An Inauspicious Year:
Confronting Crisis in Chinese Literature, History, and Culture
ASU Graduate Student Virtual Conference
Friday, February 12 – Saturday, February 13
Sponsored by the School of International Letters and Cultures, the Center for Asian Research, and Profs. Xiaoqiao Ling, Young Oh, Robert Tuck, and Stephen Bokenkamp
To ensure the correct time for those located outside Arizona, you may refer to a time zone converter such as https://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/converter.html.
There will also be two special keynote lectures during the conference (specific details will be forthcoming):
- Dr. Michael Berry, UCLA (Friday, February 12, 4:30 - 5:30 PM)
Title: Translation and the Virus: COVID-19, Cyber Politics, and Fang Fang's Wuhan Diary
- Dr. Katherine Alexander, UC Boulder (Saturday, February 13, 4:30 - 5:30 PM)
Title: "What Times are These?": Confronting Crisis with Literature During the Taiping War
While each disaster we confront feels overwhelming and singular in its immediacy, writers, artists, literati, religious specialists, and others throughout Chinese history were also no strangers to crisis. Chinese texts are littered with accounts of disasters writ large, such as rebellions, invasions, plagues, and natural disasters, as well as the smaller, yet still devastating personal traumas of career failure or the loss of a loved one. Texts describe these tragic events using terms such as wei 危 (danger), zai 災 (calamity), nan 難 (disaster), and huo 禍 (misfortune), among others, all of which resonate with our shared modern sense of crisis.
Yet crisis in such contexts can contain rich and fluid meanings that extend beyond the dichotomies of good/bad and hope/despair. Disaster for one could suggest opportunity for another. Traditional Chinese historiography is conceptualized around the inevitable waxing and waning of dynastic glory—a cycle predicated on the collapse and reconstitution of order—and a process often the result of the exploitation of natural or man-made disasters. For religious practitioners, crisis could prove a powerful tool in reshaping one's perception of the world. In addition, the awareness of and preparation for potential dangers, or ju'an siwei 居安思危, has long been an exalted mindset for both state and individual governance. This ability to stand in the face of dangers (linwei 臨危) and respond accordingly was considered a touchstone of governance and personal character.
In this virtual conference we hope to explore new ways of conceptualizing and defining crisis, as well as engaging with broader, related issues in this Chinese context.