Join author Ian Johnson and sociologist Li Jun for an IN-PERSON discussion about “Sparks: China’s Underground Historians and their Battle for the Future”
Sparks tells the resonant story of writers, filmmakers, and artists who use history to challenge Communist Party rule.
6:00 PM — Doors Open
6:30 PM — Book Talk: Sparks by Ian Johnson
7:30 PM — Book Signing
Please note that this event will be held in person at the Internet Archive, 300 Funston Avenue, San Francisco.
Sparks: China’s Underground Historians and their Battle for the Future (to be published by Oxford University Press on September 26, 2023) describes how some of China’s best-known writers, filmmakers, and artists have overcome crackdowns and censorship to forge a nationwide movement that challenges the Communist Party on its most hallowed ground: its control of history.
The past is a battleground in many countries, but in China it is crucial to political power. In traditional China, dynasties rewrote history to justify their rule by proving that their predecessors were unworthy of holding power. Marxism gave this a modern gloss, describing history as an unstoppable force heading toward Communism’s triumph. The Chinese Communist Party builds on these ideas to whitewash its misdeeds and glorify its rule. Indeed, one of Xi Jinping’s signature policies is the control of history, which he equates with the party’s survival.
But in recent years, a network of independent writers, artists, and filmmakers have begun challenging this state-led disremembering. Using digital technologies to bypass China’s legendary surveillance state, their samizdat journals, guerilla media posts, and underground films document a regular pattern of disasters: from famines and purges of years past to ethnic clashes and virus outbreaks of the present–powerful and inspiring accounts that have underpinned recent protests in China against Xi Jinping’s strongman rule.
Based on years of first-hand research in Xi Jinping’s China, Sparks challenges stereotypes of a China where the state has quashed all free thought, revealing instead a country engaged in one of humanity’s great struggles of memory against forgetting—a battle that will shape the China that emerges in the mid-21st century.
Ian Johnson is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He has lived more than twenty years in China as a student, journalist, and teacher. His work appears regularly in The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, and other publications, and for five years he was on the editorial board of The Journal of Asian Studies. He has won numerous prizes for his coverage of China, including a Pulitzer Prize.
Li Jun (who writes under the penname Li Sipan) is a Ph.D. in political sociology, and a visiting scholar at Stanford University. Before entering academia, she was an investigative reporter for the liberal newspaper group Southern Daily Press and a recognized feminist activist. In 2004, she founded the feminist communications NGO Women’s Awakening Network (新媒体女性), which has played a leading role in China’s anti-sexual harassment campaigns and in the process of legislating against domestic violence. Li’s research focuses on the intergenerational differences in the feminist movement as well as the relationship between the media and the feminist movement in China.
Book Talk: Sparks by Ian Johnson
October 19 @ 6pm PT
IN-PERSON @ 300 Funston Avenue, San Francisco