Blog Archives

19 Sept China Seminar: Ting-Fai Yu: Reconfiguring Queer Chineseness

Please, mark your calendars for the next semester’s talks in the China Seminar series.

The first talk of the academic year 2018-2019 is by dr. Ting-Fai Yu and it is titled “Reconfiguring Queer Chineseness: Hong Kong as Method”. You can find the abstract and bio by following this link: Everyone is welcome to attend.


19 September, 15:15-17:00 LIPSIUS 130 Ting-Fai Yu IIAS
18 October, 15:15-17:00 VRIESH 1-006 Peter Lodge Vanderbilt University
31 October, 15:15-17:00 WIJKPL 2-006 Paul Vierthaler Leiden University
21 November, 15:15-17:00 WIJKPL 2-006 Jiyan Qiao Leiden University
12 December, 15:15-17:00 WIJKPL 2-006 Huei-Lan Xiong Leiden University




In response to the transnational turn of queer studies, the last two decades saw the emergence of queer Chinese studies as a burgeoning field that has actively situated Chinese-speaking communities outside the People’s Republic of China (e.g. Hong Kong, Taiwan) within the transnational frames of what have been described as queer Chinese roots and queer Chinese routes (Martin 2015). Departing from the existing scholarship emphasising either the continuity of Chinese ethnicity or the multiplicity of Chinese identities, this lecture sets up its context by highlighting how the framing of queer Chineseness has perpetuated the assumption that Hong Kong is incapable of producing knowledge to understand itself or generating theories to inform other queer formations outside China. Consequently, it not only subordinates Hong Kong to a peripheral position whose representations always depend on the presence of China, but also prevents the cultivation of local critical efforts towards meaningful understandings of local queer struggles.



Based on an ethnographic study of the influences of class on the subjective production of Hong Kong gay men, this lecture provides a perspective highlighting the ways in which inequalities are reproduced in local queer culture amid proliferating sexual progress. Anchored in a specific set of compressed economic transformations affecting postwar Hong Kong, the study understands class as a relatively recent formation that is linked to an unprecedented condition of rapid upward mobility and the emergence of Hong Kong identity since the 1970s. Although class was not commonly spoken about by the informants, their understandings of class were nevertheless displaced into other categories of social difference (i.e. age, generation, race and culture) which have come to inform their struggles and aspirations as queer subjects. By examining the inarticulability and displacements of class as symptoms of compressed economic modernisation, this study reveals the locally specific cultural logics that not only safeguarded the reproduction of inequalities but also rendered any resistance impossible.

Arguing for the revitalisation of class as a useful analytic category in enabling a fresh perspective of Hong Kong queer culture beyond the framing of queer Chineseness, this lecture concludes by exploring how Hong Kong can serve as a method towards localising queer studies in other East Asian societies which went through similar trajectories of economic development.


Ting-Fai Yu received his PhD in gender studies (anthropology) from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2017. He is currently a research fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden University. His work has focused on the intersection of sexuality, social inequality and critical methodologies in Asian studies.

25 May China Seminar: Bian He

Title: “Not a Local Product Here”: Materia Medica and the Spatial Politics of Material Resources (wuliao) in Ming China

Speaker: Bian He (Princeton University / MPIWG)

Time and location: Friday 25 May, 15.00-17.00 WIJKPL2/001

Abstract: Pharmaceutical ingredients constituted a major category of local products (tuchan) in Chinese historiography. The institution of local tribute (tugong) in turn mediated the relationship between the central regime and local administrations, deriving its legitimacy from the correct identification of noteworthy products with their places of origin. It has been widely assumed that during the Ming dynasty the imperial state’s collection of materia medica, along with other tribute items, became converted into a surtax paid with silver, yet few has looked into the particular process of this change with a wide geographical coverage. Nor were the political, economic, and cultural consequences of this change fully explored. In this talk, I seek to address these questions with my work on the documentation of materia medica as “material resources (wuliao)” in Ming local gazetteers, and present some preliminary results drawn from the digital research platform on Local Gazetteers at MPIWG Berlin. Overall, I hope to demonstrate the distinct regional character of fiscal reform starting from the fifteenth century, and discuss the dynamic relationship between policy, commerce, and culture as seen through the example of pharmacy.

16 May China Seminar: Limin Teh

Title: Mining the Dragon Vein: Coal Extraction and Secular Power in Northeast China, 1895-1912

Speaker: Limin Teh (Leiden University)

Time: 16 May, 15:15-17:00

Location: Lipsius 235

Abstract: Coal mining in late Qing and early Republican China ushered in new forms of mobilities (rail transport), production (industrial manufacture), governance (mining laws), knowledge production (geology), and political mobilization (unionization). These new forms, in one way or another, contributed to the dissolution of the late imperial state. In this paper, I take this claim a step further to assert that mining secularized political power when mining extended into formerly sacred landscape. This paper examines changes in the landscape of the area that the Qing court termed the “dragon vein longmai” and “the place where the dragon arose longxing zhi di,” which encompassed three mausoleums in the Greater Mukden (or Shenyang) vicinity and the Changbai mountains. To protect this area that was considered the birthplace of the Manchu people, the Qing court in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries instituted controls over the landscape, ranging from ritual visits to restricted land ownership. The dragon vein also happened to possess a wealth of coal deposits, which were opened in the late nineteenth century to foreign and Chinese mining interests following exponential rise in coal demand resulting from the construction of the Russian-owned Chinese Eastern Railroad. What global and local factors brought about this change? How did the imperial throne and local Qing officials negotiate this change? What were the implications of this change on the imperial throne? These questions guide the paper’s investigation of the introduction of mining in the Manchu ancestral homeland, using maps, travelogues, and official documents.

18 April China Seminar: Lai Yu-chi: “Manchu Roots”

Lai Yu-chih (Academia Sinica, Taiwan), “Manchu Roots: Imperial Politics, Image Discourse, and European Botanical Studies at the Qianlong Court”


Abstract: Changbai Mountain was deemed by the Manchu rulers of the Qing as the birthplace for the ancestors of the dynasty and, therefore, a sacred mountain. The trees growing there were often connected with the fate of the Qing Empire. The Qianlong emperor himself composed at least two rhymes on two different auspicious trees growing there and related these two trees to the fate of his empire, one of which is the focus of this paper. For picturing and recording this tree, Qianlong ordered an expedition equipped with a professional court painter to be organized to investigate this tree firsthand. At least four sets of images were made after this expedition, within which actual specimens were also included. Therefore, this talk will take this series of images on this auspicious tree on the Manchu’s sacred mount as an example to explore why Qianlong insisted on the “first-hand” investigation of this actual tree? Why is this tree so important to Qianlong? What role did images play in dealing with the critical issues regarding the existence of the tree? Most importantly, how would this function, if any, of images affect the style and the making of them?

This talk is sponsored by the Hulsewé-Wazniewski Foundation.


Upcoming Talks:

Dates Venue Presenter Affiliation
18 April 2018 Vossius (University library) Yu-chih Lai Academia Sinica
2 May 2018 LIPSIUS 235 Lin Fan Leiden University
16 May 2018 TBA Limin Teh Leiden University
25 May WIJKPL2/001 Bian He Princeton University


China Seminar 28 March: Monica Klasing Chen

China Seminar: Why remember? Memory and practical knowledge in Chinese painting texts

Monica Klasing Chen (Leiden University)

28 March, 15.15-17.00, Lipsius 235


During the Ming dynasty, practical knowledge on painting began to be broadly sought after and circulated, rendering the printing of didactic texts both economically and socially profitable. Such texts were included, for example, in daily-use encyclopedias 日用類書, which offered brief entries and presented the content in a rhymed format to facilitate memorization. The major concern voiced by the editors of such works was to make this knowledge broadly available.

During the mid-Qing dynasty, when it had become common for scholar-artisans to author their own didactic texts, they began to question the value of standardized rules, giving memorization a secondary role in their theories. Nevertheless, a turn towards remembering and memorization would occur once again during the end of the Qing dynasty, following the traumatic events of the Taiping rebellion and the widespread efforts of scholars to reaffirm their local identity. In this talk I argue that the role of memory was closely related to the social function given to practical knowledge by scholars, who also shaped practices of remembering.


Monica Klasing Chen is a doctoral candidate at the Leiden Institute for Area Studies. Her dissertation project analyses the use of mnemonics in the field of Chinese painting and calligraphy, with a focus on the social value of memory practices and the transmission of practical knowledge through text and image.

CHILL!: 28 March: Chen Aoju


Chinese Linguistics in Leiden

Spring 2018

All talks Wednesdays 15:15-16:30, Van Wijkplaats 2, room 006


28 March

Chen Aoju (Utrecht): “Same prominence, different developmental paths: Prosodic focus-marking in children acquiring Mandarin and West Germanic languages”


abstract In both West Germanic languages and Mandarin, speakers distinguish the im-portant information (focus) from the less important informa¬tion (background) in a sentence by pronouncing the focal word with in¬creased prominence via changes in pitch and duration. In this talk, I will show that despite the stri¬king similarities in the prosodic expres¬sion of focus between Mandarin and West Germanic languages, children acquiring these languages differ in both the rate and the order in which they become adult-like in the use of pitch and duration.

18 April

Yang Zhaole (Leiden): “Mandarin and scalarity”

9 May

Han Mengru  (Utrecht): “Mothers’ use of prosodic prominence in word-learning contexts: evidence from Dutch and Mandarin infant-directed speech”


for comments and suggestions, please contact


CHILL! 7 March: Sun Jianqiang


Chinese Linguistics in Leiden


Spring 2018

All talks Wednesdays 15:15-16:30, Van Wijkplaats 2, room 006

7 March

Sun Jianqiang (Leiden)

“Chinese taboo characters and passive constructions as heuristic tools: Redating The Messiah Sutra序聽迷詩所經 and On One God一神論”

abstract: The Messiah Sutra and On One God are two ancient Chinese manuscripts that are taken as the earliest statements of the Christian faith in China. According to the conventional understanding, they were created by the first known Christian missionary Āluóběn 阿羅本 around the 640s. In this talk I will show that, relying on the name taboo tradition and the use of the bèi 被passive construction, one can make the case that the two texts were created most likely no earlier than the period of the late Tang and Five dynasties (800-960). These results have consequences for the traditional narrative of Christianity in pre-12th-century China.



28 March

Chen Aoju (Utrecht): “Same prominence, different developmental paths: Prosodic focus-marking in children acquiring Mandarin and West Germanic languages”


18 April

Yang Zhaole (Leiden): “Mandarin and scalarity”


9 May

Han Mengru  (Utrecht): “Mothers’ use of prosodic prominence in word-learning contexts: evidence from Dutch and Mandarin infant-directed speech”



for comments and suggestions, please contact


China Seminar 6 March: David Palmer: The Aporia of Chinese Volunteers

The Aporia of Chinese Volunteers: Moral Breakdown and Ethical Moments

David A. Palmer (The University of Hong Kong) and Rundong Ning (Yale University)

Following the Beijing Olympics and the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008, the past decade has seen the large-scale development and institutionalization of volunteering in China, which has taken various forms ranging from projects sponsored by the Communist Party Youth League to serving in grassroots NGOs. Based on participant observation at a school for children of migrant workers in Beijing and on interviews with educational volunteers in a range of organizations, this paper will explore the dilemmas faced by volunteers when confronting social expectations about their motivations and goals in volunteering. Devoted volunteers distance themselves from the two dominant discourses of utilitarianism and revolutionary collectivism that frame volunteering in China today, preferring to use an idiom of self-expression, of a personal choice that warrants no justification. Drawing on Joel Robbins’ and Jared Zygon’s analysis of moral discourses in times of societal moral breakdown, the paper analyses how, faced with contradictory ethical demands, volunteers struggle to make sense of their own engagement.



Dr. David A. Palmer is an Associate Professor of Anthropology in the department of Sociology and in the Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Hong Kong. His books include the award-winning Qigong Fever: Body, Science and Utopia in China (Columbia University Press, 2007); The Religious Question in Modern China (University of Chicago Press, co-authored with Vincent Goossaert 2011; awarded the Levenson Book Prize of the Association for Asian Studies); and Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality (University of Chicago Press, co-authored with Elijah Siegler, 2017).


Location: Vrieshof 4/012

Time: 6 March 15:15-17:00 p.m.

China Seminar 28 Feb: Maghiel van Crevel: Misfit: the Poetry of Xu Lizhi


Maghiel van Crevel

Battlers poetry 打工诗歌 is writing by members of the Chinese precariat, specifically the underclass of domestic migrants who have flocked from the countryside to the cities in the hundreds of millions since the 1980s. The hardships and the social injustice of migrant worker life are among its most prominent themes: dehumanizing labor conditions, feelings of displacement, nostalgia, and existential alienation, a vulnerable status as non-citizens without the coveted urban household registration and steady work, and so on. Since the 2000s, the web and social media have given it tremendous exposure, trickling beyond China’s borders in recent years.

So what kind of writing is this, and what does it do? The poetry of Xu Lizhi 许立志, who has been a figurehead of the genre ever since his suicide in 2014, offers powerful material for tackling these questions—which have often been framed in an easy opposition of social significance (high) and literary value (low) that might just not be the whole story.

Bio: Maghiel van Crevel is professor of Chinese at Leiden University, and the author, editor, and translator of a dozen books. He has recently published Walk on the Wild Side: Snapshots of the Chinese Poetry Scene,” a long essay inspired by fieldwork in China in 2016-2017.


The time slot for the China Seminar is always 15.15-17.00. The titles and abstracts will be distributed in due time.

Location: Leiden University, Faculty of Humanities. The Lipsius building is located at Cleveringaplaats 1.


Dates Venue Presenter Affiliation
28 February 2018 LIPSIUS 235 Maghiel van Crevel Leiden University
7 March 2018 LIPSIUS 235 Griet Vankeerberghen McGill University
28 March 2018 LIPSIUS 235 Monica Klasing Chen Leiden University
11 April 2018 LIPSIUS 235 Carolien Rieffe Leiden University
18 April 2018 t.b.d. Yu-chih Lai Academia Sinica
2 May 2018 LIPSIUS 235 Lin Fan Leiden University
23 May 2018 LIPSIUS 235 Limin Teh Leiden University


CHANGE IN TIME/VENUE for China Seminar 7 December: James A. Benn

Please note: James A. Benn’s talk has been moved forward two hours: to 7 December (Thursday), 13.15-15.00. The new venue is LIPSIUS 308.

title: The Creation of a Tea Aesthetic in Tang Dynasty Verse

Abstract: The values associated with tea today— that it is natural, health- giving, detoxifying, spiritual, stimulating, refreshing, and so on— are not new concepts. We find them already in the poetry of the Tang dynasty (618-907). In tea poetry we can catch a glimpse of the cultural synergy created by literati, poets, and Buddhist monks gathering to share and construct new standards of connoisseurship and creativity, as well as to develop new themes and imagery. Surviving poems describe the color, aroma, and taste of the beverage; methods for preparing tea; the shape of teaware; settings for drinking tea; appreciation of the various aesthetic, medicinal, and psychoactive qualities of the beverage; as well as the world of tea growing, picking, and preparation.