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ERC Starting Grant for Lena Henningsen

Oct 10, 2017

JunProf. Lena Henningsen, who is a former member of the Cluster "Asia and Europe", was chosen to receive funding from one of the most significant European sources of support for junior researchers. The European Research Council (ERC) will support her project “The Politics of Reading in the People’s Republic of China (READCHINA)” with an ERC Starting Grant of nearly 1.5 million Euro.

Lena Henningsen was project coordinator of project B12 “Rethinking Trends” at the Cluster "Asia and Europe" and Assistant Professor at the Institute of Chinese Studies at Heidelberg University, before she accepted a position as Junior Professor at the Institute of Chinese Studies at the University of Freiburg.

In her project “The Politics of Reading in the People’s Republic of China (READCHINA)”, Henningsen will investigate the intellectual, literary and societal transformation that has taken place in China since the 1940s. The study of reading habits provides new insight into the literary and political history of the country at the same time. Rather than focusing on the great authors and political elites, here the spotlight is on the practices of ordinary people.

The Communist Party founded reading and study groups to reinforce their legitimacy ideologically. But did everyone who took part always follow the interpretations provided by the party? Or did some attend perhaps to take a snooze in a quiet corner? During China’s Cultural Revolution, what was the significance of reading hand-written pornography bound in a cover that actually belonged to the scripture-like book “Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung”? What is the interrelationship between the fictional and factual and between translated texts and those in original Chinese? To answer questions such as these, the subprojects will apply autobiographical, anthropological, historical, and literary sources and methods.

The project’s aim is to improve understanding of the significance and influence of popular literature in China. It also seeks to contribute to theories of readership and global literature, last but not least because reading habits in China have been and will be shaped by very different institutions than in the “West”: a socialist state that has sought and is seeking to apply cultural policy to reform its people and a centralized literary bureaucracy that massively regulates production, distribution and access to literature and has a highly-efficient of media censorship at its disposal.

The European Research Council gives Starting Grants of up to 1.5 million Euro to early-career scientists who have already produced excellent supervised work, are ready to work independently and show potential to be research leaders. Applications can be made in any field of research and the research must be conducted in a public or private research organization that serves as a Host Institution.


Find the press release of the University of Freiburg here.


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