Public lecture: A Sino-Jewish Encounter, A Humanitarian Fantasy

ThinkChina is proud to announce a public guest lecture with Professor Haiyan on an exciting and unsual part of China's history.


In the late 1930s and early 1940s, tens of thousands of European Jews fleeing Nazi genocide found a temporary safe-haven in Shanghai. They were able to do so crucially because Shanghai was an open city under divided governance and because China was at war with Japan and could not exercise sovereign control over its borders. In this paper, I ponder the moral lessons from this fortuitous episode of humanitarianism through the lens of moral philosophy and moral psychology. Using the Canadian-Chinese writer Bella’s novelA Cursed Piano as my textual anchor, Lee Haiyan asks what it takes to overcome what Zygmunt Bauman calls “adiaphorization,” or the abeyance of individual moral agency, that pervades the modern condition. She also compares the Jewish refugee experience in China with the divergent fates of 19th-century Chinese immigrants in Southeast Asia and the United States, in order to highlight the moral challenge peculiar to the age of nationalism and the nation-state system.

Short Bio: Haiyan Lee

Professor Haiyan LeeHaiyan Lee is a professor of Chinese and comparative literature at Stanford University. She is the author of Revolution of the Heart: A Genealogy of Love in China, 1900-1950 (Stanford University Press, 2007), winner of the 2009 Joseph Levenson Prize (post-1900 China) from the Association for Asian Studies, and The Stranger and the Chinese Moral Imagination (Stanford University Press, 2014). In 2015-16, she was a Frederick Burkhardt Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences where she began research on a new project on Chinese visions of justice at the intersection of narrative, law, and ethics.

Practical information

The lecture will take place on Friday November 3rd from 14:00 - 16:00 at University of Copenhagen South Campus, Karen Blixens Plads 8. The room will be announced here a few days in advance and emailed to everyone signing up.