Thursday, July 1, 2021 | 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM EDT
A Conversation around Three New Books
As the Chinese Communist Party plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding, Young China Watchers–Washington, DC invites you to join three experts on the preservation, creation and manipulation of popular historical memory in China and Taiwan. This timely discussion will examine how states and societies shape the understanding of their pasts–through invention, erasure and memorialization–and the contests over the narratives that define contemporary politics.
The virtual book talk will include Professor Kirk Denton from The Ohio State University, Associate Professor Margaret Hillenbrand from Oxford University and Associate Professor Jie Li from Harvard University. Each has recently published a book from which they will share their key findings and takeaways.
The Landscape of Historical Memory: The Politics of Museums and Memorial Culture in Post-Martial Law Taiwan by Kirk A. Denton, Professor, The Ohio State University
The Landscape of Historical Memory explores the place of museums and memorial culture in the contestation over historical memory in post–martial law Taiwan. The book is particularly oriented toward the role of politics—especially political parties—in the establishment, administration, architectural design, and historical narratives of museums. It is framed around the wrangling between the “blue camp” (the Nationalist Party, or KMT, and its supporters) and the “green camp” (Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, and its supporters) over what facets of the past should be remembered and how they should be displayed in museums. Organized into chapters focused on particular types of museums and memorial spaces (such as archaeology museums, history museums, martyrs’ shrines, war museums, memorial halls, literature museums, ethnology museums, and ecomuseums), the book presents a broad overview of the state of museums in Taiwan in the past three decades. The case of Taiwan museums tells us much about Cold War politics and its legacy in East Asia; the role of culture, history, and memory in shaping identities in the “postcolonial” landscape of Taiwan; the politics of historical memory in an emergent democracy, especially in counterpoint to the politics of museums in the People’s Republic of China, which continues to be an authoritarian single party state; and the place of museums in a neoliberal economic climate.
Kirk A. Denton is a professor of Chinese literature and culture at The Ohio State University. He is the author of The Problematic of Self in Modern Chinese Literature: Hu Feng and Lu Ling (1998), Exhibiting the Past: Historical Memory and the Politics of Museums in Postsocialist China (2014), and The Landscape of Historical Memory: The Politics of Museums and Memorial Culture in Post-Martial Law Taiwan (2021). He is also editor of the journal Modern Chinese Literature and Culture.
Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary China by Margaret Hillenbrand, Associate Professor, University of Oxford
When nations decide to disown their troubled pasts, how does this strategic disavowal harden into social fact? In Negative Exposures, Margaret Hillenbrand investigates the erasure of key aspects of such momentous events as the Nanjing Massacre, the Cultural Revolution, and the Tiananmen Square protests from the Chinese historical consciousness, not due to amnesia or censorship but through the operations of public secrecy. Knowing what not to know, she argues, has many stakeholders, willing and otherwise, who keep quiet to protect themselves or their families out of shame, pragmatism, or the palliative effects of silence. Hillenbrand shows how secrecy works as a powerful structuring force in Chinese society, one hiding in plain sight, and identifies aesthetic artifacts that serve as modes of reckoning against this phenomenon. She analyses the proliferation of photo-forms—remediations of well-known photographs of troubling historical events rendered in such media as paint, celluloid, fabric, digital imagery, and tattoos—as imaginative spaces in which the shadows of secrecy are provocatively outlined.
Margaret Hillenbrand is Associate Professor of Modern Chinese Literature and Culture at the University of Oxford. She is the author of Literature, Modernity, and the Practice of Resistance: Japanese and Taiwanese Fiction 1960-1990 (2007), and Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary China (2020). She is now working on a new project about the impact of precarity on cultural practices in post-millennial China.
Utopian Ruins: A Memorial Museum of the Mao Era by Jie Li, Associate Professor, Harvard University
This book traces the creation, preservation, and elision of memories about China’s Mao era by envisioning a virtual museum that reckons with both its utopian yearnings and its cataclysmic reverberations. Its memorial exhibits include blood writing and police files from erstwhile revolutionaries who were revolutionized, photography of the Great Leap Forward and documentary films from the Cultural Revolution, as well as socialist factory ruins and red memorial collections that testify to Chinese Revolution’s unrealized dreams and unmourned ghosts.
Jie Li is John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities at Harvard’s Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. In addition to Utopian Ruins, she is the author of Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Life and co-editor of Red Legacies in China: Afterlives of the Communist Revolution. She is now finishing a new book entitled Cinematic Guerrillas: Maoist Propaganda as Spirit Mediumship.