The Promise and Perils of Media

Part of the "In Dialogue with China: Art, Culture, Politics" series, presented by the Townsend Center for the Humanities

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What role do new and emerging forms of media play in shaping our perceptions of China’s complex contemporary reality? This conversation features panelists who have lived successful lives as academics publishing thoughtful books and essays, while also producing newer forms of media, including nuanced documentaries and influential websites. Speakers explore how the formats, origins, and conventions specific to various media platforms affect public opinion about China, both within and outside the Sinosphere. They also offer cautionary tales about the facile analyses, attention-grabbing stories, and truncated sound bites and posts that drive today’s media.

This event is part of a yearlong series grounded in the conviction that for the United States to engage in dialogue with China has become essential. If we are not simply to challenge but to co-exist with China, we need a better understanding of the country’s complex contemporary reality — which in turn requires engagement with the longstanding historical and cultural roots from which today’s reality has sprung.

Complicating this project is the fact that over the past thirty years, much of what we thought we knew about China’s past and present has changed dramatically. From ancient trade routes, to the role of classical learning, to the May Fourth Movement, to the notion of democracy in a Chinese context, many of the major phenomena in Chinese history and society have been significantly reconceptualized by scholars.

Presented by the Townsend Center for the Humanities, “In Dialogue with China: Art, Culture, Politics” brings together Chinese and Western panelists to engage in cutting-edge dialogue on the history and current state of Chinese art, culture, and politics. Offering innovative, thoughtful approaches to the study of China, the conversations aim to provide rich intellectual resources as the US and China chart an unknown but surely entangled future.


David Ownby is professor of Chinese history at the University of Montréal. He is the editor and translator of Xu Jilin’s groundbreaking 2018 book, Rethinking China’s Rise: A Liberal Critique (2018). Ownby is well-known for his website Reading the China Dream, which explores intellectual life in contemporary China and spotlights areas of resistance in the Sinosphere.

Documentary filmmaker Carma Hinton grew up in Beijing and has co-directed thirteen documentary films on China. Her works include The Gate of Heavenly Peace, on the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests; Morning Sun, on the Cultural Revolution; and Small Happiness, on the sexual politics of rural China. Her numerous honors include two Peabody Awards, the American Historical Association’s John E. O’Connor Film Award, and a National News and Documentary Emmy.

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