Kingdom of Characters review

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: 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, Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution that Made China Modern New York: Riverhead Books, 2022. xix + 314 pp. ISBN: 9780735214736​ (Paperback); 9780735214729 (Hardcover); 9780735214743​ (E-book)

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.[1]

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

Media Gaffes

Source: China Digital Times (9/15/23)
Recent Media Gaffes Say Quiet Parts Out Loud on Sensitive History and Current Anxiety

By inadvertently “saying the quiet part out loud,” three recent media gaffes have touched off public debate on questions usually left unspoken. For some Chinese social media users, these blunders have provided an opportunity to discuss the problems of wage stagnation, official corruption or indifference, politically sensitive dates, and the paradoxes of online censorship and self-censorship.

One gaffe involved state media outlet People’s Daily censoring a video it had produced to promote the upcoming Asian Games, which will be held from September 23-October 8 in Hangzhou. The video, “A Literary Exploration of Hangzhou,” contained two classical poems with politically awkward subtexts that the producers had apparently overlooked. One of the poems, containing references to “June” and “four seasons” had been used by some activists to get around censorship of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. As Helen Davidson reported for the Guardian, the other poem that raised eyebrows was a thinly-veiled satire of corrupt and callous officialdom:

Written in the 12th century, it is interpreted as a criticism of the Song Dynasty rulers, accusing corrupt officials of fleeing troubled lands to Hangzhou, and ignoring the struggles and crises of regular people while they drunkenly enjoy their own lives.

The poem itself is widely known and not censored, but commenters noted its inclusion suggested the video producers hadn’t realised the descriptions of people partying in Hangzhou was political satire.

[…] The video containing both poems was quickly taken down, but not before it was viewed at least 130,000 times across the People’s Daily and another state media account, according to censorship monitoring site, Free Weibo. Several other accounts also shared the video. A hashtag promoted alongside it no longer returns any results. [Source] Continue reading

I Love Bill and Other Stories

I Love Bill and Other StoriesNEW PUBLICATION
I Love Bill and Other Stories, by Wang Anyi
Translated by Todd Foley
Foreword by Xudong Zhang
Cornell East Asia Series
ISBN13: 9781501771071
ISBN10: 1501771078
Publication date: 09/15/2023
Pages: 260

I Love Bill and Other Stories showcases the work of Wang Anyi, one of China’s most prolific and highly regarded writers, in two novellas and three short stories.

A young artist’s life spirals out of control when she drops out of school to pursue a series of unfulfilling relationships with foreign men. A performance troupe struggles to adapt to a changing China at the end of the Cultural Revolution. The head of an isolated village arranges a youth’s posthumous marriage to an unknown soldier, only to have the soldier’s former lover unexpectedly turn up. A fun trip takes an unexpected turn when two young women are kidnapped and sold off as brides. A boy’s bout with typhoid provides an intimate look at family life in Shanghai’s longtang alleys.

Wang Anyi is president of the Shanghai Writers’ Association and professor at Fudan University. She has received the Mao Dun Literature Prize, and her works in English translation include BaotownThe Song of Everlasting Sorrow, and Fuping.

Posted by: Todd Foley <>

The Chinese People Have Stand-Up

Source: China Media Project (8/30/23)
The Chinese People Have Stand-Up
China’s crackdown on stand-up comedy in May this year was swift and decisive — as was the medium’s rise during the pandemic years. Taiwanese comedian Vickie Wang offers her inside perspective on why the format has struck such a chord with young Chinese audiences.
By Vickie Wang

When I first saw Ali Wong’s Netflix special Baby Cobra, I thought to myself, “I didn’t know Asian women were allowed to talk like this in public!” It was raunchy, frank, and hilarious — and it inspired me to go to comedy shows. In 2017, I began doing open mics at Shanghai’s Kung Fu Komedy club.

When I started out, the performers and clientele in Shanghai both skewed heavily expatriate. Most of the jokes hinged on how overwhelming it was to live in China as a foreigner, or even more cringe-worthy material about intercultural dating. Still, I was drawn to the bare-bones nature of the performance format. A dedicated venue with a dark room, good soundproofing, a spotlight, and a good sound system all go a long way. It also helps if the venue sells alcohol. But stand-up comedy doesn’t require a theater: it’s just a comedian with a microphone and an audience.

Kung Fu Komedy was one of the most prominent stand-up comedy venues in Asia at the time, and the only club in mainland China dedicated to stand-up, putting on English-language shows like mine most nights of the week. But by October of 2018, in the lead-up to the first China International Import Expo, the club was shuttered amid a wave of crackdowns on performers’ visas and liquor licenses. The secret to why this happened goes to the heart of what makes stand-up so engaging for performers like me as an art form — even without the glitz and glamor — and why it attracts so much attention from the public. Continue reading

Metaphors–Conceptualising Horisons of Meaning–cfp

We are sending out this Call for Papers of our doctoral Symposium entitled  “Metaphors – Conceptualising Horizons of Meaning,” which will be held at Ca’ Foscari University on 26-27-28 February 2024. Abstracts (max. 250-300 words) and a mini bio must be received by 15 October at The symposium is aimed at PhD students, post-docs, and early career researchers.

The symposium will be an opportunity to discuss the role of metaphors in different areas of knowledge. The symposium will be organized into thematic panels, each of which will be dedicated to a specific aspect of the use of metaphors. Some of the panels planned are:

  • Anthropology, Science and Technology Studies (STS), Human Geography
  • Gender Studies
  • Archaeology and Heritage Management
  • Linguistics
  • Literary Studies and Literary Theories
  • Literary Urban Studies
  • Philology and Language Phylogeny
  • Tourism Management and Marketing Communication
  • Visual Arts

For further information, you can consult the website at this link or write an email to

We kindly ask you to share this call for abstracts in your mailing lists / newsletters and with your students and researchers.

Thank you for your attention.

Kind regards,

The ‘Metaphors’ Symposium Committee Continue reading

States of Disconnect review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Wenjin Cui’s review of States of Disconnect: The China-India Literary Relation in the Twentieth Century, by Adhira Mangalagiri. The review appears below and at its online home: My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, our literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, MCLC

States of Disconnect: The China-India
Literary Relation in the Twentieth Century

By Adhira Mangalagiri

Reviewed by Wenjin Cui

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright September, 2023)

Adhira Mangalagiri, States of Disconnect: The China-India Literary Relation in the Twentieth Century New York: Columbia University Press, 2023. vii + 286 pp. Index. ISBN: 9780231205696​ (Paperback); 9780231205689 (Hardcover);  9780231556118​  (E-book).

This book sets an ambitious task to “rethink the transnational” through the conceptualization of what it calls “states of disconnect.” While its specific focus is on “the China-India literary relation in the twentieth century,” States of Disconnect aims at no less than reshaping the paradigm of comparison and supplying a critical vocabulary for a new ethics of transnational relation.

According to Mangalagiri, “states of disconnect”­—the key term of the book, the usage of which is directly informed by Judith Butler’s “contemplation on the meanings of ‘states’” (218)—not only refers in a literal sense to nation-states in disconnect, but also “describes the conditions of transnationalism in crisis a particular text inhabits and indexes” (21) and, most critically, designates “hermeneutic strategies for contending with disconnect and finding in the seeming ends of transnationalism—amid declining globalized hyperconnectivity and rising national parochialism—an ethics of literary relation” (30). Specifically, the book conceptualizes three such states: friction, ellipsis, and contingency. In addition to a brief explication given in the introduction, it provides detailed discussions in five chapters of case studies as well as a theoretical elaboration in the conclusion. Continue reading

On the Edge: Feeling Precarious in China

On the Edge: Feeling Precarious in China
By Margaret Hillenbrand
Columbia University Press, 2023
$35.00/£30.00 paper    $140/£117.00 hardcover   $34.99/£30.00 ebook
Enter Code: CUP20 for 20% discount


Charismatic artists recruit desperate migrants for site-specific performance art pieces, often without compensation. Construction workers threaten on camera to jump from the top of a high-rise building if their back wages are not paid. Users of a video and livestreaming app hustle for views by eating excrement or setting off firecrackers on their genitals. In these and many other recent cultural moments, China’s suppressed social strife simmers—or threatens to boil over.

On the Edge probes precarity in contemporary China through the lens of the dark and angry cultural forms that chronic uncertainty has generated. Margaret Hillenbrand argues that a vast underclass of Chinese workers exist in “zombie citizenship,” a state of dehumanizing exile from the law and its safeguards. Many others also feel precarious—sensing that they live on a precipice, with the constant fear of falling into this abyss of dispossession, disenfranchisement, and dislocation. Examining the volatile aesthetic forms that embody stifled social tensions and surging anxiety over zombie citizenship, Hillenbrand traces how people use culture to vent taboo feelings of rage, resentment, distrust, and disdain in scenarios rife with cross-class antagonism. Continue reading

Boston University position

The Department of World Languages & Literatures at Boston University seeks an Assistant Professor, starting Fall 2024, in Chinese and comparative literature prior to 1900 as an addition to our vibrant programs in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Comparative Literature. Candidates who work across multiple East Asian traditions on interdisciplinary and comparative topics, including translation studies, are particularly encouraged to apply. The teaching load is two courses per semester. Salary competitive and commensurate with experience. The successful candidate will have a PhD in hand and a high level of proficiency in Chinese both modern and classical and in English. We expect a rich research portfolio, relevant teaching experience, ability to teach forms of literary Chinese, and a commitment to active participation in student advising and to our institutional values regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion.

At Boston University, “it is our belief that our intellectual community depends upon the critical but collegial collaboration of diverse individuals from multiple communities of origin, religious traditions, ethnic and racial backgrounds, gender and sexual identities, schools of thought, and ethical and political commitments, some living with disabilities,” as expressed in our college’s diversity statement []. Please use AcademicJobsOnline ( to submit a cover letter, curriculum vitae, and an article-length writing sample. In the cover letter and teaching statement we invite candidates to explain how their teaching and mentorship activities work to increase student awareness of diverse individual life experiences in the premodern Asian context and contribute to more inclusive intellectual discourse. Three confidential letters of recommendation should be submitted through the same site. Applications submitted through a website other than AcademicJobsOnline will not be considered. If electronic submission is not possible, send materials by postal mail to East Asian Literature Search, Department of World Languages & Literatures, 745 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215. Please visit the following website for additional information about the Department ( Review of application materials will begin after November 1, 2023. Please contact Prof. Petrus Liu, Chair of the Search Committee, with any questions. Continue reading

Paris in the Springtime

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Paul Bevan’s introduction to and translation of “Paris in the Springtime,” by Shao Xunmei. This translation appears in conjunction with the recent publication of One Man Talking: Selected Essays of Shao Xunmei, 1929-1939, translated by Paul Bevan and Susan Daruvala. A teaser appears below. For the full introduction and translation, see:

Kirk Denton, MCLC

Paris in the Springtime

By Shao Xunmei 邵洵美

Translated by Paul Bevan

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright September 2023)

Introduction: Shao Xunmei, a Chinese Poet in 1920s Paris
By Paul Bevan

Portrait of Shao by the artist Xu Beihong 徐悲鴻.

Shao Xunmei (1906-68) was a poet, essayist, and publisher. Today, he is best known for his poetry, which mostly belongs to the period when he was a young man in his twenties inspired by the Decadent poets of nineteenth-century Europe. His lesser-known essays, written during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, cover all sorts of different topics, from the poetry of Sappho to the art of the woodblock print, from Shanghai in wartime to Chinese philately. Arguably his greatest contribution to the culture of the Chinese Republican Era (1912-49) was in publishing. During the 1920s and 1930s, Shao Xunmei published an array of pictorial magazines, so important that they did nothing less than define the era, in their celebration of the unique culture that developed in China’s most cosmopolitan city, Shanghai, at a time of great change. In addition to his own magazines, Shao was also responsible for the publication of many other periodicals, in his capacity as printer and editor. The essays translated in the book One Man Talking were all published in Shao’s own magazines between the years 1929 and 1939, and give a good idea of the breadth of his interests.

This short prose piece, “Paris in the Springtime” 巴黎的春天 (which does not appear in the book and was translated specially for MCLC), was published in 1929, three years after Shao Xunmei returned from Europe to China. It describes his movements whilst in Paris on a brief visit from Cambridge, where he was studying towards the university entrance exams. The cover of the book One Man Talking shows a portrait of Shao taken in a Parisian photographic studio in 1926, which was almost certainly posed for at the time of this visit. It has a handwritten greeting in Chinese to his friends and landlords in Cambridge, Rev. A.C. Moule and his wife, and was sent to them from Paris.[1]

Cover of One Man Talking.

In Shao’s poetic introduction the sun drips like honey; the warm breeze has audible footsteps; the tree is female, and she expresses herself in a variety of different ways, depending on who passes beneath her vast green canopy of leaves and branches.

Shao was a young man of his time, and in his writing we sometimes find references to women that do not read well today. This short essay is no exception. The tree giggles when young women pass beneath it, but is dismissive of middle-aged women because they are no longer young. Shao’s description of the artists’ model, though brief, typically objectifies the sitter, and the naïve, even childish ending to the essay brings in the rather self-conscious and unimaginative reference to the “amorous feelings of spring.” Despite these shortcomings, the essay as a whole displays much charm, and is written in a style that is typical of his writings of the time, with a nod towards the use of a descriptive language that shows his poetic aspirations. Above all, the essay provides an excellent indication as to what Shao Xunmei’s pastimes were during the time he spent in Paris as a man of leisure. It also gives an impression of his interests more broadly, interests with which he was able to fully indulge himself while he lived in Cambridge. [READ THE FULL PIECE HERE]

Overseas Chinese History Museum lecture

The ‘Global Diasporic Chinese Museums Network Initiative Public Talk Series’ will be hosting the next talk on Monday 18th September at 12: 00 pm to 13:30 pm (BST)

Our speaker, Mr. Ning Yi, Deputy Director of Overseas Chinese History Museum of China, will give a talk on Tracing the History of Chinese Diasporas and Narrating Stories of Cultural Exchange — Explorations and Practices at the Overseas Chinese History Museum of China. The talk will be given in Mandarin Chinese. Simultaneous translation into English is provided.

The event is jointly hosted by HOMELandS (Hub On Migration, Exile, Languages and Spaces) at University of Westminster and the Chinese Heritage Centre of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. It is organised as part of the project Global Diasporic Chinese Museums Network Initiative funded by AHRC.

This is a free event, held online via Zoom. Please register here – Eventbrite link – for access to the meeting on the day.

Best wishes,

Cangbai Wang

Lingnan postdoc

Lingnan University, a distinctive liberal arts institution in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, is committed to the provision of quality whole-person education by combining the best of Chinese and Western liberal arts traditions.  It strives to pursue excellence in teaching, learning, scholarship and community engagement.  With three academic Faculties and the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, it offers a wide range of undergraduate degree programmes in the areas of Arts, Business and Social Sciences, and the broad curriculum covers an array of general education, interdisciplinary and science courses.  The School of Graduate Studies offers research and taught postgraduate programmes up to doctoral level in various disciplines, and provides professional education for the wider society.  Lingnan’s liberal arts education is characterised by a broad-based interdisciplinary curriculum with specialised disciplinary studies; close student-staff relationship; a vibrant residential campus; ample global learning opportunities; active community engagement and multifarious workplace experience. Applications are now invited for the following post:

Postdoctoral Fellow
The Advanced Institute for Global Chinese Studies (Post Ref.: 23/326/MCLC)

The Advanced Institute for Global Chinese Studies (The Institute) now invites applications for a postdoctoral fellowship in premodern Chinese literature.

The appointee’s job duties include publishing research output in venues of international standing, applying for external grants, assisting with the Institute’s projects on Chinese poetry and literary theory, and assuming teaching duties as required by the University. The appointee will have the opportunities to co-publish research articles with the Director. Continue reading

One Man Talking

New Publication
Paul Bevan and Susan Daruvala (eds.), One Man Talking: Selected Essays of Shao Xunmei, 1929-1939 (Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press, 2023).

Shao Xunmei, poet, essayist, publisher and printer, played a signi­ficant role in the publication and dissemination of journals and pictorial magazines in Shanghai during the 1920s and 1930s. Shao’s poetry has been translated by several prominent scholars through the years, but remarkably few of his essays have received the same attention, and this is the first collection of his prose writings to have been published in English. Shao has been described by a phalanx of scholars as the most seriously underestimated modern cultural Chinese fi­gure. This collection of his writings joins several recent publications that aim to raise Shao’s literary and historical profile. It will appeal to a broad swathe of readers interested in the transnational and transcultural dimensions of twentieth-century experience that have become so important for contemporary scholarship.

The essays in this book, some of which were selected by the writer’s daughter, Shao Xiaohong, include long essays such as “One Man Talking” and “A Year in Shanghai”, as well as several shorter essays on subjects as diverse as the caricatures of Miguel Covarrubias, woodblock printing, and pictorial magazines, all of which were published in Shao’s own magazines. Although his essays may be less well known than those of other writers of the same period, without his unique and valuable contribution, the literary, artistic and poetic worlds of twentieth-century Shanghai would have been very different indeed. Continue reading

Cultural Production and Curation–cfp

Dear MCLC,

Please consider submitting a paper to a seminar I have proposed for the American Comparative Literature Conference (March 14-17, 2024):

Cultural Production and Curation (or The Curation of Culture)

I am interested in understanding the ways cultural production is framed for and by all of us. Curation is often associated with art and film. But we are all curators now. We are all in the position of curating from a vast array of curated works and media.

“In a discussion of governance in the Analects, Confucius notes how the important anthology of poetry, ‘the Book of Odes,’ numbers three hundred and can be summarized in one phrase: “Thought without evil.” Socrates in The Republic questions the appropriateness of certain stories in the education of the guardians of the republic: “Would that which does not harm do evil?” Thus philosophy frames art and literature as forms of cultural production conducive to the good of the state. Marshall McLuhan’s readings hypothesize cultural production as a new form of fragmented technology that included freudian censors to dampen the blow of the shock of new media. Jean Baudrillard may have been premature in his claims of superseding marxist production. Production, reproduction, wages, and land rent continue to be concerns within new media. Nevertheless, cultural production has gone far beyond fragmentation to forms of dispersed distribution and consumption. Cultural production has largely become data . . .”

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me at

Sean Macdonald
Huron University College

Chinese delegation all in for Russian invasion (2)

Source: NYT (9/10/23)
Chinese Singer Denounced Over Video at Bombed-Out Ukrainian Theater
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
The singer Wang Fang drew criticism after she performed “Katyusha,” a Soviet-era patriotic song, at the ruins of a theater in Mariupol.
By Javier C. Hernández

A photo of a theater with a white-columned facade that has extensive damage to the front, and windows that show the destruction inside.

The shell of the destroyed Drama Theater in Mariupol, Ukraine, in December 2022. Credit…Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA, via Shutterstock

The Chinese singer stands on a balcony inside a bombed-out theater in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, the site of a deadly attack last year by Russian forces. Looking at the camera, she sings an excerpt from the Soviet-era patriotic song “Katyusha” and lifts her arms triumphantly into the air.

The video of the singer, Wang Fang, a 38-year-old performer of patriotic songs and Chinese opera, has circulated widely online in recent days, fueling outrage in Ukraine and abroad. She appeared in Mariupol last week as part of a visit by a small group of Chinese media and cultural figures.

The exiled mayor of Mariupol, Vadym Boychenko, said the theater, which was hit by a Russian air attack while civilians sheltered there, was a “symbol of tragedy, a symbol of Russia’s war crimes” that should not be used for entertainment.

“People died there, among them children,” he said in a statement. “To turn the theater into a tourist destination and to sing on the bones of the dead is incredible cynicism and disrespect for the memory of the dead civilians.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry called the performance “an example of complete moral degradation” and said that Ms. Wang and the other Chinese visitors had entered the city illegally. Continue reading

Liang Hong and Liu Zhenyun in the UK

Liang Hong and Liu Zhenyun in the UK for the Sinoist Books Chinese author roadshow
Sinoist Author Roadshow 2023
10–18 October

This October join us in for a UK-spanning roadshow featuring two of China’s premier literary authors. Immerse yourself in the art of storytelling with the eminent Chinese authors Liang Hong (梁鸿) and Liu Zhenyun (刘震云). Explore how their books arrived in English translation through a variety of exclusive events.

More details in the weblink here

(10 October) Manchester – The Manchester China Institute – Physical
(11 October) Leeds – The Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing – Physical/Virtual 
(12 October) Newcastle – The Confucius Institute at Newcastle University – Physical
(13 October) Edinburgh – The Confucius Institute for Scotland
(16 October) SOAS – SOAS (NOT PUBLIC FACING) – Physical
(17 October) Oxford – Oxford International Centre for Publishing / Oxford Brookes Confucius Institute – Physical
(18 October) London – China Exchange (CHINESE ONLY) – Physical/Virtual

Posted by: Daniel Li <>