Lena’s research can be summarized in two questions: What are the social and mental impacts of rapid urban transformation? And what role does storytelling play in driving these changes, as well as in resisting, challenging or negotiating their impacts? Given the unprecedented scale, scope, and speed of Shanghai’s recent transformation, she has selected this city as her main case study, functioning as a “magnifying glass” for global urban issues.
In her book Shanghai Literary Imaginings: A City in Transformation (AUP 2015), Lena analyzes Chinese fiction set in contemporary Shanghai and written by local authors who lived in the city when urban transformation reached its peak. This is the first book-length study to give a full overview of the literary culture of Shanghai since 1990, critically engaging with Chinese-language scholarship.
Robin Visser noted in a review that the book is “essential reading on turn-of-the-millennium Shanghai literary culture.” Andrew Field called it “an admirable feat of organization, analysis, translation, and interpretation, bringing to light a large body of work that would otherwise lie buried, at least in the western world of Chinese studies.” And Michel Hockx praised the book for its “significant new insights into contemporary Chinese urban culture from a highly innovative methodological perspective.”
Current book project
Lena is currently working on her second monograph, Historical Memory and Place Attachment: Urban Strategies and Resistance in Shanghai (working title; under contract with Brill). The book argues that storytelling can be used as a powerful tool for inclusive urban politics. By taking rapidly transforming and globalizing Shanghai as its focus, it analyzes how the government’s use of storytelling functions as a double-edged sword, building community as well as silencing dissent, and how Shanghai residents, in their turn, use storytelling to negotiate, challenge, or resist the changes imposed on them.
The book is divided into three parts. Part I explores promotional materials on urban planning projects (renewal and preservation) issued by the municipal government to analyze how Shanghai, the city “haunted by the past and obsessed by the future” (Abbas 2002), uses its urban planning projects to remember and process its past and envision its future. The second part presents the stories of those who have been written out of the official “city myths” discussed in Part I and who, in their turn, use oral storytelling as a form of resistance, either countering or writing themselves into the “grand narratives.” The final part focuses on the city’s professional storytellers: historical fiction and science fiction (科学幻想, or in literal translation “science fantasy”) by writers who create alternatives to the official narratives of Shanghai. The book will show how these imaginings of the past and the future, enmeshed as they are in the social, material, and political realities of the changing cityscape, both reflect and shape perceptions.
Lena has also published an online course textbook, Aansluitingsmodule Chinastudies (Orientation Course in Chinese Studies; with Frank Pieke, ICLON Leiden University 2012), Hartenvrouw (Queen of Hearts, a translation of collected stories by Su Tong 苏童; De Geus 2013), and two co-edited volumes: Spectacle and the City: Chinese Urbanities in Popular Culture and Art (with Jeroen de Kloet; AUP 2013), and Boredom, Shanzhai and Digitisation in the time of Creative China (with Chow Yiu Fai and Jeroen de Kloet; AUP 2019).