Essay Research: Centre of Chinese studies – SOAS University of London

My research interests lie in the fields of twentieth-century Chinese literature, Chinese print, and media culture, Sinophone literature, modernity, cultural production and theories of ideology. Currently, I have two main themes in my research: (a) how do underlying concepts of Chinese literary modernity be ideologically constructed in particular historical context. I re-evaluate the concept of utopia in late Qing fiction. I treat it as a product of discursive formation and aim at exploring the origins, progress, and results of formation and complicity that help it fit into the utopian discourse; (b) how print and media culture contribute to the process of state-making in modern China. My research sheds light on the relationship between the Chinese public sphere and the narrative of the concept of the nation. I aim at demonstrating the imagination of future China written in these utopian novels __ a dynamic object hinging on the performativity of language in the narrative of the nation by different writers and editors in the Chinese public sphere. In the near future, I have two subsequent research projects. First, is an examination of minority language writings in newspapers of Hong Kong. Second, I discuss productive bodies in Chinese vernacular journals.

Research Interests

My first research interest focus is on the consideration of literature in the sphere of literary production. Literature is not merely creations by authors, but also is a product in connection with target audiences/readers, literary institutions, publishing houses, socioeconomic structures, and ideological contexts. I am interested in approaching literature as an ideological discourse molded in a particular time of history, as I am greatly inspired by Marxist cultural theories. My M.Phil., the research discusses madness writing in post-Maos literature and examines the rhetoric devices manifesting remembrances of the ideology of the Cultural Revolution after analyzing literature with its intrinsic features shaped by ideological context. My current interest concerns with extrinsic features of literature, namely its process of production. In the perspective of Foucault’s idea of archaeology, the narrative of history is embedded in a set of material practices. This idea led me to explore new fiction (1902-1911) in Foucault’s idea of discursive formation in my Ph.D. research. Being an experiment of “revolution in fiction”, the formation of new fiction is actually staging universalism according to Western and Japanese epistemology, for the sake of the quest of modernity in China. I select the utopian imagination in new fiction to examine the operation and practice of constructing universalism in the discourse of new fiction. I believe modernity and universalism are two sides of the same coin, but the operation of the latter has been long overlooked.
My second research interest lies in the field of print and media culture __mainly discussing Chinese print culture in public sphere theories. I am inspired by Rudolf Wagner’s re-clarification of the concepts of the Chinese public sphere emphasizing that the participants are either from the top or the bottom of the society. Considering the utopian novels as a form of public opinion, my research argues that late-Qing writers make use of novels in response to the Qing court policy. This displays an astonishing picture of how does the Qing court set the trend of public opinion. Regarding the topic of media culture, in my M.A. study, I have also discussed Hong Kong’s media in relation to its fashion in terms of mounding one cultural identity. The paper called “Media and Fashion Culture: Louis Vuitton’s Handbag” from the phenomenon that every stratum of the society can afford to consume a handbag of the luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton, the penetration and impact of media on the society in various facets is analyzed. The article weighs the cultural theory of Georg Simmel to discuss the fashion atmosphere of the territory.

Future Research Agenda

1. Minority language writing in Hong Kong newspapers 1950s-1960s

After the establishment of the PRC in 1949, the language policy was implemented including the definition of Putonghua and the simplification of Chinese characters. The standardization of Chinese oral tradition and script has further enhanced the concept of “national language”. In the 1950s, as a British colony, however, Hong Kong was not under the governance PRC. Therefore, it uses its own dialect __Cantonese. The mixture of classic written Chinese 文言文 (wenyanwen), Cantonese and Chinese vernacular 白話文 (baihuawen) is the medium of writing in the supplementary section called “Interesting Anecdote新趣” in New Life Evening Post新生晚報. This project aims at treating New Life Evening Post as a subject of research and studying its use of hybrid language in relation to media culture in Hong Kong.
The objective is to discuss the relationship between this minority language media and the public sphere. There are two columns called怪論連篇and 新聞製造社 in the section of “Interesting Anecdote” that regularly published political and social critics. The names, the written language, the narrative tone of these two columns constructs a marginal narrator among other newspapers. First, 新聞製造社title may imply “news-making” rather than “new reporting” which shows its comical nature. Second, the employment of hybrid language as their critic style successfully presents a marginalized narrator or little citizen. My core question is: What is the purpose of using hybrid language in those columns? How does such marginal narrative in connection/contact with an official narrative (a grand narrative) employ Chinese as a medium of language in the public sphere?

2. Productive bodies in Chinese vernacular journals

Chinese vernacular journals were blooming in the early 1900s. For the sake of educating and enlightening the masses, the medium of language in publications, as their titles suggest, is vernacular. Their contents shed light on general education especially health education. Many health-related sections are designed to teach and train the masses to have a healthy lifestyle. Examples can be found in Anhui vernacular journals 安徽白話報 (Auhui suhua bao). It contains sections in physical education, dietary habits, and hygienic education. My concern here is the political indoctrination of the masses through the channel of cognitive education in Chinese vernacular newspapers.

The first objective of the project is to explore the relationship between health knowledge and the docile body of the masses. In Michel Foucault’s view, the individual body is bound up with complex reciprocal relations. The body is a useful force when it is trained as a productive body. This is to say, by publishing dietary knowledge in Chinese vernacular newspapers, the masses are expected to follow the choices and preferences of foods according to nutritional standards. In order to discuss my argument, I investigate the health knowledge in Chinese vernacular newspapers to show how it reshapes and molds the bodies, gestures, and behavior of Chinese people.

The second objective of the project is to discuss how the political structure of the mass bodies constructs Chinese national character. The initiative of health education is in accordance with the imagination of “sick man of East Asia”, the representation of China fostered by the repeated defeats China suffered at the hands of the great powers in 19th century. In this respect, those sections of health education actually are a political means to renovate Chinese national character, and also is part of a state-making project in nationalist discourse.

Having a strong ardor for academic research especially in twentieth-century Chinese literature and print culture, I have decided to be a professional scholar. Serving as an assistant professor in the Division of Humanities of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology would be a significant step in achieving my goal of being a lifelong scholarly. The position of assistant professor affords me a great opportunity to work in this interdisciplinary academic atmosphere and work with renowned scholars all over the world.