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Coup for Sinology at UNSW

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UNSW scholar Jon Eugene von Kowallis leading the world in analysis of leading Chinese intellectual and historical figure.

The Confucius Institute at UNSW Australia is delighted to celebrate the cover story in the August 2014 issue of The Journal of Asian Studies (JAS), long considered the premier venue for scholarship on Asia in the United States. This issue has two essays on the career and works of Lu Xun 鲁迅 (1881-1936), who is often thought of as China’s most influential 20th century literary figure, one by Associate Professor Jon Eugene von Kowallis, Head of Chinese Studies at UNSW Australia.

The cover design for the issue is intended somewhat ironically and somewhat in jest to suggest the constant reappraisal of Lu Xun’s works and role in a changing Chinese society. The centrepiece is borrowed from a late Cultural Revolution era poster by Chen Yaoyi 陈尧伊 published in March 1973, suggesting that the spirit of Lu Xun’s works still leads the Chinese people on to oppose the feudal autocracy and the new elite. In the foreground are a student, a factory worker, and a PLA soldier. Lu Xun appears above them, as the artist imagines he looked in the 1930s, “fierce-browed” as he defied the reactionary powers (hengmei 横眉 is an image from his classical-style poetry which Dr. Kowallis translates in his book *The Lyrical Lu Xun*). The text beneath the poster (incidentally not by Lu Xun) reads: “Learn from Lu Xun’s revolutionary spirit and become pathbreakers in the campaign to criticize Lin Biao and Confucius.”

Laurie Pearcey, Director of China Strategy & Development and Director of the Confucius Institute at UNSW Australia said “this outstanding publication is testament to Associate Professor Kowallis’ status as perhaps the western world’s leading scholar on this crucial figure in the formation of Chinese modernity and is a tremendous example of what Sinology means to the UNSW academic community”.

The essay in this issue of JAS by Associate Professor Kowallis is related to his ARC Discovery Project on Lu Xun’s formative period as a student and later an independent scholar in Japan (1902-1909). As the Chief Editor, describes it:

This diverse issue begins with “Lu Xun on Our Minds: The Post-Socialist Reappraisal,” a Trends essay by Chinese literature specialist Jon Eugene von Kowallis of the University of New South Wales. His focus is on three recent scholarly studies of this author, who is widely considered twentieth-century China’s most influential literary figure. As benefits contributions to the Trends genre, he uses this trio of books as a vantage point from which to comment on broad developments in a significant scholarly field – and “Lu Xun Studies” certainly qualifies as that, given how much attention the author has received, not only from Sinophone and Anglophone academic circles, but from specialists in literature and cultural history working in languages as well. Kowallis charts a shift from Cold War era Western approaches to the author, in which Lu Xun’s sympathies with the Communist movement late in life loom large, to new approaches, which he terms “post-socialist” due to their being less tightly focused on political allegiances and alignments. Kowallis ends by musing on whether a transnational turn in work on Lu Xun may come next.

                                            —    Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom

                                                   Professor of Chinese History

                                                   The University of California, Irvine 

To download a copy of the article please click here