Moulding the Socialist Subject

Xiaoning Lu, Moulding the Socialist Subject: Cinema and Chinese Modernity (1949-1966) (Leiden: Brill 2020)
Series: Ideas, History, and Modern China, Volume: 22
Hardback ISBN: 978-90-04-42351-0 Publication Date: 03 Feb 2020
E-Book  ISBN:  978-90-04-42352-7  Publication Date: 30 Jan 2020

What role did cinema play in the Chinese Communist Party’s political project of shaping ideal socialist citizens in the early People’s Republic? In Moulding the Socialist Subject, Xiaoning Lu deploys case studies from popular film genres, movie star culture and rural film exhibition practices to argue that Chinese cinema in 1949–1966, at once an important political instrument, an enjoyable yet instructive form of entertainment, and a specific manifestation of the socialist society of the spectacle, was an everyday site where the moulding of the new socialist person unfolded. While painting a broad picture of Chinese socialist cinema, Lu credits the human agency of film professionals, whose self-reflexivity and individual adaptability played an intrinsic role in the Party’s political project. Continue reading

Five demands

Posted by: Magnus Fiskesjö <>
Source: Chinascope (2/12/20)
Public Opinion: Intellectuals in China Started Raising Their “Five Demands”

The night of February 6, 2020, saw the death of Dr. Li Wenliang, a Wuhan physician who alerted others about novel coronavirus a month ago. He then contracted the virus when working on the front-line treating patients. There was an outcry among intellectuals within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) establishment. They cried out for freedom of speech.

Citizen News, a social diversity advocate news outlet based in Hong Kong, published an open letter signed by leading Chinese intellectuals with five demands:

  1. The Designation of February 6 as National Freedom of Speech Day (Dr. Li Wenliang Day).
  2. Starting now, fully implement the Chinese people’s right to freedom of speech granted by Article 35 of the Constitution.
  3. Starting now, no political forces or state machine should infringe on the Chinese people when they form associations or communicate among each other. The state organs must immediately stop censoring or blocking the content of social media.
  4. Grant equal rights to citizens in Wuhan city and Hubei province, the epicenter of the coronavirus. All coronavirus patients should be able to receive timely, proper, and effective treatment.
  5. Call for the National People’s Congress to convene an emergency assembly to discuss how to protect citizens’ freedom of speech and do not allow any police force to stop the planned meeting (China holds the National People’s Congress in early March every year).

Continue reading

Drawing from Life

Drawing from Life: Sketching and Socialist Realism in the People’s Republic of China
By Christine I. Ho
University of California Press, 2020.

Drawing from Life explores revolutionary drawing and sketching in the early People’s Republic of China (1949–1965) in order to discover how artists created a national form of socialist realism. Tracing the development of seminal works by the major painters Xu Beihong, Wang Shikuo, Li Keran, Li Xiongcai, Dong Xiwen, and Fu Baoshi, author Christine I. Ho reconstructs how artists grappled with the representational politics of a nascent socialist art. The divergent approaches, styles, and genres presented in this study reveal an art world that is both heterogeneous and cosmopolitan. Through a history of artistic practices in pursuit of Maoist cultural ambitions—to forge new registers of experience, new structures of feeling, and new aesthetic communities—this original book argues that socialist Chinese art presents a critical, alternative vision for global modernism.

Christine I. Ho is Assistant Professor of East Asian Art at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Continue reading

Translating reform era fiction

Source: China Channel, LARB (2/12/20)
Translating Reform Era Fiction
Kevin McGeary talks to the translator of Empires of Dust by Jiang Zilong

Set in the fictional village of Guojiadian, Jiang Zilong’s Empires of Dust is a seven-hundred page tome that chronicles the rise and fall of Guo Cunxian, who transforms from impoverished peasant to formidable businessman. Described by the South China Morning Post as being “as epic, grandiose, ambitious, complex and turbulent as China itself,” this is the tenth novel by Jiang, who is often described as the father of China’s ‘reform literature,’ literature dealing with the reform and opening period after 1978. I caught up with co-translator Christopher Payne to discuss the novel, and the work involved in rendering it into English.

Of all the characters, Guo Cunxian goes through the biggest trajectory, from rejecting the sexual advances of Sister Liu to habitually committing infidelity, from eking out a living making coffins to becoming powerful and corrupt. Does he represent both the heroic and reprehensible qualities that made China’s economic boom possible?

Guo has very humble roots. His family did not participate in the Communist revolution – so no Red history to claim as their own – nor did they join up with the Party to become cadres or other revolutionary workers after 1949. They were the quintessential poor peasant family. This earthiness set Guo’s moral compass: he was the good family man, the good son who led his family after the death of his father. Indeed, his motive for departing Guojiadian in the first instance is to earn money to send back to his mother and younger brother. He does embody the heroic qualities of China’s economic miracle – the initiative, the drive, the thirst to bring wealth to his town, yet it is that very same wealth and power that destroys his moral compass. He loses his earthiness. It’s rather tragic. So yes, I think he does represent what has been both heroic and reprehensible about the dramatic changes China has endured over the course of the reform era. Continue reading

What history teaches about the coronavirus

Posted by: Wah Guan Lim <>
Source: The Diplomat (2/12/20)
What History Teaches About the Coronavirus Emergency
Lessons of transparency and transnational cooperation from the 1910-11 Manchurian Plague are still relevant to China and the world today.
By Wayne Soon and Ja Ian Chong

Accounts about the disease started sporadically. Somewhere in China people were getting sick in unusual numbers. Then press reports started appearing. Large numbers of people were getting seriously ill along main transport axes. News of deaths soon followed. In a few months 60,000 people would die before the disease came under control. This was not Wuhan in December 2019 and January 2020; it was northeastern China from late 1910 to early 1911. The Manchurian Plague, as the incident came to be known, was the first instance of modern techniques being applied to a public health crisis in China. Lessons of transparency and transnational cooperation from that event more than a century ago are still relevant to China and the world today. Continue reading

Xu Zhangrun ‘Viral Alarm’

Source: China File (2/10/20)
Viral Alarm: When Fury Overcomes Fear
An Essay by Xu Zhangrun, Translated and Annotated by Geremie R. Barmé

Kevin Frayer—Getty Images

Translator’s Note

My thanks to Warren Sun who read over the draft translation of this essay and offered a number of insightful suggestions and to two other unnamed friends who helped me rid the text of various infelicities. I blame my obduracy for those that remain. For more essays by Xu Zhangrun in English, and for an account of his persecution by Tsinghua University, see the Xu Zhangrun Archive published by China Heritage.—Geremie Barmé. Subheadings have been added by the translator. The rule of Xi Jinping is officially hailed as China’s “New Era.“

Translator’s Introduction

In July 2018, the Tsinghua University professor Xu Zhangrun published an unsparing critique of the Chinese Communist Party and its Chairman of Everything, Xi Jinping. Xu warned of the dangers of one-man rule, a sycophantic bureaucracy, putting politics ahead of professionalism and the myriad other problems that the system would encounter if it rejected further reforms. That philippic was one of a cycle of works that Xu wrote during a year in which he alerted his readers to pressing issues related to China’s momentous struggle with modernity, the state of the nation under Xi Jinping and the mixed prospects for its future. Those essays will be published in a collection titled Six Chapters from the 2018 Year of the Dog by Hong Kong City University Press in May this year.

Although he was demoted by Tsinghua University in March 2019 and banned from teaching, writing and publishing, Xu has remained defiant. His latest polemical work—“When Fury Overcomes Fear”—translated below, appeared online on February 4, 2020 as the coronavirus epidemic swept China and infections overseas sparked concern around the world. Continue reading

Read China–cfp

Call for papers: Practices of Reading in the People’s Republic of China
Freiburg (Germany), Dec. 9-11, 2020

Research into literary and intellectual life typically focuses on analyses of texts and their production. The reader, practices of reading and the meanings and interpretations that (ordinary) readers arrive at very often are missing from the picture. This conference aims at filling this gap in research by focusing on practices of reading in the People’s Republic of China.

The conference “Practices of Reading in the People’s Republic of China” is hosted by the ERC-funded project ‘The Politics of Reading in the People’s Republic of China (READCHINA)’. READCHINA investigates into the politics and practices of reading in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), their interpretation and their impact on social and intellectual change. The main objective is a reinvestigation of literary history, intellectual history and cultural policy of the PRC from the perspective of the ordinary reader, who time and again aimed at testing or transgressing the boundaries of the rigid system. READCHINA includes research on fictional figures in popular literature; audiences of entertainment Internet fiction; organized forms and participants’ responses at rituals of collective reading participants; anonymous bookstore frequenters; and second-hand book readers and dealers. We explore reading as a tactic of common readers from the grassroots. Continue reading

Urban Horror

Urban Horror Urban Horror: Neoliberal Post-Socialism and the Limits of Visibility
By Erin Huang
Duke University Press, 2020

In Urban Horror, Erin Y. Huang theorizes the economic, cultural, and political conditions of neoliberal post-socialist China. Drawing on Marxist phenomenology, geography, and aesthetics from Engels and Merleau-Ponty to Lefebvre and Rancière, Huang traces the emergence and mediation of what she calls urban horror—a sociopolitical public affect that exceeds comprehension and provides the grounds for possible future revolutionary dissent. She shows how documentaries, blockbuster feature films, and video art from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan made between the 1990s and the present rehearse and communicate urban horror. In these films urban horror circulates through myriad urban spaces characterized by the creation of speculative crises, shifting temporalities, and dystopic environments inhospitable to the human body. The cinematic image and the aesthetics of urban horror in neoliberal post-socialist China lay the groundwork for the future to such an extent, Huang contends, that the seeds of dissent at the heart of urban horror make it possible to imagine new forms of resistance. Continue reading

Ming Qing Studies 2019

Ming Qing Studies 2019
edited by Paolo Santangelo
Sapienza University of Rome

We are glad to inform you that Ming Qing Studies 2019 was issued in November 2019 by WriteUp Site ( and

MING QING STUDIES is an annual publication focused on late imperial China and the broader geo-cultural area of East Asia during the premodern and modern period. Its scope is to provide a forum for scholars from a variety of fields seeking to bridge the gap between ‘oriental’ and western knowledge. Articles may concern any discipline, including sociology, literature, psychology, anthropology, history, geography, linguistics, semiotics, political science, and philosophy. Contributions by young and post-graduated scholars are particularly welcome. Continue reading

New strain of resistance

Source: SCMP (2/10/20)
A new strain of resistance? How the coronavirus crisis is changing Hong Kong’s protest movement
Hard-core activists back off but contagion helping to maintain momentum of city’s anti-government movement. Mass strikes threat as new unions emerge ready to wreak havoc during this crisis, or the next.
By Natalie Wong and Tony Cheung

Hard-core activists back off but coronavirus helping to maintain momentum of city’s anti-government movement. Illustration: Lau Ka-kuen

Hard-core activists back off but coronavirus helping to maintain momentum of city’s anti-government movement. Illustration: Lau Ka-kuen

When about 9,000 medical workers went on strike for five days early this month, it signalled not only their dissatisfaction with the Hong Kong government’s handling of the new coronavirus outbreak, but also a change in the city’s protest movement.

After more than eight months of anti-government street marches, violence and vandalism, with riot police responding by firing tear gas and other crowd-dispersal weapons, the health crisis led to protests being called off.

New police tactics since the new year, with officers intervening earlier at demonstrations to end violence and arrest protesters, also had the effect of keeping protesters away. Continue reading

Chen Qiushi silenced

Source: CNN (2/9/20)
He spoke out about the Wuhan virus. Now his family and friends fear he’s been silenced
By Nectar Gan, Natalie Thomas and David Culver, CNN

Chen Qiushi, a citizen journalist who had been reporting on the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, could no longer be reached by friends and family since Thursday.

Chen Qiushi, a citizen journalist who had been reporting on the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, could no longer be reached by friends and family since Thursday.

(CNN)As people across China mourned the death of a whistleblower doctor in an almost unprecedented outpouring of grief and anger on Thursday, little did they know that another truth-teller of the coronavirus outbreak was being silenced, according to friends and family.

Chen Qiushi, a citizen journalist who had been doing critical reporting from Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the epicenter of the outbreak, went missing on Thursday evening, just as hundreds of thousands of people in China began demanding freedom of speech online. Continue reading

Three views of ‘One Child Nation’

Source: China File (2/6/20)
What a Picture of China’s One-Child Policy Leaves Out
Three Views of Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang’s ‘One Child Nation’
By Jie Li, Susan Greenhalgh, and Karen Thornber

Kevin Frayer—Getty Images. A student performs eye exercises in her classroom in Beijing, December 18, 2015.


Brainwashed? Reflections on Propaganda in One Child Nation
By Jie Li

One Child Nation, a documentary distributed by Amazon Studios which was shortlisted for an Academy Award, is becoming one of the most influential films about China in the United States. Marketed as “the truth beyond the propaganda,” the film’s opening credits juxtapose luminous jars of aborted and abandoned fetuses against a military parade of robotic marching soldiers. Equating propaganda with lies, violence, and farce, One Child Nation at once reveals and recycles the logic, power, and aesthetics of propaganda.

Born in 1985, six years after the one-child policy was launched, filmmaker Nanfu Wang grew up seeing its omnipresent reminders “painted on the walls, printed on playing cards, calendars, matches, snack boxes, posters, all of them blended into the background of life in China.” She brings her American-born baby son back to her village in rural Jiangxi province, and describes herself as starting to “remember” the propaganda about the policy in textbooks, plaques on people’s doors, opera and dance performances, TV, and children’s songs. The film includes a photo of her as a teenager in a choir: “This was me performing propaganda songs. We all had the same makeup, the same dresses, and the same mentality.” This makes her wonder “if the thoughts I had were really my own, or if they were simply learned.” The film’s agenda, then, is to expose and unlearn propaganda. . . [click here to read all three essays in full]

Folk Literati

Folk Literati, Contested Tradition, and Heritage in Contemporary China: Incense Is Kept Burning
By Ziying You
Indiana University Press, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-253-04639-0

In this important ethnography Ziying You explores the role of the “folk literati” in negotiating, defining, and maintaining local cultural heritage. Expanding on the idea of the elite literati—a widely studied pre-modern Chinese social group, influential in cultural production—the folk literati are defined as those who are skilled in classical Chinese, knowledgeable about local traditions, and capable of representing them in writing. The folk literati work to maintain cultural continuity, a concept that is expressed locally through the vernacular phrase: “incense is kept burning.” Continue reading

Coronavirus source found in pangolins

The wildlife trail re-emerges: The pangolin, known as the target of massive over-harvesting for Chinese markets, an over-exploitation which is driving the animal to extinction across the world. In the wake of the Corona epidemic some writers have tried to paint criticism of Chinese over-harvesting as anti-Chinese racism, but if you just look at the pangolin, you realize this is at best gross ignorance and at worst, papering over the speed-rushed extinction of wildlife. Criticism of unsustainable foods and fake “medical” use, like with rhino horns etc. is not racism at all. It is necessary.–Magnus Fiskesjö,

Source: Daily Maverick (2/7/20)
Coronavirus source found in pangolin meat
By Don Pinnock and Tiara Walters

A picture made available on 30 June of Hook the pangolin resting on a tree stump while zoo keeper Suman looks on in the Singapore Zoo, 29 June 2008. EPA/HOW HWEE YOUNG

As the death toll climbs in the China pandemic, researchers reveal new origins for the coronavirus in Earth’s most threatened mammal.

The deadly novel coronavirus pandemic has been traced to pangolins, the world’s most trafficked and endangered mammal, according to researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. This had been confirmed by researchers at the South China Agricultural University.

Today Our Burning Planet can reveal that DNA analysed by the Baylor researchers appears to offer a near-perfect match for the current outbreak of novel coronavirus (nCoV-2019), an acute respiratory disease that has killed hundreds. Continue reading

Coronavirus a disaster for China’s nationalism

Source: Commonwealth 天下 (2/5/20)
Coronavirus Outbreak is a Disaster of China’s Nationalism: Academia Sinica Scholar
By Yi-Shan Chen

Coronavirus Outbreak is a Disaster of China's Nationalism: Academia Sinica Scholar

Source:Kuo-Tai Liu

Shao-Hua Liu (劉紹華) has studied the prevention of infectious diseases in post-1949 China. She believed that so long as China refuses to disclose information and face the full judgment of history, China, the world, and neighboring Taiwan will just have to get used to an unending stream of new epidemics and crises coming from China.

“Following categorical denial and the outbreak of the epidemic, the government is compelled to confess; large-scale forced evacuations; panic and stigmatization spreading faster than the disease itself; lack of a cohesive plan for citizens’ livelihood, medical staff pushed to the front line without any backup policies; mass fear and public anger.”

These are the words used by Shao-Hua Liu (劉紹華), Research Fellow and resident anthropologist at the Academia Sinica, to describe China’s past response to HIV and leprosy outbreaks. If one tries to write about the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak, one won’t have to change a word.

Liu has studied the prevention of infectious diseases in post-1949 China. She authored books such as “Passage to Manhood: Youth Migration, Heroin, and AIDS in Southwest China” (我的涼山兄弟:毒品、愛滋與流動青年) and “Leprosy Doctors in China’s Post-Imperial Experimentation: Metaphors of a Disease and Its Control” (麻風醫生與巨變中國). The former was banned after publication in China; the latter was never allowed to publish. Her prediction about the Wuhan coronavirus is pessimistic. Continue reading