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The Presence of the Past in a Future-Facing China

Presented by Ian Johnson and Jeff Wasserstrom. Hosted by East Asian Studies.

May 02, 2017
from 04:00 PM to 05:30 PM

Andrews Conference Room, 2203 SS&H

This event will featured paired presentations by and then a conversation between acclaimed journalist Ian Johnson and widely published historian Jeffrey Wasserstrom.   

Johnson will begin by talking about a central theme in his latest book, The Souls of China, which is the revival of interest since Mao's death in Chinese religious traditions, such as Buddhism and Daoism.  Xi Jinping's China is one in which many things are futuristic--it has a space program, some of the fastest trains on earth, and so on--and yet the government has moved from rejecting to embracing some "traditional" values and texts, and many people seek meaning in old practices and beliefs.  How does all this, as well as the growth in various forms of Christianity, make sense in a country that is run by a Communist Party?  This is the question that Johnson will explore.

Wasserstrom will then speak briefly about a central theme in his new edited volume, The Oxford Illustrated History of Modern China (whose contributors include Johnson), which is the tension between past and present state efforts to define "Chinese tradition" as a singular entity and fact that it is actually made up of varied strands.  He will use references to popular novels of the past and recent state spectacles, such as the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Games, to illustrate this tension and suggest ways to think about it.