China and Inner Asia
Research on 20th century China is necessarily beholden to, and limited by, the existence of and access to historical materials. Researchers create narratives and conceptual frameworks from what they find, and in doing so shape perception of future material discoveries. Such work, however, is defined as much by absence of material as by its presence. Gaps, ellipses, silences, redactions and omissions – all that is left out from the archive, unsaid in interview, or lost in copying – pique curiosity but remain unrecorded in historiography. Given the global pandemic and limits on in-country archive visits and interviews, how to carry out research despite a dearth of materials is vital knowledge for both students and researchers. This panel explores techniques and strategies for working with such material absence, both among scholars, and among their subjects.
We begin by recognizing the irregularities and incompleteness of our materials, and then proceed to explore divergent approaches to dealing with material lack. Lena Henningsen explores how blank spaces in handwritten entertainment fiction from the Cultural Revolution created room for creative appropriation by 'secondary authors.' Dayton Lekner reviews the limited materials available for carrying out a sonic history of the Mao Era, and suggests strategies for dealing with silence. Fei Yan explores the uneven historiographical coverage of the County Gazetteer, attempting to map out the biases and influence of this critical material source. Finally, Wang Zhuoyi looks beyond the ostensible lack of plurality of revolutionary cinema with an exploration of materials peripheral to the films themselves.
Paper Presenter: Lena Henningsen – University of Freiburg
Paper Presenter: Dayton Lekner – University of British Columbia
Paper Presenter: Zhuoyi Wang – Hamilton College
Paper Presenter: Fei Yan – Tsinghua University