Recent Shows & Talks

  • 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.

     
  • Elizabeth Chen in conversation with Leo Tong Chen

    Senior Executive in Residence Elizabeth Nien Tze Chen launched a new series of conversations for NYU Shanghai students. Each semester, she will invite a prominent member of the business community to discuss interests, opportunities, and responsibilities beyond the corporate world.

     

    The series opened with Leo Tong Chen, founder of HANGZHOU Asia Telecom, who talked about the importance of learning “beyond what we are required”.  He told students that having a “long-time commitment to an area you really enjoy will make you stand out” in a competitive job market.

     

     

    Throughout the discussion, Elizabeth Chen endorsed the idea that even during challenging moments, there is always a bright point to learn from. Quoting Aristotle Ms. Chen said that what distinguishes Man from animals is that we have the ability to learn.

     

     

    Leo Tong Chen founded HANGZHOU Asia Telecom in 1997, and led it to become a top solution provider of optical transmission network in Eastern China.  Leo engages with a variety of charities and NGOs including Machik, 84000, and Khyentse Foundation.

     

    Elizabeth Nien Tze Chen is NYU Shanghai’s first Senior Executive in Residence. She recently retired from Goldman Sachs, where she spent almost two decades engaged in private wealth management based at the firm's Hong Kong office. 

     
  • Gender and Sexuality in Modern China

    Three experts on gender and sexuality in modern China presented their research and campaign work at a panel discussion on November 8. Drs. Yang Shen, Minjie Chen and Ying Xin (Iron) talked about online dating, sex education for youth, and the LGBTQ issues in China.

     

    Ying Xin (Iron), Executive director of Beijing LGBT Center, talked about the LGBT community in China and introduced the term SOGIE to the audience - Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression. Ms. Xin discussed attitudes towards the three and she had an important message to the students and faculty members in the audience to “do more research!”. She talked about how the fields of SOGIE studies are shrinking. “If we don’t have research, how can we convince the government that LGBT issues are important,” she said.

     

     

    Yang Shen, PhD., London School of Economics, presented her research on dating preferences of online daters in Shanghai. She said that young “Chinese daters are caught between tradition and modernity.” Arranged dates by a matchmaker – like their parents - are still popular in China, but young people also want a more Westernized type of relationship that focuses on romanticism and companionship.

     

     

    Minjie Chen, PhD, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, talked about the differences between theory and practice of sex education for youth during the Republic of China. Ms. Chen also talked about sexual education in contemporary China, mentioning a progressive 2010 report teaching children of all ages how to identify body parts and protect themselves against predators.

     

  • Vera Hui-pin Hsu performs at NYU Shanghai

    Pianist and conductor Vera Hui-pin Hsu performed a piano recital at NYU Shanghai on Sunday, November 12. Meiling Chen, Clinical Assistant Professor of Arts, welcomed Vera Hui-pin Hsu in front of a packed Auditorium. Ms. Hsu's recital of preludes and fugues by classical composers Frédéric Chopin, Claude Debussy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, J.S. Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven with contemporary Taiwanese composers Yuan-Chen Li, and Ching-Mei Lin, was exquisitely articulated.

     

    Vera Hui-pin Hsu also gave a public masterclass to three NYU Shanghai students: Qihang Zeng played Zhang Shuai Pruludes No.2 & 3; Yanming Zhang performed Chopin Grande Polonaise Brillante Op. 22; and Ying Wang played Beethoven Sonata Op.8 (Pathetique), 1st movement.

     

     

     

    Dr. Vera Hui-Pin Hsu is the winner of the 2009 International Conductors Workshop and Competition in Georgia, U.S. She studied piano with Prof. Martin Canin at Graduate Center, City University of New York where she received her Doctor of Musical Arts degree in piano performance. 

     

    Watch Vera Hui-pin Hsu play Ching-Mei Lin’s Dream-Rhapsody at the National Recital Hall in Taipei. A piece she also played during her recital at NYU Shanghai. 

     

     

  • The Mannahatta Project: A Natural History of New York City

    Dr. Eric Sanderson presented the Mannahatta Project, an initiative to reconstruct the ecology of Manhattan Island, the heart of New York City, a few hours before Henry Hudson, the European explorer, arrived there in 1609. Dr. Sanderson explained “the work about the historical ecology of New York is something not only of value to its past but also of great value to its future.  The island Manhattan helps us think about the future of New York City over the next 400 years.” 

     

    The search to rediscover the ecology of a city is not only a historical exercise; it provides critical information to plan for the future. Dr. Sanderson said, “the more the city [New York] is compatible with its nature the longer the city can last and be a good place for its citizens.”

     

     

    Dr. Eric W. Sanderson is a Senior Conservation Ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society and adjunct faculty member at New York and Columbia Universities.  He is the author of two books, Mannahatta:  A Natural History of New York City (2009), and Terra Nova:  The New World After Oil, Cars, and Suburbs (2013).

     

     

     

     

  • The Chinese Exclusion Act

    NYU Shanghai hosted the China Film Premiere of The Chinese Exclusion Act, a new documentary by US film directors Ric Burns and Li-Shin Yu. The premiere screening on October 26 was followed by a discussion with the filmmakers and historian Renqiu Yu.

     

    The film examines the economic, cultural, social, legal, racial and political dimensions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, a controversial piece of U.S. federal legislation that singled out one race and nationality for special treatment.

     

    Fareed Ben-Youssef, GPS teaching fellow and Film and Media Scholar, interviewed the directors and historian behind the feature-length documentary. The conversation delves into key moments in the documentary and explores the editorial decisions. Watch the full interview here.

     

     

    The event was reported by China Daily, The Paper and Pear Video

     

     

     

  • Hong Kong, Hawaii and Pacific Rim Writing

    The Literary Reading Series at NYU Shanghai: Hong Kong, Hawaii and Pacific Rim Writing

     

    On May 11, the final Literary Reading Series event of this academic year brought Hawaii-based poets Susan Schultz, Wawa (Lo Mei Wa) and poet-translator Henry Wei Leung ashore in Shanghai to perform and discuss pieces that celebrate not only writing from Hawaii, but that also draw points of connection throughout the Pacific.

     

    Below please enjoy several of their featured  poems and translation works.

     

    Flying Tree (originally published in Cha)

    by Lo Mei Wa and translated from the Chinese by Henry Wei Leung

     

    飛樹

     

    每層樓有三十五個鳥籠,每座大樓有四十層樓,每處有五百座大樓,城裡有好多處,總共

    有好多好多鳥籠。夜了籠裡便逐一點燈。一盞、兩盞、三盞。隔岸望去,一城的鳥籠金光

    璀璨。窗外時有飛樹經過,看籠裡的孩子。鳥籠太小,我早便長出太多肉,動不了。終於

    有天,我打開籠伸出雙手,飛樹便接走了我。今夜,我踏著飛樹回到故籠,發現附近的小

    鳥都變了一頭頭大笨象,一出鳥籠便趕忙塞進升降機裡。

     

    FLYING TREE

     

    Every story has thirty-five birdcages, every tenement has forty stories, every place has five hun-

    dred tenements, and the city has many places, so altogether it has many, many birdcages. In the

    evenings, the cages are lit: one bowl of light, another bowl, a third bowl. The golden caged lights

    of the city are resplendent when seen from ashore. From time to time, flying trees stop by the

    windows to see the children within. The cages are very small; when I was little I became so big

    that I could no longer move inside. Then one day I opened the cage, opened my hands, and was

    picked up by a flying tree. Tonight, I rode back to my old cage on a flying tree, to discover that

    all the small birds here have grown into bumble-elephants. They jostle out of their cages, then

    cram into elevators.

     

    Three poems from Dementia Blog (originally published by The Brooklyn Rail)

    By Susan M. Schultz

     

     

    80

     

    There are glorious entertainments in this miserable world, could we find them out. The ancient mask looked astonished before the man sledge-hammered it. “Authorities worry the iconoclastic group of ISIS will destroy the ancient city of Palmyra.” 1981: tiny women, shawls thrown over their bent backs, leaned to kiss icons in Novgorod's “working churches.” No one wins the zero-sum game. My second grade teacher's teacher was ninth in line when the Gestapo shot every tenth man. Shorten the sums: kill every fifth man, because every fourth will betray him. Then gin up for the sixth. Surely someone believes your grand idea, but you can't see through their half-closed eyes. The penal colony's deathly invention kept me awake at night. I'm told it's funnier in German.

    —20 May 2015

     

    82

     

    But there are a sort of Saints meet to be your companions...but that they be concealed. My desire to unseal them makes me sleepy. The eyelid is a drive-in, my body the car into which an old cord winds. Keep windows open to receive the dented sound. I'm down to words, the ones that float like feathers after bird-storms. A small bundle of curly hair in the bathroom means my husband cut his hair. Phone call means a colleague died. After long sickness, a sudden fall. I pick up the taut curls, deposit them in the trash. I put the phone down, scratch a kitten, try to summon his voice.

    —23 May 2015

     

    83

     

    They will exchange Souls with you. He remembers her as the girl from his village. He remembers his house by a red circle on the photograph. He remembers that she eats papaya, and he remembers her nose. India, he tells us, migrates north, as Tibet settles to the south. Kathmandu is the paper plate on the surface of a pool. Aftershocks are earth's grief. A man's head emerges from the rubble, white as stone, like my mother two hours after her death. Two metaphors do not make my mother a statue, the Himalayas a section of black foam, cut in ragged halves. The shock is that land dies, too. Mountains are bodies of evidence, stick to earth's slip. Mt. Everest just shrank an inch. “We cannot stay here, but where is there to go?”

    —26 May 2015

    Pei Pei Wept (originally published by the Asian American Writers Workshop)

     

    By Wawa, translated by Henry Wei Leung

     

    猴王彼彼哭了

     

    猴王彼彼哭了

    那天 我長大了

     

    那背影 一定是彼彼

    牠擉坐在山坡上一角

    對著山下的城市咆哮

    我不敢走近

     

    波波,原子筆,珊珊

    難道他們從沒再上山嗎?

    他們不就在山下的深水埗

    黃大仙,又一城成家立室嗎?

     

    那背影 一定是彼彼

    牠擉坐在山坡上一角

    對著山下的城市哀鳴

    我低著頭 在牠身後繞過

     

    彼彼 我回來見過你了

    見你雙腿不見了

    坐在天梯前發呆

    我便下山去

     

    猴王彼彼哭了

    那天 我長大了

    變了小孩

     

    Pei Pei Wept

     

    Pei Pei the Monkey King wept

     

    That day, I came of age

     

    I saw from behind It must have been him

    He sat alone on the bluff of a slope

    Thundering to the city under the slope

    I dared not approach

     

    Ballpoint, Shan Shan, Bo Bo,

    Could it be they’ve never made it back up?

    Aren’t they just below, in Sham Shui Po,

    Wong Tai Sin, Festival Walk, building their homes?

     

    I saw from behind It must have been him

    He sat alone on the bluff of a slope

    Wailing to the city under the slope

    I lowered my head, made my way around

     

    Pei Pei, I have returned to see you

    I saw you with your disappeared legs

    Sitting at the stairway to heaven in a daze

    And I descended

     

    Pei Pei the Monkey King wept

    That day, I came of age

    And became a child

  • Crafting Tradition from the Heart

    Former NYU Shanghai Global Academic Fellow Jen Hyde returned to China this month for the city’s Literary Festival. Speaking alongside her mentor, acclaimed poet and visual artist Jen Bervin, at the Literary Reading Series at NYU Shanghai, Hyde spoke about the inspiration for her first collection of poems Hua Shi Hua (华诗画) Drawings & Poems from China (Ahsahta Press, 2017), and her upcoming project, Murmur, a 2016 finalist for the Creative Capital Grant in Literature.

     

    What brought you to Shanghai?

    I moved to Shanghai at the end of 2013. I wanted to teach myself how to read a language of my heritage and to understand my Chinese identity. In Mandarin, I’m called a 华人 (hua ren), an ethnically Chinese person who is not born in China. In English, I’m a person of the Chinese diaspora by way of my mother who moved to the United States from Indonesia. As a biracial American poet and book artist, I felt illiterate in a language that nevertheless belonged to me.

     

    At NYU Shanghai I audited a book arts class taught by Marianne Petit and I assisted with the launch of the University’s first student-run news publication, On Century Avenue. While I experimented with book forms and storytelling, I was learning about free speech in China--a concept more complex than it is or can be depicted by English language media. Those complexities shaped the way I began writing about the Shanghai landscape.

     

    What was the inspiration for Hua Shi Hua?

    During my time in Shanghai, I became invested in depicting the liminal life moments and interactions between me and the people I encountered in the city and how such encounters enabled me to think about my own family and cultural history. Through a process I call generative translation, I interpreted classic Chinese poetry written at the site of the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan city. And I used the image of the crane, whose presence is now that of a machine in the Shanghai skyline. It explores the landscape and defines my own relationship to my mother and my heritage as I move through it. It enabled me to render a range of my own selves in the landscape of my poems.

     

    What was the significance to you of printing the poems using traditional Chinese techniques?

     

    At the time, I was reading the Chinese printing scholar, Chao-kai Wen, who explained why woodblock printing became a popular publishing method for small presses in China. It remained the most attractive technology to most Chinese printers because a carver did not need to be literate. Illiterate workers could and did become carvers, and books could be printed by one person, from copying the text to the block, printing copies and finally stitching up the pages.

    The poems in this printing of Hua Shi Hua, are an artifact of my performance as publisher, printer and illiterate writer. I printed five copies of Chao-kai Wen’s manuscript using wood block plates, a laser cutter, traditional relief printing techniques and paper sourced from a paper village in Suzhou--the paper village remains an independent publisher today.

     

    What are you currently working on?

     

    I have a congenital heart defect and in 2010 received a bioprosthetic heart valve made from the pericardial tissue of a cow. My latest project, Murmur, is about the lives of the four women responsible for hand-sewing my valve. My curiosity led me to discovering that my hometown had a museum for heart valves, through which I was able to connect with the very people who sewed mine. I had no idea my valve was handmade by human beings and I just wanted to know more about them. I ended up meeting these women in person--Mary and Angie, immigrants from Vietnam, Fabi from Mexico and Rita from Iraq. For the past two years, I’ve been getting to know them as friends and learning about their life experiences, as well as more about the history of people emigrating to the US and becoming assembly workers in the tech industry.

     

    How has Jen Bervin’s work influenced your own?

     

    I’ve known Jen Bervin since I was 19 years old. She was one of my poetry teachers when I was an undergraduate student at NYU and she’s really an important person in my life, a mentor and now I can say good friend.

     

    She was researching her Silk Poems project -- which is currently on exhibition at MASS MoCA in Massachusetts -- in nearby Suzhou a few years ago when I was invited to come work at NYU Shanghai. The way she merges poetry with textiles and science as conceptual art has been a big inspiration to me.

     

    Learn more about Jen Hyde’s printed work, written work and collaborations here. Follow Jen on Instagram to see her postings as a Valve Ambassador for the American Heart Association, or check out her YouTube channel for videos on how to lead a more mindful, healthy life.

    The Literary Reading Series at NYU Shanghai is sponsored by NYU Shanghai’s Writing Program.

     

  • Histories of Medicine Revisited

    Eight leading historians and anthropologists presented a kaleidoscopic survey of the rise of biomedicine in the 20th century to the NYU Shanghai community during February 22-23, in the inaugural workshop of the newly-established Center For Society, Health, And Medicine.

     

    Participating scholars included MacArthur Fellow Professor Julie Livingston of NYU and Professor Jeremy A. Greene of Johns Hopkins University. In the two-day discussion, the group thrashed out chapters of a forthcoming book, Cultural History of Medicine, 1920-2000, The Modern and Postmodern Age, to be published in 2018.

     

    “The workshop tackled a broad range of topics including the history of neurology and neuroscience, food culture and health, global cancer research, the impact of pharmaceutics on society, epidemics, medical ethics, and the history of animal experimentation,” said Todd Meyers, Associate Professor of Anthropology, and director of the new research center.

     

    “Public health is, by definition, interdisciplinary. The new center welcomes multiple perspectives on health and healing that do not necessarily use a biomedical framework as their starting point,” he said.

     

    The workshop culminated in two lively panels on Friday that addressed a series of public health and medical related questions, ranging from the possible rise of a new epidemic of avian flu to ethical issues of clinical trial, submitted by a group of NYU students from Professor Meyers’s "Pestilence" course.

     

    “For example, how we picture disease and how human beings have tried to eradicate diseases in history, keep us reflecting on the social and political impact of global health and medicine today,” Professor Meyers said.

     

    Read our exclusive interview with Professor Meyers here to find out more on his research and the new center.

     

     

  • Photography Dispelling Myth

    Back in the 1940s and 50s, French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson came to China on behalf of Life magazine to illustrate with his lens the “old” Beijing and “new” Shanghai. On November 28,  NYU Shanghai welcomed Dr. Catherine Clark, Assistant Professor of French Studies and Class of 1947 Career Development Professor at MIT. An expert in history both of France and of Photography, she talked about the historical context of Bresson’s work.  

    Beginning with French photographers in early post-war Shanghai, Clark explored the ideological underpinnings of photography and how visual representations of China to a French audience offered a narrative of France’s exceptional relationship with China.

    “Photography is about technical skill, a combination of geography and movement to capture the right moment, but also cultural interpretation - and mediation” said Clark. Looking back on Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photographs of China in 1958, she pointed out both positive and negative interpretations of the country.

    When asked about the impact of Bresson’s pictures, Clark answered that when sent circulated in the west, the photographs were received with surprise as they unveiled truth beyond the myths cultivated at the time about a mysterious China.

    Assistant Professor Heather Ruth Lee moderated the talk and concluded that the global photo story fits NYU Shanghai as it looks at nationalism and national histories through global circulations of ideas and people.

     

     

  • Cupid in Shanghai

    How did Shanghai show ‘love’ in the old days? Shanghainese writer Lynn Pan and Polish anthropologist and art historian Karolina Pawlik visually illustrated for the NYU Shanghai community how artists, graphic designers and cartoonists depicted romance and marriage in Shanghai’s 1920s and 1930s.  Pan and Pawlik explored themes of tradition and modernity on November 17 by presenting Chinese graphic adoptions of Cupid (Eros), the heart shape, and depictions of Hollywood-esque kissing styles.

    They showed the incorporation of the English word ‘love’ into Chinese texts and images, and how changing perceptions and vocabulary surrounding man-woman relationships paralleled typographical designs for  ‘love’ and ‘romantic love’ described in Chinese characters.

    The talk was moderated by Professor of Buddhist Cultures Francesca Tarocco.

  • Narrating Shanghai Lives

    The Literary Reading Series at NYU Shanghai, a project of the Writing Program, brings acclaimed writers from around the world to our Shanghai campus. This Spring, we welcome renowned China correspondent Rob Schmitz.

    Home to more than 24 million people, Shanghai is rich with human stories — many of which will go untold. Curiosity for these unreported lives led award-winning journalist Rob Schmitz to look beyond politicians, business leaders and celebrities, to document the man and woman on the street. At the NYU Shanghai Literary Series, he shared excerpts from his soon-to-published  first book, Street of Eternal Happiness, a captivating portrait of contemporary China as seen through the personal lives of a group of Shanghai residents.

    Street of Eternal Happiness was inspired by observing contemporary life along Changle Road in the Former French Concession. As Schmitz began to investigate the history of his surroundings, he was drawn to the stories and secrets hidden behind the walled houses.

    "News comes up every two minutes in China. As a journalist, because of the volume of news in this country, it seems there is too much to focus on," said Schmitz, who reports for American Public Media’s Marketplace program.

    What began as a series of informal interviews, soon became a bigger narrative nonfiction project as he delved into the everyday lives of his neighbors, befriending those he wrote about.

    “Young people everywhere were searching for happiness,” said Schmitz, reading excerpts from his story of CK—a bright young accordion player whose over-the-phone salesmanship talents (Italian accordions) allow him to realize his ‘dream’ of “running an unprofitable second floor sandwich shop, [where he can] sit in the unprofitable second floor sandwich shop, pondering the meaning of life.”

    "I wanted to show that you don't need to go very far to find amazing stories in China. All you have to do is walk and have the patience to speak to somebody,” Schmitz said.

    Schmitz trailed after the intricate lives of his new friends — going everywhere from an endless reel of pyramid scheme meetings with middle aged ‘Auntie Fu,’ to following the off-kilter life journeys of Shanghai’s hipstery wényì qīngnián, the ‘cultured youth’ working hard for the means to “watch independent films, study existentialism and visit art galleries.”

    “We're in a time — not only in this city — but in this country, that is crucial. I think it's important to understand everyday people in China and what they're going through — what change does to them and their families. I wanted to understand that, and focus on just normal people,” Schmitz said.

    Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent, based in Shanghai. Street of Eternal Happiness, is his first book. It will be released on May 17, 2016.

    The Spring 2016 Literary Reading Series is curated by Perry, Edochie and NYU Shanghai Director of External and Academic Events, Constance Bruce.
    Don't miss the next event with Yang Jian, one of China's greatest living poets, and renowned Chinese writer Wang Xiaoni.

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