Book Launch - Utopian Ruins: A Memorial Museum of the Mao Era
Featuring Jie Li's latest book, Utopian Ruins: A Memorial Museum of the Mao Era (Duke University Press, December 2020), this talk traces the creation, preservation, and elision of memories about China's Mao era by envisioning a virtual museum that reckons with both its utopian yearnings and its cataclysmic reverberations. Li proposes a critical framework for understanding the documentation and transmission of the socialist past that mediates between nostalgia and trauma, anticipation and retrospection, propaganda and testimony. Assembling Utopian Ruins like a memorial exhibit, Li explores how corporeal traces, archival documents, camera images, and material relics serve as commemorative media. Prison writings and police files reveal the infrastructure of state surveillance and testify to revolutionary ideals and violence, victimhood and complicity. Photojournalism from the Great Leap Forward and documentaries from the Cultural Revolution promoted faith in communist miracles while excluding darker realities, whereas Mao memorabilia collections, factory ruins, and memorials at trauma sites remind audiences of the Chinese Revolution's unrealized dreams and staggering losses.
Jie Li is John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities at Harvard’s Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. In addition to Utopian Ruins, she is the author of Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Life and co-editor of Red Legacies in China: Afterlives of the Communist Revolution. Her new book project is tentatively entitled Cinematic Guerrillas: Maoist Propaganda as a Spirit Medium.
Download the introduction to the book here: Utopian Ruins
Speaker: Jie Li, East Asian Languages & Civilizations, Harvard University
Discussant: Jeffrey Wasserstrom, History, University of California, Irvine
The event is hosted by the UCHRI Syncopating East Asia Multi-Campus Working Group, and sponsored by UCI History Department, UCI Center for Asian Studies, and the Wende Museum of the Cold War.