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Distinguished Lectures on Chinese Culture and Religion (3)

Abstract (based on the abstract of Chapter 1) In this CIHK webinar, we will discuss the material conditions of and historical background to the use of Classical Chinese or Literary Sinitic in writing-mediated brush conversation between literati of Sinitic engaged in cross-border communication within Sinographic East Asia or the Sinographic cosmopolis, which corresponds with today’s China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan (including Okinawa, formerly the Ryukyu Kingdom) and Vietnam. Compared with speech as a modality of communication, real-time writing-mediated interaction between talking humans, synchronously face-to-face, seems uncommon. In any society, speaking is premised on one condition: the interlocutors must have at least one shared spoken language at their disposal, but even then, there are circumstances under which speaking is either physically not feasible or socially inappropriate. Could writing function as an alternative modality of communication when speaking is not an option due to the absence of a shared spoken language, as in cross-border communication settings? Whereas real-time writing-mediated face-to-face interaction is rare where a regional lingua franca was known to exist (e.g., Latin and Arabic), there is ample historical evidence of literati of Classical Chinese or Literary Sinitic from different parts of Sinographic East Asia conducting ‘silent conversation’, synchronously and interactively in writing mode using brush, ink, and paper. Such a pattern of writing-assisted interaction is still practiced and observable in pen-assisted conversation – pen-talk – between Chinese and Japanese speakers today, thanks to the pragma-linguistic affordance of morphographic, non-phonographic sinograms (i.e., Chinese characters and Japanese kanji). We will outline the historical spread of Classical Chinese or Sinitic texts from the ‘center’ to the ‘peripheries’, and the historical background to the acquisition of literacy in Sinitic by the people there. Their shared knowledge of Sinitic helps explain why, for well over a thousand years until the 1900s, literati from these places were able to speak their mind by engaging in ‘Sinitic brush-talk’ 漢文筆談 in cross-border communication.

21 Apr, 2022


Specialist Lecture on Chinese History and Culture (5)

Property and Financial Management of Manchu Imperial Princesses in Qing China, 1617–1911 During the Qing period (1644–1911), the property right of Women who married Manchu imperial family members were protected by Qing laws, but not the one of Manchu imperial princesses. Those Qing imperial princesses did not own full ownership of their property, only occupancy, use, and income rights, but not act of disposition. Their offspring did not have rights to inherit the estate from their mothers. This lecture draws on Qing sources in Manchu, Mongol, and Chinese and focuses on the human dowry of the Qing imperial princesses who married Mongol princes to explore the ownership of their property and how their property were used, managed, and transferred. In the end, this paper will show how the expenditure on patronage of Tibetan Buddhism played an important role in the Qing policies toward the Mongols.

13 Apr, 2022


Specialist Lecture on Chinese History and Culture (9)

Spectacular Benevolence:  Operatic Entertainment and Court Politics  in Qing-Dynasty China Theatrical performance occupied a central place in the emotional and political life of the Qing dynasty imperial household. For over two centuries, the Qing court poured a tremendous amount of human and material resources into institutionalizing the theatrical arts for the purposes of entertainment and edification. The emperors and empresses, as ardent patrons, went to great lengths to cultivate a discerning taste in theatre and oversaw the artistic and managerial aspects of court theatrical activities. Staging for the Emperors: A History of Qing Court Theatre, 1683-1923, examines two distinct and interlocking dimensions of the Qing court theatre—the vicissitudes of the palace troupe and the multifaceted functions of court-commissioned ceremonial dramas—to highlight the diverse array of views held by individual rulers as they used theatrical means to promote their personal and political agendas. Drawing on recently discovered materials from the court theatrel bureau, as well as court-commissioned paintings, memoirs written by foreign delegates, and play scripts written for court ceremonial occasions, this talk will zoom in on the theatrical performances produced for ceremonial occasions of Emperor Qianlong’s court. It shows how the ground principles of the guest ritual were reflected in ceremonial plays that addressed the theme of tribute-bearing and obeisance-paying guests and imperial subjects. This example demonstrates that theatre, like other forms of courtly art, served the individual rulers’ desire to embody virtue, to entertain at leisure, and to project aspirations.

7 Dec, 2021

20210928a-3 web

Distinguished Lectures on Chinese Culture and Religion (3)

Origin of Hong Kong and the Relationship between Hong Kong and the Chinese Mainland The presentation focuses on the historical evolution of Hong Kong, the historical and cultural ties between Hong Kong and the Chinese Mainland, and the unique position of Hong Kong in the historical development of China. 1. Ancient Hong Kong 2. British Occupation of Hong Kong 3. Hong Kong and the 1911 Revolution 4. Hong Kong and the Anti-Japanese War 5. New China's Policy on Hong Kong 6. Hong Kong and China's Reform and Opening 7. The Friendship between Two Places

28 Sep, 2021


Distinguished Lectures on Chinese Culture and Religion (4)

Cultural Habitus and Religious Doxa:  Theorizing the Confucian-Buddhist Encounter in Late Imperial China The paper explores Confucianism’s interaction with Buddhism in late imperial China by examining the mediating and defining role of the latter, especially its Chan iteration. The fact that Chan, a predominant Sinitic Buddhist sect, exerted enormous influences on the origination and development of Neo-Confucianism is commonly acknowledged and generally well-known. The paper theorizes the fraught relationship between the two religio-philosophical traditions through the intervention of Pierre Bourdieu’s descriptive-analytic ideas of “habitus” (a continuous system of ideational and ideological dispositions constituted historically) and “doxa” (the cultural realities that are taken for granted, consciously or subconsciously), and in the process, it also questions and critiques the much-used theoretical framework of syncretism. The paper argues that Chan, while being branded as a heterodoxy at odds with the Confucian orthodoxy, was in actuality integrally and functionally a part of the Chinese cultural capital. Their respective putative doctrinal certitude in large part relied on their self-identification in terms of each other. At the same time that they sought to negate and denigrate each other, they became mutually reinforced and clarified. 

28 Sep, 2021

20210719 web

Specialist Lecture on Chinese History and Culture (8)

The Blank Exam: Crises of Student Labor and Activism in the Late Cultural Revolution Film Juelie This presentation examines the 1976 film Juelie 決裂 (“Breaking with Old Ideas”), a feature film depicting a fictional account of the founding of the Jiangxi Communist Labor University (江西共產主義勞動大學, or “Gongda” for short.) Like workers’ universities, Gongda gained prominence during the Cultural Revolution for its experimental approach to disrupting the divisions of labor that reproduced inequality. First established in 1958, Gongda was founded with the goal of producing new socialist workers. Its students were taught through a curriculum of “part-work, part-study,” and because it was registered as both a university and a production unit, the university supported its operations through the sale of products from its farms and factories.  Through explicit references to the historic role students had played in the Cultural Revolution, the fictional university students of Juelie combined mental and manual labor in a transformation of the student from the elite, bespectacled urban intellectual of the May Fourth era into a diffuse, pluralistic subject position embedded within the socialist project and its productive relations. But the film also responded to the crises raised by student activism during the Cultural Revolution, and this presentation will show how the film ultimately reinscribed student subjectivity within the patriarchal and developmentalist structures of the state. 

19 Jul, 2021

20210714 web

Specialist Lecture on Chinese History and Culture (7)

‘Lotus Aloft:’ Dunhuang Dance Narratives Historically a frontier metropolis, Dunhuang was a strategic site along the Silk Road in northwestern China, a crossroads of trade, and a locus for religious, cultural, and intellectual influences since the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E.–220 C.E.). The 492 caves at the Mogao cliff near the modern town of Dunhuang have served as temples, sites for performative events, and an archive that consisted of medieval Chinese paintings and Buddhist sutras. Today, the Dunhuang Mogao Caves is among one of the most well-known UNESCO heritage sites along the ancient Silk Road. This lecture presentation introduces the creation of the Dunhuang mural dance genre as a sociocultural phenomenon that emerges through interactions and negotiations among multiple actors and institutions to envision and enact a Chinese vision as well as China’s imaginations of “journeying abroad” from and to the country. This phenomenon is involved in the re-creation of historical memory and identity of China in contemporary moments of contestation and transformation. The lecture examines the semiotics in the present-day imagination of the Silk Road – specifically, staged performances of the Dunhuang dance as an embodied re-interpretation and re-creating of the arts from the Dunhuang.

13 Jul, 2021

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