Seminars

  • Founded
    1957
  • Seminar Number
    443

This seminar is concerned with the politics, society, culture, and international relations of China from the early nineteenth century to the present. Its broader purpose is to explore the evolution of Chinese civilization over the past century of revolution and rapid social change. Papers—work in progress—are circulated to members and associates in advance of each meeting. Authors are asked to give a brief oral introduction, after which a discussant comments. The entire remainder of each session is comprised of members’ reactions to the paper and the author’s responses.

Seminar Website


Co-Chairs
Professor Nick Bartlett
nbartlet@barnard.edu

Professor Ying Qian
yq2189@columbia.edu 

Professor William Charles Wooldridge
william.wooldridge@lehman.cuny.edu

Rapporteur
Danping Wang
dw2775@columbia.edu


Meeting dates and locations are subject to change. Please confirm details with the seminar rapporteur.


Meeting Schedule

09/12/2019 918 International Affairs Building, Columbia University
7:00 PM
O Frontiers! The Reinvention of modern Chinese territoriality
Shellen Wu, University of Tennessee
Abstract

Abstract

Efforts by military officers, politicians, social scientists, and historians from across the political spectrum to bolster the Chinese frontiers from the Northeast to the Northwest and the Southwest helped define the territorial extent of the modern Chinese state. In doing so, they used the language of science and modernization and liberally borrowed from and adapted globally circulating ideas about frontier development. An examination of these reclamation efforts on the frontier reflected how the spatialities of empire and nation overlapped in complex ways as both Japanese officials bent on expanding the empire and nationalist Chinese officers who sought to reinforce border defenses resorted to the language of science and modernization to define supposedly “blank spaces” on the map.


Discussant: John Chen, Columbia University



10/10/2019 918 International Affairs Building, Columbia University
7:00 PM
The Barbers of Beijing: Hairstyles and Collectivization During the Great Leap Forward
Fabio Lanza, University of Arizona
Abstract

Abstract

This paper looks at how collectivization affected barbers in Beijing between 1956 and 1962, and uses this case to point at some of the tensions and contradiction that shaped the larger urban commune movement and the Great Leap in general. It also illustrates how during the Great Leap not only hairstyling fashions and a correspondent hierarchy of hairdressers persisted, but they were recognized and actively fostered by local and state authorities. The process of collectivization was not meant to eliminate social and economic differences, rather these difference were integral to the process, and they were often at the center of cadres' perspectives.


Discussant: JM Chris Chang, Columbia University



11/14/2019 1201 International Affairs Building, Columbia University
7:00 PM
Consuming Belief: Tibetan Buddhism in Urban China
John Osburg, University of Rochester
Abstract

Abstract

In the context of a perceived spiritual and moral crisis in contemporary Chinese society, growing numbers of Han Chinese are turning to Tibetan Buddhism for ethical guidance and spiritual therapy. Based on an ethnographic study of a group of affluent, urban Han Chinese who have become followers of Tibetan Buddhism and patrons of reincarnated lamas and charismatic Tibetan monks, this lecture examines the sources for the appeal of Tibetan Buddhism for urban Chinese. In a context of widespread cynicism and distrust of official ideologies, a condition I dub “post-belief,” many Chinese view Tibetan Buddhism as one of the few remaining domains of authentic “pure” belief yet to be corrupted by market forces or political manipulation. For these Buddhist converts, the imagined purity, spirituality, and anti-materialism of Tibetans—notions which stem from official state representations of Tibet as “backward”— serve as the basis of their critique of the dominant preoccupations of mainstream Chinese society. I examine the range of ways in which Han Chinese integrate Buddhist principles and ritual practice into their lives as well as some of the tensions that have emerged in communities of followers, including anxieties about the authenticity of their Tibetan teachers and concerns about the “superstitious,” benefit-seeking orientation of many wealthy practitioners.


Discussant: Eveline Washul, Columbia University



12/05/2019 918 International Affairs Building, Columbia University
7:00 PM
A Luxury for Chinese People: Rural Reform and the "Beautiful Countryside" Campaign
Yi Gu, University of Toronto (Canada)
Abstract

Abstract

“Beautiful Countryside” (meili xiangcun) campaign has been in the core of the policy under Xi Jinping’s leadership. Unlike the previous micro-policy on rural reconstructions such as “Building a Socialist New Countryside” (jianshe shehui zhuyi xinnongcun), this new campaign for the first time put aesthetics in the core of rural development. The unprecedented emphasis on the proper “look” of the countryside brought great changes to the regulation of villagers’ homes and the way commercial and public buildings are designed. It is no exaggeration to say that the Beautiful Countryside is leading to the most significant change of how rural China looks. This paper is a preliminary study on this overlooked phenomenon. Based on analysis on textual and visual government reports and news media coverage, as well as participant observation and interviews, this paper investigates how the ideals of the beautiful are imagined, disseminated, and contested in the context of the current rural reconstruction in China. I argue that the “Beautiful Countryside” campaign has not only further institutionalized social stratification but resulted in a new wave of land seizure and privatization.


Discussant: Rebecca Karl, New York University



02/06/2020 918 International Affairs Building, Columbia University
7:00 PM
Colonial War, Nationalist Revolution, and the Emergence of Documentary in China
Ying Qian, Columbia University
Abstract

Abstract

In this book-chapter-in-progress, I examine the co-emergence of documentary media and Chinese nationalist revolution at the turn of the twentieth century, in a context of colonial wars, and networks of transnational capital and revolutionary agitation. From Cheng Yu’s 程淯travels in Japan to photograph war trophies captured from the Qing, to Yuan Xiluo 袁希洛and his fellow students’ filmmaking at a Japanese shipyard in support of the Qing Navy, I show that China’s defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War and its disadvantageous integration into the international media circuit propelled a new generation of Chinese elites to take command of media technologies to disrupt colonial narratives, cultivate active spectatorship and buttress their elite status. Examining the career of the Japanese film producer Umeya Shokichi 梅屋庄吉, who funded Sun Yat-sen’s 孫逸仙revolutionary endeavors and produced a documentary of the Xinhai Revolution itself, I argue for cinema’s multi-facetedentanglement with revolution. Cinema as a business could channel ready capital from mass spectatorship into political processes, which then created further occasions for filmmaking (and world-making). The film exhibitor and the revolutionary were globe trotting figures with overlapping transnational itineraries and resource networks, allowing them to move fluidly between the mass art of cinema and the mass politics of revolution. In the post-revolutionary period, Chinese political and economic elites continued to use cinema as an educational technology to cultivate a modern national subject while integrating Chinese industrial and agricultural production into a world market. As the revolution devolved into a prolonged period of fragmentation and competition between warlords, army documentaries by Lai Manwai (for Chiang Kaishek) and Zhao Yiyun (for Feng Yuxiang), bearing the influence respectively of British-American war films and Eisensteinian montage theory, articulated the Republic’s promises of modern technology, territorial unification, and a pastoral style of leadership. In a patchwork fashion, this chapter attempts a brief history of early documentary cinema in China between 1906 and 1928, and makes a case for studying cinema within theintertwined histories of media practice and social transformation.


Discussant: Eugenia Lean, Columbia University



03/12/2020 918 International Affairs Building, Columbia University
7:00 PM
meeting cancelled
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04/02/2020 918 International Affairs Building, Columbia University
7:00 PM
meeting cancelled
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05/06/2020 918 International Affairs Building, Columbia University
7:00 PM

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