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  • The warmth of China and Russia’s present-day relationship is sometimes said to reprise 1950s ties between Mao’s PRC and the Soviet Union, even if that remains a poorly understood period in both countries. Still less understood, moreover, is the deep Soviet cultural influence on China which accompanied this era of socialist alliance, and this in part is why Yan Li’s China’s Soviet Dream: Propaganda, Culture, and Popular Imagination (Routledge, 2018)is such an invaluable book.
    Presenting a fascinating compendium of insights into the ways that Soviet fashion, literature, architecture, language and many other things washed over China during the mid-20th century, Li offers a sophisticated argument that this all fed into an entire framework for socialist modernity which China sought to adopt at this crucial period in its history. This was not always a one-way street, and this book also highlights instances where Chinese people were hesitant to embrace Soviet ways of doing things. But even as we look at this earlier ‘Chinese Dream’ from a temporal remove of over six decades, there can be little doubt that it left a mark on China that is still palpable today, and therefore deserves our attention.
    Ed Pulford is a postdoctoral researcher at the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center, Hokkaido University. His research focuses on friendships and histories between the Chinese, Korean and Russian worlds, and northeast Asian indigenous groups.

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  • Xu Xu (1908-1980) was one of the most widely read Chinese authors of the 1930s to 1960s. His popular urban gothic tales, his exotic spy fiction, and his quasi-existentialist love stories full of nostalgia and melancholy offer today’s readers an unusual glimpse into China’s turbulent twentieth century.
    The translations in Bird Talk and Other Stories by Xu Xu: Modern Tales of a Chinese Romantic. (Stone Bridge Press, 2020)--spanning a period of some thirty years, from 1937 until 1965--bring to life some of Xu Xu’s most representative short fictions from prewar Shanghai and postwar Hong Kong and Taiwan.
    The Afterword illustrates that Xu Xu’s idealistic tendencies in defiance of the politicization of art exemplify his affinity with European romanticism and link his work to global literary modernity.
    Frederik H. Green is an associate professor of Chinese at San Francisco State University. He is the author of numerous articles and book chapters on the literature and culture of the Qing dynasty and the Republican Period, Sino-Japanese cultural relations, post-socialist Chinese cinema, and contemporary Chinese art. He holds a BA in Chinese Studies from Cambridge University and an MPhil and PhD in Chinese literature from Yale University. He is a translator of Chinese and associate professor of Chinese at San Francisco State University.
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  • Emily Baum’s The Invention of Madness: State, Society, and the Insane in Modern China, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2018 as part of the Studies of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute book series, is a genealogy of “psychiatric modernity,” of the invention and reinvention of modern mental illness in Beijing, 1901-1937. Focusing on the pivotal roles of the city’s police-run municipal asylum and the Peking Union Medical College, Baum chronicles the transition from eclectic but largely family-centered premodern apprehensions and treatments of “mad behaviors” to a more unified, biomedical, institutionalized view of madness that was intimately linked to questions of social control, political legitimacy, and the rubric of “mental hygiene.” Along the way, this history of neuropsychiatry’s penetration of the administrative and social fabric of modern China examines topics including disjunctures between state and civil actors concerning new understandings and practices around mental illness, as well as the “psychiatric entrepreneurs” who profited from—and sometimes helped to invent or define—new psychiatric conditions. Baum’s careful unearthing of these tensions and innovations sheds informative light on the ways in which madness was invented not just as a top-down administrative or biomedical-neuropsychiatric project but in negotiation with a wide range of actors.
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  • Bettany Hughes is an award-winning historian, author and broadcaster. Her previous books – Helen Of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore And The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and The Search For The Good Life – were published to great critical acclaim and worldwide success. She is a Research Fellow of King’s College London, a Tutor at Cambridge University’s Institute for Continuing Education and a Visiting Professor of History at the New College of the Humanities and has been honoured with numerous awards including the prestigious Norton Medlicott Medal for History. She has made a number of documentaries on history, culture and philosophy for the BBC, Channel 4, PBS, National Geographic, Discovery and The History Channel, including ‘Byzantium Unearthed’ and a recent series for Radio 4 ‘Ancient Ways’ where she tracked the old Roman Road, the Via Egnatia, from Albania to Istanbul.

    Recorded at Chalke Valley History Festival 2017.

    www.cvhf.org.uk

     

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  • Hoaxes! Jokes! Farces and fun! Cristopher Rea's China’s Chaplin (Cornell University Press, 2019) introduces the imagination of Xu Zhuodai (1880–1958), a comic dynamo who made Shanghai laugh through the tumultuous decades of the pre-Mao era. Xu was a popular and prolific literary humorist who styled himself variously as Master of the Broken Chamberpot Studio, Dr. Split-Crotch Pants, Dr. Hairy Li, and Old Man Soy Sauce. He was also an entrepreneur who founded gymnastics academies, theater troupes, film companies, magazines, and a home condiments business. While pursuing this varied career, Xu Zhuodai made a name for himself as a “Charlie Chaplin of the East.” He wrote and acted in stage comedies and slapstick films, compiled joke books, penned humorous advice columns, dabbled in parodic verse, and wrote innumerable works of comic fiction. China’s Chaplin contains a selection of Xu’s best stories and stage plays (plus a smattering of jokes) that will answer the questions that keep you up at night. What is a father’s duty when he and his son are courting the same prostitute? What ingenious method might save the world from economic crisis after a world war? Who is Shanghai’s most outrageous grandmother? What is the best revenge against plagiarists, thieves, landlords, or spouses? And why should you never, never, never pull a hair from a horse’s tail?
    Victoria Oana Lupascu is a PhD candidate in dual-title doctoral program in Comparative Literature and Asian Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. Her areas of interest include 20th and 21st Chinese literature and visual art, medical humanities and Global South studies.

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  • I met Dr Miriam Driessen at Oxford University where she works at the China Centre. We spoke about her wonderful new book Tales of Hope, Tastes of Bitterness: Chinese Road Builders in Ethiopia (Hong Kong University Press, 2019). Through unprecedented ethnographic research among Chinese road builders in Ethiopia, Driessen finds that the hope of sharing China’s success with developing countries soon turns into bitterness, as Chinese workers perceive a lack of support and appreciation from Ethiopian laborers and local institutions. The bitterness is compounded by their position at the margins of Chinese society, suspended as they are between China and Africa and between a poor rural background and a precarious urban future. Workers’ aspirations and predicaments reflect back on a Chinese society in flux as well as China’s shifting place in the world.
    I started our conversation asking a short introduction on her background and the origin of the book. We mentioned the influence on her research of the work by C.K. Lee and particularly the book Against the Law. Miriam explained how she ended studying the Ethiopian case and road construction over other sectors. We then moved to her findings on the resistance and agency of African workers and the ‘hopes and bitterness’ of the Chinese workers. We discussed how it is possible to identify different classes among Chinese workers in Ethiopia (as well as in China) and the varieties of migrants, each with different background, ambitions, working conditions and destiny.
    We concluded our conversation addressing the controversial topic of China’s presence in Africa and whether this should be defined as neo-colonialism or not. Revealing the intricate and intimate dimensions of these encounters, Driessen conceptualizes how structures of domination and subordination are reshaped on the ground. The book skillfully interrogates micro-level experiences and teases out how China’s involvement in Africa is both similar to and different from historical forms of imperialism.
    Miriam also told us about her new project as she is about to move to Ethiopia for another year of fieldwork. Thanks to her bright anthropological skills and her ability to communicate in both Amharic and Chinese, it will be yet another amazing scholarly contribution.
    Miriam Driessen is an anthropologist and a writer of literary nonfiction in English and her native Dutch. She is currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate within the China, Law and Development Project, hosted by the University of Oxford China Centre. Miriam completed a DPhil at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography at Oxford (2014/15), and held a fellowship at Peking University (2014–2016). She has also been a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies (SIAS) and a Junior Research Fellow of Jesus College, University of Oxford.
    Andrea Bernardi is Senior Lecturer in Employment and Organization Studies at Oxford Brookes University in the UK. He holds a doctorate in Organization Theory from the University of Milan, Bicocca. He has held teaching and research positions in Italy, China and the UK. Among his research interests are the use of history in management studies, the co-operative sector, and Chinese co-operatives. His latest project is looking at health care in rural China. He is the co-convener of the EAEPE’s permanent track on Critical Management Studies.
     
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