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Leading authority on Chinese civilization





Author of picaresque memoir of cultural revolution

OCTOBER 11, 2007



Jonathan Spence, one of the world’s leading authorities on Chinese civilization, and Kang Zhengguo, author of a memoir of the Cultural Revolution that reads like a picaresque novel, will speak about their work on October 11, 2007. Kang will read from his work at 4:15 p.m. in Assembly Hall, Campus Center on the University at Albany’s uptown campus. Spence will discuss his work at 8:00 p.m. in the Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, on the uptown campus. Both events are sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute in association with UAlbany’s China Semester, and are free and open to the public.

Jonathan Spence, dynamic professor and storyteller, is one of the world’s leading authorities on Chinese civilization. His newest book is “Return to Dragon Mountain” (2007), a translation and distillation of the writings of Zhang Dai (1597-1689), a brilliant chronicler, historian, and epicure of the Ming era. Author of more than 30 books, Zhang Dai was born into a prosperous family of scholars that fell from grace after the fall of the Ming dynasty to Manchu invaders in 1644. His recollections of his youth are replete with insights into the life of the scholarly caste that composed the Ming bureaucracy, sketches of eccentric colleagues and family members, and wistful memories of favorite courtesans, brothels, musicians, cock fights, and blends of tea. These contrast with bitter descriptions of his subsequent life of poverty and exile.

“Publishers Weekly”called the book, “absorbing and evocative.... Spence retrieves a portrait of a civilization imbued with esoteric obsessions as well as sensuality.”

Spence has written over a dozen books on China including “Treason by the Book” (2001), “Mao Zedong” (1999); “The Chan’s Great Continent” (1998), a “New York Times” Notable Book; “Chinese Roundabout” (1992), Best Book of the Year of the American Association for Chinese Studies; “The Gate of Heavenly Peace” (1981), winner of the “Los Angeles Times Book Award” and the Vursel Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters; “The Death of Woman Wang” (1978); and “Emperor of China” (1974), winner of the Christopher Book Award.

A 1988 MacArthur Fellow, Spence was named a Companion of the Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George by Queen Elizabeth in 2001. He is a frequent contributor to the “New York Review of Books”

Kang Zhengguo is the author of a quirky, highly-praised memoir about life during the Cultural Revolution, “Confessions: An Innocent Life in Communist China” (2007). A self-described misfit, individualist, contrarian and ne’er-do-well, Kang commits countless minor political offenses with both his tongue and his pen. These offenses eventually lead to his expulsion from university, forced labor in a brickyard, a three-year prison term, and a failed career as a rural laborer in a peasant commune.
Writing in the “New York Times,”William Grimes called the book, “A mesmerizing read.... Like a character in a picaresque novel, Mr. Kang stumbles from one misadventure to the next, his big mouth and relaxed habits ensuring disaster at every turn.... Mr. Kang serves as an extraordinary guide through an extraordinary period of Chinese history.”

Kang’s other publications, which have yet to be translated into English, include “Lu Meng” (“Deer Dreams,” 1999), “Feminism and Literature” (1994), and “A Study of Classical Chinese Poetry on Women and by Women” (1988).

A poet and scholar of classical Chinese literature, Kang has been Senior Lecturer in Chinese at Yale University since 1994.

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at