Richard Jean So F'12
ACLS Fellowship Program 2012
Department: English and Comparative Literature
University of Chicago
Republic of Mind: Literary and Communication Networks between America and China, 1925-1955
This project takes its title from a little-known essay by Arthur Christy, a professor of literature at Columbia University in the interwar years. In this essay, Christy argues that the early twentieth-century is marked by two profound transformations: first, the rise of new communications technologies, such as the telegraph, that draw disparate parts of the world together, and second, the unprecedented cultural convergence between East and West, America and China in particular, that have resulted. New theories of culture –how it is produced and how it circulates–are needed to understand such transformations and how they engender new social visions that transcend the old binaries of East and West. Christy stood at the center of a vibrant network of American and Chinese writers who implemented his ideas through political and literary collaboration in New York and Shanghai, Beijing and Boston. Key figures include Pearl Buck, Paul Robeson, Lin Yutang, and Lao She. This project reconstructs this intellectual network to explore how they created a vision of international community based on the harmonious fusion of American and Chinese cultural traditions, facilitated by an innovative use of both literature and new forms of media. Although this vision, what they dubbed a “Republic of Mind,” would not survive the rise of the Cold War, it provides a useful prehistory to our current moment of US-China cultural interaction in the age of the Internet.