Past Events

Interdisciplinary Symposium

Buddhist Literacy in Early Modern Northern Vietnam 

Presented by Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey & The Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation

Friday - Saturday, September 23 & 24, 2016 

Location: Alexander Library, Scholarly Communication Center Lecture Hall

We are happy to announce an upcoming international and interdisciplinary symposium on Buddhist Literacy in Early Modern Northern Vietnam, to be held from 23-24 September, 2016. Catalyzed by the recent digitization of two textual collections held at the Thắng Nghiêm and Phổ Nhân Buddhist Temples in northern Vietnam, we propose to investigate the interaction of textual practices, publishing, and the transmission of literacy in interaction with Buddhism and the Buddhist institution. The texts in these collections are written in both Literary Chinese and vernacular Vietnamese, and include both classical sutras with cosmopolitan distribution, as well as region-specific texts, produced and circulated on a local level.

It has long been recognized that Buddhism played a varying but consistently vital role in the transmission of literate knowledge throughout East and Southeast Asia. By examining these collections of diverse but otherwise mundane textual artifacts, we seek to understand the kinds of literacy that prevailed in these types of religious and non-courtly settings, as well as to investigate how networks of publishing, text-production, and the bartering of knowledge were constructed and maintained across Buddhist monastic communities. Although our focus is on the Vietnamese context, our investigation is conducted in explicit comparison with analogous contexts in China, Korea, and Japan; and we invite scholars and students of all fields and areas of study interested in issues of Buddhism and Literacy, the transmission of literate knowledge, and the interaction of cosmopolitan and vernacular forms of textual culture, to attend our symposium.

For more info and to RSVP, see links below:

Symposium Announcement

Schedule and Abstracts

VNPF Digitized Collections

Map of College Avenue Campus

To RSVP (Not required, but appreciated)

Please contact John Phan at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

China Lecture Series

The Art of Quoting and Telling: Interpretation, Knowledge, and the Development of Commenterial Practice in Early China

Michael Puett, Harvard University

Thursday, September 29, 2016, 4:30 - 6:00 P.M. 

Location: Brower Commons A

Abstract: This lecture will trace the notions of text, authorship, and commentary in the early Chinese literary tradition, exploring how these notions were debated and re-defined over the course of the early period.

China Lecture Series

A Short History of the Silk Road Idea

Tamara Chin, Brown University

Thursday, October 6, 2016, 4:30 - 6:00 P.M. 

Location: Brower Commons A

Abstract: Since the 1980s, the term Silk Road has had a popular and academic appeal, suggestive of an era of premodern globalization in which China played a central role. This talk gives a short history of this Silk Road idea. It introduces the 1877 coining of the term in German geography and its subsequent circulation in translation. It focuses on the Cold War period, when China's diplomacy with the newly decolonized world reimagined an Afro-Asian Silk Road that was at odds with the Silk Road of the West and Japan. This semantic history of the Silk Road/ sichou zhi lu offers a window onto the historiography of ancient intercultural contact. While recent Silk Road books, conferences, exhibitions, and institutes have helped to give shape to a notional "Silk Road Studies," this talk aims to draw greater attention to the historical underpinnings and theoretical assumptions of this growing subfield. 

China Lecture Series

False Starts and Strange Successes: Some Thoughts on Domestic Government Debt in Late Qing China

Elizabeth Kaske, Carnegie Mellon University and the Institute for Advanced Study

Thursday, October 27, 2016, 4:30 - 6:00 P.M.

Location: Brower Commons A 

Abstract: The Qing fiscal system was marked for the absence of public debt. Research on the emergence of domestic government debt in the late nineteenth century often focuses on the new financial institutions that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century. This talk discusses ongoing work that tries to address broader questions related to the absence or emergence of public debt: the structure of the fiscal system, the relationship between the state and social actors, the role of alternative modes of deficit finance, and the "failure" of China's first government bonds.

China Lecture Series

Unspeakable Acts and Suppressed Meanings in Twelfth-Century Chinese Tales

Ronald Egan, Standford University

Thursday, November 10, 2016, 4:30 - 6:00 P.M.

Location: Brower Commons A 

Abstract: There are plenty of stories in Hong Mai's collection of supernatural tales, Yijian zhi, that feature conventional morality and outcomes, such as divine retribution for wickedness and self-indulgence. But there is also a significant portion of the work that goes beyond these standards, treating sensitive and "awkward" topics such as grievances toward the officical class, antagonism towards Buddhist clergy, sexual desire, madness (among women), the criminal mind, and infanticide. In these stories the taboo or nearly taboo topic overshadows the tale's outcome or denouement. The willingness to deal with such issues gives many stories a somber tone, as they detail for us some of the darker aspects of Song period life that we rarely glimpse elsewhere. Among these often troubling stories, some are so sketchy on details that it is difficult to know exactly what is happening or why. Presumably, this is because the unseemly conduct or motives of the persons involved tends to give rise to a degree of narrative suppression in the telling and retelling (Hong Mai did not write these stories; he recorded tales he heard from informants.) These can be the most challenging and intriguing stories for us today. This talk examines examples of such stories and tries to explore the events and meanings that they simultaneously evoke and veil. Collectively, the stories trace the boudaries of what was permissible to put into writing even as they broach conduct that lay beyond those boundaries.

China Lecture Series

China in Eurasian Late Antiquity

Nicola Di Cosmo, Institute for Advanced Study

Thursday, December 1, 2016, 4:30 - 6:00 P.M. 

Location: Brower Commons A 

Abstract: After the fall of the Han dynasty and the dissolution of the Roman Empire much of the then known world changed drastically. Between 350 and 650 in both East and West new polities emerged, communication routes across Eurasia became more active, and eventually new political orders were established. In Chinese historiography the period between the Han and Sui-Tang dynasties has remained ill-defined and sits awkwardly within a broader geopolitical context and attempt to define this period in terms of Eurasian rather than simply Chinese history.  

China Lecture Series

Anticipatory Nostalgia: Queering the Hong Kong Handover

Carlos Rojas, Duke University

Thursday, March 2, 2017, 4:30 - 6:00 P.M. 

Location: Brower Commons A 

Abstract: We are a little over a year away from the twentieth anniversary of the Hong Kong Handover, and consequently this is an excellent moment to anticipate how the 1997 Handover will be remembered and commemorated. Taking as Professor Rojas's starting point, a set of three films and novels released in 1997, Professor Rojas argues that these contemporary Hong Kong artists offer a provocatively queer lens through which to consider the issues of history, futurity, and identity raised by the Handover.

China Lecture Series

Deterritorialization or Re-territorialization?

Strategies in Global Chinese Literary and Cultural Studies

Sheldon Lu, University of California, Davis

Tuesday, March 28, 2017, 4:30 - 6:00 P.M. 

Location: Brower Commons A 

Abstract: This lecture examines and compares two opposite approaches in contemporary Chinese literary, cultural, and film studies in a global context. One tendency is to de-center, de-territorialize, and pluralize the object of China. This approach is seen in dispaoric studies, Sinophone studies, and postcolonial theory. The self-alleged counter-hegemonic, anti-Sinocentric position is usually held by scholars and critics outside the People's Republic of China. Another approach is to re-territorialize and re-center China, to take China proper seriously as the very object and subject of critical inquiry. China studies cannot be separated from the land of China itself, as seen in archaeology, philology, ethnography, and anthropology. One cannot theorize away China. The talk will point out the characteristics, strengths, and possible weaknesses in each approach.

One particular example of such a divergence in approaches is the recent debate about Chinese-language cinema (huayu dianying) and the writing of film history, a debate between some Mainland Chinese and overseas film scholars. As Sheldon Lu is a key figure in this round of debate, he will examine the issues behind it.

China Lecture Series

Tanzi Caring for His Parents: Transformations of a Filial Son

Imre Galambos, University of Cambridge

Thursday, April 20, 2017, 4:30 - 6:00 P.M. 

Location: Brower Commons A

Abstract: One of the twenty-four filial sons (ershisi xiao) is Tanzi, who is praised for his filial conduct towards his parents, which consisted of caring for them and bringing deer's milk to cure their bad eyesight. In some versions of the story, he is accidentally shot by a hunter, yet even in his last moments he can only think of what will happen to his parents without his support. Originally, the story comes from India and early versions of it were translated into Chinese along with Buddhist scriptures from the third century AD onward. Gradually, the story became integrated into the native Chinese tradition of filial sons (xiaozi) and in this context began a separate life. This talk will examine the transformation of the figure of Tanzi from the main character in a Buddhist jātaka story to a stable member of the Confucian pantheon of filial sons. By showing pictorial representations of Tanzi in funerary art, Professor Galambos also intends to show that even though the theme of filial sons goes back to the Eastern Han dynasty, Tanzi appears in this context only from the Northern Song dynasty.

China Lecture Series

Revisiting the Modern Girl in Early-Twentieth-Century China

Tze-Lan Sang, Michigan State University

Thursday, April 27, 2017, 4:30 - 6:00 P.M. 

Location: Brower Commons A

Abstract: The Modern Girl (modeng guniang) has a ubiquitous presence in early-twentieth-century Chinese literature and visual culture. From popular fiction to revolutionary literature, from movie fanzines to more serious varieties of newspapers and magazines, from advertising images to leftist cinema, the Modern Girl appeared as an iconic figure in a wide range of representations from the late 1920s through the 1940s. Generally speaking, she was depicted as glamorous, alluring, and sexually liberated. She was envied and emulated as much as chastised. She symbolized the contradictions of modernity--its inordinate attraction as well as its threat. Drawing on a wide array of social commentaries in the mass media and works of fiction, this talk will examine the diversity of opinions in the Chinese discussion on the Modern Girl, as well as the transnational discursive resources drawn on by the commentators.