China Up-Close: Emily Hahns Literary Journalism

Project: Research

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This research project investigates the literary journalism of the American writer EmilyHahn (1905-97), situating her work in relation to mid-twentieth American print cultureand in the context of historical relations between America and China. Hahn wrote fifty-twobooks and hundreds of articles over her long writing career, but despite herpopularity and success as an author, little academic attention has been paid to her oeuvre.As it engages with a growing body of research that examines the complexity of literaryjournalism as a genre, the focus of this project is on the works that Hahn published whileliving in China and Hong Kong during the late 1930s and early 40s while working for theNew Yorker magazine as a China correspondent.While works of literary journalism have long been recognized for their cultural value,past scholarly inquiry has focused mostly on works produced by well-known fictionwriters such as Charles Dickens, Stephen Crane, or George Orwell. Similar to the relatedgenre of travel writing, literary journalism has been viewed as a subset of literature andoften regarded as a genre that is largely motivated by commercial and professionalconcerns. In recent years, however, the situation has changed as works of literaryjournalism (sometimes referred to as literary reportage, narrative journalism, or newjournalism) are studied in diverse social contexts and from different critical perspectives(for example, in 2009 a new journal and an international scholarly organization wasestablished that is devoted to the study of literary journalism). In our current context ofglobalization where large media organizations continue to expand and exert theirinfluence, and as personal forms of reportage are sometimes lost or drowned out, this newarea of academic inquiry is highly compelling and relevant.This project will show that Emily Hahn was a key figure in the evolution of modernliterary journalism, as her works involved a complex negotiation of truth telling andstorytelling. As this research draws on archival sources and explores Hahn’s writingsfrom the critical perspectives of narratology, feminism, and comparative literature, it willoffer original insights into the changing historical circumstances of modern literaryjournalism and reveal more about how China was brought up-close to American readersduring the twentieth century.


Project number9042305
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/1615/06/20

    Research areas

  • China-US literary relations,literary journalism,Hong Kong in literature,Shanghai in literature,