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  • MEAL 1

Writing a Material History of ‘Society’ in Modern China

Updated: Apr 14

Modern East Asian Literature Research Cluster presents

Emerging Research on Modern East Asian Literature

Writing a Material History of ‘Society’ in Modern China

Speaker: Tani Barlow

George & Nancy Rupp Professor of Humanities | Department of History | Rice University


Su Yun Kim | Associate Professor | Korean Studies | SMLC | The University of Hong Kong

Daniel Elam | Assistant Professor | Comparative Literature | The University of Hong Kong

DATE: 2 MAY 2024 (THU) 4:30–6:00 pm

VENUE: Room 436, Run Run Shaw Tower, HKU

This talk explores my difficulties writing an intellectual history of society. Society and 社會 are categories that became, over the last century, our primary way of illuminating the past, and explaining what we currently experience. Yet – this is my starting point – society/社會are anachronous; they were never a part of thought or experience before the early 20th century. Previously, in “The Question of Women in Chinese Feminism” (2004) and “In the Event of Women” (2021) I sought evidence of a subject, and conditions for thinking that made it possible for that subject, women, to act to emancipate itself. In this project I seek to understand how social theorists, including feminists, forged a universal explanation of human experience, society, and how they ontologized its foundational elements as the universal historical experiences of social class, social sex, and social self.

Tani Barlow is George and Nancy Rupp Professor of Humanities and Professor of History at Rice University and the founding senior editor of positions: asia critique. She is the author of “In the Event of Women” (Duke University Press, 2021), “The Question of Women in Chinese Feminism” (Duke University Press, 2004), and “Inter/National Feminism and China,” Ito Ruri and Kobayashi Eri, trans., (Tokyo: Ochanomizu Press, 2003).

The series is coordinated by Prof. Su Yun Kim (, Prof. Pei-yin Lin (, and Prof. Alvin Wong (, and is supported by the School of Chinese, School of Humanities, and School of Modern Languages and Cultures.

This event is organized with the support of the Center for the Study of Globalization and Cultures in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Hong Kong.

For details, go to



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