School of Modern Languages

Events Items

Distinguished Chinese Lecture: In Search of the Chinese Common Reader

Date/Time: Wednesday 14th February 2018; 16:30-17:30

Venue: PERB G.05, Newcastle University

Joan Judge from York University, Toronto, Canada, will be joining us as part of the Confucius Institute's Distinguished Chinese Lecture series to give a talk titled In Search of the Chinese Common Reader: Usable Knowledge and Wondrous Ignorance in the Age of Global Science.

How did late Qing and Republican Chinese common readers understand science, illness, and the natural world? To what extent did new concepts introduced into China from the mid- to late-19th century become integrated into the everyday lives of poorer urbanites and lower-level local elites? What can an investigation of these questions tell us about the ways knowledge was transmitted, and the degree of epistemological, social, and cultural integration in this period?

This presentation is driven by one of the great paradoxes of twentieth century Chinese history: the rhetorical prominence of “the people” in dynastic, reformist, Republican and communist discourse, and the relative invisibility of non-elite ways of knowing in the historical record. It searches for the Chinese common reader in three distinct places: in the materiality of cheaply produced texts—books as objects; in the usable—and wondrous—information packaged in their crowded pages—texts as meaning; and in the spaces where this knowledge was consumed—reading as cultural practice. The texts include cheap, string-bound, lithographed books such as wanbao quanshu 萬寶全書 (comprehensive compendia of myriad treasures), together with daily-use, letter-writing, household, and health manuals. Their contents include age-old cosmologies and fanciful representations of foreigners, together with treatments for opium addiction, methods for preventing cholera, and ways to graft a plant. The apprentices, workers, housewives, and lower-level bureaucrats who consumed this knowledge often did so on the fly, in the streets. Sitting, standing or leaning at street-side bookstalls, they avidly sought both the useful information and the marvelous diversion necessary to negotiate the epistemological uncertainty—and promise—of China’s revolutionary twentieth century.

This talk is open to everyone, no registration necessary.

Professor Joan Judge