Speaking of

Speaking of academic fraudsters, I’m afraid that in Spain we have our very own versions of them–less ironically sophisticated. And, no doubt, accepted with a very different degree of tolerance. See for example the case of Juan Manuel Corchado–who, by the way, was recently elected Chancellor of the Universidad de Salamanca:

Las trampas de Corchado eran muy burdas. Hacía resúmenes de sus conferencias, añadía una cantidad hiperbólica de autocitas y los subía al repositorio científico de su universidad. El catedrático sabía que el motor de búsqueda de Google Académico detectaba esos documentos y los tenía en cuenta para elaborar sus indicadores, según los cuales Corchado es uno de los expertos en inteligencia artificial más citados del mundo. En un texto de dos páginas de una conferencia en Chennai (India), se citó a sí mismo 200 veces. En otra charla para la Universidad de Tecnología de Malasia, Corchado incluyó más de 150 autocitas. El profesor también subía al repositorio seudoestudios científicos, como un documento de cuatro párrafos sobre la covid con un centenar de referencias a sí mismo. Justo cuando EL PAÍS comenzó a preguntar a su entorno por estas prácticas, Corchado ejecutó un borrado masivo de sus publicaciones más controvertidas.

An ironic revelation

Andrew Gelman, How Academic Fraudsters Get Away With It:

In recent reporting in the Chronicle, Stephanie M. Lee describes how “a famous study about a clever way to prompt honest behavior was retracted due to an ironic revelation: It relied on fraudulent data.” The author of the retracted study also wrote a book titled, appropriately, Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules in Work and in Life.

Examples of this particular irony are more numerous than might be expected. The disgraced primatologist March Hauser wrote a book originally called Evilicious: Why We Evolved a Taste for Being Bad. The psychologist Dan Ariely, who was forced to retract an article containing faked data, and who has promoted a company making fishy claims about insurance algorithms, wrote a book called The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone–Especially to Ourselves. He even participated in a radio show called Everybody Lies, and That’s Not Always A Bad Thing, in which he gave this amazing-in-retrospect quote to the ever-credulous hosts at National Public Radio: “What separates honest people from not-honest people is not necessarily character, it’s opportunity. (…) The surprising thing for a rational economist would be: why don’t we cheat more?”

What’s going on?

L’any de la rata

A few weeks ago I was invited by Silvia Fustegueres and Mireia Vargas to talk about Regresar a China at the podcast L’any de la rata. The episode is now available.

We recorded the episode right after Diada de Sant Jordi–the Day of Books and Roses. It was fun to talk about Lu Xun, Lao She and Qian Zhongshu on such an appropriate date…

Legacies of Chinese Labour in Latin America and the Caribbean

Just attended the workshop “Legacies of Chinese Labour in Latin America and the Caribbean” organized by Harriet Evans and Hans Steinmüller at the London School of Economics. A very energizing couple of days!

Two organizational highlights. First, it was great to focus the sessions on discussion. We were asked to give minimal presentations (no slides!) and so we had ample time for questions, comments–an actual conversation. Second, it was particularly stimulating to share ideas and discuss with scholars from many different geographies and institutional contexts. I wish all academic conferences had the same arrangement and composition.

El invisible

Today I led a session on Ge Fei’s The Invisibility Cloak at the book club organized by the Confucius Institute in Madrid. We discussed Miguel Ángel Petrecca’s translation: El invisible, published by Adriana Hidalgo in 2016.

I love sessions in book clubs–always full of passionate and very sophisticated readers. So I am very grateful to the audience for their comments and questions. And to my colleague Andreas Janousch for the invitation.

Here is also an interview related to the session–in which I “reveal the secrets of a literary giant” (sic)!


Feels almost like a miracle

Ecstatic: two dear colleagues who have been working on short-term contracts for many years have just landed stable positions. Super happy for them. Something is not right when what should be a normal thing (a brillant scholar who finds a decent job) feels almost like a miracle.

Reasonable doubts

Department meeting today. Folks from our university’s library services gave us a presentation about Open Science. The Q&A leads to the topic of predatory publishers. Interesting to see the institutional differences regarding MDPI journals. Colleagues from other fields/departments do not see these journals as predatory. While it may be a borderline issue, depending on specific fields and journals, the fact that many of these colleagues have consolidated their careers through publications in these venues raised (reasonable) doubts: Do they endorse these journals because they are academically sound, or because their CV has strongly been built on them?

Working on…

Working on a talk on Ge Fei’s The Invisibility Cloak I will be giving at the Confucius Institute in Madrid later this month. I plan to offer a summary of Ge Fei’s trajectory–great opportunity to submerge again in his fascinating early works.

To Cure Burnout, Embrace Seasonality

Cal Newport, To Cure Burnout, Embrace Seasonality:

The problem with the virtual factory, however, goes beyond the fact that it makes us unhappy. It’s also ineffective. The process of producing value with the human brain — the foundational activity of many knowledge sector roles — cannot be forced into a regular, unvarying schedule. Intense periods of cognition must be followed by quieter periods of mental rejuvenation. Energized creative breakthroughs must be supported by the slower incubation of new ideas.


Very honored to have participated in the Humanities in Transition seminar at Tejidos Conjuntivos, Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.

Part of my talk was about “work” in academia. I mentioned some of the meaningless dimensions that now characterize our profession. Inspired by the artistic setting, I included a pseudo-performative feature: a hoax article made of 8,031 words–the exact amount of words that we had used in all the emails exchanged in relation to the bureaucratic preparation of the session…

The only letdown was unrelated to my talk–and related to architecture. I was able to wander inside the Nouvel Building, which I had never visited. I found it disproportionate, megalomaniacal–meaningless too.

Read widely and outside your field

Christopher Lupke on C.T. Hsia’s strategies of reading and mentorship:

I would relay [Hsia’s] advice to any graduate student: Read widely and outside your field. Yes, it will slow you down somewhat, but it will give you contextual insight into your own specialization. (…) Hsia urged me to take afternoons and find a comfortable spot in the library where nobody would disturb me and read whole novels or chunks of novels, which I did and continue to do so.

On the Edge

Margaret Hillenbrand’s fascinating On the Edge: Feeling Precarious in China. The impossibility of giving up working. A much larger and less fancy collective than tangping–and with much less media coverage, no doubt.

This is exactly the processual glitch that Hao Jingfang nails elegantly in Folding Beijing via her conceit of temporal warehousing—the notion that people can be put to sleep or placed in cold storage until the voodoo of market forces animates their insensible beings for drudgery once again. The difficulty, of course, is that real life is not sci-fi—not quite yet, anyway—and those who have been consigned to zombie citizenship cannot simply be magicked in and out of visibility. As such, they terrorize the fantasy of social harmony in the era of the Chinese dream.

Research transfer

Department workshop on research transfer–and dissemination, impact, exploitation, valorization, public engagement, outreach, knowledge exchange, etc., in the humanities.

I always think that teaching is the most obvious way of transfering research and knowledge to society. And I always wonder why teaching remains out of the equation’s semantics. Then a colleague provides a practical answer: universities measure teaching by its own metrics.

PhD in Humanities and Communication

Just started in my new role as Director of the PhD program in Humanities and Communication. Looking forward to serve in this new institutional position. And, above all, very excited to learn more about–and help in–the different projects that our graduate students are carrying out.

Bright moments in dark academia

I tend to be quite reserved in class and didn’t share my recent promotion to full professor with my students. But somehow they found out–and at the end of today’s session a warm round of applause erupted and a bouquet of flowers suddenly emerged! I was so caught off guard that didn’t know what to say. And I only thought about taking a group thank you photo when they had already left the classroom… I went back home in levitation.

I tend to be quite reserved in this workroom too and hesitated sharing this anecdote. But I think it deserves to be known that there are also bright moments in dark academia.

Working on…

Preparing a session for the Humanities in Transition seminar at Tejidos Conjuntivos, a program in critical museology, artistic research and cultural studies organized by the Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in March. I will co-lead the session with my colleague Joana Pujadas.

The topic for our session is “to work”. I will organize my part around the idea of giving up work. I will try to connect two cases: the tangping movement and the academic quit lit. So I’m now warming up reading Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs–the full book based on the shorter piece that caught my attention back in 2018.

Bullshit Jobs : Graeber, David: Libros

College as a transactional experience

Beth McMurtrie, AI and the Future of Undergraduate Writing:

In doing so, they say, academics must also recognize that this initial public reaction says as much about our darkest fears for higher education as it does about the threats and promises of a new technology. In this vision, college is a transactional experience where getting work done has become more important than challenging ourselves to learn. Assignments and assessments are so formulaic that nobody could tell if a computer completed them. And faculty members are too overworked to engage and motivate their students.


My public defense for the promotion to full professorship went very well. I did my best to summarize my academic career so far and present a new research project to be developed in the coming years. I was very well accompanied by colleagues and family. And the commission was very kind. What else can you ask for?

On the humanities and value

Quick quote from Agnes Callard’s inspiring piece, I Teach the Humanities, and I Still Don’t Know What Their Value Is:

Humanists are not alone in their ignorance about the purpose of their disciplines. Mathematicians or economists or biologists might mutter something about practical applications of their work, but very few serious scholars confine their research to some narrow pragmatic agenda. The difference between the humanists and the scientists is simply that scientists are under a lot less pressure to explain why they exist, because the society at large believes itself to already have the answer to that question. If physics were constantly out to justify itself, it would become politicized, too, and physicists would also start spouting pious platitudes about how physics enriches your life.

(…) The task of humanists is to invite, to welcome, to entice, to excite, to engage. And when we let ourselves be ourselves, when we allow the humanistic spirit that animates us to flow out not only into our classrooms but also in our public-self presentation, we find we don’t need to defend or prove anything: We are irresistible.

Working on…

Working on my public defense for the position of full professor. It will take place just before the Christmas break. The assessment conventionally includes the candidate’s academic and research records and a proposal prepared ad hoc for the occasion.

Since the setup is quite similar to that of an oral PhD thesis defense, I find myself returning to the 4 sage pieces of advice that a colleague offered me long ago, which I have since then passed down to other colleagues and PhD students–and which now boomerang back to me…

Is It Time to Pay Peer Reviewers?

A few months ago, I mentioned a professor who decided to charge for his manuscript reviews for journals that later charge for access. Here is a piece that explores this topic’s wider perimeter: Sylvia Goodman, Is It Time to Pay Peer Reviewers?

Journal editors across disciplines and borders are asking themselves what they can do to encourage a practice that has gone fully uncompensated since its creation. Some say the answer is simply acknowledgment of review labor — from institutions, journals, and peers. Others say monetary incentives are the obvious choice. And other academics are questioning the entire for-profit publishing model.

Scholar-on-scholar violence

From Jacques Berlinerblau’s They’ve Been Scheming to Cut Tenure for Years. It’s Happening, I clipboard:

We also became aware of “administrative bloat”, or the mushrooming of an academic labor force whose mission was neither teaching nor research. A number of upper admins were hired to manage — some might say “rule” — the faculty. Some of those who accepted this task were scholars themselves. A novel hybrid creature, the everlasting tenured admin, was sparked to life. No three-year stint as vice dean and back to teaching freshman composition, for this guy! He was in it for the long haul.

The significance of this development is underappreciated. The decisions which ravaged the future for coming generations of Ph.D.s were made not just by consultants and suits, but by those with Ph.D.s and likely a few peer-reviewed publications. This was scholar-on-scholar violence.

Why is our vocation so vulnerable to fratricide? Maybe spending a doctoral decade in a moldy archive doesn’t heighten your sense of empathy. Maybe repeatedly venting your spleen as anonymous Reviewer Number 2 doesn’t sharpen your sense of solidarity. Maybe class consciousness can’t blossom when our final work products are, in many disciplines, solo recitals.


Back to teaching. Time for intensive class preparation. We are changing our teaching platform this year, so getting acquainted with our new virtual home too…

Two lives

Speaking of which: three things that I particularly liked in The Double Education of My Twins’ Chinese School, Peter Hessler’s piece on education in Chinese primary schools in The New Yorker:

First, the confidence of Chinese teachers, the respect they inspire. “The dignity with which they carried themselves”.

Second, the confidence of Chinese schools. “The fact that nobody cared what I liked—along with every other Baba and Mama, I was welcome to flush any nervous parental energy down the whirlpool of WeChat”. Of course, this can be controversial, etc. But it does sound refreshing when clientelism is taking over many school systems.

Third, unrelated to education, the actual impossibility of the in between (of combining cultures, systems–or, in my case, professional realities) that ends up making it necessary to have two lives:

Like many people with experience in both China and the United States, we wanted something in between. But each country had a tendency toward extremes, and deeply entrenched systems resisted reform. Solutions tended to be at the individual level, like the classmate whose parents sent her overseas every summer. In order to combine the strengths of both places, it seemed necessary to have two lives, two educations, two names.

Adjacency to The New Yorker

Katie Kadou, The End of the Star System:

A few weeks after I got back from EI [the English Institute], I asked on Twitter whether anyone thought the “academic star system” still existed. “I feel like it does, but when once it was measured by adjacency to the English Institute or MLA presidency, it is now measured by adjacency to The New Yorker,” suggested Gus Stadler, a professor of English at Haverford College.

Move the plant to Poland

Loretta Lou interviewed David Graeber at Made in China Journal:

Question: The spiritual violence of doing nothing in a bullshit job seems to be the inverse of the labour exploitation we see among workers doing precarious ‘shit jobs’ in the casualised gig economy (for instance, university cleaners; Amazon workers being fired for not working fast enough, etc.). Are these two phenomena linked somehow?

Answer: There is an enormous culture of ‘lean and mean’ in the corporate world, but that is applied almost exclusively to blue-collar workers, not to white-collar ones, where the opposite logic applies. I always go back to the example of the Elephant Tea factory near Marseille, which illustrates for me a lot of what has been happening since the 1970s: in this case, workers improved the machinery and increased productivity steadily over the years. In the 1950s or 1960s, this would have led to increases in pay—there was basically an understanding that if productivity goes up, workers get a share of the increased profits—or perhaps hiring more workers, but since it was the 1990s, the boss just hired more and more white-collar workers. At first, there had been only two: the boss and a human resources manager. Suddenly the catwalks were full of guys in suits, three, four, five, ultimately maybe a dozen of them, wandering around with clipboards watching people work, basically trying to figure out some kind of excuse for their existence. They tried to concoct schemes for greater efficiency but the place was already about as efficient as it could be. They held meetings and seminars and conferences and read each other’s reports. Finally, they decided: well, we can just fire everyone and move the plant to Poland! The place has been in occupation ever since.

En el país de los chinos

Elated to see this published! En el país de los chinos is the result of a very long collective project. All chapters have been written by ALTER members after a meticulous process of collaborative thinking and writing under Xavier Ortells-Nicolau’s superb editorial guidance. We are all super proud of this publication!

We hope the book will show the richness that underlies the interactions between China and Spain–both at the empirical, theoretical, and methodological levels. Our final goal is that the book becomes a helpful tool for future researchers on these topics. So each chapter includes a specific section with potential research lines waiting to be explored.

And, bonus track: the Archivo China-España includes now a special itinerary with a selection of materials that supplement each chapters’s content.


Back home. It has been a very productive stay. Since I was a bit lost and was sensing a certain lack of direction in my reading and thinking, I decided to write a research proposal to myself. It was a very good exercise. Now I have 10,000 words with some questions and potential claims to be (hopefully) developed in the near future.

I will take a couple of weeks off. I feel a bit bad when I change the auto-response from “Thank you for your message. I am working intensively on two research projects. Unless your message needs an urgent response…” to “I am currently away from work until… I will reply to your message on…” But since vacation is important I still push myself to do it.

Useful and productive

Browsing through old issues of Chinese Literature Today. Ji Jin interviews Carlos Rojas:

Question: Your research places considerable emphasis on theoretical interpretation. Compared with previous research, what do you think are the advantages or disadvantages of this approach? How do you understand the relationship between theory and text?

Answer: Actually, I would contend that everyone approaches literature theoretically. Indeed, without some sort of theoretical framework, there could be no analysis. The key difference, accordingly, is not between literary scholars who use theory and those who don’t, but rather between those who attempt to explicitly reflect on the theories that they use, and those who focus instead on the analytical process itself. I don’t think that one must explicitly reflect on one’s theoretical assumptions in order to do useful literary scholarship, just as there are many historians, anthropologists, film scholars, and musicologists whose work is deeply informed by a set of theoretical assumptions but who don’t analyze those assumptions in their writings. On the other hand, I do think that—in many circumstances—an attention to theoretical concerns can be useful and productive. This kind of theoretical reflection can help reveal the unexamined assumptions that shape our analyses, and also help catalyze new approaches and methodologies.


Reading widely, organizing disparate thoughts, drafting chunks of ideas. Relocating myself in my old field–a very strange feeling, as if I had been living on a different planet for more than a decade.

Things have changed. For instance, I now read Tang Xiaobing’s Visual Culture in Contemporary China. Then I go back to the review that Wendy Larson wrote of the book. I remember reading these lines in 2016:

Perhaps Tang’s anger, and his willingness to express it so pungently in an academic book, should make us wonder if we have overestimated the possibilities for true cross-cultural understanding. Perhaps the global imaginary of a seamless world that respects difference has failed to recognize that culture demands some degree of allegiance, and when confronted, the sense that one’s culture is “right” and that outsiders cannot possibly understand it is difficult to avoid. Perhaps our hopeful cosmopolitan vision has wantonly ignored the rootedness of human beings, their commitment to certain views of their lives in the world, and their desire to sustain their way of life, rejecting other narratives.

I remember that in 2016 I thought these lines were ironic, an exaggeration. Now, looking at the current state of things, I am not so sure.

Fast and Furious

I always find picking up a seat at a big reading room a bit tricky. So every morning, when I arrive at Cambridge University Library, I have a few rules I try to follow. The most important one is, perhaps, to avoid sitting next to someone who uses a laptop–a potential fast and furious typist. Not an easy task, obviously. But I still take some time hunting for a spot next to someone who is reading a physical book and taking handwritten notes. If I am lucky, I then try to reciprocate typing as silently as possible.


In the morning, I have an inspiring chat with a colleague who has a very long list of superb publications. I ask her what is the secret of her productivity. She confesses she just enjoys writing. In the afternoon, I read the piece Tenure and the Arrival Fallacy by Rebecca Mason. Her advice:

Do research that you care about now. The road to tenure doesn’t need to be a miserable grind. Being happy now and in the future means deriving happiness from the pursuit of self-concordant goals — that is, goals you deem meaningful and worthwhile. Having goals is crucial to long-term happiness, but it is not their achievement that makes us happy; it is our pursuit of them.

So instead of doing something you don’t enjoy just because you think it’ll look good on your tenure file, find things that you enjoy doing that will look good in your tenure file. Maybe that means seeking out research collaborators who are fun to work with (even if they aren’t well connected), or beginning a new research project on a topic that sparks your interest and curiosity (rather than following research trends that don’t matter to you). Don’t save research and writing projects that you find stimulating and meaningful for “after tenure,” as if the only way to become an associate professor is by doing research that bores you to tears.

Image: Pat Kinsella

Why and how

Bumped into this at the library: Roger Garside, China Coup: The Great Leap to Freedom:

Before the next National Congress of the Communist Party of China, due in November 2022, President Xi Jinping will be removed from office by a coup d’état mounted by his rivals in the top leadership who will end the tyranny of the one-party dictatorship and launch a transition to democracy and the rule of law.

The main body of this book, Part 2, explains why it will happen. Parts 1 and 3 tell how it may happen; they are semi-fictional–the people named are real, while the storyline is fiction.


Writing from Cambridge, UK. I will be a visiting fellow at CRASSH this summer. I hope to make significant progress in the conceptualization of my next research project–I need a big push…

En Face & the Face of the Other

A grand finale to this super busy end of the academic year. It was a great pleasure to have Lucas Klein with us at ALTER for a couple of days. He gave us a more formal talk: “En Face & the Face of the Other: On Intersubjectivity and Equivalent in Translating Contemporary Poetry from Chinese.” Then the next day he offered a comprehensive survey of the Chinese poetry publishing field in English–a great panoramic view on the main translators, presses, and poets.

The meaning of writing books

Took part in a podcast about “new” books published by our department’s faculty in the past year or so. Very grateful to Helena Prieto, Elisenda Ardèvol and Marina Garcés for the invitation to talk about Secondhand China . But, above all, for their insightful organization of the discussion. We talked more generally about the meaning and value of writing (and reading!) books that take time to be written (and read!), particulary when we work under the institutional pressure to publish quicker, shorter pieces as our colleagues in the sciences do.

Epic fails

Great department seminar on academic epic fails. We took the very famous CV of failures as one of the starting points for an honest—and necessary—discussion about resilience, support, the importance of having a solid intellectual project, and so on. I shared my bit about how a few unsuccessful grant proposals were essential for my conceptualization and actual writing of some chapters of Secondhand China.

Working on…

Working on my new project, slowly. Back to books and sources I studied more than 20 years ago. Coincidentally, our department has moved to a new building and I am now unpacking boxes with hundreds of photocopied articles and book chapters collected many years ago. Very strange feeling.


Speaking about first-world conference registration fees (last one I attended:$250) and rooms at conference hotels (last one I attended: between $220 and $300/night plus tax), the ungenerosity of Spain’s government funds has even reached media outside academia. For example, a typical grant from Spain’s government caps accommodation for US trips at $155/night. Limitations also apply when you try to invite a colleague to give a talk or a seminar in Spain–and finding a hotel room at €66/night in Barcelona can be a real challenge.

And what do you do?

Salvador Pániker, Adiós a casi todo:

Es higiénico, respecto a ciertos ámbitos, estar un poco in albis. “¿Y usted a qué se dedica?”, le preguntó Vladimir Nabokov a un atónito John Wayne en una party. Pues eso.

The universality of the phenomenon

Marine Brossard, Lying Flat: Profiling the Tangping Attitude: reading the “lying-flat attitude” in China as a universal subversion against global crises:

One of these buzzwords was tangping (躺平, ‘lying flat’).

As I read about this concept for the first time in the spring of 2021, I immediately felt connected to the term as I had started lying flat after completing my PhD in Chinese Studies in 2018. My life in China from 2012 to 2015 had shifted my understanding of the world and undermined my ambition to become an academic. After receiving my PhD, I decided to quit my academic career as an act of rebellion against both the labour market and a system in which knowledge had become an instrument of domination. The unemployment benefits granted by the French Government allowed me to lie flat to ponder the world’s problems and attempt to imagine a new way of life beyond the capitalist imaginary. The emergence of the lying-flat attitude in China and the way it echoed my personal experience revealed the universality of the phenomenon among younger generations who struggle to cope with the disintegration of the meaning of life at this stage of late capitalism.

Working on…

Submerged in a new project: teaching a new generalist undergraduate course on modern and contemporary Asian history.  Weeks fly by. Nice to remember how preparing a new course can be so demanding and gratifying. For the first time I have included a couple of comic books as part of the required readings: Kanikosen and Tian’anmen 1989.

The influx

Mental note: next time I attend an international conference, every time someone mentions how nice it must be to live in Barcelona I will attach this piece as supplementary bibliography to my conventional answer (Americans Head to Europe for the Good Life on the Cheap). And I will also make sure to emphasize the last part of its subtitle: “Home sales to Americans have increased significantly, giving them a chance to enjoy a lifestyle they could not afford in major U.S. cities, but the influx risks upsetting local residents.”

At the Margins of Data

Great ALTER seminar with Caio Yurgel and Xiang Zairong (Duke Kunshan University). They presented their project “At the Margins of Data: The Histories of Translation Between the Chinese-, Portuguese-, and Spanish-Speaking Worlds”. Interesting discussion about the potential of large, quantitative findings, and the challenges of turning raw data into significant qualitative analysis.

Gently plagiarizing

Back to Barcelona. Still ruminating and digesting last week’s AAS conference. It was great to reconnect with friends and colleagues. The experience was generally positive and productive. Etcetera.

Then, a coincidence: precisely during this trip I bought a copy of Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou. On page 5:

She even attended a pricey international conference in New York in the hopes of gently plagiarizing some Argentinian or Swedish scholar’s paper.

Indeed, I have recently come across a few cases of scholars based in first-world institutions using research done by scholars from other parts of the world without acknowledging it. I never thought about this as a generalized practice–until I found it in Elaine Hsieh Chou’s novel… (Still not sure what is worse, though: that they use previous research without citing it, or that they just genuinely ignore it, or decide to ignore it.)

In any case, the truth of the matter is that academic conferences are becoming an industry that charges at levels that are not always affordable for scholars working outside of first-world academia. And that this discrimination may reinforce the insularity and/or the arrogance of certain kinds of scholarship.

In Place

Just attended the AAS conference in Boston over the weekend. I shared some ideas from Secondhand China in the panel “Conditioned Solidarities: Relay Translation between China and the World.” Gal Gvili, Clara Iwasaki and Yang Peiyu talked about their recent books on the topic too. We were very honored to have Michael Gibbs Hill and James St André as discussants.

Now I write from Ithaca–an express visit to Cornell to participate in China in Place: Locale and China Studies after 2020. This event has been a superb opportunity to organize my scattered thoughts about China, China studies, and the Sinophone today. Best thing of all: contrasting my own views with the ideas and experiences from Nick Admussen, Ding Fei, and Jack Zinda. I learned a lot and feel very energized.

Capitulating to the idea

Interesting thread by Ignacio Sanchez Prado. His points are a response to Nathan Heller’s piece on The End of the English Major and, more generally, enrollment in the humanities published in The New Yorker a few weeks ago. I particularly agree with #9:

9. The humanities are not doomed or close to the end. Rather they are experiencing a contraction that results from capitulating to the idea that college is solely to train for labor skills. Until the humanities find an argument to push back against that effectively, the downward turn with continue.


Still figuring out how to coexist with ChatGPT and other AI developments that will come sooner than later. I guess I mostly agree with Christopher Grobe in Why I’m Not Scared of ChatGPT:  most of the discussion is based on how it will impact assessment–not learning per se. So if we focus on learning, then perhaps it is not such a big deal?

But if we treat learning (not distinction) as the goal of education, then generative AI looks more like an opportunity than a threat.

Inventing Reality

My latest article Inventing Reality: Obstinate Orientalism in Victor Segalen’s René Leys has just been published. I am very honored that it is hosted by the Journal of Postcolonial Writing. Some free online copies are available following this eprint link.

I came across Segalen’s novel while working on Secondhand China. I found  it absolutely fascinating. The specific idea for the piece emerged after some discussions with the ALTER folks during our project on taphonomies of cross-cultural knowledge. My fascination continued, so I decided to translate the novel into Catalan too–it will be published soon.

Back from Oslo

Very happy to have participated in the midway assessment of a superb doctoral project at the University of Olso. Very grateful to Jorge Locane and Ana María Ramírez for their invitation and hospitality. I learned many things–and, most importantly, my reading list increased significantly.

The Churn

James Rushing Daniel, The Cruelty of Faculty Churn: Term-limited lectureships give scholars a taste of academic life — then yank it away.

Whether officially or unofficially time-capped, these positions in aggregate make up a colossal infrastructure of postdocs, fellowships, visiting assistant professorships, preceptorships, and lecturer positions that contribute to a system of turnover many dub “the churn.” New faculty members are brought into an institution at low pay just as senior ones, at slightly higher pay, are unceremoniously ushered out the back door.

Form and academic writing

Great ALTER online workshop with Nick Admussen, who shared with our research group his work in progress. A very inspiring example of formal experimentation in academic writing. Nothing beats the face-to-face format, but online meetings are easier to arrange and can be productive and stimulating too.