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Lent 2018

China Research Seminar

Lent Term, 2018

Unless otherwise arranged, all seminars take place on Wednesdays 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, 17th January, 2018 in Room G.19, Faculty of Classics (on the ground floor)
    ** Please note the change of venue for this week's seminar **

    Religion and the State: Faith in the Xi Jinping Era
    Ian Johnson, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter

    Ian Johnson's latest book is The Soul of China: The Return of Religion after Mao.

  • Wednesday, 24th January, 2018
    Ludic Modernism: Comedy and the Making of Modern Tibetan(s)
    Dr Timothy Thurston, Leeds University

    Comedy and laughter are not the first things most people think of when they think about Tibet. And yet laughter and humor constitute an important part of everyday life on the Tibetan Plateau. Beginning in the 1980s, a unique form of comic dialogues called kha shags, modeled on the Han Chinese xiangsheng tradition and disseminated on stage, radio, cassette, VCD, television, and the Internet, became important vehicles for spreading ideas about modern life to a Tibetan populace that remained largely illiterate into the twenty-first century. Through examining a series of four wildly popular 1990s comedies about a fictional nomadic community called “Careful Village” I examine how comedy engages in a mode of “ludic modernism” in which humor is used to advance a modernist agenda aimed at creating both modern Tibetan subjects, and a set of linguistic practices by which these Tibetan subjects will communicate. This is accomplished through satirizing behaviors perceived to be “backwards,” including close-mindedness, putting too much faith in religious clerics, lack of education, and technological illiteracy, and simultaneously modeling a modern alternative. Importantly, Careful Village is not actually a village, but an allegory for all of Tibet.

    Blogpost about this seminar

  • Wednesday, 31st January, 2018
    The Sinosphere Simplified
    Prof. Alan Macfarlane, Emeritus Professor of Anthropological Science, University of Cambridge 

    Alan is a Cambridge anthropologist with an incredibly varied list of publications. He has written on English history and thought, the nature of modernity, and the history of tea. He has also produced ethnographies, including of the Gurung of Nepal. Alan hosts a superb website ( with all manner of fascinating anthropological and historical information, including thoughtful interviews with leading historians, social scientists, and anthropologists.

    Blogpost about this seminar

  • Wednesday, 7th February, 2018
    Ritual, Interpretation, and Commentary in Chinese Late Antiquity
    Prof. Michael Puett, Harvard

    The paper will explore debates concerning interpretation and understanding that underlay the development of the commentarial tradition in Chinese late antiquity.  Michael will discuss what was at stake in these debates and the implications of the positions taken.  He will also discuss the appropriation of these reading strategies in later Chinese history.

    Blogpost about this seminar

  • Wednesday, 14th February, 2018
    Gender as a useful category of analysis in Chinese Religions – with two case studies from the Republican period
    Dr Elena Valussi, Loyola University, Chicago


    This talk will address the concept of gender and of gender equality (nannü pingdeng 男女平等) in a religious context as it emerges in the writings of men and women of the Republican period; the intensification of the presence of women in the public sphere, the emergence of the concept of nüjie 女界 (woman’s realm) and the making of the Chinese “new woman” (xin nüxing 新女性) brought intense debates on the role of women in society, of gender differences and of gender equality. The religious dimension of this social repositioning of women has yet to be analyzed in detail, and this is a first attempt.

    Elena Valussi's research has covered gender and religion in late Imperial and Modern China and the transmission of Daoist text in late imperial and Republican China. She is currently researching spirit writing in late Imperial China, and she is also co-director of a Chiang Ching-Kuo funded 3-year project on religious diversity in Late Imperial and modern Sichuan. She teaches Chinese and East Asian History at Loyola University Chicago, and this year she is a Visiting Fellow at the IKGF (International Consortium for Research in the Humanities) in Erlangen, Germany.

    Blogpost about this seminar

  • Wednesday, 21st February, 2018
    One Writer, Many Guises
    Dr Ewan MacDonald, Peterhouse, Cambridge

    The writer of a Chinese vernacular story in its late Ming form played three distinct roles in the text: deciding on the events of the story, narrating the story through an obtrusive “marketplace storyteller” persona, and reacting to the events of the story through a separate, more educated “marginal commentator” persona. The resulting illusion of different agents interacting can be manipulated by the writer to heighten the didactic effect or entertainment value of the story. To demonstrate this process in action, I will refer to stories from Ling Mengchu’s (1580-1644) late Ming collection Slapping the Table in Amazement.

    Ewan Macdonald is interested in Chinese narrative literature, and in particular the vernacular fiction of the late Ming and early Qing. His doctoral thesis, completed at SOAS in 2016, focuses on how the short stories of Ling Mengchu represent a turning point in the development of the vernacular short story. He joined Peterhouse College, Cambridge, as Carmen Blacker junior research fellow in October 2017.

    Blogpost about this seminar

  • CANCELLED - Wednesday, 28th February, 2018
    This seminar has been CANCELLED
    History and Nationalist Legitimacy in Contemporary China: A Double-Edged Sword
    Dr Robert Weatherly, Mills and Reeve & University of Cambridge

  • CANCELLED - Wednesday, 7th March, 2018
    This seminar has been CANCELLED
    Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them: Social Stratification through human - animal metamorphosis at the Sino - Russian Border
    Sayana Namsaraeva, Cambridge

For further information, contact:

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

Or see the China Cambridge Facebook Page