled “Water and Ear: An Interview with Li Er.” The interview appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/online-series/moratto/.

Kirk Denton, editor

Water and Ear:
An Interview with Li Er

By Riccardo Moratto[1]


MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright September 2020)


Li Er. Source: Baidu.

Li Er 李洱 is a renowned contemporary Chinese writer. Graduated from East China Normal University in Shanghai, he used to teach at Zhengzhou Normal University. He is deputy editor-in-chief of Mangyuan (莽原) magazine and director of the Research Department of the National Museum of Modern Chinese Literature. He is also the Vice-President of the Henan Provincial Writers Association. His works have been translated into English, French, German, and Italian. He is best known for his novel Brother Yingwu (应物兄) which won the Tenth Mao Dun Literature Prize (2019), one of the most prestigious literature prizes in China. He is also known for the two novels Coloratura (花腔) (translated into English by Jeremy Tiang and published by the University of Oklahoma Press) and A Cherry on a Pomegranate Tree (石榴树上结樱桃). 

Moratto: Thank you for accepting this interview. The pandemic is still gathering pace in most of the world. How have you spent these months? How is the situation now in the province of Henan?

Li: I am originally from Henan Province, but usually I live in Beijing. I moved to the capital in 2011 to work in the Research Department of the National Museum of Modern Chinese LiteratureI don’t know if you’ve ever had a chance to visit this museum. Founded in 1985, it is the largest literary museum in the world and serves as a resource, research, and exchange center for modern and contemporary Chinese literature. However, I often return to my native province. My grandmother has crossed the threshold of ninety, one more reason to visit her. As a matter of fact, just a week ago I happened to be in Henan: I accompanied some poets up on Mount Wangwu (王屋山).[2] We visited the Yangtai Temple (阳台宫), a Chinese Taoist shrine. To date, the only calligraphic work that still exists by the great poet Li Bai 李白 is entitled “Up toward the Yangtai Temple” (上阳台), and it describes this great Taoist temple. With regard to the current pandemic, both in Beijing and Henan Province there are no longer any isolation measures with consequent restrictions on movement. Basically, normal order has been restored by now. Continue reading

China Imagined review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Sean Macdonald’s review of China Imagined: From European Fantasy to Spectacular Power, by Gregory B. Lee. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/sean-macdonald. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

China Imagined:
From European Fantasy to Spectacular Power

By Gregory B. Lee


Reviewed by Sean Macdonald

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright September, 2020)


Elderly people, or honest people, all seem to adhere to the motto “the name is guest of the thing.” But being neither an elderly person, nor wishing to immodestly declare myself an honest person, I have sometimes put more emphasis on “name” than “thing.” I feel that in many everyday experiences, a “name” is anything but ordinary.  Under appropriate conditions, it can increase the value of the “thing” it represents. On the other hand, under inappropriate conditions, no matter how beautiful, elevated, or respected a thing is, a “name” can devalue the “thing” it represents. As for myself, with regard to putting stress on “name,” I have really not understood what it’s for.–Shi Zhecun[1]

There was an obsession with graft among officials. Many regulatory and supervisory methods are outlined, with itemized punishments for specific infractions. In a typical example, punishment is exacted for the discovery of poorly maintained granaries: we learn that when it comes to the Law, three mouseholes are equal to one rathole.–Dean and Massumi[2]

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing/Through the graves the wind is blowing/Freedom soon will come/Then we’ll come from the shadows.–Leonard Cohen/Hy Zaret, “The Partisan.”

Gregory B. Lee, China Imagined: From European Fantasy to Spectacular Power London: Hurst & Company, 2018. xxi + 231 pgs. ISBN-13: 9781787380165.

French Sinology and American and British colonial history share a date. The Battle of Lundy’s Lane, in the Niagara Falls region now shared by the US and Canada, occurred in 1814, the same year the first “Chair in Chinese and Tartar-Manchurian Languages and Literatures” was established at Collège de France. ​​American Chinese studies emerged from European Sinology, but like the US, Britain only started professionalizing “Orientalist” Chinese studies during WWII.

Professor of Chinese at Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3 and Director of Institut d’études transtextuelles et transculturelles (IETT), Gregory B. Lee has been writing and teaching in Chinese studies since the 1980s. In 2011, Lee was elected a Fellow of the Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities. His work ranges from critical studies and translations of modern and contemporary literature, popular music and media, to recent autobiographical stories around his grandfather, an early twentieth century immigrant to Liverpool, as well as a dystopic fictional narrative of China in 2030. Lee’s writing could be described as a critique of state cultural policies in China and the West. In an earlier book, Chinas Unlimited, Lee shows the way racism created two separate British policies towards opium, one banning opium for English citizens, and one promoting the sale of opium to Chinese people.[3] Continue reading

Shuang Xuetao’s Fiction of Northeast China

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Qi Wang’s essay “Shadows and Voices: Shuang Xuetao’s Fiction of Northeast China,” a follow-up to her essay on Ban Yu published in MCLC’s online series last year. Below, find a teaser for the essay, which can be read in full at: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/online-series/qi-wang3/.

Enjoy, Kirk Denton, editor

Shadows and Voices:
Shuang Xuetao’s Fiction of Northeast China

By Qi Wang


MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright September 2020)


Shuang Xuetao

A recent significant phenomenon in contemporary Chinese literature is the “New Northeast Writers Group” (新东北作家群). The term is used by critics to identify young writers, such as Ban Yu (班宇), Shuang Xuetao (双雪涛), Zheng Zhi (郑执), and a few others, whose stories and styles converge in their depiction of northeast China, a region that in the Mao era experienced industrial privilege but that has seen economic decline, unemployment, and social despondency in the reform era.[1] Mostly born in Shenyang in the late 1970s or the 1980s, these young writers are the sons of the workers who were laid off from their factories in the 1990s and faced a bleak future, a process that is amply chronicled in the documentary film Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (铁西区, dir. Wang Bing 王兵, 2003). Often speaking in first person, the authors, as the natural and “legitimate” inheritors of that difficult experience, tend to present their stories in a matter-of-fact prose consisting of many short sentences and charged with vernacular speech from daily life in the region.[2]

In this essay, I take up the short stories collected in two volumes by Shuang Xuetao (b. 1983), Moses on the Plains (平原上的摩西) and The Aviator (飞行家), [3] and offer a close look at the writer’s literary depiction of northeast China as especially reflected in two structural tendencies. The first is the use of personal as well as multiple narration, which allows not only a central “I” to report observations of the figures around him but also lets each of the multiple characters speak for themselves, resulting in a resounding multivalent dialogic texture. The second is the peculiar resolution of stories and crises through some sort of fantastic escape. Whether the effect of that escape is one of transcendence or of descent remains open to interpretation at the current stage of this still new literary phenomenon. Together, such features address a collective desire to understand and be understood while also, as the critic Huang Ping observes with much insight, being confronted with the question of where to go next after the publication of these voluminous and hearty personal and regional tales.[4]  This question about direction and mission applies to the creative potential and historical gravity of these young writers, as well as to the fate and future of the northeastern working class in the globalizing world. . . [read the essay in full]

Pandemic and the (Fanta)scientific

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Chiara Cigarini’s “Pandemic and the (Fanta)scientific: A Prism of Voices from Today’s China.” The essay appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/online-series/cigarini/.

Kirk Denton, editor

Pandemic and the (Fanta)scientific:
A Prism of Voices from Today’s China

By Chiara Cigarini


MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright August 2020)


Cover of an issue of Science Fiction World.

Jing Tsu 石静远, professor at Yale University, wrote an article not long ago for the Financial Times dedicated to the topic of contemporary Chinese science fiction (SF), in which she argued that the uniqueness of its production could be attributed, among other things, to the genre’s ability to simultaneously address the government, scholars, and domestic readers, as well as to appeal to an increasingly broad international audience.[1] The composite and polyphonic nature of Chinese SF allows it to be appreciated by such a diverse audience. It gives voice to different points of view across Chinese public discourse: these may relate, for example, to the virtues and limitations of scientific progress, to liabilities in the management of the Covid-19 situation and pandemics in general, to freedom of thought and freedom of the press. By spreading scientific and SF-related ideas, these voices in some cases enhance (in spite of themselves) the state’s official narrative, whereas in other cases they produce a tune dissonant to state propaganda. Precisely for these reasons, such voices deserve to be listened to, now more than ever. Continue reading

Video Lecture Series goes live

As universities switch to online and hybrid teaching this year, we thought that it would be useful to have a repository of short video lectures on various topics in modern Chinese literature. That idea has resulted in the “MCLC Modern Chinese Literature Video Lecture Series.” Today we are announcing that the series is now officially live. It already includes nearly 50 lectures, and several more are due to be added soon. This is an ongoing project, and further videos will be added over time.

Our lecturers were initially drawn from a pool of scholars who had contributed essays to the Routledge Handbook of Modern Chinese Literature and The Columbia Companion to Modern Chinese Literature, but the project quickly expanded to include colleagues across the field in all stages of their careers. The support and willingness to contribute have been incredible, and we thank the participants for their hard work on short notice. We are also grateful to Mario De Grandis (The Ohio State University) and Guo Feng (University of Edinburgh) for their assistance.

Please excuse any poor audio and other technical issues. In a sign of the times, these lectures were recorded from home using whatever equipment was at hand. Our deadlines and turnaround times were short. We hope the lectures make up for it with their content and that they provide a useful resource for students learning about Chinese literature.

To gain access to the videos, please complete the Registration Form. By filling out the form, you agree to only use these videos for educational, non-commercial purposes, and that only students in relevant courses at your teaching institution will be given access. Once you have submitted the form, you will receive an email with the password. We ask that pariticipants in the project also register. The site can be accessed from the main menu of the MCLC Resource Center homepage (click the Video Lectures icon and go to the “Login” link) or directly from this link.

Sincerely,

Kirk A. Denton (The Ohio State University) and Christopher Rosenmeier (University of Edinburgh)

Wuhan Diary review

MCLC Resource Center is please to announce publication of Howard Y. F. Choy’s review of Wuhan Diary: Dispatches from a Quarantined City, by Fang Fang and translated by Michael Berry. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/choy-wuhan/.

Kirk Denton, editor

Wuhan Diary:
Dispatches from a Quarantined City

By Fang Fang
Translated by Michael Berry


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


Fang Fang. Wuhan Diary: Dispatches from a Quarantined City Trans. Michael Berry. New York: HarperVia, 2020. E-book version: ISBN 9780063052659, 0063052652.

The COVID-19 outbreak from Wuhan has impacted not only China but the entire globe, with the highest numbers of infections and deaths in the United States reaching around 5,380,000 and 170,000, respectively, as of August 15, 2020.[1] In a time of pandemic, what is the role of literature, particularly the form of online diary—the daily-based documentary genre that first appears on social media and is then translated into foreign languages and published in print abroad? Must the translator bear the burden of xenophobia from the nation of the source language? How much courage does one need to translate a testament to COVID-19 from China? Such was the situation that Michael Berry faced in April of this year, when he was translating the last entries of Fang Fang’s 方方 Wuhan Diary (武漢日記) and received more than six hundred hateful comments and threats against him and his family on his Weibo 微博 account. [2] In his “Translator’s Afterword,” Berry makes it clear that he did not intend to “weaponize” the book as a tool to criticize China and that his translation has nothing to do with the CIA; instead, he “felt the pressing need for the United States, and the world for that matter, to learn from Fang Fang” (368) from her epidemic experience, compassion, conscience, bravery and “audacity to refuse to be silenced,” and to “speak truth to power” (373). Continue reading

Realistic Revolution review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Brian Tsui’s review of Realistic Revolution: Contesting Chinese History, Culture, and Politcs after 1989, by Els van Dongen. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/tsui/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, our literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk A. Denton

Realistic Revolution: Contesting Chinese
History, Culture, and Politics after 1989

By Els van Dongen


Reviewed by Brian Tsui

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright August, 2020)


Els van Dongen, Realistic Revolution: Contesting Chinese History, Culture, and Politics after 1989 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. xii + 276 pgs. ISBN-13: 978-1108421300.

At a recent conference on Maoist China I attended, a historian gave, in proxy, a presentation on the People’s Commune experiment. The scholar, who was with the school of Marxism at a prestigious Beijing-based university, cited Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper as his inspirations. I was bemused, to put it mildly. “What does a scholar attracted to the doyens of Cold War liberalism,” I almost thought aloud, “have to do with Marxism?” Had I read Els van Dongen’s Realistic Revolution then, I might have been able to put my unease in better perspective.

Writing on the recent past is a risky business for historians. In the case of China, the Maoist era is now a burgeoning field. Yet, the same cannot be said of the decades after Mao Zedong’s death. The dust, it seems, has yet to settle. Van Dongen’s choice of topic and period is a bold one. She focuses on the period from 1989 to 1993, arguably the most tumultuous period in the history of the People’s Republic from Mao’s death up to the current epidemic and all-out competition with the United States. Confronted with the onslaught of the Tian’anmen crackdown, the Soviet bloc’s dramatic demise, and the marketization of society, Chinese intellectuals in the immediate post-Tian’anmen era were forced to adjust their priorities and commitments. The “high culture fever,” as Jing Wang puts it, of the 1980s gave way to a much more sober and somber but no less complicated intellectual culture.[1] This complex development is the subject of van Dongen’s study. Many of the figures van Dongen discusses are not only alive, but are still highly influential in their fields. Van Dongen’s training in Europe and current position in Singapore, both removed from China and the United States, have given her a unique outsider vantage point from which to scrutinize transpacific events. Continue reading