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Jeffrey Wasserstrom Leverhulme Lecture - St. George and the Dragon: Orwell's 20th Century Novel, China's 21st Century Realities

Venue: Birkbeck Clore Management Centre

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George Orwell has been hailed as not just a supremely talented writer but also as a prophetic one, who foresaw before his death more than 70 years ago
how autocrats would govern in decades to come. Over the decades since the 1949 publication of "Nineteen Eighty-Four," many countries, from the former Soviet Union to today's North Korea, have been singled out as "Big Brother" states par excellence. Recently, though, much attention has focused on how the People's Republic of China, which was founded in the year the novel appeared, exemplifies the kind of "newspeak" propaganda and "boot-on-the-face" modes of rule novelised by Orwell.

This talk will look at the value but also limitations of thinking of today's PRC as "Orwellian" - the very fact that translations of "Nineteen Eighty-Four" have long been for sale in Beijing bookstores is hardly something one expects to be possible in a true Big Brother State. The lecture will also consider the value of making room for other fictional, imaginative frameworks in considering today's China, ranging from that of Orwell's onetime Eton tutor Aldous Huxley in "Brave New World", to that proposed by Suzanne Collins in her "Hunger Games" series, to domestic dystopian visions in the work of Chinese writers from Lu Xun and Lao She to Chan Koonchung.

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