Intellectuals in Contemporary China

nfcz201212Much of my recent work has been on intellectuals in contemporary China, in particular how they relate to the state, how they position themselves within the social structure, or how their writings can displace the framing of certain political questions. Intellectuals are generally seen as an organic part of the dominant class, and Miklos Haraszti famously outlined how the Hungarian regime was able to keep writers and artists entangled in a “velvet prison”. However, in the last 20 years or so, some intellectuals in China have tried to break with their elitist position inherited from the Confucian worldview, and engage in direct work at the grassroots in different ways. I have been particularly interested in writers like Wang Xiaobo, Yan Lianke, Gao Xingjian, and the generation of independent film directors that emerged after Jia Zhangke. As pointed out by this special feature of Nanfeng Chuang (2012.12), titled “Intellectuals in times of conflicted interests,” the role of public intellectuals in a slowly growing public space has not gone unchallenged.


2017. Commemorating an Anti-Authoritarian Provocateur: Reflections on Wang Xiaobo (1952-1997), Blog of the Los Angeles Review of Books, 11 April 2017.

2015 “New Spaces, New Controls: China’s Embryonic Public Sphere”, Current History, September 2015, pp. 203-209.

2010 “Wang Xiaobo and the No Longer Silent majority”, in Jean-Philippe Béja (ed), The Impact of China’s 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, London, Routledge, 2010, pp. 86-94.

2010 “On the Margins of Modernity: A Comparative Study of Gao Xingjian and Ōe Kenzaburō”, China Perspectives, n° 2010/2 (special issue “Gao Xingjian and the Role of Chinese Literature Today”), pp. 34-46 .

2007 “From Documentary to Fiction and Back: Reality and Contingency in Wang Bing’s and Jia Zhangke’s films”, China Perspectives, n° 2007/3, p. 130-137 (Perspectives chinoises, p. 141-149).

2010 “Opening Public spaces” in China Perspectives, no. 2010/1 (special issue “Independent Chinese cinema: filming in the ‘space of the people’ ”), pp. 4-10.

2008 “Chinese Intellectuals and the Problem of Xinjiang. Wang Lixiong’s Wo de xiyu, ni de Dong Tu”, China Perspectives, n° 2008/3, pp. 143-150.

2008 “The subversive ‘Pleasure of Thinking’ ” (Review essay on Wang Xiaobo, Wang in Love and Bondage, SUNY Press, 2008), China Perspectives, n° 2008/1, pp. 109-113.

2009 “Tibet, nationalism and modernity: Two contributions from China,” China Perspectives, no. 2009/3, pp. 98-107 .

2007 “Eliminating Disharmony: Recent Examples of Censorship in Chinese Writing and Cinema”, Feature « Creating a Harmonious society », China Perspectives, n° 2007/3, p. 66-72.

Publications in French:

2014 “Le questionnement du monde littéraire chinois d’aujourd’hui”, in Marianne Bastid-Bruguière, éd., Une autre emergence? Puissance technique et resorts culturels en Inde et en Chine, Paris, Hermann, “Débat Public”, 2014, pp. 101-122.

2010 “Fuite sans fin et exil impossible: Le Livre d’un homme seul de Gao Xingjian” (Endless escape and impossible exile: Gao Xingjian’s novel One Man’s Bible), in Jean-Pierre Morel, Wolfgang Asholt, Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt (eds), Dans le dehors du monde. Exils d’écrivains et d’artistes au xxe siècle, Paris, Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2010, p. 279-295.

2006 “De la marginalité à l’individualité dans les premières pièces de Gao Xingjian” (From Marginality to Individuality in Gao Xingjian’s Early Plays), in Noël Dutrait (ed), L’Écriture romanesque et théâtrale de Gao Xingjian, Paris, éd. du Seuil, 2006, pp. 147-167.

2004 “Chine: le théâtre contre le cynisme ?” (China: Theatre against Cynicism?), special issue of Théâtre/Public, n° 174, July-September 2004, p. 31-76 (with Pascale Guinot)