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The Politics of Reading in the People’s Republic of China (READCHINA)

ERC Starting Grant Conducted by Jun.-Prof. Dr. Lena Henningsen June 2018 - May 2023


READCHINA investigates the politics and practices of reading in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), their interpretation and their impact on social and intellectual change. The main objective of the study is a reinvestigation of literary history and cultural policy of the PRC from the perspective of the ordinary reader. This grassroots approach means turning away from the established focus on authors and the political context. Instead, READCHINA will investigate the social conditions under which texts were read, what influences this had on the lives of individuals, on social, intellectual and literary change in China, and on the modes of production, distribution and consumption of literature.


READCHINA considers the reading of literature as part of a wider web of reading materials, including different media and non-fictional texts. Primary sources will consist among others of archival material, field work interviews, autobiographies, marketing materials, statements by fans in online forums, and literary texts. Combining literary analysis with historical and ethnographical inquiry, as well as methods from the digital humanities, READCHINA will contribute to the fields of literary history and literary sociology. Moreover, in combining close readings of texts with distant reading methods, READCHINA will also foster our understanding of the meaning and impact of popular literature in China and of literary theories on reading and thus also bring 20th and 21st century China into the global history of reading.


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The READCHINA team and our projects:

Lena Henningsen (PI) – Reading in Chinese literature

Lara Yuyu Yang (Post-Doc) – Second-hand Book Reading in the PRC

Duncan Paterson (Data management officer) – Reading online literature in China

Eve Yi Lin (PhD researcher) – Reading Literature in Post-Mao China

Damian Mandzunowski (PhD researcher) – Collective Reading in Maoist China

Mira Grünwald, Wenxin Huang, Maryna Yanhirava (research assistants)


You can find us here:

Institute of Chinese Studies
University of Freiburg
Belfortstr. 18 (VH)
READCHINA: The Politics of Reading in the People's Republic of China
Rooms 03 004-05
79098 Freiburg


Project guests:

Mingqing Yuan, MA (Bayreuth University): “Black Skin, Yellow Masks: Translation and Representation of Africa in China from 1949 to 1965” (January 2020)

Dr. Emily Graf (FU Berlin): “Barefoot Doctors on the Move: Tracing a Concept and its Image Across Space” (November 2019)

Dr. Jennifer Altehenger (King’s College London): “Revolutionary Fibres: Materials and industrial design in Maoist China” (July 2019)

Prof. Dr. Perry Link (UC Riverside): “Freedom and Control on the Chinese Internet” (Jan. 2019)

Dr. Daniel Koss (Academia Sinica, Dec. 2018)

Prof. Dr. Jie Li (Harvard University): “Cinema at the Grassroots: Film Exhibition and Reception in Mao’s China” (Dec. 2018)

Dr. Henrike Rudolph (Erlangen University): “Relationale Sinologie? Netzwerkanalyse als Tool für die sinologische Forschung” (Nov. 2018)


Research Associates:

Prof. Dr. Jennifer Altehenger, Oxford University

Dr. Xuelei Huang, University of Edinburgh

Sara Landa, M.A., Freiburg University

Prof. Dr. Peidong Sun, Fudan University

Prof. Dr. Nicolai Volland, Pennsylvania State University


For more information, please contact Jun.-Prof. Dr. Lena Henningsen (


Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
Institut für Sinologie
Werthmannstraße 12
D-79098 Freiburg i. Br.

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