Seminar Topic for 2010–11:

"China" seminar participants

After centuries of invasion, warfare, internal strife, and revolution, China stands on the brink of becoming the most important and influential country in the 21st century.  This development is attributable not only to China’s astonishing economic growth, but also to its remarkable contributions to contemporary art, architecture, film, sports, technology, and other realms of endeavor.  Many historians argue that China is returning to its former importance, after three centuries of what may appear to be temporary Euro-American pre-eminence.  For millennia, Chinese culture has profoundly influenced East Asian history in much the same way that Greco-Roman civilization shaped 2500 years of Western history.  Home to one-fifth of the world’s population, China’s economic growth and cultural vitality are threatened by industrial pollution, water shortages, and other environmental problems.  Moreover, China has various political tensions, as revealed in violent uprisings by Tibetans and by minorities who resent what they regard as Chinese imperialism and xenophobia.  The human prospect for the 21st century will be significantly shaped by developments now underway in China.  For these reasons, the Center for Humanities and the Arts will examine China from many different perspectives in 2010-2011.

Some of the questions that may be addressed in connection with this topic include:

  • How have external representations – literary, historical, artistic, religious – of China and the Chinese people changed during the last several centuries?
  • How do the Chinese people represent themselves, in terms of their culture, history, politics, and global aspirations?
  • What trends are emerging in contemporary Chinese arts?  To what extent do today’s Chinese artists reflect their country’s rich cultural heritage, and to what extent do they partake of current artistic developments?
  • After taking such a commanding lead in science and technology centuries ago, why did China surrender its comparative advantage in these areas?
  • To what extent have foreign influences, such as Buddhism during much of the first millennium CE and Marxism in the 20th century, shaped Chinese culture and history, for good and ill?
  • In what ways does classical Chinese culture continue to influence Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Mongolia, Tibet, and other countries?
  • What were the purposes and outcomes of Mao’s Cultural Revolution?  Have there been similar popular outbursts in Chinese history?
  • How have China's complex relations with the West prior to the 20th century influenced its economic and political policies in the 20th and 21st centuries?
  • What cultural, political, and economic barriers stand in the way of improved Euro-American and Chinese relationships?
  • Will human rights remain an important international issue with China's rise to power?  Will China evolve to meet the challenge posed by human rights?
  • What roles have Chinese immigrants played in various regions around the world, including Southeast Asia, North and South America, and Europe?  How have local peoples represented Chinese immigrants, and how have they represented themselves?
  • Are there any enduring patterns to the way that Chinese people have represented their history, culture, and relationships with other peoples over the millennia of China’s recorded history?
  • In the tumultuous 20th century, China presented multiple images of itself internally and to the larger world. Contemporary Chinese films that represent important episodes in its history have become widely popular.   What images of its past, present, and future, does China seek to project in such films and in other media?
  • To what extent do political repressions prevent a full array of Chinese self-representations in many different areas?  How might this situation change in coming decades?
  • From the critical perspective offered by the category Orientalism, one could argue that Westerners have often misrepresented China, despite some good intentions. How to understand some of these mis/representations, such as the dramatic and rapid change in how Americans saw China in the 1930s and after 1950?  Consider the difference between Pearl S. Buck’s sympathetic novel, The Good Earth (1931) and the 1962 film, The Manchurian Candidate.
  • Chinoiserie refers to fascination with arts and fashions influenced by Chinese styles, as understood through European eyes, starting in the 16th century.  Is a new wave of chinoiserie arising, in view of the growing influence of Chinese art, including photography, cinema and literature?
  • In what ways has European literature been inflected by mixed attraction to and fear of China, as emblematic of the “Far East”?
  • How did the importation of Chinese tea, the subsequent tea craze, and the enormous rise in the tea trade between England and China affect in different ways relations between these countries, as well as in how each represented the other?
  • How has literature published by Chinese-American authors such as Amy Tan changed how other Americans view China, and how has such literature changed how Chinese-Americans think of themselves?

In conjunction with the theme, CHA conducts a year-long faculty and graduate student seminar, hosts a series of lectures and public performances, and holds a Spring Colloquium Series.

The 2010-2011 "China" Seminar participants:


Holly Gayley, Assistant Professor, Religious Studies. Holly's current research deals with Buddhist modernism among Tibetan leaders in the PRC and intersects with other recent scholarly work on minorities in China. In particular, she examines the assertion of ethnic identity and concerns over cultural survival in works of ethical advice to the laity by cleric scholars from Larung Buddhist Academy in Serta (Ch. Seda), Sichuan Province. She teaches classes on religious modernism, ritual in contemporary society, medieval hagiography, Tibetan literature, and various Buddhist topics. Holly recently completed her dissertation on the lives and letters of a contemporary Tibetan couple, Khandro Tāre Lhamo and Namtrul Jigme Phuntshok, who played a significant role in the Buddhist revival from the 1980s forward in the region of Golok (Ch. Guoluo).

Michael Jenson, Associate Professor, Architecture

Terry Kleeman, Associate Professor, Asian Languages and Civilizations


J.P. Park, Assistant Professor, Art and Art History. J.P. specializes in early modern Chinese print culture with a focus on the genre of painting manuals. He was educated in Korea, China, and the United States and earned his PhD from the University of Michigan. He has published books and articles on late imperical Chinese visual and material cultures, Korean arts, contemporary East Asian art, and the issue of nationalism in art history.

Tim Weston, Associate Professor, History. Tim teaches Chinese history at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is also the Associate Director of the Center for Asian Studies at the university. His scholarly research interests focus on Republican era China and in particular on intellectual, social and cultural history. Tim is currently doing research on modern Chinese print journalism, and is deeply interested in and has published on contemporary China.

Adam Williams, MA Candidate, Geography. Adam's research is currently based in Shanghai, where he lived for four years prior to enrolling at CU-Boulder. He studies informal waste recyclers, who work as itinerant buyers and sorters of industrial scrap and household garbage. Waste recyclers are often rural migrants, yet their business integrates them into urban space in a variety of ways. Household waste is a valuable commodity in China, where recycling is significantly more thorough than the US. Waste recyclers are a prominent feature of street life in Chinese cities, and Adam's research aims to better understand relationships of space and place by studying the role of these informal workers in urban society.

Emily T. Yeh, Associate Professor, Geography. Emily has conducted field research on property rights, conflicts over access to natural resources, environmental history, emerging environmentalisms, and the political economy and cultural politics of development and land use change in Tibet. She has also worked on the cultural politics of identity and race in the Tibetan diaspora, and on interdisciplinary projects investigating the vulnerability of herders to snowstorms and the determinants of grassland degradation in Tibet. Her work has appeared in journals such as Development and Change, Environment and Planning A, Environmental History, Conservation and Society, and Annals of the Association of American Geographers.

Amy Zader, PhD Candidate, Geography. Amy's research investigates the cultural and environmental geography of China through the study of agro-food systems. She is currently completing her dissertation which is based on 16 months of fieldwork in Harbin, China. Her dissertation research is on the production and consumption of high quality rice from China’s northeast region. In addition to PhD work at CU-Boulder, Amy holds an MA in Human Ecology from College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME and a BA in Political Science and Environmental Studies from Allegheny College in Meadville, PA. She has served as an environmental education Peace Corps Volunteer in Sichuan, China, conducted master’s research on China’s environmental movement, and worked as a volunteer on several Chinese farms.

Events centered around CHA's 2010-11 theme, "China"

Tuesday, October 5, 4:00pm, British Studies (5th floor of Norlin Library)
Public lecture by Timothy Oakes, Associate Professor of Geography, University of Colorado at Boulder

"'Nothing is Pure' -- Rethinking China from the Edges"

Professor Oakes is a cultural geographer of China, working on issues related to regional cultural development, culture industries, tourism, heritage, regional and place-based identities.  His work focuses on the ways culture is used as a resource for development and governance objectives, identity politics, and tourism.  His talk explores the historical and contemporary roles of the frontier in making and unmaking Chinese identity.  It draws on his research in southwest China to trace the ways frontier settlement and cultural mixing have influenced Chinese identity and defined ideologies of belonging and exclusion.

Thursday, November 4, 4:00pm, British Studies
Public lecture by Gray Tuttle, the Leila Hadley Luce Assistant Professor of Modern Tibetan Studies at Columbia University

“Why Amdo Matters: Tibetan Middle Ground between Lhasa and Beijing”

Professor Tuttle studies the history of 20th-century Sino-Tibetan relations as well as Tibet’s relations with the China-based Manchu Qing Empire. The role of Tibetan Buddhism in these historical relations is central to his research. His publications include Tibetan Buddhists in the Making of Modern China (2005). His current research project focuses on the support that Tibetan Buddhist institutions have received from the governments of China from the 17th- to 20th-century and how this support, along with the economic growth in the Sino-Tibetan borderlands, has fueled expansion and renewal of these institutions into the contemporary period.

Thursday, February 10, 4:00pm, British Studies
Public lecture by Xiao Qiang, adjunct professor of East Asian Studies at UC-Berkeley

title is forthcoming

Professor Xiao's research interests include Participatory media, China and human rights; researching about state censorship and control of the Internet, the impact of information and communication technologies on China's media, politics and international relations; and running the China Digital Times news portal to explore how emerging information and communication technologies can advance the world's understanding of China.

Thursday, March 10, 5:30pm, British Studies
Free Chinese Music concert with CU's Pendulum New Music

Friday, March 11, 4:00pm, British Studies
Public lecture by Martin Powers the Sally Michelson Davidson Professor of Chinese Arts and Cultures at University of Michigan

title is forthcoming

Professor Powers' research focuses on the role of the arts in the history of human relations in China, with an emphasis on issues of political expression, personhood, and social justice. Most recently he has turned to questions of cultural exchange between China and Europe in the early modern era. His current manuscript, Pattern and Person: ornament and social thought in classical China, will be published by the Harvard University Press East Asian Series.

This lecture is the 5th Annual Christy Lecture, sponsored by CHA with endowed funds from Gary and Helen Christy.