My book, entitled Resisting Spirits: Drama Reform and Cultural Transformation in the People’s Republic of China, builds on my dissertation “The Sound of Ghosts: Ghost Opera, Drama Reform and the Staging of a New China,” which considered the celebrated and vilified genre of chuanqi 传奇 (supernatural tales) and guixi 鬼戏 (ghost plays), in Chinese society, culture, and politics in the period after 1949. My primary interest – the bones of the project – is in the relationship between the state bureaucratic apparatus, intellectuals, artists, and cultural production, and how “traditional” culture has been reused, reinterpreted, and redeployed in varying cultural and political contexts. It was published by the University of Michigan Press as part of the “China Understandings Today” series, co-edited by Tang Xiaobing and Mary Gallagher, in 2019.
As a post-manuscript “palate cleanser,” I am working on a small project tentatively titled “Little House on the Yangtze: Laura Ingalls Wilder in the Contemporary PRC.” I am interested in comparing various translations, as well as exploring the appeal of a quintessentially nostalgic tale – the Little House series – in China today. I presented a preliminary study of “reading Laura Ingalls Wilder in the People’s Republic of China” at the 2019 Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association conference, affectionately known as “LauraPalooza.”
Thanks to a long-standing interest in adventuring literature (particularly stories of high-altitude mountaineering), combined with some fascinating overlap with my literary ghosts, I’m preparing short- and long-term projects related to high-altitude mountaineering in China. My first article on the subject – “Performing Socialism at Altitude: Chinese Expeditions to Everest, 1958-1968” – was published in Performance Research 24.2.
Building off a completed research paper (“The Games People Play,” which turned into an article published in Cross-Currents), I’m collecting materials for a long term project on the history of mahjong in the late Qing, Republican, and early PRC periods. Despite the important place mahjong holds in Chinese culture (and the associations it has with Asia in the West!), there has been very little research done on mahjong’s history and role in society and culture. Because mahjong is one of those topics that is frequently referenced, but is rarely the subject, in sources, I’m gathering sources as I go about other projects (with help from colleagues and friends who know to be on the lookout for any references to 麻将, 麻雀, 马将, 马吊, mahjong, majongg …).
As an offshoot, I’m putting a paper together on the bizarre proliferation of “mahjong solitaire” games (essentially matching games with mahjong tile sets), which are wildly popular casual games and come in a variety of iterations.
Along with friends, I have a couple of projects brewing in the overlapping space between digital humanities and Chinese history (not always as close together as we would like!): stay tuned.