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Annual Conference 2023 "The Making of Epochal Events: Narrating Turning Points in Chinese History"

15.06.2023 - 17.06.2023

“The epochal event [is] (1) an emerging category of a new kind of historical thought [that] is best conceived of as (2) a hyper-historical event that (3) brings about a ‘new reality’ and thereby (4) separates two worlds (5) in its capacity to signal the most momentous transformative changes (6) that extend beyond the limits of human experience (7) both in the world of human affairs and in the more-than-human world of the human-technology-nature entanglement.”[1]

Chinese history has been marked by radical changes in society, culture and the environment, which are often linked to specific events: famines, rebellions, inventions. This conference seeks to investigate how such epochal events determine our understanding of Chinese history and structures its narration. Potential contributions shall investigate how these events were reflected upon by specific actors and in specific media, and how they shaped institutions and social structures. A special emphasis shall be placed on how such events are recorded (in texts, images, statistics etc.) and situated in a particular vision of the Chinese past and future, arguing for their “epochal” quality.

We seek to engage with the question in how far such events are “epochal” at all, whether they necessarily mark a break with the past, thus promising the dawning of a new epoch, a “new reality” (Simon), or whether the “epochal” can also be constructed to make a claim of historical discontinuity that might be quite at odds with the experiences of the actors involved. With Bernard Stiegler we also want to ask whether there is a way to end the epochal: the “epoch of the absence of epoch,” the absence of any collective vision for the future that he attributes to the current disjuncture of our technical and social systems.[2] Contributors are invited to consider how such epochal events or certain types of periodization impacted in their own fields of specialty – if they did at all. They are also free to introduce events that are meaningful within a given discipline, community region, or time period but ignored or marginalized in other narratives – suggesting alternative epochal divides.

[1] Zoltan B.Simon, The Epochal Event: Transformations in the Entangled Human, Technological, and Natural Worlds, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020, 114.

[2] Bernard Stiegler. The Age of Disruption: Technology and Madness in Computational Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity 2019, chap. 2.



June 15, Thursday

13:30 – 14:00


Björn Alpermann (on behalf of the Worldmaking Center)

Jens Brandenburg & Michael Sondermann (Federal Ministry) —

Barbara Mittler (on behalf of the Heidelberg project)

14:00 – 15:30

Keynote Address I by Zoltán Boldizsár Simon (University of Bielefeld)

Epochal Events and Historical Narration

15:30  16:00

Coffee Break

16:00 – 17:15


Panel I. Periodization and Master Narratives: Situating East Asia in Global Twentieth-Century History

Chair: Dominic Sachsenmaier (University of Göttingen)

Sebastian Conrad (FU Berlin)

Making Japan Modern: Periodization and the Nation

Viren Murthy (University of Madison-Wisconsin/ Fellow FU Berlin)

Hegelian Master Narratives and Periodizing East Asian Modernity

Edward Wang (Peking University/Fellow Göttingen)

Why were 1840 and 1949 not Turning Points in Modern Chinese Historiography? A Tentative Thesis

Barbara Mittler (University of Heidelberg)

Rethinking Renaissance: History as Shared Heritage

17:15 – 17:30

Coffee Break

17:30 – 19:00

Panel II. Narrating Environmental Histories: Actors, Discourses, Devices

Chair: Hans van Ess (LMU München)

Wang Yizhou (Hong Kong Baptist University/Former Fellow Heidelberg)

Plant as an Actor, Painting as a Device: Human-Nature Narratives on Ming-Qing Transition

Maxime Decaudin (University of Hong Kong/Fellow Heidelberg)

Narrating the ‘Barren Rock’: The Environmental Origin of Hong Kong’s Colonial Myths

Sara Landa (Heidelberg University)

Metamorphoses and Shifts of Perspective: Narrating (and Questioning) Epochal Change in Man-Animal-Relations

Wang Yiman (University of California, Santa Cruz/Fellow Heidelberg)

Mediating Climate Change in the PRC

June 16, Friday

9:30 – 11:00


Panel III. Urban/Rural Futures: Narrating Changing Worlds in City and Countryside

Chair: Björn Alpermann (University of Würzburg)

Carwyn Morris (Leiden University)

Wanghong Urbanism: The Making of Urban Digital Spectacle in China and Europe

Antonie Angerer (University of Würzburg) & Elena Meyer-Clement (University of Copenhagen

(Self)Representations of Rurality and ‘New Farmers’ on Douyin

Tan Xiaohong (Guangdong University of Technology/Fellow HD, 2023)

Urban Gardening in Guangzhou

Li Xin (Nanjing Agricultural University/Fellow Würzburg 2023)

Housing Insecurity and Rural Migrants’ Coping Strategies during the COVID-19 Pandemic in China

11:00 – 11:30

Coffee Break

11:30 – 13:00


Panel IV: Worldmaking in Motion: Encounters and Ruptures in Travel and Exile

Chair: Barbara Mittler (Heidelberg)

Wang Shengyu (Soochow University/ Fellow Heidelberg 2023)

Disknowing the Globe: Steam Navigation, Maritime Disaster, and Terra Incognita in Wang Tao’s Late-Nineteenth Century Marvel Tales

Li Fupeng (China University of Political Science and Law/ Berlin Fellow 2023)

Translingual Making of Worlds through Chinese Global Travels (1905–1906)

Janice H. Jeong (University of Göttingen)

From Heavenly Square to Arabian Mecca: Modern Travels and Spatio-Temporal Returns to the Home of Islam

Wai-Yip Ho (Honorary Research Fellow, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter / Göttingen Fellow 2023)

Global Ismaili in China: Dawoodi Bohra Diaspora from Gujarat to Hong Kong

13:00 – 14:00

Lunch Break

 14:00 – 15:30

Panel V. Between Continuity and Epistemic Rupture:Negotiating Change in the Chinese History of Science and Technology

Chair: Sebastian Conrad (FU Berlin)


Chen Hailian (Leipzig University/Heidelberg Fellow 2023)

Converging Western Science of Nature and Chinese Art of Human-Nature Interactions: Reflections on a Japanese- and German-Trained Engineer-Reformer Ma Junwu’s (1881–1940) Educational Practices

Emily Tsui (MPI for the History of Science, Berlin/formerly Heidelberg member)

Tan Sitong and the Ether

Sally Chengji Xing (Göttingen Fellow 2023)

Pacific Crossings: The China Foundation and a Negotiated Translation of American Science to China, 1913–1949

Matthias Schumann (Heidelberg University)

Economic Development, National Sovereignty, and the Fight against Superstitions: Fei Hongnian 費鴻年 (1900–1993) and the Diverse Roles of Zoology in Republican China (1912–1949)

15:30 – 16:00

Coffee Break

16:00 – 17:30

Keynote Address II by Andrew B. Kipnis (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)

Imagining Social Change

June 17, Saturday

9:15 – 11:15


Panel VI. Making World Health — Local Moments and Global Moments

Chair: Elena Meyer-Clement (University of Copenhagen)

Harald Bøckman (University of Oslo)

An Epochal Event Unfolding: Wuhan in the Spring of 2020

Igor Sevenard (FU Berlin)

SARS in Hongkong as an Epochal Event

Chen Hao 陈昊 (Peking University/Fellow Heidelberg 2023)

Non-human Animals in a Human Pandemic: Entangled Histories

Emily Graf (Tübingen University/Berlin associate member)

The Barefoot Doctor Transgressing Worlds of Health?

Liu Chao 刘超 (Nanjing University/Berlin fellow)

Ushering Nutrition and Nutriology into Everyday Life: A Conceptual History of yingyang in Republican China (virtual presentation)

11:15 – 11:30

Coffee Break

11:30 – 13:00

“Rethinking Religion(s) in China—Theories, Methods, Practices”

Methods Workshop organized by the Göttingen Team

Invited Guests:

Tansen Sen (New York University Shanghai), “Buddhist Cosmopolis and Ecumenes: Deconstructing Buddhist Transnational Entanglements in the Longue Durée

Vincent Goossaert (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Études), “The CRTA Database of Chinese Religious Texts”

Commentary by Mohammed Alsudairi (Australian National University, former fellow Göttingen)


Heidelberg University, Center for Asian and Transcultural Studies (CATS), Voßstraße 2, 69115 Heidelberg, R. 010.01.05