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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Room LG18, Law Faculty (Sidgwick Site)
Event date: 
Thursday, 9 November, 2023 - 14:00
Event organiser: 

China Research Seminar Series talk given by Dr John Alekna, Peking University

Contemporary developments in communications technologies have overturned key aspects of the global political system and transformed the media landscape. Yet interlocking technological, informational, and political revolutions have occurred many times in the past. In China, radio first arrived in the winter of 1922-23, bursting into a world where communication was slow, disjointed, or non-existent. Less than ten percent of the population ever read newspapers. Just fifty years later, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, news broadcasts reached hundreds of millions of people instantaneously, every day. How did Chinese citizens experience the rapid changes in information practices and political organization that occurred in this period? What was it like to live through a news revolution?

John Alekna traces the history of news in twentieth century China to demonstrate how large structural changes in technology and politics were heard and felt. Scrutinizing the flow of news can reveal much about society and politics—illustrating who has power and why, and uncovering the connections between different regions, peoples, and social classes. Taking an innovative, holistic view of information practices, Alekna weaves together both rural and urban history to tell the story of the rise of mass society through the lens of communication techniques and technology, showing how the news revolution fundamentally reordered the political geography of China.


Dr John Alekna is an historian of information, technology, and politics in modern China, currently an Assistant Professor in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine Department at Peking University in Beijing. He joined the department in 2020. A native of Boston, Massachusetts, he received his PhD from the History Department at Princeton University. During Michaelmas term of 2023 he is a visiting research fellow at the Needham Institute, Cambridge, England. He is the author of the book also titled Seeking News, Making China: Information, Technology, and the Emergence of Mass Society to be published next year by Stanford University Press.

Professor Adam Yuet Chau: