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Jie Li | Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Lives

  • Fairmont Peace Hotel, Salon 2010 20 Nanjing Road (East) Shanghai China (map)

A Historic Shanghai Talk - SHANGHAI HOMES: Palimpsests of Private Lives

  • Saturday, December 6, 4pm
  • Fairmont Peace Hotel, Salon 2010, 20 Nanjing Road (East)
  • RMB 100/person
  • RSVP: [email protected]

What does it mean to call this dazzling global metropolis home? In this account—part
microhistory, part memoir—native daughter Jie Li salvages intimate recollections by successive generations of inhabitants of two vibrant, culturally mixed Shanghai longtangs from the Republican, Maoist, and post-Mao eras.

Exploring three dimensions of private life—territories, artifacts, and gossip—Li re-creates the sounds, smells, look, and feel of home over a tumultuous century. First built by British and Japanese companies in 1915 and 1927, the two homes at the center of this narrative were located near Yangshupu district, in an industrial part of the former International Settlement. 

Before their recent demolition, they were nestled in Shanghai’s labyrinthine lilongs, which housed more than half of the city’s population from the Sino-Japanese War to the Cultural Revolution. Through interviews with her own family members as well as their neighbors, classmates, and co-workers, Li weaves a complex social tapestry reflecting the lived experiences of ordinary people struggling to absorb and adapt to major historical change. These voices include workers, intellectuals, Communists, Nationalists, foreigners, compradors, wives, concubines, and children who all fought for a foothold and haven in this city, witnessing spectacles so full of farce and pathos they could only be whispered as secret histories.

Jie Li is assistant professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University.

As a scholar of literary, film, and cultural studies, Jie Li’s research interests center on the
mediation of memories in modern China. Her first book, Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of
Private Life (Columbia, 2014), excavates a century of memories embedded in two alleyway neighborhoods destined for demolition. Her current book project, Utopian Ruins: A Memory Museum of the Mao Era, explores contemporary cultural memories of the 1950s to the 1970s through textual, audiovisual, and material artifacts, including police files, photographs, documentary films, and museums. Li has co-edited a volume entitled Red Legacies: Cultural Afterlives of the Communist Revolution (Harvard Asia Center, forthcoming). 

Li earned an A.B. in East Asian Studies at Harvard, and studied English literature at the University of Cambridge and German literature at the University of Heidelberg before returning to Harvard for a Ph.D., earned in 2010 in modern Chinese literature and film studies. In 2012-2013 she was a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton’s Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts. Li teaches courses on East Asian Cinema and on Chinese media cultures.

Earlier Event: November 22
The Game 2014
Later Event: December 13
HGSE | The Future of Values in China