Professor Jing Wang — a beloved longtime colleague, vocal supporter of Comparative Media Studies/Writing, and mentor to countless students and fellow faculty — passed away at age 71 this past July. At this Colloquium, we publicly honor her life and work, featuring brief talks by some of those who knew her best. They include:
Emma J. Teng, T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations in MIT History and the Director of Global Languages. She teaches classes in Chinese culture, Chinese migration history, Asian American history, East Asian culture, and women’s and gender studies. Teng was Wang’s close colleague in Chinese studies for two decades.
T.L. Taylor, Professor of Comparative Media Studies at MIT and co-founder of AnyKey, an organization dedicated to diversity and inclusion in gaming. She is a qualitative sociologist whose research explores the interrelations between culture and technology in online environments. She was a colleague to Wang, working with her on various department-related issues, but mostly counted her as a dear friend.
Han Su, S.M. CMS, ’20, is Founder & CEO of Privoce, which builds tools to help netizens take better control of their data. Jing Wang served as advisor on his thesis Theory and Practice Towards a Decentralized Internet.
Tani Barlow, George and Nancy Rupp Professor of Humanities at Rice University, who met Wang in 1986 at Duke University, where Barlow came to her first academic conference. Over the next 45 years, Wang and Barlow were close friends, sisters, comrades. “We saw each other through joy, success, battles, losses, tragedies and the tedium and labor of writing,” Barlow writes. She is the author of The Question of Women in Chinese Feminism (2004) and In the Event of Women (2021), as well as many edited volumes. She is the founding senior academic editor of positions: asia critique. Jing Wang was a founding member of the journal.
The following is a transcript of the video’s content, with human corrections. For any errors the human missed, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eric Klopfer 00:49
Welcome everybody to this event where we honor and celebrate the life of Jing Wang, who was a wonderful colleague and friend, to everybody I think in this room and many of the folks online as well. I’m Eric Klopfer, I’m the head of Comparative Media Studies and Writing. I’m just gonna sort of give a brief introduction to Jing’s chronology at MIT. introduce the speakers that we’re going to have today, at the end of the session, there will be a chance for everybody both in the room and online to participate as well and contribute their thoughts and the ways that Jing influenced their lives, their careers as well. Jing was that S.C. Fang Professor of Chinese Languages and Culture and a longtime member of MIT faculty. She contributed in many ways to the lives of everybody in this room as a as a teacher, as a mentor, as a scholar as an inspiration. Jing joined the faculty in 2001 as a professor in ForeignLanguages and Literature. She was head of Foreign Languages and Literature from 2005 to 2008. She joined the CMS/W our CMS at the time as a colleague, eventually as a joint appointment and in 2019, as her primary appointment as well. 2011 Jing was appointed as the S.C. Fang professorship, or recall that Douglas Fang who was joining us this evening as a representative, the Fang family, and they generously established the F.C. Fan chair in Chinese language and culture in 1992. We appreciate that the family is joining us today and to share their respects and appreciation of Jing’s contributions.
Eric Klopfer 02:29
Jing was a tireless mentor, scholar, both fighting for folks on campus and around the world. She was a pioneer in the field of Chinese studies, and inspiration for scholars in this area all around the world. We were sad when Jing passed away this summer, at the age of 71. This past July, and at this Colloquium we publicly honor her life and work and will feature for brief talks from some of the people who knew her best, they include Emma Teng is the T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations at MIT history and the Director of Global Languages. TL Taylor is Professor of comparative studies at MIT and co founder of AnyKey. Han Su, who’s the founder and CEO of Privoce. And finally, Tani Barlow who is the George and Nancy Rupp Professor of Humanities at Rice University and met Jing in 1986 at Duke. With that, I will open it up I’m sorry, and, again, we’ll have a video between TL and Han at the end there will be a chance for anybody to contribute their thoughts
Eric Klopfer 03:39
with that I’ll invite up Emma.
Emma Teng 03:42
So good afternoon, everyone. It’s really my privilege to be able to be here to remember my dear colleague, Jing Wang. Brilliant, critical thinker, visionary, rigorous, committed, indispensable, fierce intellect fearless, kind, warm, caring, fighter, lovely person, politically engaged, activist, funny, complicated, a peach, concern for justice, anti elitist, trusted ally, confidant, devoted teacher, mentor, advocate, loving mother, true friend sui generis. These are just some of the list of words that I heard from people at MIT and far beyond in those very long days following her death in July. But for me, there’s a single word that sums it up for Jing: irreplaceable. Jing was born in Taiwan in May 1950. Very soon after the Chinese nationals’ retreat to Taiwan in December 1949. Her family was part of the mass exodus of mainland Chinese following the communist government revolution, I believe that this is a series of exile and displacement changed Jing’s life and profound ways. Jing was an outsider. She belongs neither to the local Taiwanese community nor to the mainlander elites that dominated Taiwanese politics and society during that time. In an interview for CMS in 2013, Jing described her experience as a daughter of sea captain and a housewife. She said it was very, very difficult being lower middle class back then. I believe that her anti elitism and her concern for justice grew from these experiences. Jing also learned to become a fighter. As was common for Chinese girls during this era, she faced the preference for sons over daughters, the inherent gender bias in Confucian culture, and she dedicated her life to fighting this injustice. In fact, at the time of her death, she was serving on the SHASS Gender Equity Committee and committee chair professor Chris Capozzola remembers her as one of the more active committee members. Okay, for those of you who served on a committee with Jing, you know exactly what it was to be one of the more active. As a child of refugees as a girl in a male dominated society, Jing turned her energy, passion and brilliance to academic pursuits. She attended the top university in Taiwan, Taiwan National University, majoring in the prestigious Foreign Languages Department. Her classmates recalled to me how she shone in the classroom, asking the most perceptive questions, giving the most thoughtful student responses and critical readings. But her her pursuits in this time were always constrained in Taiwan in the 1950s and 60s, due to the fact that it was under martial law. There was no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom of assembly, no freedom to organize. Even for a scholar of a subject perhaps seemingly apolitical such as comparative literature, there were constraints on the books you could read, on the theory you could study, on the words you could write. So Jing’s keen interest in Marxist theory and criticism that developed later in her life really must be understood against this background of oppression.
Emma Teng 07:34
Like essentially all elite students in Taiwan at that time she came to the United States for graduate study during the 1970s. She earned her PhD in comparative literature from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and her dissertation advisor, Lucien Miller still fondly remembers her as one of the most brilliant students he has ever taught. Leaving behind the constraints of Taiwan, Jing found herself you know, horizons opening wide before her and she explored very widely and graciously embarking on what would be called her wide range of intellectual journey, constantly challenging herself to learn more, experience more, write more. Coming from martial law Taiwan, Jing found the freedoms of American academia and democracy precious. And to the end of her life. She was a staunch defender of free speech, academic freedom and democracy. One thing that always stood out to me about Jing was as she was fiercely proud to be an American. She was also fiercely critical of the ways in which America failed to live up to its promise. And as Ken has asked me to remind everybody, Jing was a staunch advocate for racial justice for all groups. And in this last two years, she was deeply concerned about anti Chinese sentiment, anti Asian violence, and the targeting of scientists of Chinese descent, especially after our own professor Gang Chen’s arrest last year. Following her PhD, Jing spent three years at Middlebury College and then joined the faculty at Duke, where she taught for 16 years before coming to MIT. And she then quickly became a highly valued leader in Chinese studies, as well as in CMS, as Eric has already mentioned. A recognized pioneer in the field of China studies, Jing earned accolades for her scholarship on Chinese literature, culture and media, never content to rest on her laurels, and perpetually driven by her intellectual curiosity, Jing changed her area of specialization and methodological approaches numerous times over the decades. And this I think, is one of the key challenges in even trying to begin to think about replacing Jing, she is truly irreplaceable. Beyond traditional academic pursuits, Jing gave her talents and energy to a highly innovative endeavor, the nonprofit NGO 2.0, which she launched with Chinese collaborators in 2009, to help Chinese grassroots organizers use social media to be change agents. And I believe there’ll be more information on that this evening. I want to end by noting what a dedicated teacher Jing was. She taught a broad spectrum of classes. And she was even developing a new class on romance and Chinese fiction that she never had the opportunity to teach. Since her death, many of her former students have reached out to me to tell me of the deep impact she had on them. And I know what a transformative teacher she was, because she was also my teacher. Jing left this world as a teacher. On the Sunday morning of her untimely death, Jing was teaching a class in China on Zoom. And I keep this image because to me, it’s so quintessentially Jing, just irreplaceable.
T.L. Taylor 11:12
Thanks, Emma, that was so nice. It’s funny, because over the years, I’ve heard, you know, you hear stories from your friend about their life and trajectory, and you just put it together wonderfully. And thank you so much for sharing all that. My remarks are going to be a little more extemporaneous. And a little less on her intellectual life and more my experience of jing as a friend, which I know she wants to so many here. I was thinking about the first time I met Jing and it’s funny when you go somewhere for a job, you know, it’s like three days or whatever, two days of whirlwind meetings. And, but I have yet I have a very clear memory of Jing that visit I came here of this very petite woman sitting at the back of the room. And when q&a came after my lecture, she sort of leaned forward, I think she had, you know, pad in hand, and asked this really terrific question. And for those who don’t know, me, I do stuff on gaming. I think at the time, I was just finished an Esports book, I mean, so someone’s orthogonal, and she was just there. And I just, I remember that. And so my first experiences of Jing here were as a colleague, and serving with her on committees, and the just the diligence and the care, sometimes the needed ferocity, just the commitment she had, I was looking back through emails, over the years I’ve had with her and there was one where when I was going up for full professor, she had like, line edited my personal statement with just really careful, thoughtful, and I just it was, you know, it was it’s such a generosity to give people and things that kind of attention. And it just when I think of Jing as a colleague, it’s it’s such a defining feature of her, I would say to as a colleague, she was always so committed to keeping our larger vision conversations going, whether it’s with our grad program, or who we were going to be as a department in the future. So I think, you know, I first came to know her as a colleague. And in that way, one of the things I was also struck with always with Jing is the vibrancy, the vibrancy of her intellect of her spirit of her engagement with everything. Once I think she got a handle on kind of what I did, she was always sending me links, links to eSports articles, links to live streaming, links to gaming, here’s a connection in China, just you know, the generosity of also recognizing in the other what they’re interested in, and finding ways to connect with them through that is something I think of so Jing, an email that says check your WeChat. And then you go to WeChat, because she’s found something on WeChat that you need to take a look at. So I count, I count myself really lucky to have her as a colleague. It’s rare, we get colleagues that we, you know, have that we value so much and have those connections with. But over time, I really came to moreso value my friendship with her. And I think a couple of people heard this story but it for me it’s it’s sort of sums up so much of Jing in so many ways. I remember the first time she invited me to dinner at her house, which I’m sure some of you have done before. And at the time, I was living at a dorm here on campus in Simmons, I didn’t have a car. And so she invited my partner and I Micke and so we get a Zipcar and you know you reserve a Zipcar. Okay, no, 7 to 10 No, we went to Jing’s house for dinner. And of course, Jing is role she’s an amazing She was an amazing cook. Amazing cook, and in, you know, former life she had actually kind of had a restaurant I think and yeah,
T.L. Taylor 15:00
So she’s just rolling out course after course. And we’re realizing, oh my god, it’s almost 10, and we are still in this. And I tried to adjust the, the reservation and I can’t we have to leave. And she’s like, what? We still have three courses to go. Horrified. Lesson learned. Of course, she piled it all up in take away, you know, whatever she had gave us boxes to go. And I learned if you go for dinner with Jing, you are having a real dinner that’s gonna last hours and be filled with amazing food and conversation. And if it wasn’t at her house at one of the other last times, I got to meet with her. I, she took me to dim sum in when we were we happen to be in New York City at the same time dim sum with Jing was amazing, because all of that kind of knowing what she wanted, knowing how to make it best for and you know, getting us all the right food, just wonderful that bonding over food was for me such a classic Jing thing. And I think a lot of folks over the years experienced her generosity, she would often open up her home to students who were here over the holidays and invite them over for meals, when everybody else was going off. And just that kindness extended. The other thing I just wanted to mention something I loved about her was kind of, you know, the calls and the commiserations and the talk in and those of you know, me know, I love my leisure time, I have a lot of hobbies. And Jing and I respectively teased each other about this. Because, you know, she had hers that there she had her hobbies, but she was focused on her hobbies. And I often joked with her that, you know, I would if I could, I would retire now, but she would still be working 20 years from now. And you know, she just constantly had new projects and was constantly engaged. I talked to her the day before she died. And we had she had, again very generously brought me into one of her networks in China and we were on a project they were going to go over there together. And she was, you know, this excitement about this next new thing that she was doing. I was always amazed by her energy could often not keep up even when we were walking, but she was a dynamic, vibrant, deeply loving person. And well, it’s a lost […] our colleague, she’s I think those of us who knew her something also other than a colleague, it’s a tremendous loss that care. So
Han Su 17:33
it’s very lovely to meet you guys here. For me, Professor Wang is a founder of NGO 2.0 and also my mentor. She passed away all of a sudden, and I was actually in the meeting in the morning she was having with the NGO 2.0 colleagues, and all of sudden saw the message she passed away on Facebook. But I was very shocked. I though it’s fake but sadly is true. She’s not just my mentor, in terms of academia, but also for life, for career, and a lot of things. So I remember the first time like during the orientationship, everyone was asked to show a picture of themselves. She showed her avatar, which is also the avatar I first saw when I sent the first email to her. It’s like a super woman in the game. It’s a super woman with a sward on her back. I was when I was when I was sending the email, I was wondering, does she play a lot of video games? She she liked that avatar, I think she has a sense of being a super woman as a so in this world, and she has that sense of justice in my opinion. You know, she is a she she believes in Buddhism, if you guys don’t know, so in Buddhism is like you don’t need to do a lot of things. You just let it be. So it’s sort of antithetical to his or to her way of devotion to her life. And I was very curious on why she worked so hard, the very beginning. But as I as I got to know her better, I realized his I think his her sense of justice. She has a critical lens towards a lot of things. And when she believes there’s injustice, she tried to change it. So um, yes. Other people understand she she loves cooking and she loves eating in different restaurants. The first piece of information she shared with me was Haymarket in Boston, and some hidden gems, Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, which also invited me and other friends to different restaurants, from time to time. She, she, she has a very good taste in other things, especially food. Once I was eating at a restaurant, she recommended me. Not with her, but I bumped into her. So as not, it’s not. It’s not unexpected at all. So I know she would be at those different restaurants. And she also cooked very well, very professionally. She invited me and Iago to her house during Thanksgiving, since we were the only two international students there and they don’t have a place to go. It was a very good experience. I remember there was a dish called it’s a Chinese dish, but I’ve never seen that dish, she said is vegan fish. So I was wondering what the hell? How could the fish be vegan. And so so she explained, she learned that dish from a Chinese chef migrated from mainland China to Taiwan. And that dish is lost in mainland China. And that’s why I haven’t ever tried that fish in before in my life. She was pretty proud of that. She maybe she was the only person who could, could have made that dish. And later on, in summer 2019. We met in Beijing back in China. And remember, as imagine her, it’s something that’s me in China, as in the USA you treat me so now in China, maybe I should treat you. And she was like, no, no, you’re still a student. Maybe when you become rich, or when you work, you will treat me. Okay, so very unfortunate. Unfortunately, I don’t have a chance anymore.
Han Su 22:34
She is, she has a very strong sense of justice. As I mentioned, she, I think she started NGO 2.0 not all of a sudden. But before that she was doing work, she was the head of Creative Commons, of China or of Asia, but she found on Creative Commons is, it’s not useful to most of the Chinese citizens. It’s designed still in the ivory tower. So it’s not helping a lot of Chinese people. When information is, even today, there’s still half of the Chinese people living in a standard of less than 200 USD per month. So almost half a billion, more than half a billion people still needing this is less than 200 USD per month in China. So she understands that something like Creative Commons won’t directly help those Chinese people. And I think she doesn’t want to get involved into political power, where money too much, she still wants to really empower those people who really need her help. So she decided to do something that will empower the local government organizations, that’s the social organizations back in China. And her method is to use, to provide technical solutions to those local NGOs as an NGO themselves, NGO 2.0 So it’s called NGO 2.0. Because that 2.0 is to let everybody to participate to that and the plan is to use technical solutions to empower every social organizations in China to communicate to to marketing. So she has she’s very proud of her practical experience. Apart from her success in academia, so I think she understands how to really change the so called change the world. It’s not just writing, she, I think she has two ways to change the world. One is to directly help use her power to empower others. The other is to communicate to different people have her through her writings, her books. So she, when I was writing the studies, she said, if you write something, you have to make it valuable, like if different people are reading your work. So if you write, if you write something that no one will really read, it is not valuable at all. So I think she understands how to make changes through practice. And so she actually has nothing to do with Mainland China. She was born in Taiwan, and then become a Chinese American, but she still choose to dedicate her past 10 years in the field work of mainland China, and of course she, of course, she is not a nationalist, and she defined herself as a leftist. I think she understands what’s a true privilege, for example, nationalities, one of them, and technical literacies, one of them, so she tries to help those people who are not heard, not seen through her so her a different particle means. I remember when I first visited her house, I saw two very heavy dumbbells, 25 pounds, I was wondering who is using those kind of heavy dumbbells. And she said, if she didn’t know, I was a sports woman, I did weightlifting. So I was pretty stressed. But sadly, she had a stroke.
Han Su 27:31
But still, I think she tries to intentionally join those ways on her shoulder to fight for the greater good, not just physically, but also the last 20 years, she tries to crack to the to devote herself in the real world to actually do as much as possible. So even at the last day of her life, she was still working at the NGO 2.0 projects. And even right now, I still feel like she may shoot me a message on WeChat and ask me to join some meeting to provide, to provide my opinions. I think even though she has passed away, there are still a lot of things that she has left to me. For example, at least she encouraged me to work on my own career or on my own projects to bring my own thoughts into a real organization that can work well in that can work in this world. So after working several months, I decided to my own company, and I think that’ll carry out her ideals and keep fighting for the greater good. That’s my, all I want to say.
Andrew Whitacre 29:07
right if you guys give me just a moment, I’m gonna set up a video that Han provided. It also has some footage of Jing recently that was provided by NGO 2.0.
Ivy Yin 29:23
Jing’s older cousin, my mother told me about competence is to ordinary accomplishment when I was young. Growing up, I was so proud of Auntie Jing’s, perseverance, hard work and intellect. The first time I met Aunt Jing in person was 2008. The year our family moved to Boston. Since then, we have held many family gatherings. Whenever Aungie Jing’s busy schedule allows, Auntie Jing loved to share with us her many life experiences, from language and grocery shopping ,Chinese medicine, and acupunctur,e to her ferret, and gardening and cooking recipes. She cared about the grandchildren very much and often recommended the classical literature. I benefited from those readings too. When she learned that my youngest daughter Jessica, not cooking Auntie Jing’s one of her favorite recipe for her […]. I still vividly remember Auntie Jing say not only are the recipes good, but the articles are written in excellent English. Since the pandemic started last year, Auntie Jing spent more time at home and we saw each other more often. She had a plan to slow down a bit and spend more time with friends and family relatives. We had more opportunity to enjoy food and to share experience together. In early July at Aunt Jing’s home she treated us with her homemade paella. We never have thought that was the last gathering. Even now it is hard to believe. Our energetic and a lovely Auntie Jing is no longer with us. Auntie Jing and I shared a passion of gardening a few years ago Auntie Jing gave us one of our favorite plants. The night-blooming cactus, kāihuā in Chinese. Summer is kāihuā’s blooming season. Bloom like a summer flower. bloom like the pure heavenly kāihuā, I prayed Auntie Jing is eternally happy in heaven and rests in peace.
Ben White 31:54
Jing was always busy. Even on vacation, there were things to do, questions to ask, things to learn, things to teach. Jing lived her life with purpose, with determination and with concern for others. For all of her activity, she was never frantic. There was a focus in everything she did. We enjoyed meeting in New York City to go to museums and walk in the parks. Her critical eye was always busy examining everything she saw. Her tastes were modern, current, but she valued tradition in art, literature and music. She looked deeply at everything, and informed herself of what was going on on the world, through multiple lenses. She focused on what she felt was not sufficiently understood, not critically examined, not appreciated on its own terms. I think she viewed life as an opportunity to explore and to make contributions. Even during the darkest days of her life, she wanted to help others, to help with their grief, their loss, their frustrations. Jing was never helpless. Never felt sorry for herself, never stopped. Every moment spent with others was an opportunity to share. I will miss her voice, her laughter and her friendship. She was inspiring.
Bruce Lawrence 33:34
We’re happy to start this video has a tribute to Jing for her life and legacy.
Miriam Cooke 33:41
I’m Miriam, and this is Bruce. We want to thank Jing for all of the blessings that she has bestowed on us. So behind me, you see the red fengshui wall hanging that she gave me. She wanted to make sure that I was protected. And behind us we now have the tree. Go ahead.
Bruce Lawrence 34:10
This tree was given to us by Jing at Candy’s passing back in January of 2001. And the tree like Jing and everything is connected to her has grown better and be more beautiful and more memorable for us as we enjoy her presence through nature even when we cannot always enjoy her presence in person. And so as we think of her today and we give thanks for everything that she gave us. We also want to give her back this small but very sincere tribute for everything that she’s done.
Miriam Cooke 34:44
May she and Candy find each other and move beyond the bardo into enlightenment. With all our love,
Bruce Lawrence 34:54
All our love and with every hope that this this recording and everything else that’s done on Jing’s behalf will reach her and continue to be beneficial for us in years and years to come. Thank you Jing. Thank you Candy. Goodbye.
Zhou Rongting 35:38
Jing since 2007 we have launched NGO 2.0 With your team’s incomparable courage and determined innovation we have pushed China’s ICT4GOOD to an unprecedented new level.
Jing Wang 36:04
Once NGOs learn how to use the Internet and new media they can not only break through the bottleneck of communication but also cultivate innovative thinking in society.
Zhang Qiang 36:20
Jing thank you for helping me for past ten years Please rest in peace and I will continue our career.
Jing Wang 36:36
NGO 2.0 10th birthday We stick to the grass-roots spirit all the way in the next decade I hope more people understand the tech-empowered public welfare.
Xie Dong 37:06
Jing you have been the big parent of our NGO 2.0 for 12 years leading us forward and teaching us the unity of knowledge and practice Please rest assured we will prop up our NGO 2.0.
Zhang Qiang 37:32
What kind of public welfare ecosystem do we want to see in China? As in any country the best scenario for public welfare is that everyone can participate Don’t refrain from doing a good deed even if it’s negligible. In fact, China is also moving in this direction.
Tani Barlow* 37:59
This is an image of a female avenger. At the time she created the female avenger avatar with a sword on her back Jing was experimenting with Second Life. Whenever she was starting something new she’d try to get me to join her, so the same was true with her immersion in Second Life. That’s how she came up with this beautiful, durable, Buddhistic female, avenger avatar. She used that image ever after.
I was asked to speak about Jing Wang’s intellectual achievements. I met Jing at my first academic conference in 1986. I was so green to the profession that I didn’t realize you had to be invited to these things. I thought, oh, I have some travel money, the publicity brochure looks really interesting and it’s about Chairman Mao so I arrived in Raleigh Durham and that’s how I met her. In any case, we bonded in the way that many of you bonded with Jing and we began our work together.
Tani Barlow 39:15
In 1992, she won the Joseph Levenson Prize for the best work in traditional Chinese studies. I need to underscore how difficult that was, not just because Jing was brilliant and that the book is magnificent, but the idea of a young, beautiful Chinese woman winning an academic prize was so startling that I can remember sitting while she received commendation realizing this had never happened before. Also she made it very clear that she was from Taiwan and that was important, but there was something about that book, which made it remarkable beyond where Jing’s identities put her. Because what she did basically was a critic’s devastating takedown. She managed to take something absolutely banal — the traditional novel — and turn it into something exciting; Jing was seeing things there that other people had not seen. As others have mentioned, Jing never repeated the same thing twice. Immediately, four years later, she came out with High Culture Fever. I found it a formative book. Recall that the book’s subtitle is politics, aesthetics and ideology in Deng’s China and at the time we as a generation — Jing was born five months after me meaning we were both double white tigers astrologically, giving us arguably a lot in common — were meeting the people who were responsible for the high cultural frenzy that preceded 1989. This book, in the context of our expanding networks as players in a generational intellectual transformation, conveys the agonistic pleasure we felt being involved in Chinese intellectual life. Like Dai Jinhua, Wang Hui, the New Left and rural reformer Wen Tiejun, we were the same age, and we had lived through our own cultural revolution-like times. So the exhilaration of the 1980s was reminiscent of The ‘Sixties, and the 1980s in China formed another great intellectual enlightenment movement, a second “May Fourth,” so to speak.
Tani Barlow 41:55
She moved again, 14 years later after all the politics had receded replaced by malaise, to her 2010 book Brand New China, which looked at advertising media and commercial culture. I believe that this was her way of entering the methodological challenge of studying mass media culture. She was devoted to that, as Emma Teng pointed out. Jing was not just an avenger. She also was committed to demonstrating that popular culture had as much depth as elite culture and that because she was conversant in both that she could enjoy and explore and explain both. She began to hone her skills as a methodologist of popular sociology. I would say that in this respect she was less a historian, and more a sociologist and cultural theorist, and she created her own singular skill set. In 2019, The Other Digital China, non confrontational activism on the social web came out. She had been talking about this project for many years. And, whenever we saw each other in China over food, she was full of ideas and thoughts about its unfolding, a worldly, practical, highly theorized miraculous project.
I think that the ways she positioned herself is extremely important, and that is she was critic of no one person, but a critic of all.
Tani Barlow 44:10
As others have testified Jing Wang was ferociously critical, but in a disarming way. I think that her politics of scholarship, her personal life, and her activity in the public sphere, were all about displacement. She didn’t have much time for people who grandstand about critique of this or forward their derivative pet theories about post socialism, postmodernism, or culture causing things to happen, etc etc etc in China and so on and so on. She was privately devastated about pretension in cultural studies but was herself too wrenchingly critical and merit pursuing to engage in polemics or pay back. She had a different set of goals. One of them was to show that you can be credibly critical only so long as you displace the current conjuncture, point out where the problems lie and present solutions. And to me, that’s what NGO 2.0, is all about. It says, yeah, sure, the Chinese government is pretty scary, but as Chinese friends will say to you, Chinese governments have always been really scary. So what’s new about that? Jing’s issue was no so much to to exhaust the ways in which the Chinese government is terrible, so much as reaching out to people, the technicians, business people, the local activists, local people, marketers, and business women with investment capital, to put all of these people into a rather peculiar mixture, out of which a social movement could arise that works in the interstices.
These are her achievements as a militant scholar. Now I want to talk a little bit about the flavor of Jing’s intellect. That is, after all, how we met, and why we stayed so close to each other is intellectual joy.
Tani Barlow 46:35
Jing always worked at the margin, where she had a vision of the whole, and there are various personal reasons for that, but she could always find the opening, where something new would come out. So she was always looking and opening up new questions about the new world we occupy, the possible, and new ways we can understand the past. I understand her recent interest was history of youth? Not a surprise. She was always interested in what young people have to say about their world, and how they perceive their future possibilities. She was, after all, a long distance runner. And I was joking earlier about how when Jing prepared to write a book, she started lifting those weights, she started going back to the gym, she started eating better and trying to sleep. (We all know she had insomnia and even “sleep cooked, sleep ate” as well.) But she trained for writing as though she were an athlete, and she would lecture me about being too lazy. I took Jing’s scoldings very seriously, and tried to do better.
There’s something I want to say about her first trip to the People’s Republic of China. She was writing me emails and saying I can’t get anything to eat. And I thought that’s simply not possible. What had happened was that she felt a sense of physical nausea. She couldn’t find the things that could settle her stomach. I remembered that Chinese immigrants of my generation who came to the United States, that was a common problem, finding foods that were TCM medically appropriate for transition. And I never forgot what she shared with me about nausea, because it seems to me that this was in some degree, a part of her: the world nauseated her. The world is so unkind, so unjust, so unfair. And there’s a limit to what you can do even collectively to roll that back. I think that she was Buddhistic from the start. And as she got older, she and became more profoundly immersed in the “red dust” or chaotic human world and despairing that any amount of good works could “fix” it. For this reason, at a certain point, you do absolutely the best you can, but know you will never fix it. You can only accumulate merit.
People underestimate the violence of her thinking. I think that Jing was intellectually extremely violent. She could cut to the core of things, because she didn’t care what that person possessed or how high up the greasy pole they had climbed. It was always about ideas not people. She would never personalize ideas. If your idea was crap it was crap but you, well you were you. That’s a kind of violence that I very much enjoyed. And that is why she has a sword on her back.
I’m going to be very brief in the next comments. I am going to say to you that I believe that she has been massively underappreciated as a pioneering intellectual. We know her as a very interesting, compassionate religious woman who loved fashion and these fingernails, which I painted red in honor of Jing. This is a testament to our first public appearance together, that all the women on the panel painted our nails scarlet.
She won that big prize for doing something that until then, in the United States, only white men had been rewarded for achieving. So here is my question: why isn’t this book taught regularly? Why isn’t it in the pantheon along with Andrew Plaks’ work? Or Anthony Yu? And why is there no historiography of this book, and why are there no students devoted to the Thought of Jing Wang.
Some of you may not know that her Chinese name was not Jing.
Tani Barlow 51:22
Jing Wang is the name that she was given by English speakers. Her actual name is Wang Jin. There’s no g, there’s no glottal stop in it. But she loved being American and part of that was having her American name be Jing Wang. I think we can do more to promote her intellectual heritage and give her the professional acclaim and the priorities that she earned.
Can I just say that, The Story of Stone is still being taught as a class reading at Berkeley
Eric Klopfer 52:13
Thanks for sharing that. All those personal tales from many years, and the […] future influences for work. At this point, I’d like to welcome anybody in the room here online, we’d like to share a thoughts raise your hand virtually or in person?
Tom Levenson 52:52
I’ll say one quick thing. Need a microphone or just shout? I’m Tom Levinson. And the mention of her prize reminds me of when I first met Jing I shown up here in the 2004 or 5, I got an office and I knew absolutely no one. And I had no real experience of professional academic life, because being a professor’s kid is not the same thing as being a professor. And one day this woman from a different then a different department knocked on my door and and introduced yourself as Jing Wang, not Wang Jin. And and said hi, welcome to MIT. And I’m so glad you’re here because I got the Joseph Levenson Prize. And it was not, you know, I’m telling you about it because it was not an expression of pride in her accomplishment. She was welcoming me and I think one of the things that
Tom Levenson 54:23
I think people have already commented on but Jing was a real colleague. She built departments, she made connections. And I think she knew that I was really adrift here. And that I was adrift in part because I was not really comfortable and not really connected to the underlying culture of academic life. And she talked with me for some time on that first occasion and we would talk regularly, we shared offices on the same hall for many years. And it was that sort of unequivocal welcome and unequivocal sense of, you know, you belong here, you’re, you know, there’s a, maybe a generational connection but it’s just you know, this is good get down to work and, and it’s nice that we had this kind of just bizarre little non connection connection that made it possible which is what she used to express her love. So I was grateful for that at the time I’m still grateful. And like I think everyone here I am still disbelieving that those conversations won’t happen again.
Eric Klopfer 55:49
Jing, she did so much around the Institute and department responsible for making sure I get — she filled so many roles
Eric Klopfer 56:01
So many people to fille those shoes it’s really it’s really amazing that the work that she did you know, at so many different levels throughout here
Eric Klopfer 56:10
Eric Klopfer 56:11
pretty wonderful work that she did
Marina Tosi 56:32
Hi, everyone. My name is Marina Tosi. I’m a junior undergrad here, course 15 and CMS. I had the pleasure along my friend Willers here to take advertising and media, comparative perspectives with Professor Wang, spring 2020.
Marina Tosi 56:52
As an MIT student, oftentimes I’m human, and sometimes don’t do all my reading for my HASS classes. But never once did I miss a reading for Professor Wang’s class, I knew she would always like cold call, and I could not be embarrassed. Because I knew she would grill me instantly and move on to the next person. But I also did those readings, because there were signs like, really like good […], she knew, like we didn’t want to waste our times. And everything she did was like, impactful, meaningful. And those readings were really interesting, especially for her book Brand New China. And yeah, it feels cheesy to say that her class was one of my favorites. And I don’t say that just to say it, it truly was. Willers and I worked on this group project for the entirety of the semester. And I remember going up, we wanted to present just like the category for which I’ll actually just give a little background on the project, we’d have to choose a brand to reposition. But initially, we had to choose a category, and one time — what category is very broad. And I we were all very confused. And one time asked I my friend to choose a category and they said blue. So we were a little bit at a loss. Eventually, we decided on healthy snacks. We thought this presentation was supposed to be somewhat informal. We have a few slides that we put together maybe two hours before, and she tore it apart. No sense of oh, you know, like, we’ll change this. It’s like no, like yours stunk. And change something else. She she did that on my slide. And I remember tearing up like in front of the entire class completely embarrassed. But instead, our group chose streetwear and that was like really cool. That was really hip. We have a great project. We really bonded as a team. We have like our little WeChat group and it’s still continuing and yeah, Professor Wang was just like incredibly great, as you all know, and just like as a student in my like, quasi freshman sophomore year. You know when things went virtual, she made things incredibly engaging, and truly one of the best professors I’ve had here.
Eric Klopfer 59:29
Thanks a lot for shaing that. Lots of students have been impacted over the years.
Eric Klopfer 59:41
Anybody else would like to share?
William Uricchio 59:48
Yeah, just to say Jing’s phone number is still on my phone. We were conspirators. Those late night calls, future and fate of CMS. She was a really trusted confidant. I appreciate that a lot. She was also my introduction to China, I think every trip I’ve made to China. They’ve been a few, but thanks to Jing. And I think on all but one of them, I was able to meet her there, which was fantastic, great restaurants. We share a passion for cultural studies, and we’re sensitive. And it meant walking tours to the city that just opened up, it opened up in ways that allow me to sort of position myself between two cultures. I can’t imagine that happening with anyone else. So lots to say about her. But I mean, I have to say, There’s no way I can think of China without her just infusing all. Ironically, I’ve been to Taiwan without Jing and that was actually sorely missed her. I really needed that hermeneutic key to open that culture up.
Eric Klopfer 1:00:56
Thanks, William, yes, I too was able to fortunately, travel to China was with Jing and eat at all the great restaurants she led us to, had many fond memories of that.
Eric Klopfer 1:01:08
Eric Klopfer 1:01:09
I just wanted to build on this idea of intellectual violence, I really appreciate that phrase that really captures something special that it’s both sort of super sharp, but also somehow kind of kindness in the balance. I was thinking of also calls late at night. I think we I won’t say who but we wrote something collectively, he called up at 10pm and said, This is embarrassing, who wrote this? Gradually kind of talking through a specific revising, sort of getting past, what sort of a posturing response would be you actually, really were trying to stay there. I found that really inspiring also, coming from a completely non academic family and sort of navigating my way through just to hear her say, you know, dismiss entire entire lines of thought that she thought were obsolete at this point, I would just kind of look around, can you say stuff like that. To be able to have that kind of confidence. At the same time, it’s kind of coming across this in a way that’s not going to make people defensive and shut down. I think that that’s something I really was inspired by and took away from, I think the last time we met, we had plans to go hiking, because there was a hill nearby where she lives, that you’ve got lost on trying to go up and come back down and get you to come back down the wrong way and ended up in a different part of town. That that kind of challenge was something he wasn’t just gonna dismiss, she’s going to come back to you’re going to try and go up the hill again, find the right way down and find the right path. It’s just that kind of clarity on what matters what didn’t matter. It was really who continued to […]
Eric Klopfer 1:02:56
Eric Klopfer 1:03:20
Not hearing anybody else.
Eric Klopfer 1:03:22
And we do we have a reception after this, which is just outside that way if I’m not mistaken, yes, a tent
Eric Klopfer 1:03:30
out there where
Eric Klopfer 1:03:32
we can share each other’s stories with each other more informally, should be some food and drink there as well. So please,
Eric Klopfer 1:03:41
don’t need to scan it again.
Eric Klopfer 1:03:42
Is that right, Andrew, or do we need to scan
Andrew Whitacre 1:03:44
on if they’re new, if they happen to be showing up.
Eric Klopfer 1:03:50
But thank you for coming. Thank you for sharing everybody. Thank you to Jing for all the people whose lives you’ve touched, here and elsewhere.
* @37:59. Because of some unclear audio, Professor Barlow has edited the transcript of her remarks to better reflect her original text.