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China watchers chat on Sundays

REFLECTING on the past, making sense of the present and casting an eye on Shanghai's myriad possibilities in the future are a few topics up for discussion when astute China watchers gather to share their thoughts at a series of talks this month.

Kicked off on Sunday at the Glamour Bar, the "Cosmopolitan Conversations" series takes a deeper look at the ever-shifting feast that is Shanghai.

Held each Sunday afternoon in July, the talks began with two residents - historian Tess Johnson and writer, blogger and raconteur Paul French - celebrating American Independence Day with a discussion of America's role in pre-1949 Shanghai.

The talks are hosted by historian Jeffrey Wasserstrom, who this week will discuss the pitfalls and challenges of covering a city as fast-paced and constantly changing as Shanghai with New York Times reporter and Columbia Journalism School professor Howard French.

On July 18 guests Zhang Lijia, author of "Socialism Is Great," and publisher Graham Earnshaw reminisce about their time in 1980s China.

For the final talk of the month, New Yorker China correspondent Evan Osnos and Wasserstrom, both writers for print and bloggers, talk about these different media for covering China, and where they intersect.

The talks are a collaboration between CET, an American study abroad program, and M on the Bund.

Wasserstrom says the talks are aimed at providing a summer season of talks similar to the Shanghai International Literary Festival.

"It's a little like an intellectual talk show, it's a very cool setting and we are hoping that people living in Shanghai who have English language skills, whether they are foreign or Chinese, will want to come," Wasserstrom says. "Also, we think the topics will be appealing to people who may be coming to see the Expo or just taking a trip."

Wasserstrom teaches at the University of California in Irvine and has written extensively on China in blogs, newspapers and magazines and has published several books on a broad range of topics including the history of Shanghai.

He describes his latest book, "China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know," as "a pop book aimed at people taking their first trip to China that gives them answers to frequently asked questions."

Wasserstrom says he is an "academic historian who spends a lot of time writing about the present and an academic who writes a lot for general audiences."

This week's talk will look at two different perspectives, that of the historian and the journalist and how they write and interpret a city like Shanghai that changes so fast.

French headed up The New York Times' Shanghai and Tokyo bureaus and has also reported extensively on western and central Africa.

He is an accomplished photographer who has captured the old quarters of Shanghai and his works have been exhibited in Asia, Europe and the United States.

"Howard and I will talk about the challenge of keeping up with Shanghai and how you keep up with a city which changes so quickly," Wasserstrom says.

"How do you keep from feeling what you are writing won't be obsolete within a year and how do you keep up with what is going on because neither of us live here. So, we also want lots of questions and feedback from the audience," he says.

Ticket to the talks costs 65 yuan (US$9.60) and includes a drink; it's 10 yuan for students. The talks this Sunday and on July 18 start at 4pm and the July 25 talk starts at 2:30pm.

Address: 6/F, 20 Guangdong Rd

Tickets are available at the door. For more information, call 6350-9988 or e-mail to


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