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A Publication of UC Irvine School of Humanities • Spring 2009

5 Ways China Has Changed (Since Our First Visits) By Kenneth Pomeranz and Jeffrey Wasserstrom


hen lecturing to undergraduates, it’s sometimes said, make just three points; when writing scholarly articles, make as many as you like. Perhaps because we’ve both been writing for a UCI-based blog, The China Beat, which has a feature called “Five List Plans” (invoking the People’s Republic of China [PRC] obsession with “Five Year Plans”), we’ve begun thinking in terms of “top-five” lists. Here’s one charting things we’ve noticed on recent return trips to China that set the place apart from the one we first visited in each case in the mid-1980s. (All that hasn’t changed since then could inspire a sequel.) What follows is not exactly a top-five list. The biggest changes – such as vastly increased prosperity – seem too obvious to mention. (Similarly, if we’d made a list of what hasn’t changed, we’d have left out the Communist Party’s monopoly of political power, focusing instead on below the headlines continuities like the fact

that we still hear Carpenters songs more commonly in China than in the United States—the loudspeaker was playing one when we visited the Bird’s Nest Stadium last November, in fact.) In any case, here are five significant changes that one hears about much less than China’s record-setting strings of high growth rates.

1. Divorce Twenty years ago, divorce was almost unheard of, and heavily stigmatized when it did happen. One of us remembers meeting a woman in 1986 who had quickly divorced a man who turned out to be seriously mentally disturbed. Even though she was highly educated, friendly, interesting, had a good job, came from a wellconnected family and was strikingly beautiful, her family despaired of her being able to remarry. A few years later, she proved them wrong, and today such worries would be considered very old-fashioned; in some intellectual circles, divorce is almost a status symbol. 2. The Meaning of the “Foreign” In the mid-1980s, during what one of us sometimes calls China’s “post-Mao/pre-McDonald’s interregnum,” “foreign” things meant American, Western European and to a lesser extent Japanese ones. This was true of

food, pop culture and political and economic systems worth thinking about. Today, China’s big cities feature a wide range of foreigners from many different lands; restaurants serve everything from Indian curries to Caribbean cocktails, and clubs play South Korean pop as well as British and American rock. 3. The Resurgence of Regionalism Americans often think “globalization” means that regions don’t matter and that everybody now looks to “the West” as its model. Not so in East Asia. Formerly thought of as composed of two mutually-hostile big centers (China and Japan) each strongly tied to an exterior partner (the United States for Japan, first the USSR then the United States for China), now the region is criss-crossed by a much more complex set of ties. Taiwanese, Korean, and Hong Kong capital and

Americans often think “globalization” means that regions don’t matter and that everybody now looks to “the West” as its model. Not so in East Asia.

Professor Kenneth Pomeranz with Tsinghua University graduate students in Beijing.

companies matter throughout the region much more than they used to; large communities of professionals from Taiwan and South Korea now live in both China and Japan; Korea has become the second-biggest destination for Chinese students going overseas, and the second-biggest source of students studying in China; and South Korean writers, film directors, soap opera stars, etc., have region-wide followings in a way that would have been impossible not long ago.

4. The Resurgence of Localism Contrary to Cold War myths of a highly standardized, centralized China, local authority and local identities have always been very strong. In recent years, with increased migration and travel, greater access to media images of other places, and (in cities) the spread of chain stores and franchises that are the same everywhere, one might expect local attachments to erode, but in fact they’ve become stronger. There are many factors at work here. In some cases, nostalgia for neighborhoods or villages being obliterated by development plays a role; in others, the lure of tourist dollars has led local governments or entrepreneurs to “rediscover” and promote anything that might attract attention. There’s also an emotional dimension to this resurgence: the more that people mix with people from other areas, the more they seem aware of their differences. In a world of rapid and unsettling change, many people find in the “local” – however they define it – a source of relative certainty and comfort.

5. The Narrowing Gap Between Hong Kong and the Most Developed Mainland Cities When we first went to China, going from Shanghai or Beijing felt like moving not just through space but also through time, like from one century into another, but this is no longer the case. Today, plenty of things still set Hong Kong off from other cities of the PRC. For example, only there can bookstores stock works on 1989’s June 4th Massacre and the Dalai Lama. Often, however, the lifestyle divide between China’s most developed mainland cities and the countryside or even China’s most developed cities and its second-tier urban centers now seems larger than that between these vibrant metropolises and the former Crown Colony. It’s not only the cellphones, private cars and so on – it’s an attitude, a way of carrying oneself. Two decades ago, even a fairly unobservant person could pick an overseas Chinese out of any urban crowd in China, even if they wore locally-acquired clothes. A million little hints, from the way they walked to teeth, eyeglasses and so on, gave it away. Today, a quick snapshot of a Beijing or Shanghai street scene could be mistaken for Hong Kong.

strive to do, and what we aim for—whether we’re teaching, writing for scholarly journals, or blogging for Huffington Post and China Beat. History professors Kenneth Pomeranz and Jeffrey Wasserstrom, along with history graduate student Kate Merkel-Hess, are editors of China in 2008: A Year of Great Significance. Based on postings from The China Beat blog as well as works from other leading publications and completly new material, the book showcases the as-it-happened reports and commentaries of a mix of distinguished academics, high-profile journalists, freelance writers and up-and-coming young China specialists. n

Haiti: A Long Connection By Amy Wilentz

Professor Jeffrey Wasserstrom in Beijing.

This is no definitive list. Another pair of scholars would come up with different items. Some of ours reflect our interests (in local history, globalization, popular culture, etc.) and generation (we not only each went to China first at about the same time but at about the same age, while in our mid-twenties). But the list reveals something generic and far from generationally specific: that for a full appreciation of how China has changed (and stayed the same), it’s crucial to go beyond the soundbites. This is what the best PRC-based journalists

Just before Christmas, I went down to Haiti for the first time in eight years on assignment to write a travel piece and a political piece. The nights in Port-au-Prince were illuminated with fanales, urn-sized paper lanterns -- in the shapes of old-fashioned Haitian gingerbread houses or churches -- that are made by street craftsmen during the Christmas season and that hang from roadside trees on the hills going to the suburbs. It’s as if there are two Haitis at this time of year: a sort of Thomas Kinkade country, filled with clean little white buildings brightly lit up from the inside, and then the real place, dark, poor, hungry and often without electricity. The latter was the subject of my first book, The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier, published in 1989. In many ways, Haiti has changed enormously since I first visited in 1985, just before the fall of the dynastic dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. First of all, an elected

Aristide, an outspoken Catholic priest in the slums of Port-au-Prince when I lived in Haiti in the 1980s, was in some ways the hero of my book, published just before he took the politically unwholesome step of running for president.

democracy is in place. That’s good, although governmental effectiveness is hampered by a lack of money as well as by traditions of corruption inculcated during centuries of national penury. Second, Haiti burst out of the Duvalier era into an age of voluble freedom of speech. For example, while the cranky and weak leadership endlessly mulls over the wisdom of permitting the ousted, controversial and hugely popular president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to return to Haiti from exile in South Africa, on the walls of Port-au-Prince, the capital city, are huge scrawling graffiti proclaiming “Aristid Wa.” Which, translated from the Haitian Creole, means Aristide is King. For me, though, the biggest difference since 1985 is that Aristide is not there. Aristide, an outspoken Catholic priest in the slums of Port-au-Prince when I lived in Haiti in the 1980s, was in some ways the hero of my book, published just before he took the politically unwholesome step of running for president. It was odd for me to be in Haiti without him there—I felt as if I were unfairly treading on his turf, the place where, in his mind at least, he should be. We’d had a falling out in 2000 over a short profile I published in The New York Times magazine, and have never communicated since. I heard from mutual friends that he considered the piece a trahison, or betrayal. He’d come to believe that I existed to serve his cause in some way, not realizing that the fact of taking

power utterly transforms a subject’s relationship to a journalist just as it utterly transforms a public figure’s civic responsibilities. With him in the presidential palace and not the priestly parish, I was less tolerant of his defects, and he, less accepting of my criticism. So my visit was tinged with nostalgia for a simpler time in my Haitian life. On this trip I realized — as I bought up small souvenirs or ate peanut butter with hot pepper, or lit the one light in my hotel room, not by switching it on but by plugging it in, or drove over roads that felt more like jagged stairs than roadbeds, or as I watched people do laundry in street runoff or saw them marching through a country town clad all in white for Jesus — that for me there is no escaping Haiti. It’s essential to me. A part of my brain, or soul, is now hardwired (if a soul can be hardwired) to understand, or at least recognize with familiarity, Haitian politics, Haitian behavior, Haitian culture. I wanted to take a fanale home with me. But fanales famously do not survive the plane trip back to the States. So I left them there, hanging from the trees in a Haiti that is changed and different, yet as transparent to me still as the air through which, defiantly, they shine. English professor Amy Wilentz teaches in the Literary Journalism program. The former Jerusalem correspondent for The New Yorker and a long-time contributing editor at The Nation, she is also the author of Martyrs’ Crossing (2000), and I Feel Earthquakes More Often Than They Happen: Coming to California in the Age of Schwarzenegger (2006). n

A Glimpse of Sylvia Reines


By Alisa Reines Cowden - September 2007

“From Books, New President Found Voice” blared the headline from a recent New York Times article, one that profiled the reading habits, past and present, of our Commanderin-Chief. Indeed, the books that influenced our 44th President Barack Obama, as a young man, struck a familiar chord among colleagues in the School of Humanities. Nine of the 14 authors mentioned have been staples in Humanities Core—Shakespeare, Melville and Morrison (to name just three). Humanities Core is a team-taught, first-year sequence that integrates writing within a rigorous and imaginative introduction to humanistic inquiry — especially the study of literature, philosophy, and history.

International Center of Writing and Translation, Dr. LaBouff Atkinson has recently published Mean, a volume of verse described by a Los Angeles Times critic as “a collection . . . [that] shows us a mind passionately engaged with itself and with the world around it.” Global connections drive Ali Malik, Outstanding My colleagues and I take pride in providing the Undergraduate Student. A history major best of a liberal arts education within a premier and religious studies minor, Malik is a founding research university and Core, founded almost member of the Olive Tree Initiative, four decades ago, is simply that, the core or a campus organization dedicated to constructive heart of our mission to prepare well-educated dialogue around the situation in Palestine global citizens. In less instrumental terms, the and Israel. An intern at the prestigious humanities writ large offer intellectual spaces Woodrow Wilson Center, Malik plans to to discover and dream. Books matter whether pursue a career in international relations. musty, leather-bound vintage editions, dog-eared We congratulate our Lauds and Laurels paperbacks or online and Kindle-ready. recipients who exemplify dynamic leadership steeped in humanities traditions. This year’s UCI Alumni Association Lauds and Laurels ceremony will be a celebration of the transformative power of language. Accomplished poet Colette LaBouff Atkinson Vicki L. Ruiz, Dean will be honored as Distinguished Alumna in the Humanities. The associate director of the

Visit the School of Humanities Blog at for weekly updates highlighting news, events, faculty, students, and general happenings in the school.

B OO K S H E L F In his latest novel The Signal, Ron Carlson, director of UCI’s Programs in Writing, tells the story of Mack and his wife, Vonnie, backpacking into the mountains of Wyoming. They’ve made this trip to say goodbye to each other, but Mack has one more secret: he is trying to receive a signal and retrieve something that has fallen from the sky. It is a beacon that will lead them into a wood far darker than they’ve ever imagined.

T. Jefferson Parker ’76, continues the story of Deputy Sheriff Charlie Hood—the hero of L.A. Outlaws—in his sixteenth novel, The Renegades. When his partner is shot dead, Hood must set out to find the gunman, knowing only one thing for sure: The West is a state of mind, one where the bad guys sometimes wear white hats—and the good guys seek justice in whatever shade of gray they can find it. In Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance, Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature

Ngugi Wa Thiong’o explores Africa’s historical, economic, and cultural fragmentation by slavery, colonialism and globalization. Throughout this tragic history, a constant and irrepressible force was Europhonism: the replacement of native names, languages and identities with European ones, resulting in the dismemberment of African memory. Seeking to remember language in order to revitalize it, Ngugi’s quest is for wholeness.

FACULTY NOTES From the Start: An Interview with Professor of History & Film and Media Studies Mark Poster By Nushin Rashidian, fourth-year literary journalism major

Imagine a time when both the humanities and social sciences were located in Murray Krieger Hall, a time when there was nothing outside of ring road except for herds of cows. That was the UCI that Mark Poster arrived at in 1969. “I always had the feeling that there were more or less 17 students walking on the circle path,” Poster says. “Now, when the classes change, with all the students, it looks more like New York or London.” In 1969, Mark Poster was finishing his dissertation at The Cooper Union, a small liberal arts college in New York, when he was offered a teaching position at UCI. “A professor of mine told me that the UC system was very good and that I should take this job,” Poster says. “I just followed his advice, not having any idea what it would be like.” On September 2, 1969, Poster moved to California. Though it took him five years to adjust from skyscrapers to cattle, what UCI had to offer was irreplaceable. Having studied the European history of ideas, or intellectual history, Poster’s interests were closer to those of critical theorists than historians. At UCI, the critical theory emphasis developed in the 70s, soon after Poster arrived. “We started doing various projects, first very informally, and then we built it up and hired some very prestigious people,” Poster says of the birth of critical theory at UCI. “If I were to have left UC Irvine, I would have gone into a history department and lacked that connection to critical theory.” Since his arrival, Poster has served as director of the Critical Theory Institute and currently serves as chair of the Department of Film and Media Studies. By choosing to begin his career at UCI, Poster realized an opportunity he couldn’t have had anywhere else.

Working by Loving Wisdom: An Interview with Professor of Philosophy Ermanno Bencivenga

“a hospitable and fair intellectual environment.” “There are,” Bencivenga says, “enough good people around me to make my working days here always joyous ones.”

By Joshua Massatt, fourth-year literary journalism major “Philosophy is love and search for wisdom; and this love is best expressed, and this search is best conducted, together with others who are inspired in the same way.” ~Ermanno Bencivenga When Ermanno Bencivenga first began teaching philosophy at UCI in 1979, he had only two years of teaching experience and UCI was a young college, but he and the university developed together. He discovered that he would never get bored with his job. He constantly meets different students, so his work is always new.

Renaissance Woman: An Interview with Professor of English Julia Lupton By Bradley Beylik, fifth-year literary journalism major Julia Lupton got her braces off last month. Her orthodontist, whom she reveres as a “craftsman” of rare talents, worked on her teeth for two and a half years. Her contagious smile now reveals straight, clean teeth. It is not the only 2009 landmark for Lupton; this year is her twentieth as a member of the UCI faculty.

Bencivenga’s students say he is prepared, organized and enthusiastic. However, they frequently dislike the rigor he demands of them, the same discipline he demands of himself. Bencivenga says, “Discipline is the main condition of freedom, because the more we exercise that effort, the more we can, in fact, do.” He gains particular satisfaction teaching freshman seminars, because through small classes and discussion formats he can see the intellectual growth of his students.

After completing her doctorate in Renaissance Studies at Yale in 1989, Lupton was drawn to UCI’s reputation for interdisciplinary academics and for what Lupton describes generally as an “open, experimental atmosphere.” Her instincts have proven more than rewarding. In fact, she regards UCI as the place where she “grew up academically.” From 1993 to the present, Lupton has published several books, covering topics as diverse as interior design for children and Renaissance literature. She also received several distinctions for her work, including the Edward Linton Award for Scholarship and Public Life in 2005, and an ACLS Fellowship for 2006-2007.

Bencivenga has earned five teaching awards since coming to UCI, including the Distinguished Faculty Lectureship Award and the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Teaching Award. He has published 34 books so far and has no plans to slow down. Just last summer he was promoted to Professor, Above Scale, nine years ahead of schedule. This accomplishment serves as a testament to his hard work; to him, it represents his commitment to UCI.

In her years at UCI, Lupton has made an uneasy peace with Irvine itself and the surrounding Orange County community with its ubiquitous palms and office parks. She describes herself as a “naturalized citizen” of Irvine, a place that has grown more culturally diverse during her years here. These days, Lupton involves herself deeply in the Irvine community, taking on projects such as Irvine’s Great Park Symposium.

Thirty years after arriving at UCI, Bencivenga has seen the campus grow extensively. He feels that its size and stature have made it increasingly formal and bureaucratized, diminishing the old camaraderie between different units. Nonetheless, this has never changed his pleasure at what he considers

In addition to Design Your Life, a collaboration with her twin sister Ellen, Lupton will soon publish her latest work, Thinking With Shakespeare. A UCI Chancellor’s Fellow, Lupton also directs Humanities Core, a program especially close to her heart. “I get to be a freshman every year, from the French Revolution to Gandhi to East German Punk,” says Lupton.

In Memoriam Booklaunch of The Signal with Ron Carlson Wednesday, May 20, 2009 – 5 p.m. UCI Bookstore A reading by Director of UCI’s Programs in Writing, Ron Carlson. Booksale and signing to follow E-mail for more information.

Richard Kroll, Professor of English, passed away February 5th at the age of 56. A major figure in restoration and 18-century literary studies, his books, The Material Word and The Circle of Commerce, reshaped the field, challenging accepted paradigms and opening literary works to rhetorical, economic and political analysis. In addition to his two single-authored books, he edited four others, including the groundbreaking Philosophy, Science, and Religion in England, 1640-1700. Kroll directed the English department’s highly successful summer M.A. program and in 1999 students named him Outstanding Professor in the Humanities, recognizing his dedication and excellence as a teacher.

Reading and Book Signing with novelist Colson Whitehead Thursday, May 21, 2009 – 7 p.m. HIB 135, UC Irvine A reading by MacArthur Fellow and Pulitzer Prize finalist Colson Whitehead. Booksale and signing to follow. Co-hosted by ICWT and the program in African American studies. E-mail for more information. Sci Fi/Exploitation Series Thursday, May 28 – 7 p.m. HIB 100, Lucille Kuehn Auditorium, UC Irvine Screening of, Metropolis, the third film in the Sci Fi/ Exploitation Series and a milestone of sci-fi and German expressionism. Sponsored by the Film and Video Center. Ticket prices: $5 general, $4 staff/seniors, and $3 students. Tickets available one-half hour prior to each screening.


Dates, times and locations subject to change. Please visit for up-to-date information about Humanities events. Unless otherwise noted, all events are free and open to the public

MAY Humanities and Technology: The Past Ten Years, The Next Ten Years Tuesday, May 19, 2009 – 11:30 a.m. HIB 135, UC Irvine Coinciding with HumaniTech®’s 10th anniversary, a panel of scholars will exchange ideas on the intersection between the humanities and new technologies over the past 10 years and what’s to come in the next 10 years. Presented by HumaniTech. E-mail for more information.

JUNE Launch of 2009 issue of Faultline Thursday, June 4, 2009 – 5 p.m. UCI Bookstore Faultline is UCI’s Pushcart prize-winning journal featuring the poetry, fiction, translations, and artwork of emerging and established writers from the United States and abroad. Email for more information.

Friends of Humanities Friends of Humanities serves as a recognition group to thank those alumni and friends of the school who give annually to support students, faculty and programs at the $250 level or above. Friends of Humanities receive invitations to School of Humanities receptions and special programs featuring noted faculty, alumni and guest speakers as well as preferred seating at presentations and special events. We invite you to visit our eGiving site and make a gift today. To learn more, please contact Jennifer Smith at 949.824.2923 or e-mail

Friends of Humanities take a hard-hat tour of Humanities Gateway building

Between the Lines is published semi-annually by the UC Irvine School of Humanities Office of Development and Alumni Relations – Vol. 3, Issue 2

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Between the Lines - Spring 2009  

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