The concept of ‘Asia’ in modern China: some reflections starting with the 2007 Shanghai conference
WANG Xiaoming (Translated by Petrus LIU)
Two years ago, we held a conference on “conditions of knowledge” for the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies annual symposium at Shanghai University. (Many people here today were in attendance.) It was the largest Inter-Asia Cultural Studies event in Shanghai (and China) ever.
The topic was deliberately vague, chosen for security reasons. There was, however, another reason why we wanted to keep it vague and broad: we wanted to incorporate more people in this conference. In mainland China, “cultural studies” is a relatively new phenomenon of less than ten years history. “Inter-Asia” is even more foreign to the people. Since year 2000, some Korean scholars (first) and Japanese and Chinese scholars have begun organizing modes of exchanging thoughts and ideas that were based on the concept of a core “Northeast Asia.” However, compared to the Japanese and Korean scholars, Chinese scholars have not responded enthusiastically to these events. If that is the state of “Northeast Asia” as a discourse, the fate of the concept of “Inter-Asia” has been worse. In the past ten years, “going global” has become a buzzword in Chinese universities, but the “global” in the phrase refers mainly to Europe and America (to some degree to Japan as well). When we applied to Shanghai University for funding for the conference last time, for example, we emphasized that we invited “many” “European and American scholars outside Asia” to attend the conference. In reality what we did was the opposite: in order to accommodate more scholars from within Asia, we turned down applications from Europe and America. In fact, when we began preparing the event in 2006, the main concern of the organizing committee was actually the lack of representation of the Chinese scholarly community, but it was not a concern that we could openly discuss with outsiders.
Wang Xiaoming is professor of Cultural Studies with Shanghai University cum professor of Chinese Literature with East China Normal University. His areas of focus are modern and contemporary Chinese literature and contemporary culture.
Petrus Liu is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Cornell University.