UCLA International Institute
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The Creation of the Vernacular in Early 20th-century China

The Creation of the Vernacular in Early 20th-century China

2011-2014 UCLA-HKUST Joint Research Initiative, led by Ted Huters (UCLA) and Chen Jianhua (HKUST)

The UCLA-Hong Kong University of Science and Technology joint research initiative provides funding for collaborative projects related to China in the social sciences and humanities that build research networks between the two institutions, promote collaboration in research and graduate training, and involve workshops, conferences, and lead to publications or other contributions to the field. 

An award of $75,000 for 2010-2014 was granted to Ted Huters (UCLA, Asian Languages & Cultures) and Chen Jianhua (HKUST, Humanities) for their project on The Creation of the Vernacular in Early Twentieth-century China. The first two-day workshop was held in August 2012 at UCLA. It brought together faculty and graduate students representing a variety of perspectives and academic traditions, with presenters from Europe (Michel Hockx), the United States (Ted Huters, Roanna Cheung), China (Yuan Jin, Feng Ni), Taiwan (Pan Shaw-Yu, Sun Hui-min, Guan Kean-fu) and Hong Kong (Chen Jianhua, Lam Ngali, Luo Meng).

The project was designed to examine the question of why a thriving popular culture of the first two decades of the twentieth century suddenly was declared to be obsolete, reactionary and without aesthetic merit by the group of radical cultural reformers gathered under the banner of the New Culture Movement in the period following 1919. It was the contention of the organizers that this drawing of lines had serious aesthetic (i.e., eliminating from serious consideration a whole range of domestic literature) and even political (i.e., the distrust of mass culture implicit in this stance) implications. Since this perception that this writing lacks validity has become the mainstream view of the field of modern Chinese literature, particularly in mainland China, the scholars here are engaged in a frankly revisionist project, charging themselves with the difficult task of overturning numerous poorly supported but nonetheless firmly held prejudices against the material being studied.

A final, major conference is planned for summer 2013 at HKUST.