I am a literary and cultural historian whose research focuses on the modern Chinese-speaking world. My most recent publications concern laughter and comedy, print culture, cultural entrepreneurs, literary cosmopolitanism, and the scholar-writers Qian Zhongshu and Yang Jiang. I am also an active translator. The latest is a selected translation of a 17th-century work my colleague Bruce Rusk and I recently completed called The Book of Swindles. The year 2017 happens to be the original work’s 400th anniversary.

My current research projects include a book on Chinese Film Classics; a sequel to my book The Age of Irreverence, entitled The Unfinished Comedy; an edited book of Chinese celebrity satires, circa 1934, called Imperfect Understanding; a translated book of stories called China’s Chaplin; and a book-length study of Chinese stories about deception. (Watch a related talk about swindle stories around the world.) I am also working on a Chinese-language book about Qian Zhongshu and Yang Jiang. (Listen to a recent talk about Qian and Yang I gave at Qian’s alma mater.)

At UBC, I am a member of the Department of Asian Studies; former Director of the Centre for Chinese Research; an associate of the Hong Kong Studies Initiative; and a Faculty Fellow of St. John’s College.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Department of Asian Studies
UBC Asian Centre
1871 West Mall
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2
CANADA

Tel. +1 604 822 5428
Fax +1 604 822 8937

chris [dot] rea [at] ubc [dot] ca

NEW BOOKS

The Book of Swindles: Selections from a Late Ming Collection
The Book of Swindles: Selections from a Late Ming Collection.
By Zhang Yingyu (fl. 1600s), translated by Christopher Rea and Bruce Rusk.
New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2017. Publisher. Amazon. Ming dynasty edition. Sample story. Q&A. Review.

This is an age of deception. Con men ply the roadways. Bogus alchemists pretend to turn one piece of silver into three. Devious nuns entice young women into adultery. Sorcerers use charmed talismans for mind control and murder. A pair of dubious monks extorts money from a powerful official and then spends it on whoring. A rich student tries to bribe the chief examiner, only to hand his money to an imposter. A eunuch kidnaps boys and consumes their “essence” in an attempt to regrow his penis. These are just a few of the entertaining and surprising tales to be found in this seventeenth-century work, said to be the earliest Chinese collection of swindle stories.

The Book of Swindles, compiled by an obscure writer from southern China, presents a fascinating tableau of criminal ingenuity. The flourishing economy of the late Ming period created overnight fortunes for merchants—and gave rise to a host of smooth operators, charlatans, forgers, and imposters seeking to siphon off some of the new wealth. The Book of Swindles, which was ostensibly written as a manual for self-protection in this shifting and unstable world, also offers an expert guide to the art of deception. Each story comes with commentary by the author, Zhang Yingyu, who expounds a moral lesson while also speaking as a connoisseur of the swindle. This volume, which contains annotated translations of just over half of the eighty-odd stories in Zhang’s original collection, provides a wealth of detail on social life during the late Ming and offers words of warning for a world in peril.

The Business of Culture
The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China.
By Christopher Rea
Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2015. Publisher. Amazon. E-book. KindleAuthor Q&A. New York Times. Rorotoko. Video (6 min). Read excerpts here and here.

Winner of the 2017 Joseph Levenson Book Prize (Post-1900 China), awarded by the Association for Asian Studies.

“I am confident that it is the finest in its field to include a lyric by me.” — Eric Idle

The Age of Irreverence tells the story of why China’s entry into the modern age was not just traumatic, but uproarious. As the Qing dynasty slumped toward extinction, prominent writers compiled jokes into collections they called “histories of laughter.” In the first years of the Republic, novelists, essayists and illustrators alike used humorous allegories to make veiled critiques of the new government. But, again and again, political and cultural discussion erupted into invective, as critics gleefully jeered and derided rivals in public. Farceurs drew followings in the popular press, promoting a culture of practical joking and buffoonery. Eventually, these various expressions of hilarity proved so offensive to high-brow writers that they launched a concerted campaign to transform the tone of public discourse, hoping to displace the old forms of mirth with a new one they called youmo (humor).

Christopher Rea argues that this period—from the 1890s to the 1930s—transformed how Chinese people thought and talked about what is funny. Focusing on five cultural expressions of laughter—jokes, play, mockery, farce, and humor—he reveals the textures of comedy that were a part of everyday life during modern China’s first “age of irreverence.” This new history of laughter not only offers an unprecedented and up-close look at a neglected facet of Chinese cultural modernity, but also reveals its lasting legacy in the Chinese language of the comic today and its implications for our understanding of humor as a part of human culture.

Here’s a brief video interview about the book with ChinaFile.

A few bonus visuals I wasn’t able to include in the book appear in this discussion (part 1 of 3) of Chinese laughter between me and Henry Jenkins, a scholar of new media, cinema, and vaudeville. Watch a video of a recent discussion between me and Prof. Jenkins about “The Ancient Art of Falling Down: Vaudeville Cinema between Hollywood and China” or read the transcript, which contains images and film clips.
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The Business of Culture

The Business of Culture: Cultural Entrepreneurs in China and Southeast Asia, 1900-60.
Edited by Christopher Rea and Nicolai Volland
Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2015; Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2015.

From the late nineteenth- to the mid-twentieth century, changes in mass media, transportation, and communication technologies provided unprecedented opportunities for the entrepreneurially minded in China and Southeast Asia.

The Business of Culture examines the rise of these “cultural entrepreneurs,” Chinese business people who risked financial well-being and reputation by investing in multiple enterprises to build cultural, social, or financial capital. Featuring ten interlinked case studies, this volume introduces readers to three distinct archetypes who emerged during this time: the cultural personality, the tycoon, and collective enterprise. These include the likes of Lü Bicheng, a famous classical poet, who parlayed her literary prestige into a career as the principal of a Beijing girls’ school and then used her business fortune to build a high-profile persona as a glamorous foreign correspondent; Aw Boon Haw, the “tiger” behind the Tiger Brand pharmaceutical company; and the Shaw Brothers, ethnic Chinese filmmakers and exhibitors who drew thousands of people out each night to watch movies in Singapore and British Malaya.

Collectively, these portraits reveal how changes in social and economic conditions created the fertile soil for business success; conditions that are similar to those emerging in China today.

Read a sample chapter (PDF). Google Books preview (HTML).


China’s Literary Cosmopolitans: Qian Zhongshu, Yang Jiang, and the World of Letters.
Edited by Christopher Rea
Boston and Leiden: Brill, 2015.

China’s Literary Cosmopolitans
offers a comprehensive introduction to the literary oeuvres of Qian Zhongshu (1910-98) and Yang Jiang (b. 1911). It assesses their novels, essays, stories, poetry, plays, translations, and criticism, and discusses their reception as two of the most important Chinese scholar-writers of the twentieth century.

In addition to re-evaluating this married couple’s intertwined literary careers, the book also explains why they have come to represent such influential models of Chinese literary cosmopolitanism. Uncommonly well-versed in Western languages and literatures, Qian and Yang chose to live in China and write in Chinese. China’s Literary Cosmopolitans argues for their artistic importance while analyzing their works against the modern cultural imperative that Chinese literature be worldly.

Read the Introduction (PDF), chapter 7 (PDF), and Epilogue (PDF). Listen to a talk about Qian and Yang.

RESEARCH INTERESTS

Modern Chinese literature and drama
Late Qing (1895-1911) and Republican era (1912-1949) print culture
Cinema, cartoons, manhua, and visual culture
Translation
Cultures of comedy and laughter
Stories of swindles, fraud, and deception
Qian Zhongshu and Yang Jiang (see a brief video introduction to both authors)
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EDUCATION

M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D., Columbia University
A.B., Dartmouth College

SELECTED FELLOWSHIPS AND AWARDS

Joseph Levenson Book Prize (Post-1900 China), Association for Asian Studies, 2017
SSHRC Insight Grant, 2016-21
Visiting Fellow, Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, Academia Sinica, 2014-15
ANU Australian Centre on China in the World Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2012
SSHRC Standard Research Grant, 2010-13
Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation Workshop Grant, 2010
Hampton Research Fund Grant, UBC, 2009-11
Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies Early Career Scholar, UBC, 2009-10
ACLS/CCK “New Perspectives on Chinese Culture and Society” Grant, 2009
Visiting Fellowship, Harvard University, 2006-08
Whiting Foundation Dissertation Completion Fellowship (declined), 2007-08
Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation Doctoral Fellowship, 2007-08
Faculty Fellowship, Columbia University, 2002-07
Weatherhead Institute Ph.D. Training Grant, Columbia University, 2003, 2006
Fulbright Scholar (Taiwan), 2004-05
Foreign Languages and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship, Columbia University, 2002-03

BOOKS

The Book of Swindles: Selections from a Late Ming Collection.
By Zhang Yingyu (fl. 1600s), translated by Christopher Rea and Bruce Rusk.
New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2017. Publisher. Amazon. Ming dynasty edition. Sample story. Q&A. Review.

The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China.
By Christopher Rea
Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2015. Levenson Prize. Publisher; Amazon. E-book. Kindle. Author Q&A. Illustrated Q&ANew York Times. RorotokoAudio interview (68 mins). Video interview (6 mins). Read excerpts here and here (HTML).

China’s Literary Cosmopolitans: Qian Zhongshu, Yang Jiang and the World of Letters.
Edited by Christopher Rea
Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2015.

The Business of Culture: Cultural Entrepreneurs in China and Southeast Asia, 1900-65.
Edited by Christopher Rea and Nicolai Volland
Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2015; Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2015.


Humans, Beasts, and Ghosts: Stories and Essays by Qian Zhongshu
.
Edited by Christopher G. Rea
New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. Read the first story (HTML).

(A collection of translated essays and short stories from Xie zai rensheng bianshang (1941) and Ren, shou, gui(1946), with a critical introduction. Here’s a video introduction to the book.)

EDITED JOURNAL ISSUES

William Sima and Christopher G. Rea, eds. “Focus on The China Critic (Zhongguo pinglun zhoubao).” A combined issue of China Heritage Quarterly, nos. 30/31 (June/September 2012). Link to full issue (HTML).

Christopher G. Rea, ed. “Yang Jiang.” A special issue of Renditions, no. 76 (Fall 2011). Link to table of contents and extracts (HTML)

Christopher G. Rea and Nicolai Volland, eds. “Comic Visions.” A special issue of Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, 20: 2 (Fall 2008).
Link to introduction (PDF) and abstracts (HTML)

JOURNAL ARTICLES

(with Henry Jenkins). “The Ancient Art of Falling Down: Vaudeville Cinema between Hollywood and China,” MCLC Resource Centre Publications (Aug. 2017). Article (HTML)

“The ‘Critic Eye’ of Qian Zhongshu,” Chinese Arts & Letters 2:2 (Oct. 2015), pp. 98-118.

Great Books and Free Wine” (in memory of C.T. Hsia), Chinese Literature Today 4:1 (2014). Article (HTML)

The Critic at Large.” China Heritage Quarterly, 30/31 (June/Sept. 2012). Article (HTML)

‘The Critic Eye (piyan)’.” China Heritage Quarterly, 30/31. Article (HTML)

On Lun.” China Heritage Quarterly, 30/31. Article (HTML)

“‘To Thine Own Self Be True’: One Hundred Years of Yang Jiang.” Renditions, no. 76 (Fall 2011), pp. 7-14.

Yang Jiang’s Conspicuous Inconspicuousness: A Centenary Writer in China’s ‘Prosperous Age.’China Heritage Quarterly, 26 (June 2011). Article (HTML)

(with Nicolai Volland). “Comic Visions of Modern China: Introduction.” Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, 20: 2 (Fall 2008), pp. v-xviii. Article (PDF)

Comedy and Cultural Entrepreneurship in Xu Zhuodai’s Huaji Shanghai.” Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, 20:2 (Fall 2008), pp. 40-91. Abstract (HTML)

“‘I Envy You Your New Teeth and Hair’: Humor, Self-Awareness, and Du Fu’s Poetic Self-Image.” T’ang Studies, No. 23/24 (2005-2006), pp. 47-89.

Cong keting dao zhanchang: lun Ding Xilin de kangzhan xiju Miaofeng shan (From the Parlor to the Battlefield: Ding Xilin’s Wartime Comedy Mount Miaofeng). Dangdai zuojia pinglun (Contemporary Writers’ Review), Jan. 2006, pp. 124-131. Article excerpt (HTML)

BOOK CHAPTERS

“Qian Zhongshu and Yang Jiang: A Literary Marriage.” In The Columbia Companion to Modern Chinese Literature. Kirk A. Denton, ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016, pp. 231-236.

“Introduction: All the World’s a Book.” In China’s Literary Cosmopolitans, pp. 1-13.

“The Institutional Mindset: Qian Zhongshu and Yang Jiang on Marriage and the Academy.” In China’s Literary Cosmopolitans, pp. 157-178.

“All Will Come Out in the Washing.” In China’s Literary Cosmopolitans, pp. 227-231.

(with Nicolai Volland). “Introduction.” In The Business of Culture, pp. 3-8.

“Enter the Cultural Entrepreneur.” In The Business of Culture, pp. 9-31.

(with Sai-Shing Yung). “One Chicken, Three Dishes: The Cultural Enterprises of Law Bun.” In The Business ofCulture, pp. 150-177.

“Tianxia you zei: Mingdai ‘pianjing’ ‘Dupian xinshu’” (World of Thieves: The Ming Dynasty Swindling Classic “A New Book for Foiling Swindles”). In Cong Moluo dao Nuobei’er: Wenxue, jingdian, xiandai yishi (From Mara Poetry to the Nobel Prize: Literary Classics and Modern Consciousness). Ko Chia cian and Cheng Yu-yu, eds. Taipei: Rye Field, 2015, pp. 304-317. Publisher’s description (HTML)

 “‘He’ll Roast All Subjects That Might Need the Roasting’: Puck and Mr. Punch in 19th-c. China.” In Asian Punches: A Transcultural Affair. Hans Harder and Barbara Mittler, eds. Berlin: Springer, 2013, pp. 389-422.Publisher’s description (HTML)

“Spoofing (e’gao) Culture on the Chinese Internet.”In Humour in Chinese Life and Culture: Resistance and Control in Modern Times. Jessica Milner Davis and Jocelyn Chey, eds. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2013, pp. 149-172. Publisher’s description (HTML)

“Foreword.” Twelve Towers: Short Stories by Li Yu, bilingual edition. Retold by Nathan Mao and Weiting R. Mao. Beijing: Foreign Language Research and Teaching Press, 2011, pp. 1-6. Preview (HTML)

Qian Zhongshu de zaoqi chuangzuo” (Qian Zhonghu’s Early Creative Works). In Zhongguo xiandai xiaoshuo de shi yu xue: xiang Xia Zhiqing xianzheng zhiqing (History and Learning in Modern Chinese Literature: A Tribute to C.T. Hsia). David Der-wei Wang, ed. Taipei: Lianjing chubanshe, 2010. A simplified character version was published in the PRC journal Wenyi zhengming and has been posted online here (HTML).

Cong keting dao zhanchang: lun Ding Xilin de kangzhan xiju” (From the Parlor to the Battlefield: Ding Xilin’s Wartime Comedies) [in Chinese]. In Wenxue xinglü yu shijie xiangxiang (Traveling Chinese Literatures and World Imaginations). David Der-wei Wang and Ji Jin, eds. Nanjing: Jiangsu Educational Press, 2007, pp. 165-187. Article (HTML)

“‘Zuori fei jinri’: Tian Zhuangzhuang Xiaocheng zhi chun zhong lishi yuyang de youling zaixian” (Hauntings of Historical Desire in Tian Zhuangzhuang’s Springtime in a Small Town [in Chinese]. In Xiangxiang de benbang: xiandai wenxue shiwu lun (National Imaginaries: 15 Perspectives on Modern Chinese Literature). David Der-wei Wang and Kim Chew Ng, eds. Taipei: Rye Field Publishing, 2005, pp. 161-180.

SHORTER TRANSLATIONS

Shamlet: A Ten-Act Play by Lee Kuo-Hsiu. A translation with introduction prepared for Shakespearean Adaptations in East Asia: A Critical Anthology of Shakespearean Plays in China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Alexa Huang and Ryuta Minami, eds. (Under contract with Eureka Press, U.K.; distributed in U.S. by Routledge)

Essays by Huang Chunming, Wang Zhenhe, and Zhong Mingde. In: The Columbia Sourcebook of Literary Taiwan. Sung-sheng Yvonne Chang, Michelle Yeh, and Ming-ju Fan, eds. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014.

Xu Zhuodai. “The Secret Room.” Renditions, no. 77 & 78 (Spring/Autumn 2012), pp. 78-86. Issue contents(HTML)

Zhang Letian. “Consuming the Absurd: Satire and Humour in Contemporary Chinese Art.” Go Figure!: Contemporary Chinese Art. Claire Roberts, ed. Canberra: National Portrait Gallery of Australia, 2012, pp. 58-70.Book description (HTML)

Yang Jiang. “Heart’s Desire: Act I.” Renditions, no. 76 (Autumn 2011), pp. 15-33. Excerpt (HTML)

Yang Jiang. “What a Joke.” Renditions, no. 76 (Autumn 2011), pp. 34-67. Issue contents (HTML)

Ding Xilin. “Three Dollars in National Currency: A One-Act Comedy by Ding Xilin,” with critical introduction. Asian Theatre Journal, Vol. 25, no. 2 (Fall 2008), pp. 173-192. Full text (PDF)

Xu Zhuodai. “The Fiction Material Wholesaler.” Renditions, 67 (Spring 2007), pp. 47-62. Issue contents(HTML)

BOOK REVIEWS

“Shanghailanders: A look back at the myth of salacious Shanghai.” Review of Taras Grescoe. Shanghai Grand: Forbidden Love and International Intrigue on the Eve of the Second World War. Toronto: HarperAvenue, 2016. Literary Review of Canada, July/August 2016. Review (HTML)

Yu Hua. Brothers: A Novel. Tr. Eileen Cheng-yin Chow and Carlos Rojas. New York: Pantheon, 2009. Modern Chinese Literature and Culture Resource Centre (online), October 2011. Review (PDF)

Alexander Huang. Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. China Review International, 16:4 (2009), pp. 521-526. Review (PDF)

GENERAL MEDIA / BLOG

“From the Year of the Ape to the Year of the Monkey,” The China Story (2 Mar. 2016). Article (HTML)

“Spawn of China’s One-Child Policy,” Asia Pacific Memo (5 Nov. 2015). Article (HTML)

“Mo Yan’s Nobel Prize in Literature,” Asia Pacific Memo (15 Oct. 2012). Article (HTML)

“China ‘vindicated’ by Mo Yan’s Nobel literature prize,” Radio Australia (12 Oct. 2012). Interview (MP3, HTML)

(with Ji Jin). “Qian Zhongshu yu Yang Jiang toushi” (New perspectives on Qian Zhongshu and Yang Jiang), Mingpao Monthly (1 Mar. 2011). Article (HTML) (in Chinese)

“China’s Nobel Prize Complex, circa 1946,” Toronto Star (10 Dec. 2010). Article (HTML)

“‘Life, it’s been said, is one big book…’: One hundred years of Qian Zhongshu,” The China Beat (21 Nov. 2010). Article (HTML) Chinese version (HTML)

CURRENT PROJECTS

Chinese Film Classics. A study of the most artistically accomplished (extant) films produced in China before 1949.

Stories of Chinese Deception. A history of how and why deception has been such a dominant theme in Chinese storytelling traditions, and in stories circulating worldwide about Chinese culture.

The Unfinished Comedy. A sequel to The Age of Irreverence, discussing how Chinese comic culture changed from the 1930s through the Anti-Japanese War, the Chinese Civil War, and into the early years of the People’s Republic.

Imperfect Understanding: Intimate Portraits of Chinese Celebrities, by Wen Yuan-ning and others. A collection of idiosyncratic sketches of famous Chinese writers, artists, political figures, socialites, and businessmen, ca. 1934-35.

China’s Chaplin: Comic Stories and Farces by Xu Zhuodai. Translations of short works by one of Republican Shanghai’s most popular and prolific comic writers.

RESEARCH INTERESTS

Modern Chinese literature and drama
Late Qing (1895-1911) and Republican era (1912-1949) print culture
Cinema, cartoons, manhua, and visual culture
Translation
Cultures of comedy and laughter (see video on “The Ancient Art of Falling Down“)
Stories of swindles, fraud, and deception (see video on “World of Thieves“)
Qian Zhongshu and Yang Jiang (see a brief video introduction to both authors)

CHINESE STUDIES WEB RESOURCES

UBC Department of Asian Studies
UBC Centre for Chinese Research
Modern Chinese Literature and Culture Resource Center at The Ohio State University
Scripta Sinica (searchable full-text Chinese classics and histories) at Academia Sinica, Taiwan
Heidelberg Digital Archive for Chinese Studies (must request password, no charge)
Chinese Language Dictionary, R.O.C. Ministry of Education
Zdic.net Chinese language etymological dictionary
Lin Yutang Chinese-English Dictionary of Modern Usage
Paper Republic: Chinese Literature in Translation

CHINESE STUDIES LIBRARY CATALOGUES

UBC: www.library.ubc.ca
Harvard: lib.harvard.edu
Columbia: www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/
UC Berkeley & UC system: www.lib.berkeley.edu
Academia Sinica: las.sinica.edu.tw/*cht
PRC National Library: www.nlc.gov.cn/GB/channel1/index.html
Taiwan National Library: www.ncl.edu.tw/mp.asp
Shanghai Library: www.library.sh.cn

VIDEOS AND MEDIA

Audio podcast (30 mins) of keynote address at Exeter College, University of Oxford (26 Nov. 2016), on “The power of writing in and from the margins: The literary careers of Qian Zhongshu and Yang Jiang”

Video introduction to The Age of Irreverence, produced by ChinaFile.com:
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Video of a talk at Penn State, “World of Thieves: The Swindle Story as Genre” (19 Sept. 2016) (30 min lecture, 30min Q&A):
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PROSPECTIVE GRADUATE STUDENTS

I welcome inquiries from prospective MA and PhD students interested in conducting research on modern Chinese literature, cinema, and culture. When writing, please include a brief summary of your research interests, academic background (including your proficiency in Chinese and other languages), and why you are interested in studying at UBC.

CURRENT PhD STUDENTS
LIU Yuqing
WU Meng
YAO Jiaqi

COURSES OFFERED IN 2017W TERM 2 (SPRING 2018)

ASIA 351: Modern Chinese Fiction in Translation
ASIA 514B: Topics in Modern Chinese Literature (graduate)

OTHER COURSES TAUGHT AT UBC

CHIN 451: Introductory Modern Chinese Literature I (non-heritage) (formerly CHIN 411)
CHIN 453: Introductory Modern Chinese Literature II (non-heritage) (formerly CHIN 413)
ASIA 361: Modern Chinese Fiction in Translation II
ASIA 363: Fiction and Film from Modern Taiwan (formerly ASIA 360A)
ASIA 451: Modern Chinese Authors in Translation
ASIA 355: History of Chinese Cinema
ASIA 375: Global Chinese Cinemas
ASIA 502A: Modern Chinese Fiction and Western Criticism (graduate)
ASIA 560A: Directed Readings (graduate)