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WORLDMAKING FROM A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE:
A DIALOGUE WITH CHINA
從全球視閾看“世界”的建構:對話中國

A Translingual Conceptual History of Chinese Worlds (諸多“世界”的概念:跨語際概念史)

A Translingual Conceptual History of Chinese Worlds

A Translingual Conceptual History of Chinese Worlds
Image Credit: Emily Mae Graf

This project analyses how specific terms and concepts generate worlds. Terms can be corrected or distorted, depending on one’s point of view. Intentionally or not, worlds are created by composing and decomposing terms, shifting emphases, or by assigning terms to new semantic fields in specific discourses (Goodman 1978: 7-17). How do terms shape processes of world creation? What role do translingual entanglements and interdependences play in these processes? How is the future shaped by the use of certain terms, consciously and unconsciously?

The project has three main focuses:

  1. The semantic field “world” encompasses a broad variety of different terms in the Chinese language (such as shijie 世界, tianxia 天下, datong 大同, quanqiu 全球). How are these terms for "world" used in Chinese and which ideas of worlds do they generate?
  2. In addition, the project considers certain Chinese key terms of specific thematic areas (e.g. global history, global health, history of science or philosophy), thereby examining their impact on Chinese "world" concepts.
  3. The project bridges the individual projects by reflecting on the critical-analytical (world) terminology developed in the respective projects, including social worlds (Berlin), world orders (Göttingen) and life-worlds (Heidelberg).

Our methods and approach are translingual, inspired by Lydia Liu's Translingual Practices (1995). They take up recent efforts in conceptual history to reach beyond the boundaries of specific linguistic areas (as was common in Brunner & Conze & Koselleck Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe (1972-1990)) and to conceive conceptual history globally in dialogue with Chinese scholars (Sun Jiang 2012; 2018; Pernau & Sachsenmeier 2016) and at the same time facilitating a dialogue across disciplinary boundaries (Maissen & Mittler 2018).

Brunner, Otto, Werner Conze, and Reinhart Koselleck, eds. 1972-1997. Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Historisches Lexikon Zur Politisch-Sozialen Sprache in Deutschland. 8 vols. Stuttgart: Klett-Clotta.

Goodman, Nelson. 1995 [1978]. Ways of Worldmaking. 7th ed. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Liu, Lydia He. 1995. Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity - China, 1900-1937. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Maissen, Thomas, and Barbara Mittler. 2018. Why China Did Not Have a Renaissance - and Why That Matters: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue. Berlin: De Gruyter Oldenbourg.

Pernau, Margrit, and Dominic Sachsenmaier. 2016. “History of Concepts and Global History.” In Global Conceptual History: A Reader, edited by Margrit Pernau and Dominic Sachsenmaier, 1–16. London: Bloomsbury.

Sun Jiang 孙江. 2012. “Gainnian, gainianshi yu zhongguo yujing 概念、概念史与中国语境 (Concepts, Conceptual History and the Chinese Language).” Shixue yuekan 史学月刊 (Journal of Historical Science) 9: 5–11.

Sun Jiang 孙江. 2018. “Gainanshi yanjiu de Zhongguo zhuanxiang 概念史研究的中国转向 (China‘s Turn of Conceptual History Research).” Xueshu yuekan 学术月刊 (Academic Monthly) 10: 150–74.


Activities of this project: Talks, Lectures, Presentations, Workshops, Interviews

MA Seminar "A History of Medicine in China: A History of Knowledge, A History of Ignorance"

A MA seminar on A History of Medicine in China: a history of knowledge, a history of ignorance will begin on April 21, 2022. The seminar will be led by Emily Mae Graf, postdoctoral researcher of the project "A Translingual Conceptual History of Chinese Worlds." Igor Sevenard, predoctoral researcher in the same project, will also present his work on "China's Global Health Governance in the 21st Century: Infectious Diseases and Great Power" in the seminar.

The 23rd International Conference on the History of Concepts - Global Modernity: Emotions, Temporalities and Concepts

On April 7-9, 2022, the 23rd International Conference on Conceptual History was held at Freie Universität Berlin. Co-organizer was Sebastian Conrad, PI of the project "A Translingual Conceptual History of Chinese Worlds".

Article "Exposing the Obscurity of the Chinese Literary Establishment: The Destabilizing Power of Author Museums" by Emily Mae Graf

An article authored by Emily Mae Graf, entitled “Exposing the Obscurity of the Chinese Literary Establishment: The Destabilizing Power of Author Museums”, has been published in an edited volume on “Transforming Author Museums: From Sites of Pilgrimage to Cultural Hubs” by Ulrike Spring, Johan Schimanski and Thea Aarbakke (Berghahn Books). Emily Mae Graf is postdoctoral researcher of the project “A Translingual Conceptual History of Chinese Worlds” at the Joint Center at Freie Universität Berlin.

Seminar "The Museum Landscape of the PRC and Taiwan: Worldmaking and the Production of Knowledge" taught by Emily Mae Graf

In the winter semester of 2021/2022, the seminar "The Museum Landscape of the PRC and Taiwan: Worldmaking and the Production of Knowledge," taught by Emily Mae Graf at Freie Universität Berlin, offered an overview of the vast museum landscape of the PRC and Taiwan and explored how institutions produce knowledge, how history is (re)written in these spaces, and how museums become part of processes of worldmaking.

Article "The Yellow Peril 2.0" by Sebastian Conrad published in the FAZ

On 22 November 2021, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published an article by Sebastian Conrad entitled "The Yellow Peril 2.0 - Danger or Salvation? For more than a hundred years, the image of the mighty 'Middle Kingdom' has been changing in the Western world. Why is it that the perspectives keep changing?" (in German).

Digital Dialogues #3 "Lifeworld and Philosophy in Translation: Zhuangzi and Laozi"

As part of the Digital Workshop Series "Digital Dialogues" of the Joint Center, the group of Natalie Chamat, Dr. Fabian Heubel, research fellow at the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy at Academia Sinica, and Dr. Wang Ge, expert for translation, take a critical stance on the translingual dynamic between the Chinese and German languages keeping an eye on how concepts have been and are translated.

Presentation "Conflicting Sites of Memory in Xinjiang: A Critical Reading of Heroines on Display" by Emily Mae Graf

On August 27, 2021, as part of the biennial conference of the European Association for Chinese Studies (EACS), Emily Mae Graf, postdoctoral researcher in the project "A Translingual Conceptual History of Chinese Worlds" presented her research on “Conflicting Sites of Memory in Xinjiang: A Critical Reading of Heroines on Display”.

Reading Group "Worldmaking"

Along with fostering exchange between our projects and among the staff and fellows of the Joint Center, the goal of this series of events is to discuss texts that cut across projects and address various aspects and approaches to worldmaking.

Presentation "The Conflicting Dynamics of World Literary Heritage: The Entangled Spaces of Lu Xun and Sándor Petőfi" by Emily Mae Graf

2021 marks the 140th anniversary of Lu Xun’s (1881-1936) birth. The last decade witnessed the adoption of Lu Xun in world literature curriculum that calls for diversity and inclusivity in the twenty-first century, as well as the reconceptualization of Asia as a dynamic formation and interaction spanning East Asia (Northeast and Southeast), South Asian sub-continent, Central Asia, and Western Asia (non-African Middle East), complicating territorial fixation and East-West binaries. It is timely to re-evaluate the multifaceted role of Lu Xun as a writer, translator, and reader in the global circulation and translation of texts and ideas in the early twentieth century and interwar period.