2022 Abstracts

If you're interested in attending the two-day meeting, please register through here: Day 1 (Feb 19th) & Day 2 (Feb 20th)


Panel 1: China in World Politics | Discussant: Prof. Min Ye (Boston University) | Feb 19th 11:30-13:00 (EST)

Ng, Qi Siang (Harvard University): "Innocent before proven guilty? Investigating the motives behind Chinese vaccine diplomacy"

Experts and observers have accused China of using vaccine diplomacy to expand its influence abroad in a bid to revise the “rules based international order”. Beijing is seen to provide vaccines as a form of “international gift-giving”, creating a social obligation for smaller states to bandwagon with Chinese foreign policy while also legitimizing China’s position as a great power. This paper tests this claim by examining data on Chinese vaccine distribution patterns. Using Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression, it examines the correlation between vaccine doses per capita received by each country from China and their diplomatic closeness to Beijing in terms of political and economic importance, as well as people-to-people ties. This paper finds no statistically significant correlation between a country’s diplomatic closeness to China and the number of doses per capita it receives. This suggests that China does not use diplomatic closeness as an explicit criterion for vaccine allocation. Such a finding calls into question whether vaccine diplomacy truly serves a geopolitical purpose for China. It also highlights the danger of blindly applying the “China threat” mentality to analyze China’s foreign policy decisions, which risks portraying China’s behavior as more threatening than it really is, potentially resulting in an unnecessary escalation of geopolitical conflict.

Pan, Chaohong (University of California, Merced): "Chinese “Wolf Warrior” Diplomacy and Foreign Public Opinion"

Through public diplomacy on social media, governments have attempted to influence foreign public opinion. What is the impact of digital public diplomacy? Public diplomacy research often relies on content analysis to study the strategies employed by communicators, but has rarely examined its actual impact on the audience. In addition, we do not know if giving a communicator an explicit label, as Twitter does with “government account”, would change the effects of the messages. Can the government label reduce the percussiveness of public diplomacy messages by sending a warning signal? Using a 2 × 2 survey experiment, the present paper contributes to the study of public diplomacy by randomly exposing American participants to four types of tweets from Chinese diplomats. The stimulus materials vary in terms of the tweets’ content (“positive-china” vs. “negative-US) and Twitter government labels (with vs. without the labels). I found that positive tweets about China have a significant positive effect on Americans’ attitudes toward China, whereas negative tweets about the US have little effect on their opinions. Furthermore, positive-China tweets are effective only on China-related issues, which indicates that Chinese diplomats’ tweets have limited effects on shaping a foreign audience’s attitudes toward their own country. Lastly, I find that labels largely have no impact on a diplomatic tweet’s effect. These results contribute to our understanding of the effects of public diplomacy in the digital age.

Chau, Wai Fong (University of Glasgow): "Rich and On the Move: Political and Lifestyle Causes for Chinese Migration"

The recent migration of rich Chinese to Western countries is on the rise. Existing research provides an overview of the phenomenon but lacks a systematic assessment of what makes these persons migrate. This paper seeks to address this gap and explains why wealthy mainland Chinese migrated to Western countries after 2000. It uses 60 semi-structured interviews with rich Chinese migrants from Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US. This approach enables to obtain of specific and detailed information about migratory stories of wealthy Chinese. This paper argues and shows that wealthy Chinese migration is a hybrid of politically motivated and lifestyle migration. Rich Chinese feelings of insecurity are due to the limited freedom of speech, strict media censorship, lack of protection of private property, and political instability posed by the change of leadership in 2012. The findings also shed light on the political reasons why wealthy Chinese have left China under Xi Jinping’s leadership. Equally importantly, the results show a nuanced picture with important differences in terms of motivations across migrants’ age groups, the year of migration, and regional hometowns in China. The research brings relevant contributions to the debate concerning Chinese migration to Western countries.


Panel 2: East Asia in Films and Literature | Discussant: Prof. Alexander Zahlten (Harvard University) | Feb 19th 11:30-13:00 (EST)

Wei, Ran (Washington University in St.Louis): "A Home on the Margins--Segregation, Marginalization, and Poverty in Takeda Rintarō's Kamagasaki (1933)"

My research aims to explore how the Japanese nation-state has normalized the process of marginalization, poverty, and segregation. After the First World War, the need for industrial labor resulted in domestic and international migration to Osaka. Many of these new immigrants from Korea and the Ryūkyū Islands settled near factories, then located on the periphery of Osaka. These settlements became the slum district named Kamagasaki, which is still populated by irregular laborers, homeless people, and sex workers today. Thus, what does it mean for someone to lead a “normal life” in Kamagasaki and yet confront the marginalization of his neighborhood? My project seeks an answer to this question by examining the representation of railways in Osaka writer Takeda Rintarō’s “Kamagasaki” (1933). Previous studies about “Kamagasaki” have argued that Takeda shows compassion towards people who are on the fringes of society through “urban sketches” of the denizens in Kamagasaki. In contrast, by examining how the construction of the Osaka railways have brought danger and threat instead of opportunities and prosperity to people in Kamagasaki, I argue that Takeda represents Kamagasaki as a place abandoned by Osaka’s modernization process and depicts how people in Kamagasaki are treated as the spoils of capitalism. Grasping the moment of change in which the locals are transformed into imperial subjects, Takeda contrasts the old normal, of impoverished immigrant working class neighborhood of Kamagasaki, with the new normal, which is the prosperity that the rest of Osaka has achieved from the development of its infrastructure system.

Ivanovic, Vasilije (Pennsylvania State University): "Writing Disaster - Spatiotemporal Awareness in Two Literary Responses to Environmental Catastrophe in Japan"

Environmental catastrophes elicit more and more responses from writers all over the world as the Anthropocene establishes itself as a prevalent sociocultural paradigm. Yet many of the problems that now come into focus have been worked through in literature for a long time. This paper compares two literary responses to environmental disaster: one to the Minamata mercury pollution in the 1950s-70s (おーい でてこーい!(Ōi Detekōi!) written by Hoshi Shin'ichi 1958), and one to the "triple disaster" of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear plant failure (不死の島 (Fushi no Shima) written by Tawada Yōko 2012). The paper showcases how these two responses examine similar problems in dissimilar discursive modes, underlying the larger spatial-temporal divergence that masks cause/effect relations in many incidents relating to the Anthropocene. Drawing on contemporary models like e.g. Rob Nixon's "slow violence" as much as on older critical works like Ishimure Michiko's "Paradise in the Sea of Sorrow", the paper illustrates the shifting discursivity of climate/environment literary responses over the turn of the millennium. In particular, it highlights parallels between literary and nonliterary responses in Japan in particular (but also Asia in general) as a shifting sociocultural awareness of the complexities of the Anthropocene establishes a new social sensibility for environmental problems and the way they can be discussed.

Jeon, Jaeyeon (University of California, Santa Barbara): "In Between “East” and “West”: Shifting Authorship between Center and Periphery, a Contemporary Alternative to Orientalism"

While Parasite’s recent Palme d’Or and Oscar represents the successful admission of South Korean cinema to the heart of the film industry, South Korean literature has yet to experience such recognition. Accordingly, the South Korean nation exhibits an “obsession with the Nobel” (Casanova), crystallizing how imperative the prize—and, therewith, Western recognition—is when a so-called “small literature” attempts to gain access to world literature. As a stopgap, the Nobel-lacking periphery chose to outsource the narration of its capital city to one of the major emblems of European excellence, the Nobel laureate Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. Commissioned by the city of Seoul, Le Clézio’s novel Bitna: Under the Sky of Seoul (2017) comes across as a well-calculated governmental strategy that reflects today’s center/periphery paradigm in World literature. At first glance, the novel bears much resemblance to Edward Said’s East/West division and the power relations he warned against: “[the Orientalist] writes about, whereas [the Oriental] is written about.” However, by demonstrating how Humanistic fundamentals, an important element that Said considers lacking in the Orientalists, are intact in Bitna, I argue that the novel gestures at the possibility of delivering the actuality of the Orient to the West without repression or manipulation. In this vein, I read Le Clézio’s response to the commission as suggestive of contemporary ethics of discussing the cultural Other. I support this argument in exploring how Le Clézio’s reappropriation of the global form, The 1001 Nights, is enabled by his thorough understanding of the Korean sentiment Chŏng (정/情).


Panel 3: Media and Mass Culture in Contemporary China  | Discussant: Prof. Jie Li (Harvard University) | Feb 19th 13:30-15:00 (EST)

Zheng, Leting (University of Oregon): "The Affect of Cuteness: Cutifying Chinese Youth as the New Normal in the 1920s"

The nineteenth century was characterized by urbanization, the ascendance of a middle class, and a changing social and philosophical conception of youth. As a consequence, youth gradually became a symbol of modernity all the while being endowed with innocence and vulnerability in the Western world. This new perception of youth traveled to the East, constituting a colonial discourse that exerted significant influence on Chinese intellectuals. In 1922, the periodical World of Children (Ertong shijie 兒童世界) was launched; it reflected the Zeitgeist of both Western modernity and the Chinese nationalist May Fourth Movement. Endorsing the modern Western idea of childhood, the contributors of the journal idealized and cutified Chinese youth as innately innocent, good-natured, Western middle-class angels both in images and literature. The strange portraits of Western modern youth contrast sharply with the youth in late-imperial Ming-Qing fictions, in which they are depicted as, for instance, sophisticated little adults, poor lowly laborers, or sexual capitals. By bridging a comparison between the figuration of youth in Ming- Qing fictions and the twentieth-century World of Children, this paper reveals the tremendous distance between premodern and modern conceptions of childhood in China. It argues, by no means was the cutified image of youth prevalent in premodern China. Rather, the cuteness à la Sianne Ngai is a production of modernity. Furthermore, the paper intends to uncover how Chinese intellectuals handled the ontological difference of youth and endeavored to localize the Western teleological conception of youth as the new “universality” in modern China.

Wang, Jinghui (University of Colorado, Boulder): "Singing together in revolutionary times: the politics of voice, mediation, and affect in socialist China"

In 1969, “The Song of Nanjing Sent-down Youths” became a secret hit among the frustrated, homesick young people in communes. Regarded as “The Internationale” for the sent-down youths, the song quickly spread as youths gathered to sing it together, finding release for their sense of loss and depression – negative affects that were not permitted in the limited repertoire of official musical performances during the Cultural Revolution. This paper examines everyday collective singing (hechang) experiences such as this one during a tumultuous decade of mass mobilization, and interrogates how such singing was lived, felt, and perceived individually in institutionalized practice, organized performance, and spontaneous action that work with or against the revolutionary spirit. Tracing how collective singing became a fixed socialist art form beginning with the socialist art experiments in Yan’an, this paper engages with personal memoirs, fiction and film, and historical archival materials that represent or evoke collective singing during the Cultural Revolution. I understand collective singing as not just ritualistic performance enforced by social institutions, but also the beginning of alternative musical and cultural scenes postponed in resistance to the monotonous revolutionary sound. In addition to the top-down orchestration of collective singing, this paper focuses on the everyday practice, lived experience, and memories embedded in voices and bodies engaged in singing the legitimate and illegitimate songs. I argue that human voices and the singing bodies are not just passive receivers of mediated messages but active and affective mediums that create new modes of communication and mediation in revolutionary times.

Gao, Yuan (Columbia University): "Becoming Contemporary Chinese Art: Exhibition-Making as Identity-Making"

A nascent category of non-Western art and an uneasy discourse, contemporary Chinese art has been largely denied a natural genealogy and agency of valorization beyond belated derivative mimicry, ethnic essentialist gaze and ideological preconfiguration, which has resulted in its spectral presence in Western cultural institutions fraught with implicit center-periphery gatekeeping criteria, a condition demanding change through conscious efforts. This paper examines two most influential exhibitions of contemporary Chinese art in the U.S. to date that marked seminal efforts in making space for this problematic category in the power field of global art scene, Inside Out: New Chinese Art (1998-99, Asia Society New York; SFMoMA) and Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World (2017-18, Guggenheim New York). By examining their respective curatorial agenda, artwork selection and critical response in a comparative view, this paper showcases how these exhibitions were ambitious identity-making projects that proposed new methodologies for recalibrating the Western imaginary of contemporary China and its new art. With the former focusing on a China-specific modernity and the latter adopting a global lens in response to China’s rising global role in the two-decade interval, both exhibitions strategically employed the visceral body as a site of nuanced resistance against political Othering. This study highlights how the development of contemporary Chinese art has been an uneasy trajectory of becoming, requiring conscious curatorial ventures and discourse-making endeavors to earn it a place and voice in the Euramerican discourse.

Lin, Shixing (University of California, Santa Barbara): "Poetics and Affect of Trolling: Rhetorical Confrontation and Chinese Social Media Culture in the Pandemic Era"

This paper investigates and redefines the role of Internet trolling in shaping the boundary of literary expression and reinforcing the distinction between the masses and the elites in the moment of global chaos. In April 2020, a female poet named Yu Xiuhua entered the controversy surrounding the publication of Fangfang’s Diary, an online diary about the Wuhan lockdown during the global pandemic. Yu Xiuhua, in sharp satire and bold prose, spoke out against the radical nationalists who accused Fangfang of shaming her nation. She was also harshly slammed by many Chinese Internet users for aligning with unpatriotic cultural elites. Instead of portraying Yu Xiubua as the victim of Internet trolling, this paper considers the rhetorical confrontation provoked by her transgressive speech acts as a poetics of trolling and looks into the affect of trolling by analyzing more than 4,000 Weibo comments centering on Yu with NLP (Natural Language Processing) methods. Engaging with affect theory and the studies on public opinion during COVID-19, this research discovers that the rhetoric of disgust/abjection emerges as the most prominent feature in the confrontation between Yu and people who raised their voices against her. I argue that Yu Xiuhua has conducted a gendered, performative act of trolling to manipulate the power dynamics of the online public to her advantage in her poetry and the Internet dispute. I also suggest that the rhetorical expression of disgust towards the dissenting others has reinforced the sense of “negative solidarity” inside the online communities, further revealing the political and cultural distinctions between the masses and the cultural elites in digital China.


Panel 4: Reconsidering bodies and Identities in East Asia | Discussant: Prof. David Der-wei Wang (Harvard University) | Feb 19th 13:30-15:00 (EST)

Chen, Peter Yuanxi (Columbia University): "What is the “Nationalism” in “Internationalism”? Resituating Zhang Taiyan's Anti-Manchuism"

This paper revisits Zhang Taiyan’s anti-Manchuism by resituating it within the shifting discourse on race and the formation of new concepts in light of the emerging global order during the late Qing. Not taking for granted that minzu zhuyi 民族主義 means ‘nationalism’ or ‘ethno-nationalism,’ as the meaning of the word was under contestation during this time, this paper reads several of Zhang’s mature essays from his Minbao period alongside contemporary writings from Liang Qichao and Liu Shipei in order to contest the dominant trend in scholarship that assumes minzu zhuyi to be grounded in race or ethnicity. While some scholars have argued that minzu zhuyi can be read as a formulation of global solidarity, they still assume the racial roots of minzu zhuyi. This paper posits that, on the contrary, minzu for Zhang was an alternate form of social grouping that works in contradistinction to race, and like race, only becomes visible when viewed from the backdrop of global history. Thus, instead of anti-Manchuism being symptomatic of a racial consciousness on the part of Zhang, Zhang’s anti-Manchuism is in fact a critique of the efficacy and force of any political project rooted in race, such as Pan-Asianism. Finally, through an analysis of Zhang’s critique of racial thinking, this paper argues further that Zhang’s philosophical method rests upon a critique of origins as the primary site of causality and significance, turning instead to an interrogation of the conditions of arising and visibility for any given phenomenon.

Au Yeung, Connor Ka Hei (University of California, Berkeley): "Beyond This World: Defense Sport Aviation and Visioning Modernisation In the People’s Republic of China, 1953-1966"

Defence Sports (Guofang Tiyu, 國防體育) has been, and remains a major social institution to prepare Chinese citizens for national defence skills and knowledge through sport activities. Introduced from the Soviet Union in the 1950s, Chinese authorities had adopted similar sport activities to that of the USSR. In particular, aviation within Defence Sports refers to activities including but not limited to gliding, parachuting and aviation hobby modelling. While sports in the PRC has been widely discussed as a continuation and evolution of sports and nationalism, as well as elite sports vying for national prestige, relatively less scholarly attention has been paid to how sports are incorporated into solving Beijing’s security and industrial development problems. Being a fledgling state with only very limited technical capabilities, China desperately needed expedient measures to build and sustain a large talent pool in defence-related technical and mechanical skills. Using sports aviation as a case study, this essay attempts to explore how sports is situated between ideological and the practical, through examining the planning and execution of aviation sports under provincial Defence Sports Clubs between 1953 to 1966. Additionally, this essay attempts to explore how political propaganda combined itself with technical training, thus influencing visions of interpreting modernisation in the Mao Era and beyond by the case study of aviation sports.

Chiang, Sheng (Washington University in St. Louis): "Queer Worldliness: Literary Translation and Transgression of Notes of a Desolate Man"

How do we make sense of a canonical queer text whose representation of queerness appears not only politically incorrect but ethically problematic? This was the intellectual challenge that Taiwanese critics faced when Notes of a Desolate Man was published in 1994. This paper revisits the historical context within which the work interacted with literary criticisms, arguing to read the novel as a discursive text that deliberately intervened in the emerging conversations of gender and sexuality studies in early 1990s Taiwan and beyond. Invoking the critical framework of queer translation, this paper reveals how writing a male homosexual text from a female heterosexual perspective necessitates the process of translation and transgression that queers the heteronormative configuration of the literary work. Moreover, this paper investigates the (mis)translation of the novel in English and the receptions of its Anglophone readership, demonstrating how reading through a translational lens may gesture toward an ethical act that not only salvages the compromised voices of the minorities—the sexual non-normative, in this case—but also delineates the trajectory through which the Sinophone work participates in the production and circulation of world literature that facilitates the transmission and transmutation of queerness.

Chen, Qiyan (Columbia University): "Drifting Tibet: Body, Space and Identity in Tibetan Road Movies"

Taking Pema Tseden’s The Search and Zhang Yang’s Paths of the Soul for example, this essay examines how Tibet is transformed from a fixed geographical presence into a drifting existence in modern society. Through comparative analysis of the two films in the framework of road movie genre, the essay discusses the function of human body in mediating between the humanity and divinity, and between tradition and modernity, and considers traveling body as a narrative device to show different responses to the identity and cultural crises brought about by modernization. While both movies unfold entirely within Tibetan territory and adopts a blend of the forms of both feature film and documentary, they sit in different cultural location and show different aspects of contemporary Tibet through journeys with no end. The essay analyzes the entanglement of space and time in the two road movies and demonstrates how the representation of spatialized time, the separation of sound and landscape contribute to create a drifting Tibet with no assigned identity and subjectivity. The two road films give space for both Tibetans and people outside Tibet to negotiate Tibetanness and to rethink contemporary Tibet.


Panel 5: Rethinking Governance in East Asia | Prof. Yuen Yuen Ang (University of Michigan) | Feb 20th 9:30-11:00 (EST)

Wang, Zhuoming (Harvard University): "Rethink the Concept of Poverty in Rural China"

This paper employs first-hand materials from multiple fieldwork sites to examine the concept of rural poverty and its practice from the perspective of political economy. Through examining the definition of worldwide poverty, contexts surrounding Chinese poverty, and methods of poverty targeting, this paper depicts the experience of impoverished villagers in China during the pandemic. The Campaign has been the “new normal” in the last five years, which propagandized daily on media, but many incorrect implementations, such as imprecise targeting and elite capture, have occurred. This paper further discuss this Chinese government-led model based on the new normal practice of the Campaign, while having dialogues with the international poverty reduction and Chinese political traditions.

Wang, Jing (University of Sheffield): "Elderly care in Japan and China – the investigation of Japanese care manager and discussion on its applicability into the Chinese context"

This abstract stems from my doctoral research. The pandemic impacted various aspects of society. My research investigates elderly care delivery in Japan via examining the care manager who plays a vital role in the national long-term care insurance system (LTCI). Three case studies have been conducted towards facility-based, agency-based, and community centre-based care managers to understand the elderly care provision in Japan comprehensively. Since ageing is a worldwide issue beyond a specific region, this research also shares attention to elderly care in China. It discusses the possibility of applying the social mechanism as the Japanese care manager into the Chinese LTCI context from the perspective of the care manager’s functionality. The firsthand data in case studies and interviews were collected in one-year fieldwork in Japan and a short stay in China. The secondary data was from literature studies. This research suggests practical improvement regarding elderly care delivery and adds the academic reflection on the issues of care and life. The central part of this research has been done before the pandemic. There are new challenges for elderly care during the lock-down period according to the continuous conversation with Japanese care managers in my networks. This research also expects to expand the research scope to the post-pandemic realm if time and resources are allowed in the near future.

Yang, Duancheng (Renmin University of China), Yuan Zhou (Kobe University), Yun-han Chu (Academia Sinica): "What Kind of Democracy do Chinese People Want? Chinese Perceptions of Democracy Reconsidered"

Popular democratic perceptions are vital for understanding regime durability in the non-Western world. The Chinese Communist Party emphasizes building democracy with Chinese characteristics, but what kind of democracy do Chinese people want is still under debate. Using a nationwide survey in 2019-2020, this study sets out to examine how ordinary Chinese people view democracy in Xi Jinping’s new era. We adopt automated text analysis method to explore the respondents’ answers to open-ended questions on democracy and compare them to the results from traditional closed-ended survey questions. Our findings show that consultation, freedom of speech, and minben constitute three pillars of the content of democratic cognition while Chinese people seldom define democracy as competitive elections. At the same time, the pattern of democratic perception shows its mixed type compared to the substantive orientation in previous studies. Our results suggest that in the foreseeable future, although Chinese regime will still not be suffering from the pressure of opening elections, the support of consultation and freedom among masses might require CCP to pay more attention to push procedural democracy building. This study supplements the traditional research on method, while it can also contribute to better understanding China’s regime resilience and its future democratic development.

Zhang, Zheng (Chinese University of Hong Kong & Harvard University): "The Spatial Dynamics of Local Party Recruitment in China (1949-2005)"

Single-party regimes are more stable and durable than other forms of autocracy, yet how they optimize their recruitment strategy into the ruling party remains poorly understood in the literature. Using long-durée data on the Chinese Communist Party, this paper applies the latest advances in spatial econometrics to explore how interconnectivity and competition between promotion-seeking elites gave rise to spatially interdependent patterns of membership recruitment. We expect that expanding party membership—a crucial political task and a quantifiable yardstick of performance—is highly valued by Party leaders. Given limited opportunities for promotion, growth in membership in one locality induces nearby ‘competitors’ to strengthen their own recruitment in response. We capture such interdependence of party-building through explicit models of spatial autocorrelation that include spatial-weight matrices in order to obtain unbiased estimates (Franzese et al., 2012). Using dynamic panel spatial models (Cook et al., 2015, 2021), we address the spatial and temporal dependence in our repeated-measure data simultaneously and provide novel evidence on the nature of recruitment emulation in single-party regimes. We hypothesize that local CCP membership is the result of competition with neighboring units, as well as the direct and indirect effect of other political and demographic shocks. To test our argument, we construct an original dataset covering about 230 geographical units in the municipality of Tangshan, from 1949 to 2005. We leverage the exogenous shock of the 1976 earthquake—one of the most lethal natural disasters in Chinese history— in order to mitigate possible concerns about endogeneity.


Panel 6: Religion and Secularism in East Asia | Discussant: Prof. Helen Hardacre (Harvard University) | Feb 20th 9:30-11:00 (EST)

Xiang, Wei (Peking University & Yale University): "Sufferers around the Capital: Snicker and Anxiety in the Yamai no Sōshi"

Yamai no Sōshi is an illustrated handscroll (Emakimono) depicting unusual diseases and body deformities in the Late Heian Period (12th Century), Japan. It is known that 21 scenes from this handscroll are extant so far and each scene describes not only the hapless sufferers but also the bewildered or the ridiculing bystanders, adding a sense of detached satire. Although most of scholars regard this handscroll as part of Rokudō-e (Buddhist Six Realms of Existence), this study emphasizes the characteristics of these narrative anecdotes (Setsuwa), and proposes that 21 scenes from this handscroll could be divided into 3 subgroups based on the locations where the sufferers appear. It is found that bystanders’ attitudes towards sufferers in the peripheries (Kataoka. etc), the capital (Miyako) and transitional regions are totally different and thus worthy of a careful examination through its illustrations and accompanying calligraphy. This paper attempts to focus on the Albinism, Dwarfism and other diseases or deformities around the Capital, and argue that they could be construed as metaphors of potentially unstable secular factors. In the meantime, bystanders’ snicker towards sufferers also visualizes the patron of Yamai no Sōshi — Emperor Go-Shirakawa and the Heian-period aristocracy’s curiosity and anxiety about the upcoming new era.

Morrow, Avery (Brown University): "Kondō Kazō, a Shinto Hypnotist and Disrupter of Japan's Scientific Age"

In 1892, a young Shinto priest named Kondō Kazō published a book that exploited a loophole in Japan’s social construction of secularism. Rather than positing the existence of supernatural beings, Kondō used the effectiveness of hypnosis as evidence for the power of the human mind in affecting the fabric of the universe. Kondō drew on both Eastern tradition and Western science for his theory, integrating Buddhist miracle tales and Zhuangzi’s creative imagination with clinical psychiatry and evolutionary psychology. This novel theory of the power of mind blurred the newly redefined boundaries of Western science and Japanese thought, and confounded Japan’s orthodox secularists like Inoue Enryō. While Kondō himself suddenly vanished from the elite intellectual world in 1902, his theory successfully appealed to a broad range of readers and disrupted the “new normal” of Meiji secularism, sparking the creation of mind cures such as reiki which remain popular today.

LeFebvre, Jesse (Harvard University): "Christianity as Japan’s New Normal: Wedding Ceremonies and Nonreligiousness in Postwar Japan"

Christian wedding ceremonies have in the last thirty-five years moved from the sideline to the mainstream of Japanese society. The popularity of Christian weddings represents the new, widespread acceptance of a religious ceremony. This proliferation and acceptance of Christian wedding ceremonies within the context of postwar Japan owes much to prewar and wartime Japanese state policy. In an effort to preserve the integrity of state ideology in the prewar and wartime period, the Japanese government took steps that later contributed to the development of new discourses on "nonreligion" among the people and new Christian institutions prepared to take advantage of the potential that religious rites have in reaching larger audiences in the postwar period. The postwar history of Christian wedding ceremonies is best understood in light of the efforts made by traditional Christian churches and the bridal industry to meet the religious demands of Japan’s largely nonreligious constituency. In responding to the needs and desires of nonreligious Japanese, commercial and religious institutions not only cooperate to provide Christian weddings, they also compete to satisfy expectations for religious authenticity. There are no better examples of this than the efforts made by Christian churches to open their doors to individuals with no espoused Christian faith and the production of a fleet of commercially owned “wedding churches” designed to serve as superior environments for Christian weddings. In contrast to its image as a nation largely impervious to Christian influence, Christianity is, in fact, a crucial part of Japan’s new normal.

Xu, Caiyang (Columbia University): "Upending Norms of Secularity: Spirit-writing in Early Republican China (1911-1927)"

In early Republican China, spirit-writing (fuji 扶乩) conjured the spirits from around the worlds to write down divine revelations using a planchette. Unlike previous scholarship that focuses on either the deities or the human mediums as the driver of the planchette’s movement, this paper argues that the planchette was attributed with an agency. That is, the planchette was recognized as an active agent capable of initiating movement when inhabited by divine beings. Couched in a theory that mediated the spiritual and the material, the materiality of the planchette was more than a bearer of phantomatic apparitions – insofar as the rich symbols evoked by the materiality of spirit-writing instruments deployed an ancient tradition, the emerging media such as religious periodicals enabled new modes of transmissions for the spirit-writing messages as things. This agentive materiality destabilized the secular normative discourse of the Chinese modern, which set out to dematerialize religion into abstract, private beliefs. This paper departs from previous scholarship that portrays spirit-writing as either a textual tradition or a human phenomenon. Situating the ambivalent quest for modernity in its “superstitious” yet agentive thingness, it disrupts the exclusive bipolarity the material and the immaterial constructed by the secularization project. In restoring spirit-writing as a material, sensory practice, this paper fills in the important yet often overlooked lacuna of religious material culture in early 20th-century China. It uncovers the intricate interdependence between the secular and the superstitious in the conflicting world torn by science, materialism, and spiritualism.


Panel 7: Contemporary China: A Changing Society | Discussant: Prof. Joel Andreas (Johns Hopkins University)Feb 20th 11:30-13:00 (EST)

Chen, Changwen (National University of Singapore): "From Eliminating Illiteracy to Studying Philosophy: “Masters of Culture” and Working-Class Subjectivities in Socialist China"

This paper explores the socialist labor culture and its social mechanism of formation by investigating the genealogy of amateur learning practices among masses in socialist China. Specifically, this study firstly historizes and theorizes recurring “amateur learning” practice in the history of the Chinese socialist revolution from perspectives of political mobilization and cultural communication. Then, this paper delves deeper into the social mechanism of how the revolutionary philosophy of praxis was assimilated and internalized by masses through various learning practices, and in turn, cultivated the socialist labor culture and shaped radical working-class subjectivities, which was particularly demonstrated in the technological innovation of labor process in the 1960s. Apart from a close reading on key texts in the development of the Chinese socialist revolution, including Mao’s famous philosophical work on practice and on contradiction, and historical archives relevant to amateur learning practice of masses in Shaanxi province around the 1960s, this paper also combines an analysis of a Chinese film The Piano in a Factory (钢的琴), through which I aim at illustrating the social implications and historical legacies of the Maoist amateur learning in terms of fostering workers’ agency in the labor process, with a focus on the relationship between labor and machinery depicted in the film. Overall, this work contributes to a deeper understanding of the subjectivities of socialist new (wo)men in Mao-era China, as well as the later shift in labor culture from socialist to post-socialist.

Feng, Kai (University of Pennsylvania): "The Gender Difference in Educational Gradient in Divorce in China"

In the past 30 years, China's crude divorce rate tripled from less than one to more than three per 1,000 population. Yet little is known about the educational differences in divorce in China, and how it varies by gender. This study uses the Chinese census data and 2010 China Family Panel Studies (CFPS) to describe the trend in the percentage of divorce by education and to examine the educational differentials in divorce across three marriage cohorts. Educational differences were minimal for both men and women in early marriage cohorts (1961-1980 and 1981-1990), but a distinct gender pattern emerged in the most recent marriage cohort (1991-2000). Highly educated women had a higher divorce risk than women with less education, whereas highly educated men had a lower divorce risk, if any, than men with less education. Women and men had distinct divorce patterns by education in the most recent marriage cohort. These gender disparities may reflect the fact that the costs and difficulties of divorce differ in China between men and women.

Ouyang, Boya (Harvard University): "The Making of Tangible Contentious Opportunities: Health Care Protests in China"

What motivates citizens to protest in a capable authoritarian state that lacks political opportunity? How may state authorities in China empower public contention, and what is reflected in protest outcome? The Chinese health care industry provides a fertile ground for studying these inquiries. In early 2000s, China had experienced surges of medical disputes in hospitals, on the streets, and in the courts. Existing literature mainly discusses health care protests as a reflection of the heightened tension in the doctor-patient relationship brought by health care marketization reform, practitioners’ lack of professionalism, and patients’ unrealistic expectations, but few bridges medical disputes with the study of protest and collective action. Drawing from an original set of qualitative evidence of in-depth interview, participant-observation ethnography, and the media, this research studies health care protests through the lens of public contention. I discover that the escalation of health care protests were unintended consequences of China’s “stability maintenance” operation that was put in place after the Tiananmen Uprising of 1989 and the nomenklatura cadre evaluation system. This discovery contests a conventional wisdom in the prominent "political opportunity structure" scholarship, where many scholars expected that capable authoritarian states would feature scarce opportunities to harbor public contention.

Shen, Chen (University of Chicago): "The Red Workers: Electricity, Governance, and Familial Intimacy during Hubei Lockdowns"

This paper examines the function and operation of electric power infrastructures and how it is mediated by the social, political, and ethical worlds in which its operators live and the infrastructure is utilized and maintained in the context of China’s containment of the coronavirus during its domestic outbreak from January to April 2020 in Hubei, the epicenter of both the coronavirus outbreak and the anti-coronavirus actions. At the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, the State Grid Hubei Electric Power Company launched a “Fight the Epidemic with No-break Power Campaign,” mobilizing its employees to conduct intensive emergency cabling, wiring, and troubleshooting, and taking up tasks other than power supply to do community disease prevention work, acting as and assuming responsibilities of grassroots cadres. This paper studies these front-line power workers in Hubei province who have participated in this campaign and whose laboring bodies enabled the flow of power. I show empirically and analytically that what we think of as a single object as electricity is a heterogeneous and multiplied thing that flows differently, moving from physical forces to political legitimacy and from a form of energy to an ethical peg. I also show how conventional and emerging forms of relatedness in contemporary China make and remake the condition on which a seemingly extreme and authoritarian form of political power is able to resonate with individual desires and affect, which in turn becomes infrastructural to the functioning of the electric power system as well as the grassroots governance during strict lockdowns.


Panel 8: Women History and Feminine Voices | Discussant: Prof. Wai-yee Li (Harvard University) Feb 20th 11:30-13:00 (EST)

Li, Linhe (Columbia University): "Mediums of Attachment and Detachment: Mirrors and Female Portraits in Imperial China"

Redolent of mirrors and female portraits, this paper shed lights on symbolic mediums related with the antithesis of attachment and detachment in imperial China. Talented women, female (self-)portraits, and the intermediary mirror weaves a triangular entanglement which not only infatuates narcissistic girls who look at their images in mirrors but also conveys Chinese traditional cosmology and aesthetics of body(xing), reflection(ying), and spirit(shen). In the cases of Du Liniang and Feng Xiaoqing, although expressing their language in latent and consciousness of pursuing self-entelechy, portraits became their memento mori. Situating in the cultural milieu of Late-Ming, the debate of sentiment(qing) and desire(yu) likewise constitutes a set of mirror images. On the one hand, The Peony Pavilion advocates for utmost sentimentalism and the female protagonist resurrect with the enchanting power of portraiture; on the other hand, The Tower of Myriad Mirrors supplement a lesson of desire to The Journey to the West. Did the overtones of mirror and female portraits transform from medieval to early modern period? Dating back to medieval China, mirror usually functions as a mediator of detachment, whether as a touchstone exposing the true identities of goblins, an instrument of self-examination, or as a metaphor for obstacles to enlightenment in Buddhist Sūtras. The literary topos of “magical” mirror and female portrait recurs in Tang tales Record of Ancient Mirror and Zhenzhen in the Painting. By eliciting correlative texts, the paper employs Girard’s idea of “desire mediator” to demonstrate the feminine agency of “female gaze” embodied in these daily accessories.

Wang, Annie Zhanling (Harvard University): "The Women of the Nara Family: Gender and Ethnicity in the First Century of the Qing"

One of the most vital turning points in Chinese history is the Manchu conquest in 1644, when the Chinese Ming dynasty (1368-1644) collapsed, and the Manchu Qing empire (1644-1911) was founded. The Manchu conquerors – who were outnumbered by their Han Chinese subjects by 1:300 – faced an immensely difficult question: How to rule this vast empire where the Han and the Manchus would have to coexist despite their very different social and cultural practices? My paper examines practices in one particular area: gender. I investigate some ways in which in the second half of the seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth centuries, Manchu women’s experiences provided exceptions to the norms. In my paper, I tell the story of three Manchu women who married into one of the most prominent aristocratic Manchu families in the early Qing. Using poetry and funerary essays written by both these women themselves and the men around them, I argue that compared with elite Han women, elite Manchu women in the first century of the Qing enjoyed more political privilege, personal power, and economic independence. Such privileges were made possible by uniquely Qing phenomena such as the state’s systemic financial support for Manchu widows, the nomadic tradition of women’s physical mobility, and a Manchu court culture that treasured imperial daughters. The case of Manchu women provides us an example of changes and exceptions from the fresh lens of gender in the context of pre-modern Inner Asia-China relations.

Song, Hong (Stanford University): "In the World of Disorder: Traffic in Women, Vagabonds, and State in Late Qing Jianghuai"

In recent years, historians of late imperial and modern China have paid increasing attention to the practices and logic of traffic in women in the contexts of wife-selling and transactional families. Trafficking in women as a large-scale and organized crime, however, has remained insufficiently researched. This paper focuses on the development of crimes of trafficking in late Qing Jianghuai and its interactions with regional dynamics, including the growing market for women, an expanding population of vagabonds produced by social disorder, and the provincial state of Jiangsu’s intervention in regulating the crimes. Based on materials including legal cases, governmental documents, and periodicals, I examine how crimes of trafficking reveal the conflict between local communities’ responses to regional disorder and state intervention. Benefitted from the growing market for women, crimes of trafficking developed by increasingly integrated with the flourishing crimes of smuggling and banditry that produced an enlarging population of vagabonds. Vagabonds constituted a major part of professional traffickers who took advantage of water transportation and the mobile populace to establish trans-regional criminal networks of trafficking in women. Instead of tolerating the crimes, the local state of Jianghuai intervened by designing policies of regulating bureaucracy and people’s mobility. By illustrating how regional dynamics created a distinctive image of crimes of trafficking in Jianghuai, this study serves as a building block of future studies that explore the entanglements between local communities and provincial states in evidencing and promoting the socio-economic changes in late Qing China.

Zhu, Jieming (Columbia University): "A Queer Line in Chinese Socialism: Between Revolutionary Kinship and Blood Lineage"

Is there anything queer about the Mao era? Socialist PRC, due to its discursive repression on LGBT issues and sexuality in general, has largely been absent in existing studies about Chinese and Sinophone queer cultures. Even scholars arguing for the significance of queer Marxism in the post-socialist present (e.g., Petrus Liu, Hongwei Bao) have avoided dealing directly with the socialist period. As a preliminary attempt, my paper seeks to “queer”socialism by focusing on cultural representations of non-heteronormative kinship during the Mao era. By “non-heteronormative kinship”, I refer to the cultural trope of non-biologically connected families formed through ties of revolutionary comradeship, exemplified in a wide range of texts from Ru Zhijuan’s short story "guan da ma" [Mother Guan], memoir essays in the magazine "Woman of China", to the model opera "hong deng ji" [The Legend of the Red Lantern]. Engaging critically with Kath Weston’s conceptualization of the queer “chosen family”, my interpretation will open up the queer possibilities within these socialist narratives. The paper will also examine a hegemonic discourse contrary to the "queer line", namely that of "xie tong lun" [blood lineage], family origin, as well as the essentialist understanding of “class”. By constructing a patrilineal genealogy of the proletariat, texts such as "qianwan buyao wangji" [Never Forget] and "jiating wenti [Family Problem]" reinforced the naturalization of heterosexual reproduction and betrayed the communist agenda of “the abolition of family”. The postsocialist 1980s further witnessed a full-scale revival of heterosexual love and family values in the cultural sphere, establishing compulsory heterosexuality as the “new normal”.