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Urban China Lecture Series featuring  Margaret Hillenbrand – On the Edge: Feeling Precarious in China

April 2 @ 8:30 am 10:00 am

Speaker:  Margaret Hillenbrand, Professor of Modern Chinese Literature and Culture; Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford University

On the evening of November 18th, 2017, a blaze broke out in a two-story building in Xinjian urban village, just outside Beijing’s sixth ring road. At least 19 people, including 8 children, died in the flames. Using fire safety as a rationale, the city condemned the entire settlement and its inhabitants. Nearly 250,000 were forced to evacuate. In this talk, I suggest that such evictions provoke questions about the limits of inequality, exclusion, and insecure work as meaningful descriptors of social conditions in our times. In this talk, I explore the logic of expulsion in contemporary China, its capacity to foment both solidarity and social strife, and its relationship with cultural forms. In particular, I look at how people living under precarity in China today use culture as a space to vent feelings of rage, resentment, distrust, and disdain that are taboo under the diktats of so-called harmonious society.

Margaret Hillenbrand is Professor of Modern Chinese Literature and Visual Culture at the University of Oxford. Her research focuses on literary and visual studies in twentieth-century China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan, especially cultures of secrecy and protest. Her books include Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary China (Duke University Press, 2020), and On the Edge: Feeling Precarious in China (Columbia University Press, 2023), from which this talk is drawn. She is now working on a new project about the cultural politics of the face in Chinese visual culture during the era of biometric surveillance.

Zoom Meeting Link: https://mit.zoom.us/j/92743598127


April 2
8:30 am – 10:00 am
Event Category:


Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies


Presented via Zoom

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