4/1 Susan Su

PhD Candidate, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago

“Infrastructural fairy tales: State-led development and Tibetan transmedial interventions into China’s cultural heritage regime”

Time: Friday, April 1, 3-5pm CT

Zoom Registration Link: https://uchicago.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJEuf-qpqj0uEt3Rsjlh6f9UmM0Ei67bVlUX

On December 17, 2005, a herding family watches a television show in Shaqing Village, Sahuteng Town, Zaduo County, Qinghai Province. Image taken by Ren Xiaogang for a 2005 Xinhua news article on the success of the “Connect every village” infrastructure program in the pastoral regions of Qinghai.

Abstract: At the turn of the 21st century, large-scale development projects in China’s Western provinces channeled central state investments into environmental protection and the construction of transportation and communications infrastructure, leading to the displacement of millions of Tibetans and the proliferation of Chinese-language media in everyday life. The rhetoric of these policies asserts that financial investments into Western provinces would develop the region and its people economically, socially, and culturally. For Tibetans in the PRC, however, the development projects of the 2000s were experienced as an intensified process of national incorporation which sought to flatten and commodify Tibetan cultural heritage in the name of economic development. Therefore, these projects were met with renewed debates on cultural sovereignty and attempts to create alternative spaces for cultural production from below. This paper examines the contestations over cultural management in China’s state development policies through the transmedial interventions of the Third Generation of Tibetan poets and their Tibetan-language literature website Chömé. I argue that the growing access to digital media for Tibetans in the 2000s created opportunities within the decreasing space for Tibetan cultural sovereignty for Chömé to intervene as a transmedial literary archive and space for counterdevelopment.

Presenter: Susan Dan Su is a PhD Candidate in the Department of East Asian Literature and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. Her research centers on contemporary Tibetan literature and media with an emphasis on development studies, digital media, and cultural heritage in China. She is currently co-organizing the conference “Literary Transversals: Modern East Asian and Diasporic Literature” and hopes to see all of you there in late April!

Discussant: Heangjin Park is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Anthropology and the College at the University of Chicago. Heangjin’s research concerns the global circulation of commodities and the reconfiguration of nationalist imaginaries across South Korea and China, focusing on the production and circulation of “Korean” kimchi in China. He is also participating in the project “Logistics in the Making of Mobile Worlds,” a multi-year collaborative research project funded by the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. 


3/18 Xingming Wang

PhD student, Comparative Literature, Rutgers University

“Beyond Primitive Passion: Lu Xun’s Coal Narrative and Anthropocene Awareness”

Time: Friday, Mar 18, 3-5 pm CT

Zoom Registration Link: https://uchicago.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMude2vpj8vE9bYN25bqDa_AFduscXdNd59

The Art and Politics of East Asia (APEA) workshop is proud to host Xingming Wang (PhD student, Comparative Literature, Rutgers University), who will be presenting a draft of his paper, “Beyond Primitive Passion: Lu Xun’s Coal Narrative and Anthropocene Awareness”. Professor Paola Iovene (EALC, University of Chicago) will offer a response.


Situated at the crossroads of energy humanities and modern Chinese literature, this paper studies an iconic figure whose life epitomizes the highest achievement in both fields. Lu Xun is the father of modern Chinese literature as well as a pioneer of modern Chinese geology. Whereas both his geological and literary works draw substantial attention, the connection between the two fields remains unexplored. Do Lu Xun’s geological and mineralogical outlooks have any impact on his literary works? To answer this question, this paper combs through Lu Xun’s coal narrative, exhibiting that his enthusiasm for coal does not dissipate after the publication of “A Brief Sketch of Chinese Geology” and Records of Chinese Mineral Resources. Instead, coal takes on rhetorical and allegorical functions in his later writing, revealing his concerns about resource depletion and environmental disaster, which should be regarded as a prescient Anthropocene awareness. A close reading of Lu Xun’s coal narrative also displays a shifting emotional pattern. His nationalist passion for developing the coal industry is complicated by distress over ecological degradation and unsustainable development. This paper thus extends Rey Chow’s discussion of Lu Xun’s “primitive passion” by incorporating his ecological-related structures of feeling that are future-oriented and anticipate an energy transition.

Presenter: Xingming Wang is a Ph.D. student in the Comparative Literature Program at Rutgers University. His research interests reside in modern and contemporary Chinese literature, environmental humanities, energy humanities, animal studies, memory and trauma studies. He is preparing for a dissertation project on “Coal Literature and Chinese Modernity.”

Discussant: Paola Iovene is Associate Professor in Chinese Literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, the University of Chicago.