The Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture

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On the 100th anniversary of the world-changing philosopher and statesman’s graduation from Cornell, the East Asia Program initiated an annual distinguished lecture in his name. Leading scholars of Chinese and East Asian studies are invited to give a lecture on critical issues in their field of research.

See East Asia Program Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture.


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    2023-2024 Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture - Haun Saussy
    Saussy, Haun (East Asia Program, Cornell University, 2023-11-01)
    The East Asia Program is honored to have Haun Saussy, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago give this year's Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture: "Exile As Formative Experience in Classical Chinese Poetry." The “myth of loyalty and dissent” (as Laurence Schneider put it) surrounding the figure of Qu Yuan has structured a great many self-representations by cast-off officials. But when poets banished to the margins of the empire adopt Qu Yuan as a source of style and allusion, the result is, often enough, a gain in descriptive and evocative power. By calling the experience of exile “formative” in the cases of Xie Lingyun 謝靈運, Shen Quanqi 沈全期, Song Zhiwen 宋之問, and Su Shi 蘇軾, I aim to put biography in second place. What occupies the foreground is rather the fashioning of transpersonal roles and attitudes that could be adopted by later poets— replicating the author-function that had made Qu Yuan such a powerful reference. Professor Saussy's primary teaching and research interests include classical Chinese poetry and commentary, literary theory, comparative study of oral traditions, problems of translation, pre-twentieth-century media history, and ethnography and ethics of medical care.
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    2022-2023 Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture - Michael Nylan
    Nylan, Michael (East Asia Program, Cornell University, 2023-03-30)
    Michale Nylan, History, UC Berkeley Majority Rule and Consortial Policymaking: The Evidence from Early China Inspired by Hu Shih’s many contributions to the study of Chinese history — among them, his careful outline of “the logical method in ancient China” and his many writings on “freedom” — this talk intends to challenge a popular narrative equating “Asian values” or, more narrowly, “Chinese tradition,” with “one-man, top-down rule.” The talk instead shows first, that a range of theoretical writings in classical Chinese advocate consortial rule and wide consultation, for cogent reasons, and second, that not only the Han histories but also the built environment in the Western Han capital of Chang’an attest to the importance the court placed on facilitating frequent exchanges between members of the governing elites and those they governed, via well-established institutions, networks, and communication corridors. The newly excavated materials support this revisionist picture for all administrative levels during the early empires in China, suggesting that Hu Shih's optimistic vision of a brighter Chinese future was not entirely utopian.
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    2021-2022 Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture: Tim Brook
    Brook, Timothy (East Asia Program, Cornell University, 2021-10-28)
    Timothy Brook, Professor of History, Department of History, The University of British Columbia - On October 28, 2021, Professor Brook gave the annual Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture titled "Government for the People: Troubling Legacies of the Confucian Statecraft Tradition". Americans are familiar with Lincoln’s “of the people, by the people, for the people,” just as the Chinese are familiar with Sun Yatsen’s “three principles of the people.” They are parallel discourses of government, but rise from different traditions and anticipate different outcomes. On the Chinese tradition of government for the people, no one writes more clearly than Qiu Jun (1421-1495), chancellor of the National Academy and compiler of the authoritative handbook of state administration. Caught between the models of Great State ambition and Confucian self-cultivation, Qiu put Confucian philosophy to work so that the state acted for the people—but not of them or by them. If he deserves our notice, it is because even today his vision shapes Chinese perceptions of good government in ways that surprise and trouble.
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    2019-2020 Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture: Meir Shahar
    Shahar, Meir (East Asia Program, Cornell University, 2020-10-16)
    Meir Shahar, Shoul N. Eisenberg Chair for East Asian Affairs, Tel Aviv University - Our ancestors depended upon beasts of burden for a living. In the Chinese case this dependence was reflected in the religious sphere. Chinese religion featured deities responsible for the wellbeing of draft animals. The two principal ones were the Horse King (divine protector of equines) and the Ox King (tutelary deity of bovines). This lecture will examine the ecological background and historical evolution of these animal-protecting cults. Professor Shahar will survey the Horse King's and Ox King's diverse clientele, from peasants who relied upon the water buffalo to plough their rice fields to cavalrymen whose success in battle depended upon their chargers' performance. Particular attention will be given to the theological standing of animals as reflected in their tutelary divinities' cults. In some cases, the animal itself was regarded as a deity who sacrificed himself for humanity’s sake. Chinese Buddhist scriptures described the ox as a bodhisattva who out of pity for the toiling peasant chose to be incarnated as his beast of burden.
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    2019-2020 Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture - Dorothy Ko
    Ko, Dorothy (2019-10-03)
    Dorothy Y. Ko, Professor of History, Department of History, Department of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies, Barnard College - Professor Ko gave the annual Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture on October 3, 2019. In this talk, Professor Ko introduces the hidden history and cultural significance of the inkstone and also puts the effaced stonecutters and artisans on center stage while revealing the workings of the Qing “material empire.” Specifically, this talk focuses on the career of Gu Erniang, the most famous female inkstone-maker in the history of the craft, as well as her relationship with her male patrons and collectors. The collaboration between artisans and scholars announced a new social order in which the hierarchy of head over hand no longer predominated.
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    2018-2019 Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture - Victor Mair
    Mair, Victor (2018-10-25)
    Victor Mair, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania - On October 25, 2018, Professor Mair gave the annual Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture. His analysis of this text started thirty-five years ago at the Cornell Library. Explaining how the manuscript itself captures a historical journey, Professor Mair demonstrated how the combination of biànwén 變文 ("transformation text") and biànxiàng 變相 ("transformation tableau") constitutes the forerunner of aspects of fiction and drama in China, and ultimately of cinema.
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    2017-2018 Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture - Steven Sangren
    Sangren, Steven (2017-11-09)
    Steven Sangren, Professor of Anthropology, Cornell University - Professor Sangren gave the fourth annual Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture on November 9, 2017. Professor Sangren's talk follows the publication of his book "Filial Obsessions: Chinese Patriliny and Its Discontents" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), a broadly framed analysis and critique of Chinese patriliny, mythic narrative, and gender ideology informed by a synthesis of Marxian and psychoanalytic perspectives.
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    2014-2015 Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture - Benjamin Elman
    Elman, Benjamin; Tong, Nguyet (2015-04)
    Inaugural Hu Shih Distinguish Lecture given by Professor Benjamin Elman (Gordon Wu '58 Professor of Chinese Studies, Princeton University) - "The Great Reversal: China, Korea, and Japan in the Early Modern World" April 10, 2015 The “rise of Japan” and the “fall of China” in the late 19th century are story lines that dominated Sinology and Japanology in the 20th century. In the inaugural Hu Shih Lecture, Benjamin Elman uses Japan’s victory in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 to indicate that in the 21st century we are entering new historical terrain vis-à-vis “modern” China and Japan. Wars and cultural history are inseparable. The competing/complementary narratives constructed by the victors and the losers of wars on the ground and at sea enshroud the past in a thick ideological fog. Seeing through the fog created by the “First” (or was it the “Second”? the “Third”?) Sino-Japanese War in 1894-95 allows us to place Sino-Japanese cultural interactions before 1894 in a new light with less teleology and fewer blind spots. The Meiji “rise of Japan” as event and narrative empowered uniquely “modernist” critiques of the “decadence” of Chinese art, traditional Chinese history, and conveniently provided Chinese revolutionaries with a “failed China” in a post-war East Asian world. For more information:
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    2015-2016 Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture - Evelyn Rawski
    Rawski, Evelyn; Tong, Nguyet (2015-10)
    Professor Evelyn Rawski (Distinguished University Professor, Professor of History, University of Pittsburgh) - "Moving from Nation to Region: China in Northeast Asian History" October 1, 2015 In this lecture Professor Rawski recounts her recent attempt to incorporate China into regional and world history, and in the process review the different historical perspectives from which Chinese history has been viewed, both in “traditional” and modern times. The talk concludes with a brief survey of current developments in history writing, and their linkage to contemporary geopolitics in Asia. Evelyn S. Rawski holds a Ph.D. in History and Far Eastern Languages from Harvard University and is currently Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Pittsburgh. She has published books on sixteenth and eighteenth-century Chinese agricultural development, elementary literacy, and the emperors and imperial institutions of the Qing dynasty, which ruled China from 1644 to 1911. She has co-edited conference volumes on popular culture, Chinese death ritual, and ritual music, and co-authored a book on eighteenth-century Chinese society. Her most recent book, Early Modern China and Northeast Asia: Cross-Border Perspectives uses Chinese, Japanese, and Korean primary sources and secondary literature to analyze China’s geopolitical, diplomatic, and cultural relationships with Japan and Korea in the 1500-1800 period. For more information:
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    2016-2017 Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture - Francesca Bray
    Bray, Francesca; Tong, Nguyet (2017-04)
    Professor Francesca Bray gave the 2016-2017 Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture on April 20th, 2017, arguing the importance of embedding the history of technology into Chinese historiography in her speech, "Hail the Maintainers: Rethinking Technology in Chinese History". An edited video of the lecture, including the audio-visual presentation used during the lecture.