East Asia Seminar Series

Memory as Resistance: From Tiananmen to Hong Kong

February 14, 2024 | 2:00PM - 4:00PM
Asian Institute, East Asia Seminar Series

This event is over

This event took place in Seminar Room 108N, Munk School, 1 Devonshire Place, Toronto.
This talk is grounded in over two decades of fieldwork on the preservation of historical memory tabooed by the CCP regime. Drawn on contextualized personal accounts, Rowena He illuminated the unequal contest between state-imposed interpretations of history and independent scholarship on China’s forbidden past, and their implications for nationalism, democratization, and the field of China studies. Highlighting her extensive interactions with local and mainland Chinese students during Hong Kong’s unprecedented social movement, she illustrated how memory becomes a form of resistance that embodies citizen autonomy and agency. The power of the powerless.
Speaker biography:
Rowena He 何曉清 is a China specialist and historian of modern 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 the relationship between academic freedom and public opinion, human rights and democratisation, and youth values and nationalism. Her first book, Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggles for Democracy in China was named Top Five 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, Christian Science Monitor, 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, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, the National Humanities Center, and the Civitas Institute at the University of Texas Austin.  
Dr. He is passionate about teaching. She received the Harvard University Certificate of Teaching Excellence for three consecutive years for the Tiananmen courses that she created. She joined the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2019 and received the Faculty of Arts Outstanding Teaching Award in 2020 and 2021. In October 2023, she was denied a work visa to return to her position as an Associate Professor of History at CUHK. She has also taught at Wellesley College and Saint Michael’s College.
Dr. 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 Journal. 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 the ABC (Australia), Al Jazeera, Associate Press, BBC, CBC, CNN, CTV, Financial Times, Globe and Mail, Guardian, Inside Higher Education, Le Monde, NPR, NBC, the New York Times, Reuters, Time, Times Higher Education, Wall Street Journal, and other international media outlets. She was designated among the Top 100 Chinese Public Intellectuals 2016.
Born and raised in China, she received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto.
Sponsor: Asian Institute
Co-Sponsor: East Asia Seminar Series
Asian Institute, East Asia Seminar Series


headshot of Rowena He
Dr. Rowena He

Civitas Institute, University of Texas Austin

Professor Rachel Silvey

Richard Charles Lee Director, Asian Institute