In this edition of LRCCS Faculty Spotlight, we interviewed Professor Xiaobing Tang, Helmut F. Stern Professor of Modern Chinese Studies and Comparative Literature.
LRCCS: Tell us a little about your background.
Professor Tang: I was born in Hunan province, China, and went to Peking University in 1980 as an English major. After that, I went to Duke University for graduate school and received a Ph.D. in literature. I began teaching modern Chinese literature and culture at the University of Colorado in 1991. That was my first teaching job.
LRCCS: What do you find so interesting about modern and contemporary Chinese arts and culture?
Professor Tang: When we talk about modern Chinese culture, we usually mean the 20th century, or even since the late 19th century. By contemporary Chinese culture we usually mean the period since the late 1970s, although scholars have different opinions about this. I, for one, think the contemporary period goes back to the early 1950s. Chinese arts and culture in the modern and contemporary period are fascinating because there are so many changes, shifts, and even reversals. How to understand and explain these changes is both a challenge and a source of excitement to me.
LRCCS: You're a man with a great deal of expertise around present day Chinese art. If you had to recommend one contemporary Chinese artist to the LRCCS community, who would it be?
Professor Tang: There are many artists in contemporary China who are creating excellent and provocative works of art. If I have to name just one, I would recommend Xu Bing 徐冰. There is much depth and a global resonance to his work, such as his sculpture Phoenix.
LRCCS: We'll have to look him up! I want to shift gears here - I saw that you've taught over ten different courses at UM. Which one is your favorite?
Professor Tang: They're all my favorite! I really enjoy connecting with my students. But if I have to choose one, I'd say it is "Introduction to Modern Chinese Culture (ASIAN 261)". I have put in a lot of time and energy developing this course, because I want to help my students gain a better understanding of the complexity of Chinese culture from the twentieth century to the present day.
LRCCS: Outside of your coursework, what are you working on that you're most excited about?
Professor Tang: Earlier this year I published a volume called Visual Culture in Contemporary China: Paradigms and Shifts. Now I'm working on a Chinese translation of this book, which has turned out to be a very challenging experience.
My next book will be a study of different aspects of Chinese culture in the 1930s and 1940s. This was a profoundly transitional period - transition from war to eventual peace, from the Nationalist government to the Communist government. I'm interested in examining new forms of culture, or new cultural experiences, that emerged during this period. I believe this is a period that will help us understand Chinese culture today.
LRCCS: We at LRCCS look forward to your next book! We greatly appreciate your time, and recognize that we're running out of it. What's the one thing you'd like our readers to take away from this conversation?
Professor Tang: As a scholar of modern Chinese culture based in the U.S., I see it as my job to help my students and maybe the American public see the richness and complexity of modern and contemporary China. It is a country we need to know well.
This post is a revised version of a conversation with Professor Tang, and is part of a new series of interviews with LRCCS faculty. Stay tuned for more Faculty Spotlights!