Chinese/Ethnoscapes: Ethnic World-Making in Contemporary Sinophone Literature

Chinese/Ethnoscapes: Ethnic World-Making in Contemporary Sinophone Literature

Kyle Shernuk - Postdoctoral Associate in East Asian Studies and Lecturer in East Asian Languages & Literatures

Tuesday, September 29, 2020 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
via Zoom See map

In this talk, I explore the relationship between ethnicity and the changing meaning of Chineseness at the turn of the twenty-first century. I will offer the idea of “Chinese/ethnoscapes” as a framework for thinking about “China” through distinctly ethnic (and ethnicized) worldviews, particularly as they are expressed in two literary examples. First, I will address the ethnically Tibetan, Chinese writer Alai’s award-winning novel Red Poppies. By engaging in a reading of the story that accounts for and takes seriously the Tibetan worldview it suggests, I contend that the novel contains an alternative ending that challenges received ideas about modernity and contemporary Chineseness. Next, I will discuss Paiwan aboriginal, Taiwan writer Dadelavan Ibau’s travelogue-cum-memoir Farewell Eagle: A Paiwan Woman’s West-Tibetan Travels. Through her use of parallel narratives that both remember her past and record her present, I demonstrate how she tactically reconfigures normative coming-of-age narratives in order to accommodate minoritized ethnic knowledge within mainstream Han-ethnic society. Taken collectively, I argue that these literary works demonstrate how centering ethnicity – or taking ethnicity as a method – results in the production of new knowledge about both ethnic and Chinese experiences, knowledge that fundamental reshapes how we can understand the purpose and purview of Chinese Studies today. 

Kyle Shernuk is a Postdoctoral Associate at the Council on East Asian Studies at Yale University. He is currently working on his first book, which focuses on the relationship between expressions of ethnicity in literature and film and ideas about what it means to be Chinese at the turn of the twenty-first century. Relevant publications appear in the International Journal of Taiwan Studies, Keywords in Queer Sinophone Studies, and A New Literary History of Modern China. To learn more about Kyle and his research, visit his website at


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