Speaker: Jing Tsu, Yale University
It is tempting to understand the Chinese script revolution of the modern era as part of a familiar narrative of vengeance. The Chinese language was idealized then disparaged by the Europeans, on this view, banished then revived only to play a mere prop in different fantasies about the Orient. That Chinese was simplified and romanized into pinyin in the twentieth century–both claimed as Mao’s achievements–merged readily with the narrative of China’s rise in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, especially with the new emphasis on “innovation.” In contrast to this satisfying story, I will talk about the underside of this history, one that did not enjoy big moments or one-time victories in telegraphy, typewriting, or the digital age but drew from the energy and failures of Chinese and non-Chinese alike, who each put a different arc on how this history could have developed–but sometimes did not. Emerging from this process is the one change that truly changed everything, which will be the focus of this lecture.
Jing Tsu, a new Guggenheim Fellow, is a literary scholar and cultural historian of modern China at Yale University. She is the first person to be tenured and become Professor of Chinese Literature and Comparative Literature at Yale, and author of four books (two co-edited). She is currently writing a new book about how China entered the IT era, The Kingdom of Characters: Language Wars and China’s Rise to Global Power, a remarkable tale that uncovers what happened to the Chinese script in the age of the Western alphabet (under contract with Riverhead at Penguin Random House). Her research spans literature, linguistics, science and technology, typewriting and digitalization, diaspora studies, migration, nationalism, and theories of globalization, and she has written for The New York Times.
At Yale, Tsu is also a Senior Research Fellow at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, a member of the Executive Committee of both the Whitney Humanities Center and the Humanities Program, as well as a faculty affiliate of WGSS (Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies) and ER&M (Ethnicity, Race, and Migration).