I’ve mentioned the last three of these excellent conferences on Britain-China issues previously. They’re all at the University of Westminster and organised by Anne Witchard, who’s just published Lao She in London book has been heavily plugged here. It would of course be remiss of me not to mention that myself and the great Frances Wood will be in conversation at this one!!
And it’s all free!!
China in Britain #4
Aesthetics: Visual and Literary Cultures
Saturday Dec 8th 2012 – Time 9:30:AM – 4:00PM
The Cayley Room, 309 Regent Street, London W1B 2UW
Department of English, Linguistics and Cultural Studies, University of Westminster
10:00AM ‘Chinese robes, on (and off) European women’, Sarah Cheang (Royal College of Art)
In the late nineteenth century, if one were lucky enough to obtain an embroidered Chinese robe, it was a common enough practice to cut it up to make cushion covers and decorative trimmings for the home. By the 1920s, however, Chinese robes were also being worn as fashionable evening coats, having finally made the leap from sofa to body in European society. This paper considers the design, materiality and symbolism of the Chinese robe in European domestic spaces. What was it about these Chinese garments that made them so very culturally flexible during this period? And how important are these transitions between Chinese and Caucasian bodies, and between bodies and furniture in understanding the role that Chinese culture played in European lives?
Dr Sarah Cheang is Senior Tutor in History of Design at the Royal College of Art. Her research focuses on cultural exchange between East and West with a special interest in fashion, gender and the body. She is currently preparing two books for publication. One is titled Fashion and Ethnicity (Berg Publishers), and explores the ways in which ethnic identities are expressed and created using fashion. The other is called Sinophilia (I. B. Tauris) and is a history of fashion and Chinese material culture in Britain.
10:30AM ‘China’s Architectural Modernism. A Case of Multiple Modernities?’, Edward Denison (The Bartlett, University College London)
With building traditions spanning nearly five millennia, China boasts the longest continuous architectural lineage in history. Today, the country’s architectural aspirations are equally unprecedented, forming an omnipresent backdrop to the country’s high–rise, glass–clad, lust–for–wealth. However, linking past and present was a period of modernisation that revolutionised China’s architectural landscape and has been largely overlooked.
China’s encounter with architectural modernity in the first half of the twentieth century remains relatively under-researched and uniquely complicated – no other country was so variously divided by foreign power, giving rise to exceptional diversity in architectural theory and practice. These architectural experiences fit uncomfortably within conventional theories of architectural modernism in which a purely Western phenomenon was dispersed around the world from its source in Europe and North America and diluted by local influences as it went. The concept of ‘multiple modernities’, a recent theoretical development in social sciences that has yet to be applied to architectural studies, challenges this view and offers a more effective way of comprehending the unique complexity of China’s architectural experience.
This presentation will introduce some of the many Chinese and foreign architects that practiced in China up until 1949 and explore their work in the context of China’s swift encounter with modernity. Among the most significant aspects of this encounter was Manchuria, annexed by Japan in 1931. In Manchuria, entire cities were planned and built and an architectural drama of an unprecedented scale and variety was played out, offering twenty-first century historians an insight into one of the most unprecedented and important manifestations of modernism outside the West – where the formation of an architectural modernism in China derived not from the West, but from the East.
Edward Denison is an architectural historian, writer and photographer. By focussing on themes in architecture and design that are academically and geographically remote, his work explores intellectual preconceptions based on difference, such as modern/traditional, centre/periphery, and East/West. His PhD (shortlisted for the RIBA President’s Award for Outstanding PhD Thesis 2012) in Architectural History at the Bartlett, UCL, examined architecture and the landscape of modernity in China up to 1949. He teaches at the Bartlett, where his seminar series, ‘Multiple Modernities,’ forms part of the postgraduate course.
Guangyu Ren is a researcher and consultant specialising in architecture and the built environment. Having trained in China and Australia, she has worked for numerous international organisations in Asia and Africa and published books on architectural histories in these contexts including. Guangyu is now based in London where she works as an advisor to firms working in China and co-authors books on architecture and design with Edward Denison.
Joint publications include: Luke Him Sau, Architect: China’s Missing Modern (Wiley, anticipated publication date Autumn 2014); Life of the British Home (Wiley, 2012); McMorran & Whitby (RIBA, 2009), Modernism in China – Architectural Visions and Revolutions (Wiley, 2008), Building Shanghai – The Story of China’s Gateway (Wiley, 2006), and Asmara – Africa’s Secret Modernist City (Merrell, 2003).
11.15AM ‘Constructing the Narrow Bridge of Art: Katherine Mansfield, Ling Shuhua and Virginia Woolf’,
Patricia Laurence (City University of New York)
This paper will explore the personal, literary and aesthetic crossings among three female writers from England and China in 1920s -1930s. Ling Shuhua, a talented short story writer, was described as ‘the Chinese Katherine Mansfield’ at the same time as Katherine Mansfield was being translated into Chinese in 1920s; Virginia Woolf admired ‘the charm of the unlikeness’ of Ling Shuhua’s writing and had a personal correspondence with her in the late 1930s. The style of chinoiserie, feminism and the aesthetic of modernism will be woven into this conversation.
Patricia Laurence is a writer, critic, biographer, and professor of English at the City University of New York. She has an interest in transnational modernism and China, and has published The Reading of Silence: Virginia Woolf in the English Tradition (Stanford, 1993), and Lily Briscoe’s Chinese Eyes: Bloomsbury, Modernism and China. This book was translated into Chinese in 2009 and is available as an e-book. She is currently working on a biography of Elizabeth Bowen.
12:15PM ‘The Chinese Taste in a Neoclassical Age’, David Porter (University of Michigan) Abstract tbc
David Porter is professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, where he is also a Faculty Associate with the Center for Chinese Studies. He is the author of Ideographia: The Chinese Cipher in Early Modern Europe (Stanford, 2001) and The Chinese Taste in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 2010), as well as the editor, most recently, of Comparative Early Modernities: 1100-1800 (Palgrave, 2012).
1:00PM – 2:00PM Buffet Lunch served – all welcome
2:00PM From Picturing the Chinese to ‘21st Century (British) Types’, Grace Lau
The Imperialists’ 19th century views of the Chinese were based on drawings and photographs made by early travellers to China. These travellers were composed of scientists gathering data for ethnography, anthropology, medicine, botany etc; missionaries on their cause to convert the heathens; military on infiltration campaigns – and photographers and artists. So the general assumptions about the peoples and culture of China were based on the wholly subjective aesthetics of this motley crew who were united in their vision only so far as to document the exotic Chinese for the avaricious Victorian public. My book Picturing the Chinese (Joint Publishing: Hong Kong, 2005) follows the photographers who descended on China from the 1850s, when photography was just invented, when the Opium Wars were destroying China and opening up her trade ports and when British overseas power was fast expanding Eastwards. Subsequent to this book I had an idea about how to respond to this former situation as an artist/photographer. Why don’t I reverse that situation and photograph the exotic 21st century diverse society in Hastings where I now live, and label them as ‘21st Century Types’ as the scientists had documented the ‘Oriental types’. The Arts Council funded my project in 2005, and I reconstructed a Chinese photography portrait studio along the seafront in Hastings. Then I invited passersby to enter and pose, with all their contemporary accoutrements. I documented a total of 400 subjects, a selection of which were exhibited in London, in Wales, Brighton and Hastings, as well as the Tate Britain. My presentation summarises this 5-year work, from my book on Western views of the Chinese to how I address, or redressed, this issue to create my own aesthetics of the ‘21st century types’.
A practising photographer, lecturer and writer, Grace Lau was born in London of Chinese parentage. She has a degree in documentary photography from Newport College of Art; a BA in Media Studies from University of Westminster and MA from London College of Communications. A retrospective of her photography covering the sub-culture of fetishism appears in Adults in Wonderland (Serpents Tail, UK, 1997). Grace has exhibited widely and her work is in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, Michael Wilson Centre and David & Sarah Kowitz.
2:30PM Paul French, author of Midnight in Peking (Penguin, 2012) in conversation with China historian, Frances Wood (Keeper of China Collections, British Library)
Paul French has lived and worked in Shanghai for many years. He is a widely published analyst and commentator on China and his major focus of interest is the growing power of the emerging Asian middle class and China’s shifting demographics. He has also written a number of books on China including, Carl Crow: A Tough Old China Hand (HKUP, 2006) – the biography of the legendary Shanghai-based journalist, adventurer and ad man from the 1930s; Through the Looking Glass (HKUP, 2009) a study of China’s foreign press corps from the 1840s to the 1950s; and The Old Shanghai A-Z (HKUP, 2010), a guide to the streets, businesses, nightclubs and people of old Shanghai in its glittering heyday. His most recent book, Midnight in Peking (Penguin, 2012), a work of literary non-fiction investigating the real life murder of a 19-year-old English girl in 1937 has been a New York Times Bestseller, a Radio 4 Book of the Week, and is to be made into an international mini- series by Kudos Film & Television in the UK. He is publishing a Penguin Special e-book, The Badlands: Decadent Playground of Old Peking, attempting to recover the once notorious 1930s foreign-run Badlands of Beijing.
Frances Wood studied Chinese at the universities of Cambridge, Peking and London and is Curator of the Chinese collections at the British Library. Among her books are a translation of Dai Houying’s novel Ren a ren! (Michael Joseph, 1992), Did Marco Polo Go To China? (Secker And Warburg, 1995), No Dogs and Not Many Chinese: Treaty Port Life in China 1843-1943 (John Murray, 2000), Hand Grenade Practice in Peking: my part in the Cultural Revolution (John Murray, 200), The Silk Road (University of California Press, 2002), The Blue Guide to China (revised edition, 2002), The Forbidden City (British Museum Press, 2005) and The Lure of China (Yale University Press, 2009), The Diamond Sutra (British Library, 2010).
3:00PM Afternoon Tea
3.15PM China: A Novel Xiaolu Guo in conversation with Professor Harriet Evans (University of Westminster)
Xiaolu Guo, a bilingual novelist and filmmaker, received her MA at Beijing Film Academy and UK’s National Film & TV School. She published 6 books in Chinese before moving to London in 2002. Since then she has written her novels in English, notably: A Concise Chinese English Dictionary For Lovers (2007), 20 Fragments of A Ravenous Youth (2008), and UFO In Her Eyes (2011). Her books have been shortlisted for the Orange Fiction Prize, the Dublin Impact Literary Award and her feature film She, A Chinese () received the Golden Leopard Award at the Locarno Film Festival 2009. Her documentary Once Upon A Time Proletarian (2009) received the Grand Prix Geneva 2012, has shown in Central Pompidou Paris, MoMA New York and toured around the world.
Professor Harriet Evans, Director of the University of Westminster’s Contemporary China Centre, was educated at the University of London’s School of African and Oriental Studies, and Beijing University. Her publications include Women and Sexuality in China: Discourses of Female Sexuality and Gender since 1949 (Polity Press, 1997), Picturing Power in the People’s Republic of China: Posters of the Cultural Revolution (co-edited with Stephanie Donald, Rowman and Littlefield, 1999) and The Subject of Gender: Daughters and Mothers in Urban China (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008). She is now working on an oral history of an ‘old Beijing’ neighbourhood. She was President of the British Association for Chinese Studies (2002-5) and is a regular consultant for BBC radio and non-governmental agencies on women, gender and human rights in China.
5:00PM Drinks Reception (venue tbc)