Margaret Hillenbrand



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Margaret Hillenbrand

Professor of Modern Chinese Literature and Culture



I am a scholar of literary and visual culture in contemporary China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan. My first book, Literature, Modernity, and the Practice of Resistance: Japanese and Taiwanese Fiction, 19601990 (Brill, 2007), compares responses to modernity in the literary cultures of Japan and Taiwan during the postwar period. Moving beyond the East-West framework that has traditionally dominated comparative enquiry, the book analyses East Asian literature on its own terms via an intertext of cognate fictional works which challenge state-stewarded modernity in these two miracle economies.

My second book, Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary China (Duke University Press, 2020), intervenes in the established historiography of modern China by arguing that public secrecy, rather than censorship and amnesia alone, explains the absence of core episodes from the national commemorative landscape. The book also develops the theoretical concept of the photo-form – a historical photograph repurposed in paint, ink, celluloid, fabric, or any other artistic medium – and shows how these works can murmur truth to power.

I have recently completed my third book, On the Edge: Feeling Precarious in China, supported by a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship (20202021) and a Leverhulme Research Fellowship (20212023). The book explores precarity as it is experienced in China today, and argues that academic studies of this condition require radical expansion so as to include the extreme experiences of the world’s most populous nation. The book’s approach is interdisciplinary, fusing art history, digital media, and performance studies with citizenship and labour studies. I’m now working on a new book project about the politics of the face in an era of biometric surveillance.

I have edited two journal special issues: The Colour of Chinese Cinemas (Journal of Chinese Cinemas 6/3, 2012) and Contemporary East Asia, in Theory (Postcolonial Studies 13/4, 2020). I also edit a book series at Edinburgh University Press, entitled Edinburgh Studies in East Asian Film, and I convene the Oxford Seminar on Visual Culture from Modern and Contemporary China.

I took my BA in Chinese and Japanese at Pembroke College, Cambridge; my MA in modern Chinese literature at the University of Edinburgh; and my DPhil in East Asian comparative literature at Merton College, Oxford. Before coming to Oxford, I held a Chuan Lyu Fellowship in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge, and a lectureship in modern Chinese culture and language at SOAS.