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Michaelmas 2017

China Research Seminar

Michaelmas Term, 2017

All seminars take place on Wednesdays (unless otherwise arranged) at 5pm in rooms 8 & 9 in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. Tea will be served at the same venue at 4:45pm. All are welcome.

  • Wednesday, 11th October, 2017
    Of Spongers, Sharpers, and Cannibal Eunuchs: The Swindle Story in the China and the West
    Dr Christopher Rea, Associate Professor of Asian studies and former director of the Centre for Chinese Research at the University of British Columbia, Canada

    Why do collections of swindle stories appear at certain times and places? In China, for example, the swindle story has experienced bursts of popularity during the late Ming, the early Republican era, the early Mao era, and during the last twenty years. And comparable works exist around the world. What, for example, do Zhang Yingyu’s Book of Swindles (Ming China, 1617), Richard King’s The New Cheats of London Exposed (Georgian England, 1792), and P.T. Barnum’s The Humbugs of the World (Reconstruction-era United States, 1867) have in common—and how do they differ? Swindle stories, clearly, serve a double purpose: they teach techniques for navigating perilous social environments, and they entertain. But theirs authors tend to frame these narratives within a questionable claim: that ours is an age of unprecedented peril. Focusing on the example of China, this talk will highlight one thread running through literary history: connoisseurship of the swindler’s ingenuity.



    Christopher Rea is the author of The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China (2015), which was awarded the 2017 Joseph Levenson Book Prize (post-1900 China) by the Association of Asian Studies. He has also edited several books on modern Chinese culture, including China’s Literary Cosmopolitans (2015), Humans, Beasts, and Ghosts (2011), and, with Nicolai Volland, The Business of Culture (2015). His most recent book, translated with Bruce Rusk, is The Book of Swindles: Selections from a Late Ming Collection (Columbia, 2017); the original work, said to be China’s first collection of stories about fraud, celebrates its 400th anniversary in 2017.

  • Wednesday, 18th October, 2017
    Saintly or Heretical? Legends about Buddhist Monks as Political Prophets
    Dr Wu Junqing, Leverhulme Fellow, Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge

    One of the miracles attributed to eminent/saintly Buddhist monks was that they could accurately prophesy political events such as a change of throne, the result of an important battle or the death of a ruler. Legends about monk-prophets such as Bao Zhi 寶誌 (who was thought to be connected with Bodhisattva Guanyin) and Fo Tu Deng 佛圖登 were well-known and transmitted/embellished at least till the Song. These monks were portrayed as trusted and admired by the current rulers (not necessarily emperors). However, after the Song and particularly in late imperial times, stories of this kind greatly decreased and the old legends of historical monk-prophets also went out of fashion, both in official history and in literature. Furthermore, the making of political prophecies was increasingly considered dangerous and seditious and often associated with religious heresy. Contemporary eminent monks were no longer portrayed as successful prophets. This change not only reflected changing state/elite attitudes towards religion and political legitimacy but also the changing status of Buddhist monks at the popular level.

    Blogpost about this seminar
     
  • Wednesday, 25th October, 2017
    The Beekeeper in Pre-Modern China
    David Pattinson, Director of East Asian Studies, University of Leeds

    Although beekeeping and honey hunting in China was apparently widespread during imperial times, bees did not have the same prominence in Chinese culture as they have had in Europe. The relatively limited scholarship relating to bees in Chinese history, even in China itself, reflects this. Having elsewhere described the history of beekeeping in China up until the nineteenth century, and discussed representations of bees in China (forthcoming), in this talk I will look specifically at how the interactions between humans and bees were described and conceived of in extant texts from across the imperial era, focusing particularly on the image of the beekeeper.

    David Pattinson's earlier research was on letter-writing and social networks in late Ming and early Qing China but in recent years he has turned to the history of bees and beekeeping in pre-modern China.

    Blogpost about this seminar

  • Wednesday, 1st November, 2017
    The Memory of an Assassin and Political Legitimacy in the Wang Jingwei Regime (1940–45)
    Prof. Yang Zhiyi, Professor of Sinology, Goethe University of Frankfurt

    This paper investigates the function of Wang Jingwei’s 汪精衛 (1873-1944) romantic image as a would-be assassin in constructing the legitimacy of his collaborationist Reorganized National Government (RNG). Wang rose to national prominence in 1910, after his failed plot to assassinate the Manchu Prince Regent. This act, originally inspired by anarchist revolutionary romanticism as well as China’s warrior tradition, was elevated to a new level of importance after the foundation of RNG. It was glorified not just to increase Wang’s personal charisma, but also to encourage expectations on unstated possibilities in his collaboration.

    In particular, I examine a poetry exchange in Nanjing in 1942 among Wang’s followers, around a painting depicting the Warring States warrior Jing Ke’s 荊軻 departure to assassinate the King of Qin in 227BC, on the eve of the latter’s conquering the whole China with despotic violence. However, if Wang Jingwei was once a Jing Ke in 1919, in 1942 he was no longer a lone warrior, but the head of a regime. His eulogizing a regicidal assassin was thus a curious business, as political assassination challenges the due course of history and the rule of law. The cooption of an ancient assassin in a propagandist effort to boost a regime’s legitimacy requires ideological gymnastics, which was made possible by the broad spectrum of reactions to the Jing Ke story through Chinese literary history, especially concerning his relation to power. An examination of the literary tradition shows that Jing’s story had been appropriated to serve various political agendas. For RNG poets, revoking the story also implicitly compared Japan to Qin, implying their emotional resistance. And yet, despite the cruelty of Qin’s conquest, it unified China and established a bureaucratic state, which was the foundation of political institutions for the next two millennia. The historical allusion therefore implies a pessimistic outlook on China’s resistance, the permeation of the official Pan-Asianism discourse to their private imagination, and a romantic projection of their historical destiny. Their poetry constructed a community based on personal loyalty, memory, and feelings, which compensated the Wang regime’s deficiency in institutional or legal legitimacy.

    Blogpost about this seminar

  • Wednesday, 8th November, 2017
    Laozi Leading Confucius to Salvation: Tracing the History of a Lost Text
    Dr Imre Galambos, Reader in Chinese Studies, Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge

    The Qing archives related to the prosecution of secret societies contain occasional references to texts and other religious objects found in the possession of members of such societies at the time of their arrest. While some of the texts named in the archives survive and are well known to us, others have been subsequently lost and we can only use the titles to speculate about their content. This paper examines one such text mentioned in the archives under the title Laojun du fuzi 老君度夫子 (The Elderly Lord Saves the Master) and attempts to document different stages in the history of its transmission. Although the text is almost entirely absent from bibliographies and library catalogues, I intend to show that there is enough information to document its existence from the Song period until today. In the course of these eight or nine centuries the text continued to evolve, changing its title and part of its content, so that it may be argued that we are no longer looking at the same text but rather several interrelated ones, each with its own agenda and ritual background. Indeed, one of the intriguing aspects of such transmutation is how in different times the text was used by ever new groups for their own ends.

    Imre Galambos is a specialist of Chinese manuscripts, initially working on Warring States scribal habits and publishing a book on the orthography of the Chinese script. After receiving his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, for ten years he worked for the International Dunhuang Project at the British Library, where his research interest gradually shifted to the Dunhuang manuscripts and the written culture of the Silk Road in general. More recently, he has been also working on Tangut prints and manuscripts produced in the Xixia state. Since 2012 he has been teaching at the University of Cambridge. His books include Orthography of Early Chinese Writing (2006), Manuscripts and Travellers (2012, co-authored with Sam van Schaik) and Translating Chinese Tradition and Teaching Tangut Culture (2015).

    Blogpost about this seminar 

  • Wednesday, 15th November, 2017
    The Twentieth Century Chinese National Language Movement
    Prof. Wang Dongjie, History and Culture School, Sichuan University, Chengdu, China

    In traditional Chinese culture, the use of characters and textual sources plays a central role, while spoken or oral language is generally regarded with contempt. A scholar is more accustomed to the way of writing and viewing rather than speaking and listening in order to master and express his or her knowledge. However, China experienced a language reform movement with “Phonocentrism”, or a “National Language Movement” at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. In this movement, the relative position of “language” and “character” was inverted, and “sound” became the core of cultural order. However, cultural traditions, centered on characters and texts, did not totally disappear during these movements. They became and remained a regulating force that shaped modern language reforms. In my talk I shall discuss the issue of language reforms from four perspectives: 1. The principle of unifying language with written language and character pronunciation. 2. The “nonuniformism” principle in the unity movement of national language. 3. The general understanding of the National Language Movement. 4. The different effects of various sub-projects of the National Language Movement. These analyses show that although language reforms originated from the criticism of Chinese characters, they could not have been achieved with success without relying on China’s cultural tradition represented by characters and the act of writing. Therefore, we must value the significance of Chinese “modernity”, that was endowed by the great tradition established by characters, writings, and with the classics as its core.

    Wang Dongjie devotes himself to the research of the intellectual and cultural history of modern China. His works include Local Interaction between Nation and Academia: the Nationalisation Process of Sichuan University (1925-1939) (2005), A Domestic “Foreign Land”: the Approval of Culture, Society and Local in Modern Sichuan (2016) and Sound Penetration and Clearness of the Mind: National Language Movement and Modern China (forthcoming). 

    Blogpost about this seminar

  • Thursday, 23rd November, 2017 in the Rushmoore Room, St Catharine's College
    ** Note the change from the previously advertised date and the change of location for this week's talk **

    The Advance of the Crayfish: The Industrialization of the Yangzi Wetlands
    Chris Courtney, Cambridge/Southampton

    In the past, environmental historians have used indicator species such as elephants, tigers, and dolphins to demonstrate the human impact on the Chinese environment over time. Rather than narrating the tragic retreat of a charismatic local species, this paper instead tells the story of an ecological winner. The red swamp crayfish (/Procambarus clarkii/), a native of the southern United States,was introduced to China by the Japanese in the late 1920s. Over subsequent decades it established large populations in the wetlands of the Yangzi and other regions of China. This invasion was mediated by farmers, who raised “little lobsters” (小龙虾) for the urban culinary market. This paper uses the advance of the crayfish to highlight the broader ecological and cultural transformations that have occurred in the Yangzi wetlands since the mid twentieth century. Rural communities in this region once depended upon a biodiverse environment to supply a complex and highly productive agroecosystem. Over the past century, wetland agriculture became increasingly industrialised, with the rise of mechanisation and synthetic fertilisers. This facilitated spectacular increases in productivity, yet also caused a precipitous decline in cultural and biological diversity. The human-mediated crayfish invasion is both a cause and a symptom of this broader environmental decline. Rather than seeing these creatures as a pest, rural communities have been swept up in a crustacean gold rush, raising an estimated 56 billion RMB worth in 2016 alone. The advance of the crayfish encapsulates many of the dilemmas facing rural communities in China today. It demonstrates their formidable capacity to adapt to environmental and economic change, yet also reveals the extent to which they have lost touch with a traditional ethos of agricultural sustainability.

    Chris Courtney is a research fellow at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge, and the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore. His research focusses upon the social and environmental history of the middle Yangzi region, and the urban history of Wuhan. He has several published and forthcoming articles examining issues including the history of flooding, fire, and popular religion. His monograph /The Nature of Disaster in China: The 1931 Yangzi River Flood/ will be published with Cambridge University Press in late 2017.

  • Wednesday, 29th November, 2017
    China’s Nuclear Industry
    Simon Taylor, Cambridge

     
  • Wednesday, 6th December, 2017
    A Textual Tsunami: New Sources for a Religious History of Modern China
    Vincent Goosseart, CNRS

For further information, contact:

Prof. Hans van de Ven
Professor of Modern Chinese History
Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies
E-mail: 

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