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Art Collecting, Inventory, and Criminality in Ming Imperial China (1368-1644)

Huiping PangHuiping Pang, professor of art history at the University of Iowa, will give a talk using Chinese art as historical documents to investigate the legal history and imperial violence of the Ming imperial era. The free, public lecture starts at 4 p.m. Nov. 20, in Alumni Recitation Hall, Room 120.

Titled "Art Collecting, Inventory, and Criminality in Ming Imperial China (1368-1644)," this lecture will explore the darker side of the art collecting culture of the Ming imperial dynasty. Pang will look at 201 canonical Chinese artworks, focusing on the imperial half-seals and half-codes marked on the art. These marks show how Ming emperors abused their prime ministers, took their art collections, and put inventory half-marks on the stolen art to make their actions legally justifiable. 

An accomplished art historian, Pang holds two Ph.D. degrees in the history of Chinese art, one from Stanford University and the other from Beijing University. She received her postdoctoral fellowship from the Smithsonian Institution. Her scholarship focuses on a diverse range of topics, including 10th-17th century Chinese institutional and court history, climate change, politics, art-collecting culture and horse paintings. Pang has published 20 articles in leading English and Chinese peer-reviewed journals.

Sharing the Stage

Two different productions of Eugene O’Neill’s 1921 play Anna Christie will be performed Oct. 9–12, offering an opportunity to juxtapose the musical and theatrical traditions of China and the United States.

The award-winning Ningbo Yong Opera Troupe from Ningbo, China, will visit the College to perform Andi. Andi is a Chinese operatic adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s play about an estranged daughter with a dark past. Grinnell student actors will also present an English-language production; Sandy Moffett, professor emeritus of theatre and dance, directs the English production.

Both productions of Anna Christie will share the same set in Roberts Theatre in the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. “It will be fascinating to compare and contrast these two productions of the same drama in different languages and art forms, as both versions are performed in alteration,” Moffett says. “The style of traditional Chinese opera and dance is quite different from the Western style, and should interest anyone interested in the history of opera, dance or China.” The Chinese troupe consists of nine actors and about 15 musicians who play traditional Chinese instruments. Grinnell music students will join them, playing Western string instruments required by the score.

About the Production

With a wide repertoire featuring traditional Chinese opera and interpretations of modern works, the Ningbo Yong Opera Troupe of the Ningbo Performance and Arts Group has performed in France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, among other countries. The group’s recent performance of The Red Dress at New York City’s Lincoln Center won the 11th National Spiritual Civilization Five Top Project Prize and the Excellent Repertoire Award of the Seventh China Dance Lotus Award. Playing the lead role of the daughter will be Wang Jinwen, who received the top national award for a Chinese opera performer in 2012 for her performance in the opera Wife in Pawn.

Members of the Chinese troupe will conduct an open workshop with Grinnell students interested in music and theatre. The weekend also will feature a lecture by a Chinese literary scholar about Eugene O’Neill in China.

The troupe’s visit is made possible by Grinnell’s Center for International Studies and the Department of Theatre and Dance.

Schedule of Performances

Unless otherwise noted, all events are held in Roberts Theatre, Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. All events, with the exception of The Ningbo Yong Opera Troupe’s Saturday evening performance are open to the public at no charge, although tickets are required.

Tickets may be obtained at the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts box office beginning at noon Monday, Oct. 6. A limited number of tickets also will be available at the Pioneer Bookshop in downtown Grinnell. For more information about tickets, call the box office at 641-269-4444.

Thursday, Oct. 9

4:15 p.m. – Haiping Liu, professor of foreign language at Nanjing University, and Sandy Moffett, professor emeritus of theatre and dance at Grinnell College, will give a lecture titled “A Strange Combination: Eugene O’Neill in China.” Room 152, Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. No tickets are required for this event.

7:30 p.m. – Grinnell College Department of Theatre and Dance presents Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie in its original form.

Friday, Oct. 10

7:30 p.m. – Ningbo Yong Opera Troupe presents Andi. Performed in Mandarin; English supertitles available.

Saturday, Oct. 11

2 p.m. – Ningbo Yong Opera Troupe presents Andi. Performed in Mandarin; English supertitles available.

7:30 p.m. – Grinnell College Department of Theatre and Dance presents Anna Christie.

7:30 p.m. – Ningbo Yong Opera Troupe presents a selection of Chinese songs and scenes in the Loft Theatre of the Grinnell Area Arts Center, 926 Broad St. Tickets cost $5 and are available by calling the Grinnell Area Arts Council Box Office at 641-236-3203.

Sunday, Oct. 12

2 p.m. – Grinnell College Department of Theatre and Dance presents Anna Christie.

Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

Things to eat presentationThe annual Mid-Autumn (Moon) Festival celebration took place on September 5, 2014, in Harris Concert Hall.

Over 300 guests, including students, faculty, staff, and host families attended. The audience enjoyed Chinese food, moon cakes, and a wonderful program put together by Grinnell students.

Organizers and sponsors included: Student Government Association (SGA), Chinese Student Association (CSA), Asian and Asian American Association (AAA), and the Chinese and Japanese Department Student Educational Policy Committee (SEPC).

Ancient Texts Revealed

In 1993, a tomb in Hubei Province, China, produced a trove of ancient texts as significant as the Dead Sea scrolls. The collection of Confucian and Daoist texts from around 300 B.C. is shedding new light on ancient Chinese philosophy, which is why Scott Cook, professor of Chinese at Grinnell College, crafted a definitive study and translation of the Guodian texts. The Bamboo Texts of Guodian: A study & complete translation is a 1,200-page, two-volume book that offers a complete transcription and translation of the 731 strips found in Hubei. The book was recently awarded “Honorable Mention” (first runner-up) for the Joseph Levenson Book Prize for the best book on pre-1900 China.

Cook’s book is the result of a 13-year effort, which he says was the time necessary to do the job properly. “I could have taken a year and done a haphazard translation,” he said. To digest all the scholarship on the Guodian texts and come up with his own line-by-line, character-by-character interpretation, Cook needed 13 years.

There have been a number of recent translation projects undertaken at Grinnell. English professor Tim Arner led a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) that culminated in the publication of The Grinnell Beowulf, the first translation of the Anglo-Saxon epic completed by undergraduates for undergraduates. Jon Cohen ’14, with assistance from his professors, translated portions of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s 1962 national charter — the first English translation — to better understand how Nasser used Palestine to shape Egyptian and Arab nationalism. The motivation behind these and Cook’s translations is a combination of driven curiosity and the knowledge that once translated, these texts would be available to the hundreds of millions of English-speakers in the world.

One of the primary motivators for Cook to translate these works was his desire to make them accessible to English-speakers, teachers, and students. Early in the process, he talked to his editor to make sure The Bamboo Texts of Guodian contained an appendix of running translation so teachers could get access to his translation unencumbered by pages of textual footnotes and Chinese characters.

Chinese culture helps inform Cook’s teaching in Chinese language courses. Culture helps us understand why a certain combination of characters represents a word or concept. It provides a context in which to view language, and language indicates the way a culture thinks and how it goes about conceptualizing relationships at a basic level.

Cook was using forerunners of the current text years before his book was published in courses such as China’s Ancient World and Chinese Philosophical Tradition. Although the students benefitted from access to these texts, Cook also gained a lot by getting thoughts from his students. “Bouncing ideas off students keeps the whole enterprise alive,” says Cook. It keeps him from getting too narrowly focused, and he finds that having conversations with students helps him think more broadly about the texts and how to best present them.

“One of the most important things with these finds is to teach students to think about where these books come from,” says Cook. The Guodian texts help shed light specifically on the formulation of the Dao De Ching, but other texts also originated in ways that students might not initially have been aware of. Many of the texts that Cook’s students read were originally loose volumes that were put together only later and subsequently passed down as books. He encourages his students to think about when a set of texts became a book and how much authorship they can ascribe to a set of texts. The origination of these texts is not as simple as it seems, and he hopes to get his students to think more critically about issues such as this.

Professor Cook appeared on a recent web interview about his work, and his book.

Scott Cook is the Cowles-Kruidenier Chair of Chinese Studies.

Some Chinese Food for Thought


“Food is a prism that absorbs and reflects a host of cultural phenomena,” says Jin Feng. “An examination of Chinese and Chinese American foodways — behaviors and beliefs surrounding the production, distribution, processing, preparation, and consumption of food — reveals power relations and ways of constructing class, gender, and racial identities.”

This fall, students in Feng’s special topic course, Some Chinese Food for Thought, analyzes foodways in various historical and contemporary contexts. They’ll “bring different types of materials and approaches to bear on the study of our most basic, visceral experience,” says Feng. 

25 Years of Grinnell-Nanjing Exchange

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Grinnell College’s partnership with Nanjing University.

At the end of May, President Raynard S. KingtonDean Paula Smith, and other College officials travel to Nanjing, China — a city of about 8 million on the Yangtze River and some 250 miles west of Shanghai — to celebrate the anniversary and sign the next five-year agreement between the two institutions. While there, they also meet with Grinnell alumni in the region.

The Grinnell-Nanjing Exchange was a form of renewing the old “Grinnell-in-China” program, started in 1916 when the College provided financial support, teachers, and principals for two missionary-run high schools. That program ended with the Japanese invasion of China in 1937.

When the Grinnell-Nanjing Exchange was founded in 1987, it brought a Chinese language professor to Grinnell from Nanjing to support Grinnell’s nascent Chinese language program and sent a Grinnell College student to Nanjing after graduation to teach English at a Chinese middle school (the equivalent of an American senior high school).

Over the years, the exchange has grown. It now sends Grinnell faculty to teach in China each spring and brings Chinese scholars and language instructors to Grinnell. As part of the Grinnell Corps postgraduate service program, the exchange dispatches two new Grinnell graduates each year to teach English at a school affiliated with Nanjing University. The exchange also provides an annual scholarship to Grinnell for a high school graduate from Nanjing. The winner is selected from one of four high schools in Nanjing, including the school where Grinnell College graduates teach English.

The history of the program has its benefits. “I frequently feel the presence of Grinnell in Nanjing,” says Dylan O’Donoghue ’11, a 2011–12 Nanjing teaching fellow. “Since being here, I have randomly run into more than six Grinnellians, including current students, alumni, and former faculty. It feels like everyone has heard of Grinnell or knows a former fellow or someone related to the College,” she continues. “When I meet or hear of a Grinnellian in Nanjing, I get that ‘small world‘ feeling, and I know that if that person is a excited to meet me as I am to meet him or her, a relationship will develop. It’s the Grinnell-in-Nanjing way.”

The agreement signed in May represents the sixth five-year agreement between the two institutions and is in effect for the 2012–2017 period.