Recent Events

Left-wing Melancholia in Asian History, Culture, and Literature

Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference, Denver, CO, March 21, 2019, 7:30PM-9:15PM

Paul Pickowicz - Professor of History and Chinese Studies, University of California, San Diego (Role: Chair)
Paola Iovene - Associate Professor, University of Chicago (Role: Discussant)
Po-hsi Chen - PhD Candidate, Yale University (Role: Organizer;Paper Presenter)
Hang Tu - PhD Candidate, Harvard University (Role: Organizer;Paper Presenter)
Xiaolu Ma - Assistant Professor, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (Role: Paper Presenter)
Chairat Polmuk - Lecturer, Chulalongkorn University (Role: Paper Presenter)


From Perry Anderson’s summation of Western Marxism as a “culture of defeat” to what Wendy Brown termed as “backward-looking attachment,” critics have invoked defeatism to conjure leftist utopianism. While these discussions of left-wing melancholia are confined to the Western context, European leftists’ sense of disillusionment has historically been embedded in the rise and fall of socialist revolution in the East during the twentieth century—from the triumph of the 1917 October Revolution through the 1989 Tian’anmen Incident. This panel thus shifts our focus on “left-wing melancholia” from its Western coinage to the Asian context: How does left-wing melancholia factor in the Asian questions of (anti-)imperialism and (post-)colonialism? What is the theoretical potential to conceptualize melancholia in an age of postsocialism? 

In this panel, Ma interrogates Lu Xun’s translation of Russian poputchik(fellow travelers) and his engagement with Trotsky to reflect on the conundrum of Chinese revolutionary consciousness. Examining the history of socialism in Taiwan during Japanese colonization and the White Terror, Chen historicizes the root of melancholia in Taiwanese leftist literature.  Tu uses Wang Anyi's 1990s literary productions as examples to shed light on the ambiguous interpretations, contested memories, and divergent literary representations of Mao’s revolution. Drawing on post-1990s Southeast Asian texts, Polmuk argues thatthe aesthetic mediations of wartime affective residues constitute a unique archive of historical injury in Southeast Asia.  These papers investigate how the history of colonialism, socialist revolution, and Cold War across Northeast, East, and Southeast Asia enrich our understanding of melancholia in leftist history, literature and culture.


In Search of Autonomy: Chinese Intellectuals between Politics and Scholarship

Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference, Washington DC, March 22-25, 2018


Charles Laughlin – Professor of East Asian Studies, University of Virginia (Chair)
Josephine Chiu-Duke – Associate Professor of Asian Studies, The University of British Columbia (Discussant)
Sebastian Veg – Professor of Intellectual History of 20th century China, School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences, Paris (Presenter)
Hang Tu – PhD Candidate, Harvard University (Organizer and Presenter)
Dongxian Jiang – PhD Candidate, Princeton University (Presenter)
Mengze Yao – PhD Candidate, Beijing Normal University (Presenter)


This panel is committed to rethinking Chinese intellectuals’ ambivalent stance between politics and scholarship in the post-Mao era. In the beginning of the Reform period, Chinese intellectuals were deeply inspired by Weber’s call to disarticulate scholarship from political utility to carve out an autonomous space for intellectual exchange. Nevertheless, an iconoclastic impulse traceable to the May Fourth Enlightenment complicated Weberian incrementalism, endowing scholarship with a decisive, even Promethean role as powerful ways of formulating radical politics, inspiring revolutions, and legitimating subversive beliefs. The metamorphosis of Chinese intellectual public space from the eighties to recent times is shaped, if not determined by, these two contradictory beliefs on politics, learning, and morality. Our panel brings together literary critics, intellectual historians, and political scientists to examine the multifaceted aspects of contemporary intellectual debates caught between politics and scholarship. Examining the interplay between China’s intellectuals, institutionalized scholarship, and the Party-state reveals broader changes underway in intellectual-state relations.

Methodologically speaking, we are interested in the introductions of various “-isms,” – foreign political theories – to the post-Mao Chinese intelligentsia and how these theoretical arsenals help Chinese intellectuals develop powerful new discourses in political thought. This attempt goes beyond the mere study of the reception of ideas, and asks the question of how do Chinese scholars use foreign theories to write about their own subject positions between politics and scholarship? More specifically, our case studies reveal the process in which four foreign ideas –neo-Kantianism, Straussianism, Schmittian statism, and utopian socialism – inspired Chinese intellectuals to develop hybrid political discourses from (neo)liberalism to neo-conservatism.