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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Room LG18, Law Faculty (Sidgwick Site)
Event date: 
Thursday, 1 February, 2024 - 14:00
Event organiser: 

China Research Seminar given by Prof. Daria Berg & Dr Qian Cui, University of St Gallen

When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Putin felt confident in Xi Jinping’s support, solidified by pledges of a ‘no-limits friendship’. While the world looked to China for a resolution to the crisis, China’s official media touted Russian propaganda in their coverage of the war while censoring Ukrainian news and pro-Ukrainian perspectives. Despite the risks, Chinese artists, poets and netizens have been exploring the new social media as alternative avenues for creativity to express their views, posting visual art and literature such as poetry, painting and photography in support of Ukraine. This talk will analyze selected works to discover how they ‘speak truth to power’. The Euripidean concept of parrhesia, ‘speaking truth to power’—or literally ‘saying everything one has in mind’—denotes freedom of expression, transparency, duty, idle talk and gossip. Foucault (1983) has pointed out that truth-tellers face risk or danger but feel bound by duty to muster the courage and ‘speak truth to power’. Here I argue that China’s vernacular culture draws on its indigenous tradition of parrhesia, celebrating freedom of expression in visual or literary narratives, fueled by the storytellers’ sense of duty to their country to ‘speak truth to power’. In the time-honoured tradition of the xiaoshuo—originally meaning small talk or gossip—the new artists and authors brave the risks to use social media as vehicles of expression for their indirect yet scathing critiques of power.

References Foucault, Michel, Henri-Paul Fruchaud and Daniele Lorenzini, “Discourse and Truth” and “Parresia”, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019.

Daria Berg gained her doctorate in Chinese Studies from the University of Oxford and is the Chair Professor (Ordinaria) of Chinese Culture and Society at the University of St Gallen, Switzerland. She currently holds a short visiting fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge. She has previously taught at the Universities of Oxford, Durham and Nottingham, UK. She has published extensively on Chinese literature, visual art and culture and she has won international prizes for her research, including the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) 2015 Specialist Publication Accolade for her monograph Women and the Literary World in Early Modern China, 1580-1700 (2013) and, with Giorgio Strafella, the China Information Best Article Prize 2015. Her current research explores visual art, media, literature, and culture in traditional and contemporary China. Her latest book, co-edited with Giorgio Strafella, is China’s Avant-garde, 1978-2018 (2022).

Professor Roel Sterckx FBA: