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Prof. Zhao BaiSheng Speaks at Harvard

Harvard University, March 26th to 29th, 2009: Over two thousand speakers from all five continents gathered at Harvard for the 2009 American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) annual meeting. According to David Damrosh, chairman of the meeting, the turnout of this year’s conference was unprecedented. Professor Zhao BaiSheng, director of the Global Language Research Institute from School of Foreign Languages in Peking University was invited to speak at this year’s meeting. The audience was very interested and responded enthusiastically. After his talk, scholars from all over the world asked for further discussion and possible collaboration in the future.


This year’s theme for ACLA was “Global Languages, Local Cultures”, 222 parallel sessions were held. Topics were diverse, covering all areas in Comparative Literature Research. Amongst the many topics, “World Literature” research was undoubtedly the meeting’s spot light. Multiple parallel sessions were delegated to this topic. Of those topics, the seminar “Comparing World Literatures” lasted for three days, each meeting having a full house turnout. Scholars from different continents explained, based on their individual cultures and academic traditions, the meaning and context of world literature in Asia, Africa, Latin America, North America and Europe.


Prof. Zhao BaiSheng, Director of the Global Language Research Institute from SFL speaking at Harvard


China’s Research on “World Literature” was the center of attention in this year’s ACLA conference. On the afternoon of March 28th, Professor Zhao spoke at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre, his topic “World Literature at PKU”; Harvard’s special-grade Professor Stephen Owen hosted the meeting.


Professor Zhao BaiSheng opened his speech with two H’s, saying Chinese TV series had compared New York to heaven and hell, however he thought this comparison was not accurate. In fact he felt Harvard was closer to being heaven and hell. How was one supposed to listen to two thousand seminars in a mere three days? Harvard was just like hell in that sense, however being surrounded by all these wonderful discussions made Harvard a living heaven. The choice in it self was torture, but this was a sweet torture, said Zhao. This brought laughter throughout the hall, bringing the speech to a great start.


At the end of his talk, Zhao emphasized that the true model for world literature research should be the “Five Ring Model”. In the coming decade, PKU’s World Literature Research Institute will focus on trying this new model. For this, Zhao proposed to hold a “World Literature Meeting” in 2011 at PKU and to establish a World Literature Association (WLA) to build a global stage for world literature. The theatre was filled with applause after this motion was suggested.



Group photo with some participants of the 2009ACLA annual meeting (Zhao is in front row on the left)


For PKU’s World Literature Research Institute, our greatest reward was that we will be working with Harvard, Yale and other schools on setting up a “World Literature Summer School”, which will pave the way for our literature to the world.


Edited by: Cai Ying

Translated by: Connie Chang

Source: PKU News (Chinese)