Recent Shows & Talks

  • Interview With Richard Peña About World Cinema

    "Art is not democratic - not everyone has talent. It's important for us [as curators] to look for that talent as openly and without prejudice as we can."

    The Global Perspectives on Society (GPS) Film Series at NYU Shanghai closed on April 29 with Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin, an acclaimed portrait of exploitation in modern day China. The film was introduced by Professor Richard Peña, who became one of the foremost proponents of world cinema over the past 30 years as the former program director of the Film Society at Lincoln Center and director emeritus of the New York Film Festival.

    Dr. Fareed Ben-Youssef, GPS teaching fellow at NYU Shanghai, conducted a wide-ranging interview with Peña that explores the career and influences of featured Chinese director, Jia Zhangke. Together, they also discussed Peña's curatorial philosophy and vision for one of the world’s most renowned film festivals.

    Following the trailer of A Touch of Sin, Peña broke down how the director Jia Zhangke came to be known as "one of the most important filmmakers in the world." He situated Jia within broader trends in Chinese cinema following the 1980s and details how the filmmaker created an influential brand of cinema that focused on urban life in China today.

    Peña then provided insights into his own role in finding luminaries of world cinema, as well as the New York Film Festival's selection process. He framed cinema as an inherently globalized medium, as since the beginning in the early 20th century, "films made in China could be shown in Peru." Moving to our present moment, he  defined today's idea of "world cinema" as a form that breaks through national and regional boundaries.

    Peña went on to consider New York City's influence on his programming and how he sought to engage the city's various immigrant communities. Recounting  his showcasing of Iranian film at Lincoln Center, he discussed how film festivals were initially conceived as a mode of cultural diplomacy.

    He pondered the educative dimension of programming as well as the distinction between a curator and a critic - the former, he argued, needs to have historical perspective. To illustrate his curatorial approach, Peña went on to situate A Touch of Sin within a hypothetical program at Lincoln Center and spoke to the film's relationship with classic Chinese martial arts film like King Hu's A Touch of Zen.

    He proceeded to talk about how Chinese films such as Zhang Yimou's Red Sorgham featured prominently in the early portion of his career. Ben-Youssef then shifted attentions to the later period of his tenure at Lincoln Center to question Peña on the perceived impact of 9/11 attacks on his own festival.

    Their dialogue closed with a consideration of how university screenings might push debates beyond film studies, with Peña recounting his own experience introducing A Touch of Sin, a major work of Chinese cinema, to NYU Shanghai.

  • Collaboration with The Power Station of Art

    NYU Shanghai students from the performing arts and interactive media arts programs took to the stage at The Power Station of Art on Sunday to present their end-of semester show in front of a packed audience. 

    The colorful palette of contemporary dance, music, and interactive media captivated viewers during the three-hour program.  

    The group performance is the university’s first collaboration with the PSA: “We are delighted to have NYU Shanghai faculty and students present their music, dance and interactive media art projects on stage,” said Catherine Ma, Education Manager at The Power Station of Art. “It is wonderful to bring contemporary dance and art to a wider audience.” 


    Aly Rose, clinical assistant professor of dance at NYU Shanghai, added it was a great opportunity for students “to learn what it means to perform in front of a live audience.” 

    “Having them be part of the process teaches them about production, the power of performance and audience development,” she said. 

    Watch the video below for highlights from the performance and to find out more about the special collaboration.

    Courses participating in the performance included: Ballet, Bamboo Flute Intermediate Level, Chamber Ensemble, Minority Dance, Choral Arts, Choreography & Performance, Contemporary Dance, Erhu Intermediate Level, Group Piano for Inter Beginner, and Group Piano for Advanced, and students in Interactive Media Arts (IMA) courses - Hyperbolic Orchestra & Video Art and New Interface for Musical Expression (NIME).

    Among the faculty who prepared the students for the performance were Meiling Chen, Wei Chen, Yue Cheng, Aiai Duan, Aly Rose, Siye Tao, Jie Wang and Yi Zhang, instructing music and dance courses, and Ann Chen, Sean Clute and Antonius Wiriadjaja in Interactive Media Arts (IMA).

  • Swagger Premiere Screening at NYU Shanghai



    “I wanted to show who’s behind the hood.”

    The Global Perspectives on Society Film Series at NYU Shanghai opened on April 13 with a visually striking documentary about immigrant youth living in an impoverished suburb of Paris.  

    In this interview, French filmmaker Olivier Babinet discusses with Dr. Fareed Ben-Youssef how Swagger uses spectacle to challenge mass media myths about the Paris banlieue, where he spent two years working with students in the troubled area before deciding to interview them on camera for this film. 

    Babinet breaks down the structure of specific scenes to show how Swagger subtly responds to ongoing debates in French society regarding terrorism, the police, and the laws of the recent state of emergency. 

    He also discusses his use of fictionalized elements and his shifts between genres such as science fiction. According to Babinet, science fiction has a power to respond to the political issues of today. 

    In conclusion, Babinet and Ben-Youssef talked about the impact of the movie and how the NYU Shanghai screening of Swagger resonates with the film’s mission to represent the experiences of youth around the globe.

    Swagger had its China premiere screening at NYU Shanghai. Previously, the University hosted the China Film Premiere of The Chinese Exclusion Act where Dr. Fareed Ben-Youssef interviewed directors Ric Burns and Li-Shin Yu and historian Renqiu Yu. 

    The full interview with Olivier Babinet is also available on YouTube

    Academic sponsors for the GPS Film Series are the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences, the Office of External and Academic Events, the Program on Creativity + Innovation, the Writing Program, the Center for Global Asia, and the Urban Studies Program. 

    The screening of Swagger was made possible by the following external sponsors.


  • New York WILD Film Festival in Shanghai


    For a second year, NYU Shanghai and New York WILD Film partnered up for a one-day film festival featuring documentaries on topics related to exploration, adventure, wildlife and the environment. 

    “This year for the 5th annual New York WILD film festival, our theme was stories of heroes and hope,” said founder and executive director of the festival, Nancy Rosenthal. 

    The films screened at NYU Shanghai presented the theme in various contexts. The topics ranged from The Black Mambas, a short documentary, which follows the world’s first all-female anti-poaching unit in South Africa, to Break on Through, about 19-year old climbing sensation Margo Hayes who pushes her mind and body to reach new heights. 

    The festival also showed the impact of climate change in movies such as Adaptation Bangladesh: Sea Level Rise, as well as shedding light on endangered animals in RARE: Creatures Of The Photo Ark

    The films producer and director Chun-Wei Yi attended a post-screening discussion where he talked about his collaboration with National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore and the 5,000 endangered species documented for the project. 

    Director Chun-Wei Yi in discussion with Natalie Cash from the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York 

    As part of the tradition, the afternoon included a balloon launch to celebrate the festival at NYU Shanghai. 

    “Seeds are put inside biodegradable balloons,” said Director of External and Academic Events, Constance Bruce. “They float around Shanghai and when they finally dissolve, they lay seeds that are native plants to Shanghai.”


    Concluding the festival was the screening of JANE, an intimate portrait of primatologist and anthropologist, Jane Goodall, and her groundbreaking research with chimpanzees. The screening was followed by a discussion with John Calvelli, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs for Wildlife Conservation Society, and Tori Zwisler, Board Chair of Shanghai Roots & Shoots. The discussion was moderated by Ivan Rasmussen, Assistant Professor of Practice in Political Science at NYU Shanghai. 

  • Talk: Photographing History

    Equipped with cameras and a drone, photographer Sim Chi Yin spent two months traveling along the border of North Korea and across six American states to depict a world we otherwise would not see. 
    Commissioned as this year’s Nobel Peace Prize photographer, Sim Chi Yin was invited to make an exhibition on the 2017 Peace Prize winner, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). In her NYU Shanghai presentation, she shared insights from her travels and elaborated on her creative process tackling the heavy issues of international politics. Watch highlights from the conversation below:


    Across both countries, Sim Chi Yin found some striking similarities in the landscapes–both natural and man-made.  
    “Elements of what I saw in both places fed off each other in my mind. Some of the parallels were clear as soon as I shot the second picture in the pairs. Others I discovered in the editing process.” 

    Image 1: Hatches over silos which in the 1970s held missiles meant to shoot down incoming Soviet warheads, North Dakota, November 2017. Image 2: The North Korean city of Hyesan, about 120km from North Korea's nuclear test site, October 2017
    Picture by Sim Chi Yin for the Nobel Peace Center/2017
    Left: Hatches over silos which in the 1970s held missiles meant to shoot down incoming Soviet warheads, North Dakota, November 2017.
    Right: The North Korean city of Hyesan, about 120km from North Korea's nuclear test site, October 2017


    Image 1: A factory producing into the night, in Manpo, North Korea, October 2017. Image 2: The desk of a commander in the control room of a decommissioned Titan II Missile Site in Arizona, November 2017

    Picture by Sim Chi Yin for the Nobel Peace Center/2017
    Left: A factory producing into the night, in Manpo, North Korea, October 2017.
    Right: The desk of a commander in the control room of a decommissioned Titan II Missile Site in Arizona, November 2017


    This year’s Nobel Peace Prize exhibition is named “Ban the Bomb,” inspired by ICAN’s slogan. The exhibition will be on view until November 2018
    Introduction by Assistant Arts Professor Antonius Wiriadjaja and moderation of the Q&A by Monika Lin, Clinical Assistant Professor of Arts.





  • 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.