Recent Shows & Talks

  • BackLit Talks with Robin Hemley

    Robin Hemley, professor and director of the writing program and writers’ centre at Yale-NUS College joined our BackLit Talks series featuring interviews by students with distinguished poets, fiction and non-fiction writers and translators from around the world.

    Hemley is the author of 10 books of nonfiction and fiction. His popular craft book, Turning Life into Fiction, has sold over 80,000 copies and is now in its fourth printing with Graywolf Press. 
    The interview was led by NYU Gallatin student, William Denning. Click below to watch a highlight from the conversation.

    BackLit Talks is part of the Literary Reading Series at NYU Shanghai. Mark your calendar for March 22 when poet and editor Tse Hao Guang and poet and critic Daryl Lim Wei Jie will share insights from Singapore’s dynamic poetry scene. And stay tuned for their BackLit Talks with NYU Shanghai student Haitian Ma.

    Watch the full interview with Robin Hemley on YouTube, Youku and Tencent.

  • Unburied Bodies In China And The Challenges Of Urban Redevelopment

    Professor Qin Shao focused on an emerging phenomenon in urban China in her lecture on unburied bodies, some decades old, kept in overcrowded morgues and mortuaries across Chinese cities. The lecture was part of the “Cultural and Social Worlds of Global Cities” series which aims to bring important scholars to campus who study global cities from humanistic and social scientific perspectives. 
    Professor Shao discussed some of the challenges regarding urban redevelopment and the struggle in creating human-centered cities, focusing on the ways that contestations over the unclaimed bodies of deceased urban residents reveal ongoing political struggles between the Chinese state and many families displaced by urban redevelopment projects . 
    According to Professor Shao, "The study of death in recent years has become a meaningful subject in the field of Chinese history.  Scholarship has indicated death as a fascinating intersection of tradition and modernity, state and society, the public and the private, rituals and human emotions, and my work studies the dead body in the context of the … human-centered city." she said.

    In her examination of the limits of urban life represented by these unburied bodies, she explored some of the key issues in contemporary urban studies, including the creation of an emotional infrastructure that would foster and sustain a humane city in between the forces of state power and global capitalism.

    Qin Shao is Professor of History at The College of New Jersey.

  • “Where’s My Data?” A Talk on Internet Data Collection

    Over 100 students and faculty attended the recent “Where’s My Data?” talk, a timely discussion on the implications of internet data collection organized by the Committee on Critical Inquiry. The event featured panelists Dean Keith Ross, Vice Provost Clay Shirky and Assistant Arts Professor Roopa Vasudevan, who covered topics ranging from personalized ads to social media privacy.

    “Companies like Google, Yahoo, and Facebook, they all offer their services for free. But there’s no free lunch in life, of course. We get to use all these wonderful services and what we give back in return is our data,” said Ross.

    The practice of data collection is not new, yet with the exponential growth of internet technology, the social, political, and economic implications have now come into the public consciousness.

    A greater awareness towards the consequences of internet privacy was the tone of the discussion, as Shirky and Ross brought up anecdotes from their daily lives to illustrate the pervasiveness of data collection.

    “If I try to buy one little USB cable, they assume you want hundreds of USB cables,” joked Shirky.

    As a prominent writer and lecturer on the economic effects of Internet technologies, he also shared his insight into business as the driving force in decreasing online privacy.

    “Data collection is not a side effect of these services; data collection is the business that they’re in,” he said, shedding light on the economically-driven disregard for privacy in internet services.

    As far as preventative measures against the issues of Internet privacy and surveillance, Ross concluded: “If you’re really going to have a private life, you’ll have to get rid of your smartphone and your Facebook account.

    By Maya Wang


  • Workshop on Creativity and Innovation

    Acclaimed French composer and theatre director, Roland Auzet, shared his insights on creativity and innovation in two PCI music and theatre workshops. The director showed examples from a multidisciplinary career in hybrids of music, dance, opera, theater and circus among others. Approaching each subject differently, he challenged students to think more openly in their approach to art. 

    “It’s important to understand that we have to be free in the relationship between different art forms and their objects,” he said, elaborating on how pluridisciplinary artistic forms reinvent themselves with every project. 

    Watch two mesmerizing performances by Roland Auzet in which he explores the relationship between object, sound and movement. 

  • Putonghua: China’s Search for a Common Language

    The Chinese language has a history dating back thousands of years, but modern day Putonghua, also known as Mandarin, came about not through natural evolution but though efforts by intellectuals and politicians to modernize and simplify the language.


    In this entertaining lecture at NYU Shanghai, author David Moser explains how the modern Chinese language came into being, the result of a patchwork of compromises based upon many thorny linguistic, historical and political factors. 


    Click on the video below to find out more about how Putonghua came to be the official language of 1.4 billion people.



    David Moser holds a Master’s and a Ph.D. in Chinese Studies from the University of Michigan, with a major in Chinese Linguistics and Philosophy. He has been based in Beijing for over 25 years, active in academic and media circles.




    To find out about upcoming Talks at NYU Shanghai, see our events calendar.




  • China’s Dairy Century: Making, Drinking and Dreaming of Milk

    Thomas DuBois, historian of modern China, presented his research on China’s dairy industry. A country that few would have instinctively associated with milk has emerged as the world’s third largest producer (following India and the United States), and second largest consumer of dairy.

    The presentation examined the history of China’s dairy industry from production, consumption and culture. Watch the clip below for an introduction to the vital transformation within China’s animal industries.


  • Above the Drowning Sea: Director Interview

    René Balcer, writer-director of documentary Above the Drowning Sea, tells how the story of the escape of Jews from Nazi-controlled Europe to Shanghai on the eve of WWII, is an echo of history with parallels in today’s world.

    Shot across six countries, the documentary follows the personal journeys of Jewish refugees who came to Shanghai, and of the city’s Chinese residents who helped them survive in China, forming lasting friendships that have survived to this day.


    Q: What compelled you to tell this story?

    It’s a story that I’ve known for a while because my wife is from Shanghai, and she learned it from her parents. When the opportunity came to make a film about this, it also coincidentally reflected what was happening in present day with the Syrian refugee crisis. I wanted to see how history dealt with these similar events—that was basically the impetus for it. History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes, and here it was rhyming again.

    Shanghai newspaper vendor with young Jewish refugee

    Q: What parallels do you see with today’s refugee crisis?

    Back in 1937 and 1938, the Jews were being persecuted in Germany and Austria. No country wanted them. Franklin Roosevelt gave many speeches where he said: ‘Well, among these refugees are German spies.’ Canada said ‘none is too many.’ A lot of it was racist, a lot of it was xenophobic and isolationist. Strangely enough, it mirrors similar reasons people have for refusing Muslim refugees now. What we're trying to do with this film is not only show people what they are but what they could be. At the end of the film, we feature a bit about what happens to each of these refugees—most of them being Jewish refugees, one is a Chinese refugee—and we find out what contributions they’ve made to the societies they’ve ended up in.


    Open air kitchen in Shanghai

    Q: What was life like for the Jewish refugees who came to Shanghai?

    They lived mostly in the Hongkou district in the late 30s, which was already a poor district filled with internal refugees. The Jewish refugees had been stripped of everything by the Nazis by the time they left Europe. When you have two groups of poor people thrown in together, who don’t necessarily have a common language or culture, and with limited resources, you might expect the worst scenario, but here you didn’t have that. People got along, made accommodations, helped one another.


    The crew on a street corner in Hongkou

    Q: Why do you think this was?

    I think partly it has to do with the Chinese character, with the background of Confucianism, where the philosophy is that all people are basically the same. What elevates you is your education, your exercise of filial duty. The people in Hongkou, on an individual basis, helped the refugees and gave them a place to stay.


    Zhou Huizhen with a photo of her father

    Q: What is new or different in your film’s portrayal of this story?

    There’s been a couple of films made about this subject, but usually only taking the point of view of the Jewish refugees. We wanted to also talk to the Chinese who were there. Because almost everyone in the film were either children or young teenagers at the time, there is also this point of view of childhood and adolescence, and how they went through the war.

    We’re not trying to be encyclopedic about everything. We don’t cover the fact that there was a Jewish orchestra, a Jewish newspaper—that had nothing to do with the experiences of these children. The film will make you wonder what kinds of memories the refugee children from the Middle East will have in the future.


    René Balcer moments before the NYU Shanghai screening of  Above the Drowning Sea

    Q: What do you want your audience to walk away knowing/feeling?

    Other than learning the history, I hope people will feel less powerless when faced with global issues, whether it’s refugees or poverty alleviation. Just to know that you on your own, or with friends or like-minded people can do something and actually have an impact on people.


    This special film screening at NYU Shanghai was sponsored by the C. V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University.
    Many thanks to: René Balcer and co-executive producer Carolyn Hsu, and Dr Ezra Claverie, Language Lecturer in the Writing Program at NYU Shanghai.

    Interview by Charlotte San Juan.

  • Designing Technology for Music Making

    This fall, Dr. Alex Ruthmann from NYU Music Experience Design Lab visited NYU Shanghai to give a presentation on designing technology for music making. During the presentation Prof. Ruthmann demonstrated some of his experiments with audio engagement by showing NYU Shanghai students how to build a collaborative musical instrument.



    Alex Ruthmann is Director of Music Education, and the Director of the NYU Music Experience Design Lab (MusEDLab) at NYU Steinhardt. The NYU Music Experience Design Lab co-designs and researches new technologies and experiences for music making, learning, and audience engagement.

  • Theatre and Social Justice


    On September 19, Vice Chancellor Lehman spoke with award-winning actress, journalist, singer, and theatre director, Estelle Parsons. Their conversation included topics such as how actors "find their truth," and theatre’s capacity to raise public consciousness about social justice issues such as racism and poverty.


    Estelle Parsons won an Academy Award for supporting actress for her role in Bonnie and Clyde (1968). She is currently an Associate Artistic Director of the Actors Studio [in the U.S.], where last year she founded the Theater & Social Justice program. The program has a five-part agenda exploring racism, poverty & illiteracy, religion, community, and environment, and it is where she developed The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.

  • The Taste Of Tea: Tea Ceremony As A Mode Of Bodily Cultivation



    The tea ceremony is one of the most iconic elements of Chinese traditional culture that has gradually developed into a mode of bodily cultivation. Watch Kunbing Xiao, Associate Professor of anthropology at Southwest Minzu University, Chengdu, demonstrate a tea ceremony as an integrated and embodied performance that requires mind, body, taste, vision, smell, and touch to work sequentially in order to create a symbiotic relationship between humans and tea. The ceremony was performed at NYU Shanghai as part of a presentation on tea in Chinese culture organized by the Center for Global Asia.

  • Elizabeth Chen in conversation with Leo Tong Chen

    Senior Executive in Residence Elizabeth Nien Tze Chen launched a new series of conversations for NYU Shanghai students. Each semester, she will invite a prominent member of the business community to discuss interests, opportunities, and responsibilities beyond the corporate world.


    The series opened with Leo Tong Chen, founder of HANGZHOU Asia Telecom, who talked about the importance of learning “beyond what we are required”.  He told students that having a “long-time commitment to an area you really enjoy will make you stand out” in a competitive job market.



    Throughout the discussion, Elizabeth Chen endorsed the idea that even during challenging moments, there is always a bright point to learn from. Quoting Aristotle Ms. Chen said that what distinguishes Man from animals is that we have the ability to learn.



    Leo Tong Chen founded HANGZHOU Asia Telecom in 1997, and led it to become a top solution provider of optical transmission network in Eastern China.  Leo engages with a variety of charities and NGOs including Machik, 84000, and Khyentse Foundation.


    Elizabeth Nien Tze Chen is NYU Shanghai’s first Senior Executive in Residence. She recently retired from Goldman Sachs, where she spent almost two decades engaged in private wealth management based at the firm's Hong Kong office. 

  • Gender and Sexuality in Modern China

    Three experts on gender and sexuality in modern China presented their research and campaign work at a panel discussion on November 8. Drs. Yang Shen, Minjie Chen and Ying Xin (Iron) talked about online dating, sex education for youth, and the LGBTQ issues in China.


    Ying Xin (Iron), Executive director of Beijing LGBT Center, talked about the LGBT community in China and introduced the term SOGIE to the audience - Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression. Ms. Xin discussed attitudes towards the three and she had an important message to the students and faculty members in the audience to “do more research!”. She talked about how the fields of SOGIE studies are shrinking. “If we don’t have research, how can we convince the government that LGBT issues are important,” she said.



    Yang Shen, PhD., London School of Economics, presented her research on dating preferences of online daters in Shanghai. She said that young “Chinese daters are caught between tradition and modernity.” Arranged dates by a matchmaker – like their parents - are still popular in China, but young people also want a more Westernized type of relationship that focuses on romanticism and companionship.



    Minjie Chen, PhD, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, talked about the differences between theory and practice of sex education for youth during the Republic of China. Ms. Chen also talked about sexual education in contemporary China, mentioning a progressive 2010 report teaching children of all ages how to identify body parts and protect themselves against predators.


  • Vera Hui-pin Hsu performs at NYU Shanghai

    Pianist and conductor Vera Hui-pin Hsu performed a piano recital at NYU Shanghai on Sunday, November 12. Meiling Chen, Clinical Assistant Professor of Arts, welcomed Vera Hui-pin Hsu in front of a packed Auditorium. Ms. Hsu's recital of preludes and fugues by classical composers Frédéric Chopin, Claude Debussy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, J.S. Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven with contemporary Taiwanese composers Yuan-Chen Li, and Ching-Mei Lin, was exquisitely articulated.


    Vera Hui-pin Hsu also gave a public masterclass to three NYU Shanghai students: Qihang Zeng played Zhang Shuai Pruludes No.2 & 3; Yanming Zhang performed Chopin Grande Polonaise Brillante Op. 22; and Ying Wang played Beethoven Sonata Op.8 (Pathetique), 1st movement.




    Dr. Vera Hui-Pin Hsu is the winner of the 2009 International Conductors Workshop and Competition in Georgia, U.S. She studied piano with Prof. Martin Canin at Graduate Center, City University of New York where she received her Doctor of Musical Arts degree in piano performance. 


    Watch Vera Hui-pin Hsu play Ching-Mei Lin’s Dream-Rhapsody at the National Recital Hall in Taipei. A piece she also played during her recital at NYU Shanghai. 



  • The Mannahatta Project: A Natural History of New York City

    Dr. Eric Sanderson presented the Mannahatta Project, an initiative to reconstruct the ecology of Manhattan Island, the heart of New York City, a few hours before Henry Hudson, the European explorer, arrived there in 1609. Dr. Sanderson explained “the work about the historical ecology of New York is something not only of value to its past but also of great value to its future.  The island Manhattan helps us think about the future of New York City over the next 400 years.” 


    The search to rediscover the ecology of a city is not only a historical exercise; it provides critical information to plan for the future. Dr. Sanderson said, “the more the city [New York] is compatible with its nature the longer the city can last and be a good place for its citizens.”



    Dr. Eric W. Sanderson is a Senior Conservation Ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society and adjunct faculty member at New York and Columbia Universities.  He is the author of two books, Mannahatta:  A Natural History of New York City (2009), and Terra Nova:  The New World After Oil, Cars, and Suburbs (2013).





  • The Chinese Exclusion Act

    NYU Shanghai hosted the China Film Premiere of The Chinese Exclusion Act, a new documentary by US film directors Ric Burns and Li-Shin Yu. The premiere screening on October 26 was followed by a discussion with the filmmakers and historian Renqiu Yu.


    The film examines the economic, cultural, social, legal, racial and political dimensions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, a controversial piece of U.S. federal legislation that singled out one race and nationality for special treatment.


    Fareed Ben-Youssef, GPS teaching fellow and Film and Media Scholar, interviewed the directors and historian behind the feature-length documentary. The conversation delves into key moments in the documentary and explores the editorial decisions. Watch the full interview here.



    The event was reported by China Daily, The Paper and Pear Video