Zhengqian Li, December 1

 Zhengqian Li (MAPH Student)

“Objects as Political Symbols: Imperialist Merchandise in Mu Shiying and Shi Zhecun’s Modernist Fiction”

Discussant: Haun Saussy (Professor of Comparative Literature, East Asian Languages & Civilizations, and Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago)

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

4:45 – 6:45 pm CT, Hybrid (In-person at CWAC 152 + Remotely via Zoom)

*Please use this form to sign-up for attending the event in-person, so that we could better keep track of the number of attendees; If you would like to attend remotely, you may register here to receive the zoom link

* Based on the university policy on COVID, we will only be able to allow maximum 25 people inside the venue, and mask will be required throughout the event. Light, individually-packed snacks and drinks will be provided to be taken after the workshop. 


Based on Fredric Jameson’s Marxist hermeneutics, this research investigates how imperialist and colonialist presence in Mu Shiying and Shi Zhecun’s semi-colonial Shanghai are visible through symbolic objects. As ways to examine the Reality reflected in Mu and Shi’s short stories, relevant studies juxtapose primary texts with local and global cultural contexts, domestic and international politics, as well as historical research on the city of Shanghai (See Sean Macdonald, “‘Modernism’ in Modern Chinese Literature”; Yomi Braester, “Shanghai’s Economy of the Spectacle”; and relevant chapters in Leo Lee’s Shanghai Modern and Shu-mei Shi’s The Lure of the Modern). While this research still takes Shanghai as the background for discussion, the core focus is on the art and commercial history of imperialist and colonial politics implied by the objects in public space. With the application of the concept of the political unconscious, this study discovers politically symbolic elements in the merchandise (Johnnie Walker whiskey, Lucky Strike, Ruby Queen, Victory cigarettes) appeared in Mu and Shi’s stories. Such findings demonstrate that the imperial authority’s influence on the semi-colonized is tangible not only when an authority figure exerts power, but also culturally and socially observable when the authority is physically absent. Rather than depending upon the presence of a person, e.g., royalty, the imperial power of late 19th and early 20th century Great Britain, and of industrialized western countries broadly speaking, exist in multiple forms and constantly project their influence on the Shanghai residents and the people of less “modernized” areas around the globe.


“Ruby Queen” advertisement on Chinese newspaper Business News.Wing Tai Vo Tobacco Corp. Business News no.0002, April 19, 1924. 永泰和煙草股份有限公司 《工商新聞》 1924年4月19日 [0002版]


Zhengqian (Ian) Li is currently a MAPH student at the University of Chicago and has received a Comparative Literature BA from Middlebury College. His short story “The Smothering” is published in Chicago Quarterly Review (volume 34). His poem “The Road Ahead” was published in China Poetry in 2013 and the non-fiction collection Sometimes was published the same year. Ian has worked at the online magazine US-China Today as an editor in 2018 and presented at Beijing International Studies University in 2017 and Johns Hopkins University’s Macksey Symposium in 2021.

Haun Saussy is University Professor at the University of Chicago, teaching in the departments of Comparative Literature and East Asian Languages & Civilizations as well as in the Committee on Social Thought. His work attempts to bring the lessons of classical and modern rhetoric to bear on several periods, languages, disciplines and cultures. Among his books are The Problem of a Chinese Aesthetic (1994), Great Walls of Discourse (2001), The Ethnography of Rhythm (2016), Translation as Citation: Zhuangzi Inside Out (2017), Are We Comparing Yet? (2019), The Making of Barbarians: Chinese Literature in Multilingual Asia (forthcoming, 2022) and the edited collections Sinographies (2007), Comparative Literature in an Age of Globalization (2008), and Partner to the Poor: A Paul Farmer Reader (2010). As translator, he has produced versions of works by Jean Métellus (When the Pipirite Sings, 2019) and Tino Caspanello (Bounds, 2020), among others. He is a former Guggenheim Fellow, a fellow of the American Academy in Berlin, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Sylvia Fan Wu, October 13

Speaker: Sylvia Fan Wu (Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Art History)

“Inscribing Piety: Monumental Inscriptions from Quanzhou”

Discussant: Wei-cheng Lin (Associate Professor of Art History and the College, Department of Art History)

Wednesday, October 13th, 2021

4:45 – 6:45 pm CST, Hybrid (In-person in CWAC 152 + Zoom)

*If you would like to attend in-person, please use this form to sign-up; If you would like to attend remotely, you may register here to receive the zoom link. 

*Based on the university policy on COVID, we will only be able to allow maximum 25 people inside the venue, and mask will be required throughout the event. 


Quanzhou’s Ashab Mosque has often been discussed for its foreign-looking architectural forms and the material choice of stone. Few have contemplated the Quranic verses that were carved onto both the interior and exterior walls of the mosque complex. These monumental inscriptions constitute the majority of the sober decorative program in this Muslim sanctuary and are imbued with iconographic meanings that speak to piety. This paper examines the inscriptions found in the Ashab Mosque and around the city of Quanzhou and explores the pious messaging behind their formal, iconographic and material qualities.


The Ashab Mosque, qibla wall, 14th or 16th century, Quanzhou, China (Credit: Cherie Wendelken)


Sylvia Wu is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago. She studies the architecture and material culture of medieval Indian Ocean with a particular focus on China’s coastal areas. Her dissertation, Mosques of Elsewhere, examines how knowledge of legendary monuments of the Islamic world had informed the blueprints of mosque building in China’s southeastern ports, or rather distracted us from recognizing the mosques’ local attributions.

Wei-Cheng Lin is Associate Professor in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago. He specializes in the history of Chinese art and architecture with a focus on medieval periods. His primary interests of research are visual and material cultural issues in Buddhist art and architecture and China’s funerary practice through history. He is the author of Building a Sacred Mountain: The Buddhist Architecture of China’s Mount Wutai, published by the University of Washington Press in 2014. He has additionally published on a variety of topics, including collecting history, photography and architecture, historiography of Chinese architectural history, and contemporary Chinese art.

Autumn 2021 Schedule

Dear VMPEA community,

The Visual and Material Perspectives on East Asia (VMPEA) workshop is pleased to announce the Autumn 2021 schedule. All the in-person events will meet on selected Wednesdays from 4:45 to 6:45 pm in CWAC 152 unless noted. For the online events or those who would like to join us remotely, we will send out the registration links prior to the events.



October 13

Sylvia Wu, PhD Candidate, Department of Art History, UChicago

“Inscribing Piety: Monumental Inscriptions from Quanzhou”

Discussant: Wei-Cheng Lin, Associate Professor, Department of Art History, UChicago


October 27

Lucien Sun, PhD Student, Department of Art History

“Flipping Over and Stretching Out: Reading an Accordion-Fold Painting”

Discussant: Shiqiu Liu, PhD candidate, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne.

[This is an online event]


November 10

Stephanie Lee, PhD Candidate, Department of Art History, Northwestern University

“The Social Lives of Colonial Picture Postcards (1906-1933)”

Discussant: Kaeun Park, PhD student, Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Michigan

[This is an online event]


December 1

Zhengqian Li, MAPH Student, UChicago

“Whiskey and Tobacco: The Imperialist Symbols in Mu Shiying’s “Shanghai Fox-trot” and Shi Zhecun’s “Si Xizi’s Business””

Discussant: TBA


December 3

Toby Wu, MAPH Student, UChicago

“Reconstituting the Japanese Housewife: Idemitsu Mako’s Televisual Charged Field in Kiyoko’s Situation (1989)”

Discussant: TBA

[This is an online event co-hosted with the APEA workshop, and will meet from 3:00 to 5:00 pm]


*Disclaimer on in-person events:

These convenings are open to all invitees who are compliant with UChicago vaccination requirements and, because of ongoing health risks, particularly to the unvaccinated, participants are expected to adopt the risk mitigation measures (masking and social distancing, etc.) appropriate to their vaccination status as advised by public health officials or to their individual vulnerabilities as advised by a medical professional. Public convening may not be safe for all and carries a risk for contracting COVID-19, particularly for those unvaccinated. Participants will not know the vaccination status of others and should follow appropriate risk mitigation measures.