Cambria Press Author Interview with Professor Christopher Rea

Before Crazy Rich Asians, there were the Chinese celebrities in the 1930’s. In his latest book Imperfect Understanding: Intimate Portraits of Modern Chinese Celebrities, Professor Christopher Rea (University of British Columbia) takes us into the world of Chinese elites and what they had to say about each other. Louise Edwards, Scientia Professor and Deputy Head of the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of New South Wales, hails Professor Rea’s latest book as “satirical, witty, and compulsive reading.”

So, what did it mean to be a celebrity in modern China? In Imperfect Understanding: Intimate Portraits of Modern Chinese Celebrities, Christopher Rea presents fifty brilliant pen sketches of Chinese cultural and political elites, written and edited in 1934 by Wen Yuan-ning, a Cambridge-educated ethnic Hakka from Indonesia and a master literary stylist. In this interview, Christopher Rea discusses what Imperfect Understanding reveals about the politics fame in China, then and now.

Cambria Press Publication Author Christopher Rea

Question: Professor Theodore Huters (UCLA) has called this collection “an extraordinary artifact of Chinese literary and social history.” Could you please elaborate on this and why it was so important for you to edit this book?

Christopher Rea: I got the idea for Imperfect Understanding: Intimate Portraits of Modern Chinese Celebrities while doing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Australian Centre on China in the World at the Australian National University in 2012. Geremie Barmé, the Director of the Centre, invited me to co-guest edit with William Sima a double issue of the e-journal China Heritage Quarterly focused on the Chinese-edited English-language weekly The China Critic, which was founded in Shanghai in 1928. In the pages of the Critic I discovered a column of “Unedited Biographies” of Chinese celebrities, which I found to be often brilliant and consistently entertaining, even when I didn’t know much about the person being profiled. The editor of the column, Wen Yuan-ning, was a favorite professor of Qian Zhongshu’s, a writer whom I’m keenly interested in. I discovered that Wen not only edited fifty celebrity profiles for the Critic in 1934, but that he also released a book of seventeen of them under his own name in 1935 as Imperfect Understanding. His takes on Hu Shi, Xu Zhimo, Zhou Zuoren, Liang Yuchun, Wellington Koo, Gu Hongming and other cultural celebrities are insightful, funny, and often mischievous. In many cases, Wen knew them personally and would try to reconcile their personalities with their reputations. His instinct was to deflate the puffed-up biographies found in books like Who’s Who in China, and the results are refreshing.

As I read more of the essays and started researching the individuals involved, it became clear to me that Wen Yuan-ning is a literary voice who deserves to be rediscovered. His influence on the satirical style of Qian Zhongshu is unmistakable and his essays make good reading in their own right. Like many members of his generation, Wen’s literary career was cut short by war and politics—but in his case it likely had more to do with being elected to China’s legislature and later being appointed Ambassador to Greece. But what he left behind is treasure trove for the essay lover and the historian.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
CR: For starters, I hope that they enjoy discovering Wen Yuan-ning’s writings as much as I did. Imperfect Understanding contains much good humor, well-turned wit, and judicious character appraisal, along with flights of arch mockery, physiognomic satire, and poetry. Some pieces are quite touching. I hope that readers enjoy the results of some literary sleuthing that went into this book. For example, one of the best sources on Wen turned out to be writings by the New Yorker journalist Emily Hahn, who worked with him in Shanghai in the 1930s. One essay, the one on George T. Yeh (Ye Gongchao), I figured out was almost certainly written by Qian Zhongshu. I discovered that many of the essays—which were originally written in English—were translated and retranslated into Chinese many times in the 1930s and 1940s. And, as a literary historian, I learned quite a bit about celebrities outside my field, including plague fighters of Manchuria, Manila businessmen, university presidents from Singapore, rubber tycoons, diplomats, physicists, philanthropists, and musicians. Just the selection of persons profiled—the mix of professions, of male and female, living and dead—provides ample material for thinking about the politics of celebrity in in China’s age of print, and in its publishing center of Shanghai. Who was included or excluded from the list, and why? I also hope that this book inspires greater appreciation of how multilingualism has been a part of China’s literary sphere. Apart from some material in the appendices, this book is not a translation; Wen and his co-authors wrote in English. Finally, I hope that readers find useful all of the photographs, summary biographies, and bibliographic material about Wen Yuan-ning and his peers at the back of the book.

Q: What other research do you believe is needed on this topic?

CR: There’s plenty more research to be done on Wen Yuan-ning, besides the material I was able to get from Cambridge, Stanford, Taipei, and a few other places. Next steps might include tracking down his personal papers and archives in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taiwan. Wen is just one of many talented writers of modern China who could write in English or another language besides Chinese, and much more work is needed to elucidate the multilingual dimension of modern Chinese literary history. We need more treasure-hunters in the archives, as many literary gems remain hiding in old magazines and journals, waiting to be rediscovered. The politics of fame has had a tremendous impact on modern Chinese culture, before and after the extraordinary example of Mao Zedong. Celebrities abound in contemporary China, for example, and our tendency is to interpret them based on the archetypes we’re most familiar with. Yet it’s clear, even before factoring in the latest digital twist, that not all of them fit the mold. Insofar as celebrity is a function of things like money, status, power, time, and attention, its configurations in Chinese contexts deserve our attention too.

Imperfect Understanding: Intimate Portraits of Chinese Celebrities is part of the Cambria Sinophone World Series, headed by Professor Victor Mair (University of Pennsylvania).

About Christopher Rea

Christopher Rea is an associate professor of Asian studies at the University of British Columbia. He holds an MA and PhD from Columbia University and a BA from Dartmouth College. His previous books include The Book of Swindles: Selections from a Late Ming Collection (cotranslated with Bruce Rusk), China’s Literary Cosmopolitans: Qian Zhongshu, Yang Jiang, and the World of Letters, and The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China, which the Association for Asian Studies awarded the Joseph Levenson Book Prize (post-1900 China) in 2017.

About Wen Yuan-Ning

Wen Yuan-ning (1900–1984), also known as Oon Guan Neng, was born into a Hakka family on the island of Banka, and educated in Singapore, London, and King’s College, Cambridge. He taught English literature at universities in Peking, including Tsinghua University, and served as chair of the Department of Foreign Languages of Peking University. He subsequently became a contributing editor of the English-language weekly The China Critic (1928–1940, 1946) and editor-in-chief of T’ien Hsia Monthly (1935–1941), releasing his essay collection Imperfect Understanding in 1935. He was made a member of the Legislative Yuan in 1933 and in 1947 became China’s Ambassador to Greece, a position he held for twenty years. In retirement, he taught English literature at Chinese Culture University in Taipei.

 

 

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Cambria Press Book Launch at iPreciation with Mabel Lee, Shen Jiawei, and Victor Mair

The Cambria Press double book launch at iPreciation on July 14, 2018,  was a great success! The audience was treated not only to fascinating talks by celebrity artist Shen Jiawei and Professor Mabel Lee about their  books Painting History: China’s Revolution in a Global Context and Gao Xingjian and Transmedia Aesthetics  but also the introductory speech by distinguished guest of honor Professor Victor Mair and an impromptu speech by another eminent guest Professor Wang Gungwu. In addition, attendees were able to view the paintings of another Cambria author Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian, who has his major paintings held at iPreciation.

Cambria Press iPreciation book launch

Cambria Press book launch at iPreciation (Singapore)

Cambria Press iPreciation Mabel Lee Toni Tan Helina Chan Wang Gungwu Victor Mair Shen Jiawei

Cambria Press book launch at iPreciation (left to right): Mabel Lee, Toni Tan, Helina Chan, Wang Gungwu, Victor Mair, and Shen Jiawei

Cambria Press iPreciation Shen Jiawei Victor Mair books

Cambria Press iPreciation Shen Jiawei Victor Mair with books–Gao Xingjian and Transmedia Aesthetics, Painting History: China’s Revolution in a Global Context, and Texts and Transformations: Essays in Honor of the 75th Birthday of Victor H. Mair 

Cambria Press iPreciation Mabel Lee Victor Mair

Cambria Press book launch at iPreciation: In addition to discussing her two books, Mabel Lee also introduced another book she was involved in-Texts and Transformations: Essays in Honor of the 75th Birthday of Victor H. Mair edited by Haun Saussy

Cambria Press iPreciation Shen Jiawei book signing

Cambria Press book launch at iPreciation: Shen Jiawei signing copies of Painting History

Cambria Press iPreciation book signing Victor Mair Shen Jiawei

Cambria Press book launch at iPreciation: Victor Mair signing copies of Texts and Transformations, and Shen Jiawei signing copies of Painting History

Cambria Press iPreciation Victor Mair signing

Cambria Press book launch at iPreciation: Victor Mair signing copies of Texts and Transformations

Cambria Press authors with books Mabel Lee Victor Mair Shen Jiawei

Cambria Press authors with their books: Mabel Lee, Victor Mair, and Shen Jiawei with Shen Jiawei’s painting of Chin Peng

More photos and a video will be posted soon, so stayed tuned!

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Meet Mabel Lee, Shen Jiawei, and Victor Mair at the double book launch

Victor Mair Mabel Lee Shen Jiawei

The double book launch for Mabel Lee and Shen Jiawei just got even more exciting! Attendees will also get to meet world-renowned Sinologist Victor H. Mair (University of Pennsylvania), general editor of the Cambria Sinophone World Series. Register now for the event!

The double book launch for Painting History: China’s Revolution in a Global Context
and Gao Xingjian and Transmedia Aesthetics will be held on July 14, 2018 (Saturday) at 2–5 p.m. at iPreciation, Singapore’s premier gallery that showcases the best of modern and contemporary Asian Art, including the works of Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian.

Celebrity Artist Shen Jiawei is not only known for his commissioned portraits of dignitaries such as Pope Francis, Princess Mary of Denmark, and Australian Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove but also his famous history paintings, which are held at the National Museum, Art Museum, and Military Museum in Beijing, as well as in public and private collections around the world. Mr Shen’s unique experiences and innovative techniques are documented in his new book Painting History: China’s Revolution in a Global Context (edited by Dr. Mabel Lee), which he will discuss at the event.

Dr. Mabel Lee is an honorary professor at the Open University of Hong Kong and an adjunct professor at the University of Sydney, where she taught 20th-century Chinese history and literature for more than 30 years. She is best known for her translations of Gao Xingjian’s writings, including his eponymous book Gao Xingjian: Aesthetics and Creation (Cambria Press, 2012). Dr Lee will also be speaking about her latest book Gao Xingjian and Transmedia Aesthetics, coedited with Dr Liu Jianmei, a professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Both Gao Xingjian and Transmedia Aesthetics  and Gao Xingjian: Aesthetics and Creation are in the Cambria Sinophone World Series, headed by Professor Victor Mair (University of Pennsylvania).

Painting History and Gao Xingjian and Transmedia Aesthetics were published in March 2018  and made their debut at the Association of Asian Studies conference in Washington, DC.

Books will be available for purchase at the event during the book signing.

To register for the event or to receive more information about the book launch, please contact either Cambria Press at bgoodman<AT>cambriapress.com, or iPreciation at  enquiry<AT>ipreciation.com or +65 6339 0678.

Cambria Press thanks iPreciation for being the venue sponsor for this event.

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Cambria Press Publication Review: The Borderlands of Asia

inter-Asia

Congratulations to Professor Mark Bender on the outstanding review of his book, The Borderlands of Asia: Culture, Place, Poetry, in China Review International, which notes:

With poems from established and upcoming authors and a thematic focus on poetic expressions of place and ‘place-competence,’ the collection includes voices from northeast India, Myanmar, Mongolia, and some of the borderland regions of China: the southwestern provinces, Qinghai, Gansu, and Inner Mongolia. Bender’s detailed Introduction provides historical background on the political situation and the situation of poetry in each of the regions from which poems are included. … If anything unites borderlands within Asia, it may be these themes of rootedness interacting with environmental and political-economic precarity. These incisive poems bring the concerns of these poets and their regions to us with clarity and feeling. … This volume will be appreciated by scholars of border regions within Asia, indigenous and minzu studies, translation, and all who appreciate taking a closer look at the senses of place conveyed in these poems. It may be especially valuable for those wishing to bring a contemporary humanities perspective to courses on inter-Asian connections. And, perhaps most importantly, these translations bring the poets’ unique voices and collective concerns to a wider readership, drawing our attention to the timely relevance of their perspectives on our changing world.

Mark Bender is a professor of Chinese literature and folklore at The Ohio State University.

This book is in the Cambria Sinophone World Series headed by Victor H. Mair (University of Pennsylvania).

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Publication Excerpt from Contemporary Taiwanese Women Writers

Stalling

The following is an excerpt from the introduction in Contemporary Taiwanese Women Writers, edited by Jonathan Stalling, Lin Tai-man, and Yanwing Leung.

A Pacific island of roughly 14,400 square miles, Taiwan lies just over a hundred miles off China’s southeast shoreline and seven hundred miles south of Japan. It has been a contested cultural space between its original aboriginal inhabitants (Taiyals and Vonums), and then among many generations of Chinese immigrants as well as waves of Dutch, Spanish, and Japanese colonial inhabitants, all of which provides the backdrop for some of the richest Sinophone literature in the world. Unfixed, vibrant, and deeply engaged with a sense of place, Taiwanese writers—from the experimental poetry pioneer Hsia Yu to younger multimedia poets like Ye Mimi to powerhouse authors like Li Ang and Chu T’ien-wen—are continually pushing the boundaries of the possible and unlocking new directions for Sinophone literature in the twenty-first century.

With this first American anthology of contemporary Taiwanese women writers in decades, the editors hope to expose English readers to the widest possible range of voices, styles, and textures of contemporary Taiwanese writers. In Ping Lu’s “Wedding Date,” we meet a wheelchair-bound mother who seems to get younger by the day as her filial daughter prematurely ages. A talented writer in her youth, the protagonist’s imagination imbues a possible romance with an intimacy that seems so real it almost becomes so, despite piling signs to the contrary. In “The Story of Hsiao-Pi,” by Newman Prize–winning author Chu T’ien-wen, the narrator lovingly examines the life of a troubled village boy, who builds an unexpected future upon the fierce if complicated love of his mother and step-father. Then Taiwan itself becomes the protagonist in Tsai Su-fen’s “Taipei Train Station,” where the station serves as an aperture through which numerous lives pass, if only briefly, into view before emerging into the boundless possibilities of the city.

Chung Wenyin recalls her first steps into literature and love through her story “The Travels and Lover of a Junior High Girl,” an adventure that explores the evolving ideas of love and the eros of art, and the open-ended possibilities of life itself. After being told by an amateur psychic that her not-yet-conceived son is following her around, waiting for his time to enter the world, the narrator of Marula Liu’s story “Baby, My Dear” begins to search for his father. Su Wei-chen, however, enters the traumatic space of a mother losing her daughter to leukemia in “No Time to Grow Up,” asking if children who die so young have had enough time to even know they are alive. Yuan Chiung-chiung traces the dynamic and transformative process of divorce, reinvention, and love through the story “A Place of One’s Own,” while Liao Hui-ying opens a window into class identity, fate, motherhood, and, ultimately, love in the context of an arranged marriage in “Seed of the Rape Plant.” Li Ang offers a tale of Taiwanese oppositional politics, personal sacrifice, and unrequited love in “The Devil in a Chastity Belt.” Chen Jo-hsi draws the collection to a close with a poignant vignette exposing the point where international politics and the dinner table meet, somewhere between the imagination and anticipation and the machinations of political power in her story “The Fish.”

Read the rave reviews for Contemporary Taiwanese Women Writers, which is available for purchase directly from Cambria Press or on Amazon.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Pi-twan Huang
Introduction: From Taiwan: Some of the Richest Sinophone Literature by Jonathan Stalling
Chapter 1: Wedding Date by Ping Lu
Chapter 2: The Story of Hsiao-Pi by Chu T’ien-wen
Chapter 3: The Party Girl by Lin Tai-man
Chapter 4: Taipei Train Station by Tsai Su-fen
Chapter 5: The Travels and Lover of a Junior High Girl by Chung Wenyin
Chapter 6: Baby, My Dear by Marula Liu
Chapter 7: No Time to Grow Up by Su Wei-chen
Chapter 8: A Place of One’s Own Yuan by Chiung-chiung
Chapter 9: Seed of the Rape Plant by Liao Hui-ying
Chapter 10: The Devil in a Chastity Belt by Li Ang
Chapter 11: The Fish by Jo-hsi Chen
About the Editors

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Double Book Launch at iPRECIATION (Singapore) – July 14, 2018

#ChineseCulture

A double book launch for Painting History: China’s Revolution in a Global Context
and Gao Xingjian and Transmedia Aesthetics will be held on July 14, 2018 (Saturday) at 2–5 p.m. at iPreciation, a premier gallery that showcases the best of modern and
contemporary Asian Art, including the works of Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian.

Attendees will have the rare, exclusive opportunity to meet authors Mr. Shen Jiawei and Dr. Mabel Lee, who will be giving talks about their books.

Celebrity Artist Shen Jiawei is not only known for his commissioned portraits of dignitaries such as Pope Francis, Princess Mary of Denmark, and Australian Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove but also his famous history paintings, which are held at the National Museum, Art Museum, and Military Museum in Beijing, as well as in public and private collections around the world. Mr Shen’s unique experiences and innovative techniques are documented in his new book Painting History: China’s Revolution in a Global Context (edited by Dr. Mabel Lee), which he will discuss at the event.

Dr. Mabel Lee is an honorary professor at the Open University of Hong Kong and an adjunct professor at the University of Sydney, where she taught 20th-century Chinese history and literature for more than 30 years. She is best known for her translations of Gao Xingjian’s writings, including his eponymous book Gao Xingjian: Aesthetics and Creation (Cambria Press, 2012). Dr Lee will also be speaking about her latest book Gao Xingjian and Transmedia Aesthetics, coedited with Dr Liu Jianmei, a professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Both Gao Xingjian and Transmedia Aesthetics  and Gao Xingjian: Aesthetics and Creation are in the Cambria Sinophone World Series, headed by Professor Victor Mair (University of Pennsylvania).

Painting History and Gao Xingjian and Transmedia Aesthetics were published in March 2018  and made their debut at the Association of Asian Studies conference in Washington, DC.

Books will be available for purchase at the event during the book signing.

To register for the event or to receive more information about the book launch, please contact either Cambria Press at bgoodman<AT>cambriapress.com, or iPreciation at  enquiry<AT>ipreciation.com or +65 6339 0678.

Cambria Press thanks iPreciation for being the venue sponsor for this event.

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Cambria Press Publication Review: Zhang Yimou

Congratulations to Professor Wendy Larson on the outstanding review of her book Zhang Yimou: Globalization and the Subject of Culture in the journal Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC)!

#AAS2018

 

The book review notes:

“At 420 pages, Zhang Yimou: Globalization and the Subject of Culture is a magnum opus. … Although I have emphasized the themes that run through the book here, each chapter in Zhang Yimou: Globalization and the Subject of Culture is autonomous, making it possible to assign individual chapters for classroom use. Larson writes lucidly and persuasively … Taken together, as I hope I have shown, the chapters combine to produce one of the most detailed and sustained analyses of a certain trajectory through much of Zhang’s most powerful work. They make a persuasive case for taking the popular in contemporary Chinese culture seriously, regardless of questions of taste. Larson’s rich and engaging book is a seminal text in Zhang studies. … Larson’s welcome book reminds us that although the field of Chinese cinema studies has grown and diversified, it is perhaps in the realm of popular film that the most work remains to be done. Zhang Yimou: Globalization and the Subject of Culture takes a huge step down that road.”

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