In Western media and scholarship, Chinese crowds are often schizophrenically portrayed as either terrifying or emancipatory – from the manic frenzy of the Red Guards to the student fighters for democracy at Tian’anmen, from angry mobs destroying Japanese goods to heroic Hong Kong citizens defying Mainland “brainwashing,” the massive, nameless Chinese crowd looms large in the global imagination as a specter embodying the ambivalence at the heart of modern political democracy. While the “people” constitutes the source from which political sovereignty derives, it also harbors fears of irrational mob rule, the steamrolling of the individual, and the claustrophobia of the collective. Tie Xiao’s dissertation admirably charts the development of notions of the crowd in early twentieth-century intellectual discourse and aesthetic production. As he convincingly demonstrates, Chinese thinkers, while acknowledging the need for a political and social order that would be democratic in the broad sense, were also troubled by the antimony between terror and liberation that also lurked in the collective’s bosom. Moreover, the early twentieth-century Chinese engagement with the “crowd” took part in the processes of what Lydia Liu has termed “translated modernity” – the Chinese interest in crowds paralleled European interest in crowd psychology, as well as global aesthetic trends in representing the “masses” in both literature and visual art.
The MCLC has just posted Roy Chan’s review of two scholarly books by Mark Gamsa, The Chinese Translation of Russian Literature: Three Studies and The Reading of Russian Literature in China: A Moral Example and Manual of Practice. Here’s the second paragraph of the review:
The development of good scholarship on Sino-Russian literary relations has been obstructed, perhaps foremost, by the linguistic difficulty of the endeavor. There are precious few scholars who are equally at home working in both Russian and Chinese sources, a task made more arduous when the scholar in question is neither Russian nor Chinese. Beyond issues of linguistic difficulty, however, is the problem of having a sufficient grasp of the national literatures of either Russia or China and the cultural, historical, and methodological problems that accompany the concept of the national. Linguistic expertise cannot gloss over a ham-fisted sense of literary terrain in either the Russian or Chinese context, especially considering how the latter are bound up with contentious ideological and political struggles. In the face of these daunting challenges, Mark Gamsa’s admirable control of the major issues that underlie both Russian and Chinese literatures, together with his encyclopedic ability to pull together numerous sources and facts, makes him the envy of anyone who attempts the treacherous study of transcultural literary and textual history. While I have some reservations about points of framing and interpretation (particularly with regard to the second book), these two books chart the course for future studies and different perspectives. For these reasons, Gamsa’s contributions deserve to be recognized as nothing short of trailblazing.