Utopian Ruins review

MCLC Resource Center has published my review of Utopian Ruins: A Memorial Museum of the Mao Era, by Jie Li. The review appears below and at its online home: My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton

Utopian Ruins:
A Memorial Museum of the Mao Era

By Jie Li

Reviewed by Kirk A. Denton

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright July, 2021)

Jie Li. Utopian Ruins: A Memorial Museum of the Mao Era Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020. 384pp. ISBN: 978-1-4780-1123-1 (paper); ISBN: 978-1-4780-1018-0 (cloth)

The past few years have seen a bonanza of excellent books dealing with memory of the Maoist past—Lingchei Letty Chen’s The Great Leap Backward: Forgetting and Representing the Mao Years, Margaret Hillenbrand’s Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary Chinaboth of which I reviewed for MCLC, Sebastian Veg’s edited collection Popular Memories of the Mao Era, and the book under review here, Jie Li’s Utopian Ruins.

Utopian Ruins is framed as “a memorial museum of the Mao era,” with each chapter centered on different sorts of “artifacts”—prison texts “written in blood,” personal dossiers (檔案), photographs, films, and museums/memorials. Li sees herself as a curator—an overused word these days but one that is certainly apt in this case—who sifts through artifacts, choosing them judiciously for what they can tell us about the multivalenced nature of the Maoist past, and then glossing them with nuanced analyses and contextualizations. It goes almost without saying that her “museum” is self-consciously different from PRC state museums, such as the National Museum of China, which whitewash the Maoist past and make what is left serve political narratives of China’s “rejuvenation.” Although Utopian Ruins was conceived in part as a response to Ba Jin’s appeal for the creation of a Cultural Revolution museum, the kind of museum Li has in mind is a far cry from his “official” museum, which, if it were ever to materialize, would be shaped and distorted by state interests and would elide the trauma of the Maoist past. Continue reading

Grad Seminar on Modern and Contemporary China–cfp

CFP: The Sixteenth Graduate Seminar on Modern and Contemporary China (Chinese University of Hong Kong, Submission Deadline: August 16, 2021)

The Centre for China Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) is pleased to announce this call for papers for the Sixteenth Graduate Seminar on Modern and Contemporary China scheduled for January 6 -7, 2022, at CUHK’s Institute of Chinese Studies.

The Seminar theme is “Land in China, 1900-2022.” We welcome paper proposals on subjects from across the spectrum of environmental, economic, political, legal, social, ideological and cultural approaches to examining changes of the land in China over the last century until today. All disciplines and theoretical frameworks will be considered, provided the papers are based on original, empirical research. We will not accept papers on preliminary work, potential future projects, or of a primarily speculative nature. Continue reading

Fudan’s storm in Budapest (1)

Nice article, But, it’s dubious that “Shanghai’s Fudan University is one of China’s leading universities, ranked 70th in the world and third in mainland China according to the 2021 Times World University Rankings, after Tsinghua University and Peking University.”

That’s only if you believe the Times rankings, which are deeply flawed. We should not circulate such rankings, which ignore the key factor of academic freedom, which must obviously be a factor in ranking global universities. Fudan, Tsinghua, Beijing U, etc. suffer heavy censorship as they are policed by the Communist party (which admits this and promotes this state of affairs), so these universities of course don’t belong at the top.

There is now a better alternative … the new global Academic Freedom Index (AFi). We should use that, and avoid the flawed rankings from Times Higher Education, QS rankings, and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (aka Shanghai), etc. which fail to take these primary basics into account.

For more on this, see f.ex.: “Why university rankings must include academic freedom.” Robert Quinn, Janika Spannagel and Ilyas Saliba, University world news, 11 March 2021.

And: “Free Universities: Putting the Academic Freedom Index Into Action.” By Katrin Kinzelbach, Ilyas Saliba, Janika Spannagel, and Robert Quinn. Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi), 26 Mar 2020.

ps. We should also do more to prevent our own universities from becoming anything like Fudan, Tsinghua, Beijing U. For some ideas, see f.ex.: “Academic freedom is paramount for universities. They can do more to protect it from China’s interference.” By Yun Jiang. The Conversation, June 30, 2021.

Magnus Fiskesjö <>

No regrets for telling the truth

Listen to “No Regrets for Telling the Truth.”
Free to Think Podcast with Dr. Jo Smith Finley, July 25, 2021.
Also available at Scholars at Risk.

Episode Description

Free to Think talks with Dr. Jo Smith Finley, a reader in Chinese studies at Newcastle University, UK. In March 2021, Dr. Smith Finley, among others, was sanctioned by the government of the People’s Republic of China, including a ban on traveling to China, a freeze on assets, and a ban on collaborating with Chinese counterparts, whether in China or abroad.

The sanctions were in retaliation for Dr. Smith Finley’s research about reported human rights violations in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. These include the forced internment of over one million Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic minority, in what some have labeled an ongoing attempted genocide. By targeting the careers of scholars outside of China, the sanctions represent a dramatic escalation in the Party-state’s campaign to censor information that is contrary to the official national narrative, and a threat to academic freedom everywhere.

yrs. sincerely,

Magnus Fiskesjö

Fudan’s storm in Budapest

Source: China Media Project (7/13/21)
Fudan’s Storm in Budapest
As plans by Shanghai’s Fudan University for a new international campus in Budapest’s ninth district meet staunch local opposition, with fears the project is a Trojan horse, it is unclear what lessons the university’s efforts in Hungary will have for the global future of Chinese higher education.
By Fulop Zsofia

Among the 23 sub-districts of Budapest, the ninth district, Ferencváros, has been called a “rustbelt” – a former industrial area now in decline that is awaiting revitalization. But for me, a resident here, Ferencváros is a vibrant place. Not far from the center of Budapest, it edges up to the Danube. The central area has beautiful old buildings, museums, universities, and one of Budapest’s largest and oldest markets. The place teems with young people, bars and a rich nightlife. The residential area on the outside of the district is equally rich in character, and the building I live in, named for the Hungarian poet Attila József, is green and flowery, drawing together a tapestry of young parents, pets and older retired people.

If you open up Google Maps and scan across the ninth district, you will notice certain changes: several streets here have suddenly had their names changed. On June 2, four streets along the Danube in the ninth district underwent sudden name changes. You can now find “Dalai Lama Road,” “Uyghur Martyrs Road,” “Liberate Hong Kong Road” (a reference to the slogan used during the 2019 protests in Hong Kong) and “Bishop Xie Shiguang Road” (referring to a bishop of the underground Roman Catholic Church in China who died in 2005). Continue reading

Jing Wang dies at 71

Source: MIT News (7/29/21)
Jing Wang, professor of Chinese media and cultural studies, dies at 71
Wang, who founded the China-based media activism nonprofit NGO2.0, taught at MIT since 2001.
By Andrew Whitacre | Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Headshot of Jing Wang

Jing Wang, S. C. Fang Professor of Chinese Language and Culture. Credit: Jon Sachs, MIT SHASS Communications

Jing Wang, the S.C. Fang Professor of Chinese Languages and Culture, and a longtime member of the MIT faculty in Global Studies and Languages and Comparative Media Studies/Writing, passed away on Sunday in Boston after a heart attack.

For decades, Wang was a leading scholar of the intersection of media and activism in China. Following a bachelor’s degree at National Taiwan University, she studied comparative literature at the University of Michigan and then at the University of Massachusetts, where she earned her PhD. She continued her focus on literature at Duke University, where she was faculty for 16 years and authored her first books. 1992’s The Story of Stone, which was awarded a Joseph Levenson Book Prize for the year’s best book on premodern China, explored traditional Chinese literature, but her next book, High Culture Fever: Politics, Aesthetics, and Ideology in Deng’s China (1996), marked a move toward her study of Chinese media more broadly.

Continue reading

Transforming Tradition

NEW PUBLICATION: Transforming Tradition: The Reform of Chinese Theater in the 1950s and Early 1960s, by Siyuan Liu
University of Michigan Press, 2021
Explores the history and lingering effects of governmental reform of Chinese theater, post-1949


Shortly after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the PRC launched a reform campaign that targeted traditional song and dance theater encompassing more than a hundred genres, collectively known as xiqu. Reformers censored or revised xiqu plays and techniques; reorganized star-based private troupes; reassigned the power to create plays from star actors to the newly created functions of playwright, director, and composer; and eliminated market-oriented functionaries such as agents. While the repertoire censorship ended in the 1980s, major reform elements have remained: many traditional scripts (or parts of them) are no longer in performance; actors whose physical memory of repertoire and acting techniques had been the center of play creation, have been superseded by directors, playwrights, and composers. The net result is significantly diminished repertoires and performance techniques, and the absence of star actors capable of creating their own performance styles through new signature plays that had traditionally been one of the hallmarks of a performance school. Transforming Tradition offers a systematic study of the effects of the comprehensive reform of traditional theater conducted in the 1950s and ’60s, and is based on a decade’s worth of exhaustive research of official archival documents, wide-ranging interviews, and contemporaneous publications, most of which have never previously been referenced in scholarly research. Continue reading

Chinese sports machine

Source: NYT (7/29/21)
The Chinese Sports Machine’s Single Goal: The Most Golds, at Any Cost
China relies on a system that puts tens of thousands of children in government-run training schools. Many of the young athletes are funneled into less prominent sports that Beijing hopes to dominate.
By Hannah Beech

Hou Zhihui of China won weight lifting gold in the women’s 49-kilogram division in Tokyo and shattered three Olympic records, part of a fearsome Chinese squad that aimed to sweep every weight class it was contesting.

Hou Zhihui of China won weight lifting gold in the women’s 49-kilogram division in Tokyo and shattered three Olympic records, part of a fearsome Chinese squad that aimed to sweep every weight class it was contesting. Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

TOKYO — Six days a week since she was 12 years old, with only a few days of time away each year, Hou Zhihui has been driven by one mission: heaving more than double her body weight into the air.

On Saturday, at the Tokyo Olympics, Hou’s dedication — sequestered from her family, dogged by near constant pain — paid off. She won gold in the 49-kilogram division and shattered three Olympic records, part of a fearsome Chinese women’s weight lifting squad that aimed to sweep every weight class it was contesting.

“The Chinese weight lifting team is very cohesive, and the support from the entire team is very good,” Hou, 24, said after winning gold. “The only thing we athletes think about is focusing on training.”

China’s sports assembly line is designed for one purpose: churning out gold medals for the glory of the nation. Silver and bronze barely count. By fielding 413 athletes in Tokyo, its largest ever delegation, China aims to land at the top of the gold medal count — even if the Chinese public is increasingly wary of the sacrifices made by individual athletes.

“We must resolutely ensure we are first in gold medals,” Gou Zhongwen, the head of the Chinese Olympic Committee, said on the eve of the Tokyo Olympics. Continue reading

Nobelists decry China’s censorship attempts

Source: Science (7/27/21)
Nobelists decry Chinese government’s censorship attempts at the Nobel Summit
By Rodrigo Pérez Ortega

The Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., wanted to prevent Nobel laureate Yuan Lee, a Taiwanese chemist seen here in 2003, from speaking at a high-profile conference. RICKY CHUNG/SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST VIA GETTY IMAGES

More than 100 Nobel laureates have signed a statement expressing outrage after the Chinese government intended to “bully the scientific community” earlier this year with attempts to censor two Nobel laureates during the Nobel Prize Summit, organized by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the Nobel Foundation in April.

The statement alleges that staffers at the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., phoned NAS officials in March, and again in early April before the summit, to insist that two scheduled speakers, the Dalai Lama and Yuan Lee—a Taiwanese chemist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1986 for his work on chemical kinetics—be disinvited and not allowed to speak. An email with the same demand was received by NAS on 25 April, 1 day before the start of the summit. On all three occasions, NAS said no.

William Kearney, a NAS spokesperson, confirmed to Science that the Chinese embassy pressured NAS to remove both speakers from the agenda, “which of course, we did not do,” he says. Continue reading

Literature in the Time of Contagions–cfp

CFP: “Literature in the Time of Contagions,” a special section in CLTT (Chinese Literature and Thought Today)

Contagious diseases such as tuberculosis, AIDS, and the current COVID-19 have been concerning modern and contemporary Chinese literature not only as a theme or contents but also as conditions, forms as well as styles of writing. In light of Susan Sontag’s critiques (1978, 1989), we should understand contagions not as moral metaphors, but rather as illnesses per se, as interdisciplinary studies of health humanities, as medical metonyms of pressing socio-politicalproblems, or as a linguistic devolution that strips the discourses of disease bare. This special section welcomes contributions with regard to the literary representation of infectious illnesses. We call for both research and reflections on transmittable diseases and their narratives or lyrical expressions, including academic articles and creative writings or English translations of Sinophone prose and poetry about plagues and pandemics from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and beyond. For scholarly essays (which will be peer-reviewed before acceptance), our preference is for an engaging, accessible discussion style that also retains research rigor. Please submit your full work (up to 7,000 words) with a 200-abstract to guest-editor Dr. Howard Y. F. Choy ( and CLTT Acting Editor-in-Chief Dr. Ping Zhu ( by June 1, 2022.

Meritocracy and Its Discontents–new publication

Meritocracy and Its Discontents: Anxiety and the National College Entrance Exam in China
Cornell University Press, 2021

Meritocracy and Its Discontents investigates the wider social, political, religious, and economic dimensions of the Gaokao, China’s national college entrance exam, as well as the complications that arise from its existence.Each year, some nine million high school seniors in China take the Gaokao, which determines college admission and provides a direct but difficult route to an urban lifestyle for China’s hundreds of millions of rural residents. But with college graduates struggling to find good jobs, some are questioning the exam’s legitimacy—and, by extension, the fairness of Chinese society. Chronicling the experiences of underprivileged youth, Zachary M. Howlett’s research illuminates how people remain captivated by the exam because they regard it as fateful—an event both consequential and undetermined. He finds that the exam enables people both to rebel against the social hierarchy and to achieve recognition within it.

In Meritocracy and Its Discontents, Howlett contends that the Gaokao serves as a pivotal rite of passage in which people strive to personify cultural virtues such as diligence, composure, filial devotion, and divine favor.

Wayfaring: Photography in 1970s-80s Taiwan

Journeys of self and society at the end of martial law
Australian Centre on China in the World, ANU
Curated by Dr Shuxia Chen and Dr Olivier Krischer

As Taiwanese society was coming to terms with a new political reality in the 1970s and 1980s, many artists and intellectuals addressed issues of locality, history and cultural identity. Despite the pressure on civil society, Taiwan’s visual culture flourished, with photography playing a key role as a visual medium that intersected many creative practices and platforms. Pioneering photographers produced groundbreaking works across these decades, from experimental art to photojournalism and much in between.

The exhibition adopts the concept of ‘wayfaring’ from the phrase ‘找路’, used by the seminal figure Chang Chao-Tang 張照堂 to discuss his work in these decades. Here, the term lyrically evokes both the actual journeys that artists undertook, searching for the real-life experiences and sentiments of their subjects, as well as their personal, introspective searches for a way forward, a new path, through creative experimentation with the photographic medium.

Drawn from the collection of the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, with some additional works loaned directly from the artists, this broad selection of photographs reflects the diversity and shifting experiences of Taiwanese society and culture at this pivotal time. Wayfaring features 35 still images by 12 artists, including Chang Chao-Tang 張照堂, Chien Yun-Ping 簡永彬, Chuang Ling 莊靈, Ho Ching-Tai 何經泰, Hou Tsung-Hui 侯聰慧, Hsieh Chun-Te 謝春德, Hsieh San-Tai 謝三泰, Juan I-Jong 阮義忠, Kao Chung-Li 高重黎, Lien Hui-Ling 連慧玲, Wang Hsin 王信, Yeh Ching-Fang 葉清芳.

Exhibition info:…/wayfaring-photography-1970s-80s… Continue reading

Chinese Film Classics new translations


The Chinese Film Classics project is delighted to announce the publication of three new translations of Chinese silent films, including the first-ever translations of two partially-extant action films:

Woman Warrior White Rose” 女侠白玫瑰 (1929) (partially extant)
Translated by Frank S. Zhou (Phillips Andover)

In this partially extant silent action film, Bai Suying, a talented athlete from a women’s sports academy, gives a stand-out performance at a school demonstration and is awarded “the outfit of a heroine.” Donning the swashbuckling costume, and pasting on a moustache, she hones her talents at archery and swordplay. Soon, a summons addressed to “my son Tiemin” arrives from her father, asking for help in reclaiming the Gongbao Herding Ground, which has been seized by the gang of Pan Debiao. En route home disguised as Tiemin, she and family servant You San encounter the warrior Wu Zhiyuan, who has been studying swordplay at Black Cloud Cave. The crisis deepens when Pan informs Old Mr Su that he plans to sell the hunting grounds to foreigners. At home, White Rose bests her father’s men, who doubted the ability of this slight figure, and is duly elected leader of the rescue squad. After several triumphant battles against multiple opponents, they tie up Pan and his gang and send them packing. Then dad suggests that You San accompany “the young master” for a bath… Continue reading

Street Angels talk

Christopher Rea will be speaking about the history and artistry of the film “Street Angels” (1937) at an online event hosted by the China Institute NYC

Street Angels (1937): Tragedy meets comedy in a time of war”
July 28, 2021, 4:30pm Pacific Time / 7:30pm Eastern Time

Street Angels, the most celebrated Chinese musical of the 1930s, was released in Shanghai in July 1937 just as full-scale war broke out with Japan in northern China. Its themes—sexual and economic exploitation offset by fun and camaraderie—were at once shocking and entertaining. Set in the slums of Shanghai in 1935, the film presents the precarious lives of the urban lower classes in a tragicomic mode. War looms in the background of this story of a refugee singer. The Japanese army was soon to invade Shanghai, but, to accommodate China’s censors, the film never mentions the enemy by name.

Synopsis: Teenaged songstress Zhou Xuan sings two hit songs in director Yuan Muzhi’s masterpiece. At the center of these “street angels” is a young woman who has fled fighting in the Northeast only to find herself threatened again in Shanghai. She seeks refuge from her abusers with her lover across the alley, played by heartthrob Zhao Dan, and other downtrodden friends. But will Xiao Hong and her sister, who has been forced into prostitution, be able to escape?

The film showcases the popularity of film musicals, the charm and charisma of its “golden voice” star, the multiple influences of Hollywood on the Chinese talkies, and the violent realities of 1930s China. In Mandarin, with English subtitles.

Chinese Literature Today news

Dear MCLC Friends and Colleagues

Summer greetings from the University of Oklahoma! Over the last year I assumed the Editor-in Chief position of Contemporary Chinese Thought with the understanding that after this year we will be merging CLT with CCT to launch a new title: CLTT, or Chinese Literature and Thought Today with Routledge. The new journal will continue the trajectory of CCT as an interdisciplinary hub for Chinese thought in English translation, but CLTT will expand its breadth to include Chinese literature and poetry, literary criticism, poetics interviews as well. CLTT will maintain many aspects of the award-winning design of CLT’s parent journal, World Literature Today (America’s longest-running world literature journal), so that we can continue in CLT’s tradition of marrying aesthetic attention to detail more typical of a literary trade publication with the rigor of a peer-review journal. We believe that by combining our journals’ individual strengths, we can bring more attention to the scholars and authors we translate and publish.

Below, I am including the latest CLT Editor’s Note, which goes into more detail about the up-coming issue of CLT and more details about CCT’s amazing history and our hopes for the future.  Thank you all so much for your support of both CLT and CCT over the years. It has been a tremendous honor getting to know so many of you and doing our small part to get your scholarship, translations, reviews, poetry, fiction, and more out to readers. So, on behalf of my colleagues Zhu Ping and Julie Shilling, thank you again and we are genuinely looking forward to working with you all to shape the future of Chinese Literature and Thought Today.  A new CFP will soon follow.


Jonathan Stalling
Editor in Chief, Chinese Literature Today & Contemporary Chinese Thought Continue reading