Professor Lean's book explores the role of the media and public sympathy in a sensational murder case
Eugenia Lean, who received her PhD at UCLA in History in 2002 and is now an Assistant Professor of History at Columbia University, has been awarded the prestigious John K. Fairbank Prize of the American Historical Society awarded each year for the most outstanding new book in East Asian history after 1800.
Professor Lean’s award-winning book, Passions: The Trial of Shi Jianqiao and the rise of Popular Sympathy in Republican China, published by the University of California Press in 2007, is based upon her dissertation, which was written under the guidance primarily of Benjamin Elman, former Professor of History at UCLA and former Director of the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies (and now a Professor of History and East Asian Studies at Princeton University). The book analyzes a sensational murder case from the 1930s. In the fall of 1935, a woman named Shi Jianqiao murdered the notorious warlord Sun Chuanfang as he prayed in a Buddhist temple. Professor Lean takes up this cause célèbre by delving into the media, political, and judicial records to show how Shi carefully planned not to avenge the death of her father, whom Sun Chuanfang had decapitated a decade earlier, but also to do so in a way that would capture the attention of the media and win public sympathy. For instance, immediately after murdering Sun, Shi Jianqiao handed out to the shocked witnesses copies of a poem she had written justifying her action as well as other materials, all nicely mimeographed.
Professor Lean approaches this fascinating case by tracing the rise of a new sentiment--"public sympathy"--in early twentieth-century China, a sentiment that, in the words of the publisher, “ultimately served to exonerate the assassin. The book sheds new light on the political significance of emotions, the powerful influence of sensational media, modern law in China, and the gendered nature of modernity.”
In a blurb, Professor John Fitzgerald of La Trobe University in Australia has described the book as “at the forefront of the next generation of scholarship on early twentieth century China. Lean makes a number of important claims about sentiment and modernity, puts forward broader claims that go beyond China Studies, and poses stark questions about the place of 'rationality' in modernity that will compel others to defer to her study for many years to come."
Professor Lean is interested in a broad range of topics in Chinese history with an emphasis on the history of late imperial and modern China, urban culture, gender and the history of emotions, politics of modernity, and historiography and critical theory. Her current project examines Lux Soap and the discourse of health and beauty in Republican China's consumer culture.
University of California Press page on Passions: The Trial of Shi Jianqiao and the rise of Popular Sympathy in Republican China
About the Fairbank Prize and past recipients, including UCLA’s Kathryn Bernhardt (Professor of History), and Philip Huang (Emeritus Professor of History)
Published: Thursday, December 27, 2007
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