China scholar Rowena He to return for inaugural Global Issues Lecture

Now professor in Hong Kong, former Saint Michael's history faculty member is a humanities fellow in the U.S. this year

March 10, 2023
Faculty/staff report

Rowena He

Rowena He, formerly an assistant professor history at Saint Michael’s and currently an associate professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and 2022-23 National Humanities Center Fellow in Durham, NC, will be giving the inaugural lecture for the Center for Global Engagement Global Issues Lecture Series.

The lecture, titled  “Lighting Candles in Darkness: From Tiananmen to Hong Kong,” will take place on Wednesday, April 26 at 7 p.m. in the Roy Room, said Jeffrey Ayres, Center for Global Engagement director and chair & professor of Political Science and International Relations.

“We look forward to this opportunity to welcome Rowena back to Saint Michael’s College for this timely and important lecture,” Ayres said.


Jeffrey Ayres

About the talk’s topic

In the spring of 1989, millions of people filled the streets all over China demanding political reforms. The nationwide movement, highlighted by the university student’s hunger strike in Tiananmen Square, ended on June 4 with the People’s Liberation Army firing on unarmed civilians. Over 200,000 soldiers, equipped with tanks and machine guns, participated in the lethal action. Tiananmen remains a most taboo subject in China today.

For three decades, Hong Kong’s Victoria Park had become a space of collective memory when hundreds of thousands gathered each year to light candles for those young lives that were violently cut short. However, since 2020 the lights of those candles were swallowed by darkness when the annual ritual was banned, and its organizers jailed.

This talk is grounded in the speaker Rowena He’s fieldwork over two decades. Drawing on contextualized personal accounts, Professor He will illuminate the persistence of citizens’ preservation of historical memory tabooed by the Beijing regime. Connecting the personal with the social, the political, and the historical, highlighting her extensive interactions with students during Hong Kong’s unprecedented social movement, she will tell stories of the silenced and the invisible, the power of the powerless shining in darkness in the search for truth and justice, without borders and across time.  She will also reflect upon the meaning of engagement locally and globally in the post-truth era compounded with populism and nationalism.

book cover

The cover of a Rowena He book examining many issues from her coming talk.

About Professor He

Rowena Xiaoqing He is a China specialist and historian of modern and contemporary Chinese society and politics. As a scholar of Tiananmen, the 1989 pro-democracy movement, she is interested in the nexus of history, memory, and power, and their implications for youth values, identity, and social change. Her first book, Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China was named one of the top five China books 2014 by the Asia Society’s China File. The book has been reviewed in the New York Review of Books, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New Statesman, Spectator, China Journal, Human Rights Quarterly, and other international periodicals. Her research has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Harvard’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and this academic year she is a Luce East Asia fellow at the National Humanities Center. Before joining The Chinese University of Hong Kong as an Associate Professor of History, she taught at Harvard University, Wellesley College, and Saint Michael’s College. She received the Harvard University Certificate of Teaching Excellence for three consecutive years for the Tiananmen courses that she created. At The Chinese University of Hong Kong, she received the Faculty of Arts Outstanding Teaching Award 2019–20 and 2020–21.

Professor He publishes and speaks widely beyond the academy. Her op-eds have appeared in the Washington Post, The Nation, The Guardian, The Globe and Mail, and the Wall Street. She has been a keynote speaker for the Canada Human Rights National Symposium, testified before a US Congressional hearing, and delivered lectures for the US State Department, and the Canada International Council. Her scholarly opinions are regularly sought by international media including ABC (Australia), ABC (US), Asahi Shimbun (Japan), AI Jazeera, Associated Press, BBC, Boston Globe, Boston Public Radio, CBC, CNN, Christian Science Monitor, CTV, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, Globe and Mail, Guardian, Harvard Gazette, Harvard Magazine, Harvard Political Review, Inside Higher Education, Le Monde, London Times, Los Angeles Times, NPR, National Geographic, NBC, the New York Times, Radio Free Asia, Radio Canada International, Reuters, Time, Times Higher Education, and other media outlets. Her profile interview with the New York Times Chinese edition was ranked the Top 3 Most Popular Original Articles of 2016. She was designated among the Top 100 Chinese Public Intellectuals of 2016. Born and brought up in China, she received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto.

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