Prof. Dr. Barbara Mittler - Chinese Cultural Studies

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E-Mail:  barbara.mittler [at]
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Mittler Portrait

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Chinesische Politik:

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On this page:

   Ongoing Research Projects
   Film Portrait


Welcome to this website which shall provide you with information on my life (curriculum vitae), works (publications), my research (papers and talks) as well as one of my favourite pastimes (teaching materials). I have been a member of this Institute since 1994, first employed through a project sponsored by the German Research Foundation, later (since 1996) as an Assistant Professor, yet later again (since 1999) as an Associate Professor. Starting in October 2002, I was on research leave, originally for three years, on a Heisenberg Scholarship by the German Research Foundation. During this time, I was affiliated with the Institute of Chinese Studies and the Center for Gender Studies at Marburg University, as well as the Centre d'Etudes de la Chine moderne et contemporaine in Paris. Since the summer of 2004, I have been holding the Modern China Chair here in Heidelberg.

Once upon a time, I really wanted to become a practicing musician, which is one of the reasons why I wrote a dissertation dealing with Chinese avantgarde music (Dangerous Tunes: The Politics of Music in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the People's Republic of China since 1949), photocopied a huge collection of New Chinese Music for the library of our Institute (C. C. Liu Collection) and continue to organize talks, concerts and conferences (Chime-Conference) concerned with music from greater China ( Creative Couples - Transcultural Media, Creative Dissonances, Das Fremde und das Eigene, Music from greater China). One of my current book projects, too, “And there is only one Lang Lang…”—Classical Music and China, a Transcultural Perspective takes up on this interest of mine: Reading the fate of classical music in China from a transcultural perspective—and considering a variety of different “Chinese” musical practices, in the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan and among American-born Chinese, also touching upon some of the more unexpected faces that classical music has taken on there—as revolutionary music, classic jazz, and music for the Chinese orchestra, for example—the book will uncover the tensions inherent in this dynamic process of re-creating classical music à la Chinoise, and suggest new ways of interpreting them. For as Chinese musicians are making their inroads on concert stages all over the world, coupled with admiration for their incredible skills and accomplishments is often resignation or even fear. The heated reactions to the publication of Amy Chua’s Battle hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011) which caused a long debate on proper ways of educating children in the US (and music in the hands of China as an “Olympic Discipline”) are only one example for this.

A variation of my Habilitation Thesis (A Newspaper for China? Power, Identity and Change in Shanghai's News Media (1872-1912)) has been published by Harvard University Press' Asia Center Series. The book is based on an analysis of articles taken from a Shanghai newspaper, the Shenbao, founded in 1872 by an English businessman, Ernest Major. The book is an attempt to show how the foreign medium newspaper was transformed to fit the taste of its Chinese readerships, by incorporating the Chinese court gazette on its pages, by using authoritative quotations from the Chinese Classics, or by adapting Chinese literary forms, such as that of the zhiguai-xiaoshuo short story or the examination essay (baguwen). The book also addresses the question of the implied readerships of this newspaper by surveying the role of women and of the inhabitants of Shanghai. Finally, it asks whether or not this particular Shanghai newspaper, and many of the newspapers that followed in its wake, were indeed responsible for the development of a Chinese nationalism in Shanghai. The book thus questions the fundamental assumption reiterated since the publication of Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities that newspapers were indeed powerful agents in the formation of (Chinese) nationalism and the (Chinese) public sphere.

Recently, I have completed a rewriting of the history of cultural production during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), in a book entitled A Continuous Revolution: Making Sense of Cultural Revolution Culture. It is generally assumed that the Cultural Revolution was nothing but a period of cultural stagnation. The 8 so-called model works (yangbanxi)--of which, indeed, there were 18 (cf. list of the 18 yangbanxi)--are taken as paradigmatic for the entirety of Cultural Revolution Culture. They are condemned as an aberration in terms of cultural development. And yet, the comfortable presumption that the Cultural Revolution was simply a distorted and atypical phase of political extremism, distinct from the years before and after that "unfortunate period," is misleading, most certainly as concerns artistic production. The yangbanxi are everything else but the product of an iconoclastic, and xenophobic era as which the Cultural Revolution is so often described. Instead, they are manifestations of a hybrid taste which calls for the transformation of Chinese tradition according to Western standards, a taste which for a century has led to the creation of a Chinese culture of Western imprint. The model works are thus not to be considered the perversion of the Maoist experiment of re-inventing a new, Chinese but revolutionary, culture, instead, they have their rightful place in a long series of attempted syntheses of Western and Chinese heritage. It is one of the aims of this book, as well as of an edited volume from a 2001 conference "Rethinking Cultural Revolution Culture" which is now, finally, in its final stages and will thus see its light for the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, to show that the model works and many of the other cultural products (such as poetry, short stories, novels, posters, songs, music, paintings, film) created accordingly during the Cultural Revolution are indeed much less a deviant than the norm of orthodox cultural production in revolutionary China and, what is more, they remain extremely popular in China even today: Mao Zedong – Pop-Ikone und YouTube-Star and  Maos Kulturrevolution in der Karaoke-Bar!

Ongoing Research Projects

See also: All Current Projects

One of the larger projects I have been involved in since 2008 now, is a study of women's and other entertainment magazines in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan from their beginnings in the final years of the 19th century to the present day. The  project has involved a number of research seminars introducing and reading Chinese women's magazines (see Website on women's magazines, including a number of courses on magazines since the late Qing, co-taught with Zhu Junzhou in 2009, with Joan Judge in 2013, with Yu Chienming in 2013/14 and with Lien Lingling, Paola Zamperini and Louise Edwards in 2014. I am currently finishing a book stemming from this project, entitled Portrait(s) of a Trope: New Women and New Men in Chinese Women’s Magazines, 1898-2008. The book will trace the historical development of women’s magazines in China, their global interactions as circulating media constantly reproducing from other media, and their translations into action by and through the opening up of new media formats. It will discuss in particular, their powers in the making and the remaking of a particular trope, the figure of the New (Wo)Man, and its inscription into Chinese cultural memory.

Since 2008, and in cooperation with Joan Judge at York University and the Heidelberg Research Architecture at the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies (formerly Cluster “Asia and Europe”), the project has, in addition, also built a substantive database of women’s magazines ( women's magazines database) which, more recently expanded to include entertainment and literary magazines as well (Early Chinese Periodicals Online). The project was first awarded a TransCOOP-Grant by the Humboldt Foundation and the Canadian SSHRC ( "A New Approach to the Popular Press in China: Gender and Cultural Production, 1904-1937"), then a CCK grant and a grant by the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies and, most recently, a grant by the Academia Sinica Digital Centre.

Within the Cluster of Excellence  "Asia and Europe”—now the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies— of which I was one of the founding members, I first served as speaker of Research Area B  "Public Spheres," engaged in a number of projects, from the discourse of large dams, to satire, global musics, nationalisms, visuality, heroes and encyclopedias and, since 2012, became one of its Directors ( Staff page at the Cluster of Excellence "Asia & Europe in a Global Context"). Transculturality and Transcultural Studies is a research perspective, which, in my own work, I have variously critically reflected upon (for a summary, see All Things Transregional?) but which has become the basis for many of the research projects I have initiated, one of them being CATS, the Centre for Asian and Transcultural Studies, a new Asia Campus, including an innovative multimedia collaboratorium and Digital Humanities unit with which were awarded recently, to become the new home for the Centre of East Asian Studies, the South Asia Institute and the Institute of Anthropology in 2018 (CATS).

In addition, I am also engaged in a number of smaller projects, one of them being the pursuit of Taiwan Studies. Since 2006, the Institute of Chinese Studies has, supported by the Taiwan Ministries of Culture and Education and the CCK Foundation, been able to support a Lecture Series which brought scholars from and of Taiwan to Heidelberg (Taiwan Lecture Series).

Another of my research interests is the writing of visual history ( Visual Cultures in East Asia, as part of a project within the Laboratoire Européen Associé originally conceived by Christian Henriot, which has recently veered into a digital project around a comparative visual history of Mao and Gandhi which I engage in with a colleague from Duke University, Sumathi Ramaswamy. It is our aim to demonstrate that images and pictures are constitutive rather than merely reflective or illustrative of the histories that produce them. Using images we are able to interrupt the flow of text-based historical narratives, to ask new questions, and to produce new theoretical and conceptual arguments. It is our conviction that we must speak back against the enormous mistrust of images that saturates the social sciences more generally, in creating new and productive archives that will “blast” open historians’ legendary dependence on the authority of the word and the text. In our collaborative project “No Parallels? The Fatherly Bodies of Gandhi and Mao” built around these two global icons, we interrogate this assumption by exploring how these two paradigmatic “peasant” nationalists have been transformed into hyper-visible “bio-icons.” In our exploration of how the long traditions of Indian and Chinese iconophilia leads to what philosopher Bruno Latour has productively characterized as “iconoclash,” we consider how such practices have turned the flesh-and-blood bodies of Gandhi and Mao into spectacles in public and performative contexts and made them into veritable “fathers of the nation.” The corporeal appears to have been critical to the affective and ethical hold that these men (and others like them) have had over their constituencies and beyond, even while it made them vulnerable to caricature or ridicule as well. Consciously adopting a contrapuntal methodological approach that draws together within a single frame two “Asian” life trajectories that have more often than not been kept apart (“No Parallel”!), the project considers how critical images and signature image-events have contributed to a complex interplay between the iconization and the demonization of these men.

Since 2008, I have been working together with Ramaswamy and other scholars and students in an inter-disciplinary visual studies team at Heidelberg dedicated to the rigorous understanding of the transcultural travels and reach of images and art practices across Asia and Europe (Archiving Mothers and Fathers of the Nation in Europe and Asia: Developing a Digitized Prototype of Braided Pictorial Histories (pilot project), Transcultural Visuality (project completed)). Over the past year, we have taught a unit of a graduate seminar at Duke where we focused on the funerals of Gandhi and Mao. We also co-organized a workshop at the Stanford Humanities Center where we invited scholars from the United States and Europe who work on other similar “fatherly figures” such as George Washington and Nelson Mandela. We have also co-taught and convened another workshop in Heidelberg, re-evaluating the Weberian concept of “charisma” in light of recent scholarship on global icons (Artful Bodies: Charisma and the Aesthetics of Power). Our goal is to produce a jointly-authored multi-media work including an open-access database gathering images of Gandhi and Mao.

The book and the database will grow during my upcoming Sabbatical Year (with an Opus Magnum Fellowship from the Volkswagen Foundation) as Professeur Invitée in Paris, at the EHESS where I will work with Prof. Anne Keran (EHESS, CNRS) on the “making of icons”.

For more Information take a look at the list of my current and past projects.

Film Portrait of Barbara Mittler

More Films

max meets lisa

Living the Cultural Revolution - Impact Events and the Making of Cultural Memory | 15.03.2017

The 2017 Yip So Man Wat Memorial Lecture [1:20:38]

Video Video-Link

max meets lisa

Nationalismus, Heldengeschichten, Popkultur | 05.09.2016

Max meets LISA: Max Weber Stiftung [1:16:53]

Video Video-Link

Remnants of Revolution

China: Remnants of Revolution | 27.04.2016

SOAS China Institute, SOAS University of London [10:10]

Video Panel Discussion

Wagner goes East

Wagner goes East: Chinese Encounters European Opera | 03.11.2011

WagnerWorldWide:Bayreuth [1:32:24]

Video Lecture Video


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Letzte Änderung: 10.10.2019
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