Jon von Kowallis

Chair Professor of Chinese Studies

Dr. Jon Eugene von Kowallis is currently Professor and Chair of Chinese Studies in the School of Humanities and Languages at UNSW. He studied Chinese language and literature at Columbia University in the City of New York (BA), National Taiwan University, the University of Hawaii (MA in Chinese literature), Beijing University and the University of California, Berkeley (PhD in Oriental Languages, specializing in Chinese literature). The Chinese program at UNSW has the largest student enrolments of any Chinese program in Australia, with over 1200 students enrolled in the many and diverse, discipline-based undergraduate courses offered on Chinese language and culture. He has served as President of the Oriental Society of Australia, the oldest professional organization of Asianists in the country.

Jon’s research, writing and his second university press book, The Subtle Revolution: Poets of the ‘Old Schools’ in late Qing and early Republican China (Berkeley: University of California, China Research Monographs, 2006) on the role of classical Chinese poetry during the modern era have influenced the direction of an entire field on rethinking the role of traditional genres, both in articulating and in reflecting the modern era. His book not only argues a thesis about the entry of modernity into Chinese letters in the late 19th / early 20th century, but also challenges the dominant paradigm in Chinese literary history.

His research in this field has been recognised as ground-breaking, both within and outside China: it has already occasioned PhD dissertations at Princeton University, UCLA, and book reviews of the monograph have been published in China Review International, Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (Wisconsin), The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (London) and The Journal of Asian Studies (Ann Arbor).

Prior to his present projects, he had already become an internationally acknowledged authority on the father of modern Chinese literature, Lu Xun (1881-1936), and as the principal Western scholar on his classical-style poetry due to his monograph The Lyrical Lu Xun: a Study of his Classical-style Verse (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press). Jon writes in Chinese as well as English and his articles and reviews have appeared in Lu Xun Yanjiu Yuekan (Lu Xun Research Monthly), Shanghai Lu Xun Yanjiu (Shanghai Lu Xun Research), Wen yu Zhe (Literature and Philosophy) and other prominent Chinese-language journals. In addition, he has published articles and book chapters on Chinese cinema and the diaspora.

His recent ARC Discovery project "The Young Lu Xun and His Early Work Written in Japan" (as chief investigator) focuses on the seminal early work of Lu Xun (1881-1936), the founder of modern Chinese literature. It aims to examine and analyse his earliest essays written in Japan, which have not been adequately studied in regard to their relationship with Western sources and Japanese influence, reconstructing the late Meiji-era intellectual milieu among Chinese intellectuals in Tokyo (1902-1909) in which Lu Xun’s early essays were written.

Findings will deepen academic grasp of Chinese intellectual relations with the West and Japan, the influence of Western learning leading up to the May-Fourth era (1919-) and its resurgence in the post-Mao period (1976-present), and historical causes for the rise of the guoxue (traditional studies) cult and nationalism in present-day China. This will contribute to establishing Australian Chinese Studies as a third voice in the Asia-Pacific region. This project undertakes a ground-breaking investigation in the field. It will contribute to better understanding of China: its language transformation, intellectual history, cultural trends relevant to economic growth; and will help raise Australia’s scholarly profile, enhance our capacity to interpret and engage in regional and global discourse.

Jon's research continues in the direction of biographical, bibliographical and intellectual history focussed on Lu Xun but extending to Lu Xun's influence in Japan, Takeuchi Yoshimi and contemporary Chinese intellectuals.

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