Free and open to the public
As part of Bin Xu’s second book project, this talk examines how China’s zhiqing (“educated youth” or “sent-down youth”) generation comes to terms with their difficult past in “sites of memory,” such as exhibits and museums since the 1990s. Those sites of memory are where memory “crystallizes and secretes itself” (Pierre Nora), functioning as this generation’s defense mechanism to counter public forgetting and seek public recognition. Yet, the send-down program, in which the 17 million zhiqing were ordered to migrate to the countryside and frontiers when they were teenagers and stayed there for a long time, was politically controversial and socially detrimental. Thus, the beautiful wish of “long live youth” has always been tangled with regrets and grievances as well as pride and nostalgia. Every exhibit or museum walks a symbolic and political tightrope. Xu describes and explains how memory entrepreneurs and dynamics of cultural production fields result in a pattern of representation centered on “people but not the cause” and how such a pattern provokes even more public debates. This research aims to contribute to the literature on collective memory by examining generation as a collective identity reproduced in public genres of memory.
About the speaker
Bin Xu is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Emory University. He received his Ph.D. in Sociology from Northwestern University. His first book (The Politics of Compassion: The Sichuan
Earthquake and Civic Engagement in China, Stanford University Press 2017) won the Mary Douglas Prize for Best Book in Sociology of Culture, the Sociology of Culture Section, American Sociological Association (2018), and the Best Book Prize on Asia/Transnational (Honorable Mention), Asia/Asian America Section, American Sociological Association (2018)
He is currently writing a book and a few related articles on the collective memory of China’s “educated youth” (zhiqing) generation—the 17 million Chinese youth sent down to the countryside in the 1960s and 1970s, drawing on the data collected in the last three years, including life history interviews, ethnography, and archival research, to address how members of this important generation interpret meanings of their past difficulties and sufferings in the countryside, how those interpretations are represented and expressed in autobiographic memories, cultural objects, and commemorative activities, and what their memories tell us about this generation’s mentality.
In addition to the book on the Sichuan earthquake, his articles have appeared in leading journals in sociology and China studies, such as Sociological Theory, Theory & Society, Social Problems, The China Quarterly, The China Journal, and so on. He has won awards from American Sociological Association/National Science Foundation and American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). In 2016, he was selected as one of the 21 Public Intellectuals Program (PIP) fellows at the National Committee on US-China Relations, a prestigious program designed to nurture young China specialists to facilitate mutual understanding between the United States and China (https://www.ncuscr.org/pip ). He also was awarded the prestigious Henry Luce/ACLS Postdoctoral Fellowship in China Studies for the 2017-18 academic year (https://www.acls.org/research/fellow.aspx?cid=623a9a7d-8323-e711-9454-000c29879dd6).