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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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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#MLA18 Book Launch: The Monster as War Machine

Meet Dr. Mabel Moraña, William H. Gass Professor in Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and winner of the 2013 MLA Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize, on Saturday (January 6) at 11:30 a.m. at the Cambria Press booth (101) for a book signing for her latest book, The Monster as War Machine.

This book is in the Cambria Latin American Literatures and Cultures Series headed by Dr. Román de la Campa, the Edwin B. and Lenore R. Williams Professor of Romance Languages at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr.  de la Campa will also be at the booth to celebrate the publication of this new book.

Read excerpts of The Monster as War Machine.

#MLA18

Professor Moraña will be a speaker at the session “Theoretical Approaches to Colonial Latin American Studies” on Thursday (Jan 4) at 5:15 p.m. in the Lincoln Suite at the Hilton hotel.

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The Monster as War Machine – Book Excerpts

Cambria Press is proud to announce the publication of the new book, The Monster as War Machine, by by Mabel Moraña, William H. Gass Professor in Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and winner of the 2013 MLA Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize. See below for excerpts from this book, which has been hailed as “a tour de force” and praised for being “audacious, erudite, and exquisitely written.”

Monster as War Machine

From the preface

An apparatus of social immunization, a simulacrum that spectacularizes its artificiality, a shifter that activates social dynamics, an assemblage that threatens the machinery of power, the monster symbolizes the heroic resistance of the slave and the sinister excesses of the master. Thus, it is essential to contextualize, even though it may seem fallacious, even the universality that the monster evokes in every one of its apparitions and attributes. In spite of its extreme empiria, and although it frequently lacks rationality and language, the monster is in its own way always philosophical. This book proceeds as a critical exercise that follows the meanderings of the monster’s “negative aesthetics.”

On Epistemophilia and the Performance of Difference

The nineteenth century was inhabited by ghosts and monsters that expressed dystopian fantasies about the possibility of unrestrained combinations of nature and technology. The anxiety that accompanied the ideology of progress, the turbulent culmination of the colonialist enterprise in the Americas, and the massive expansion of capitalism came to be sublimated through the monstrous. In this context, monstrosity constituted a discourse that directly addressed the tensions and exclusions of the social “order” of modernity in which forms of domination and social exclusion that began with colonialism were perpetuated and made into law. Processes like the scientific “rationalization” of the body were based on the demonization of otherness. These practices took the form of taxonomies of races and individuals that became part of the hierarchical and discriminatory imaginaries of infinite “progress” in modern capitalism. Monstrosity provided a visual and conceptual support for currents of thought that promoted privilege and exclusion based on naturalist criteria and supposedly demonstrable and unimpeachable truths. “Scientific racism” asserted the superiority of the Caucasian race within a highly influential technological structure that legitimated the political, economic, and cultural domination of societies thought to be savage, primitive, or barbarous. Forms of hybridity like mestizaje were interpreted as monstrous processes that promoted impurity and the degeneration of “pure” races.

On the Ubiquitous Quality of Monsters

For the monster, neither progress nor utopia nor purity of class, race, or gender exists, because its being consists of a contaminated material in which human qualities have been definitively or partially displaced, erased, or substituted by spurious, out-of-place characteristics. This ubiquitous quality constitutes the essence of the monster. The remains of its soul reside precisely in this ambiguous, fragile, and unstable condition. Zombies, vampires, pishtacos, chupacabras, demons, phantasms, and other representatives of the broad family tree that shares the characteristics of the monstrous or the supernatural are all beings that benefit from solitude and isolation. However, they also share, within their domains, family resemblances. The monster generates itself—regenerates, degenerates—mechanically, in order to survive as a distinct concentration of irrationality in a world ruled by monstrous but legitimated principles of exclusion and reification.

On the Age of Futilitarianism

Certain social, economic, and political conditions nonetheless seem to be a breeding ground for the proliferation of monstrosity, which is expressed both in concrete fears such as the desperation of being trapped, or the disconcerting awareness of horizons that open up a landscape of disorienting freedom that manifests as a foreign, ghostly place. According to the Comaroffs, we are now in “the Age of Futilitarianism”—that is, an era in which all hope is thought to be vain and all effort is considered futile …

The Monster as War Machine is in the Cambria Latin American Literatures and Cultures Series headed by Román de la Campa, the Edwin B. and Lenore R. Williams Professor of Romance Languages at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Cambria Press Publication Excerpt from “Buddhist Transformations and Interactions”

The following is an excerpt from Buddhist Transformations and Interactions edited by Professor Victor Mair. This new book was released by Cambria Press at the 2017 AAS conference a week ago. According to Tansen Sen (professor at Baruch College), Antonino Forte had the well-earned reputation of being “a valued mentor, a comforting friend, and a great host.” In the book, Sen notes:

“Nino, as we called him, was always ready to share his insights into the cosmopolitan world of the Tang dynasty; he eagerly imparted his knowledge about the Buddhist connections between Tang China and other parts of Asia; and he graciously offered to us his publications, including those that were forthcoming or still at the formative stage. His advice and suggestions invariably improved our research skills and knowledge of Chinese history. His kindness and generosity also helped us better navigate the world of scholarship as well as daily life in Kyoto. Nino Forte was one of the leading global scholars of Tang China.”

We will be posting more chapter excerpts soon. This new book from Cambria Press is also available on Amazon.

Cambria Press publisher reputation Forte

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AAS 2017 Toronto: Books and Scholars in Asian Studies to Watch

AAS 2017 Cambria Press Authors

Check out the new books by these Asianists at the Cambria Press booth 109 at the Association for Asian Studies, Inc. (AAS) #AAS2017 conference in Toronto.

Top (left to right): Wilt Idema (Harvard University), Victor Mair (University of Pennsylvania), Wendy Larson (University of Oregon), Mark Bender (The Ohio State University), and Charlotte Furth (University of Southern California).

Bottom (left to right): Zhansui Yu (Nazareth College), Christopher Lupke (University of Alberta), Takayoshi Yamamura (Hokkaido University), I-Hsien Wu (City College of New York), and Philip Seaton (Hokkaido University).

Professor Victor Mair (University of Pennsylvania) will make a special appearance at the Cambria Press booth (109) on Friday (March 17) at 11 a.m. to discuss the Cambria Sinophone World Series and his latest book Buddhist Transformations and Interactions. In addition, six other new books are being launched just in time for the AAS conference. These are:

  • Zhang Yimou by Wendy Larson (University of Oregon)

    “Larson’s book is important for any reader interested in how the political sphere and visual culture redefine each other.” —Yomi Braester, University of Washington; and Coeditor, Journal of Chinese Cinemas

  • The Borderlands of Asia by Mark Bender (The Ohio State University) 

    “When it comes to other books on the market, there is nothing close to this book in terms of quality or range of material. This is a unique and valuable addition to the field of literature and Asian studies.”—Jonathan Stalling, University of Oklahoma; and Editor, Chinese Literature Today

  • Eroticism and Other Literary Conventions in Chinese Literature by I-Hsien Wu (CUNY) 

    “I-Hsien Wu has done brilliant work in teasing out the intertextual threads of The Story of the Stone. In a very astute manner, she examines sources drawn from performing arts and erotic fiction, identifies ideological and affective contestations, and ponders the consequences of the novel as a text in flux.” —David Der-wei Wang, Harvard University

  • Chinese Avant-garde Fiction by Zhansui Yu (Nazareth College) 

    “This thoughtful book offers fresh insights into avant-garde fiction in the early decades of China’s reform. Engaging Chinese and Western traditions, Yu Zhansui argues forcefully that the Chinese avant-garde carries on the probe into the darkness of history in a quest for transcendent truths about human conditions.” —Ban Wang, Stanford University

  • Opening to China by Charlotte Furth (Univerity of Southern California) 

    “Few Americans today have any sense of how far China has come since its opening in the early 1980s. Charlotte Furth was there to see the start of the defrost with the country’s opening and her lively account of her experiences in China then provides a unique and invaluable record. It is useful in these days of rising tensions between China and the U.S. to be reminded of China’s social reality not very long ago.” —Gordon H. Chang, Stanford University

  • Contents Tourism in Japan by Philip Seaton, Takayoshi Yamamura, Akiko Sugawa-Shimada, and Kyungjae Jang

    “This may be the best book ever written on tourism in Japan! This work is on one of the most important subjects in contemporary tourism studies and Japan studies, perhaps a forerunner of things that are also happening in the Korean and Chinese worlds and elsewhere, which makes it doubly important.” —Nelson Graburn, UC Berkeley

Taika square sneak peek

Take a sneak peek at the Cambria Press Asian studies catalog

Taika square book sales

Use coupon code AAS2017 at http://www.cambriapress.com to save 30% on all hardcover titles. Offer ends May 15, 2017.

Taika square book

Forthcoming book in the Cambria Rapid Communications in Conflict and Security Studies (RCCS) Series headed by Dr. Geoffrey R. H. Burn

Taika square BAG

Come to booth 109 to get a complimentary Cambria Sinophone World Series tote bag

Taika Big Banner.jpg

Taika square dessert

Sheraton Toronto Churchill Room