Professor Hai Ren’s lecture for the Third Chinese Culture Festival held by the Confucius Institute at the University of Arizona

September 23, 2014


The third annual Chinese Culture Festival was held by the Confucius Institute at the University of Arizona in conjunction with tenth anniversary celebrations of global Confucius Institutes.  As a part of the Chinese Culture Festival, a series of lectures on Chinese culture were sponsored by CIUA. Dr. Hai Ren, Associate Professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Arizona, presented the first lecture in this series, entitled “Countdown to Chinese Dreams: A History of Public Time-telling in Contemporary China,” on September 22, 2014. The Chinese Director of CIUA, Dr. Wei Zhao, hosted Dr. Ren’s lecture.

Professor Ren’s lecture provided an overview of changes in time-telling throughout Chinese history with an emphasis on the contemporary period. His presentation began with an introduction to traditional Chinese concepts of time such as the double-hour system and its applications in the production of time-telling devices and instruments which were made by both Chinese and Europeans from the eleventh century to the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. The Chinese adoption of the Western calendrical system and the institutionalization of a national standard time in 1911-12 (the period of the 1911 Revolution) were part of the process of building a modern Chinese nation-state. From 1949 to the 1980s, public time-telling and temporal-consciousness were mostly affected by the development of radio and television as mass media in the People's Republic. For the first time in Chinese history, clock time, expressed in terms of "Beijing time," became a tool for creating a sense of shared, linear, and national time. Since the 1990s, public time-telling has been further affected by the digitalization of mass media. As a result, linear time has been gradually displaced by other senses of time, including a notion of time that is based on the logic of multiplicity. The widespread use of digital countdown clocks in the past two decades, for example, has important implications for understanding time and temporal issues in Chinese history, economy, politics, and society.

After his lecture, Professor Ren patiently fielded questions from the audience.  His lecture, which was warmly received by University students and other communities in Tucson, exposed the audience to China’s long history and helped them understand the close relationship between public time-telling and politics, economy, culture and even people’s daily lives. A nuanced understanding of Chinese history was effectively promoted among the local community through Dr. Ren’s efforts, sponsored by CIUA.