I am a cultural historian of twentieth-century China, with a particular focus on political activism and urban space.
My first single-authored book, Behind the Gate: Inventing Students in Beijing traces the origins the category of “students,” which has been coeval and coincident with Chinese modernity itself. Through an original analysis of one of the crucial episodes in the historiography—and imagination—of modern China, the May Fourth movement of 1919, I show how the signifier “student” was the result of a historical process. To put it simply, while in China—as elsewhere—there had always been people who studied, the political category of “student” was far from pre-determined and was actually produced through political practice during a particular historical moment. These Chinese “students” came to existence only through the confrontations that had the university—its relationship to learning and the state, and the very definition of “students”—at their core.
My work reconceptualizes student activism by considering how students challenged the distinctions between the cultural and the political, the intellectual and the quotidian. Political activism was expressed and realized in students’ lived practice: in the reformed pedagogical and learning routines, in the daily life of the campus, in the osmotic relationship with the city and its people, and finally in allegedly “cultural” student organizations. By looking at all these aspects, I embed political history in the practice of everyday life.
Here is an interview on the book in New Books in East Asian Studies: http://newbooksnetwork.com/eastasianstudies/2013/05/30/fabio-lanza-behind-the-gate-inventing-students-in-beijing-columbia-up-2010/
With my colleague Jadwiga E. Pieper Mooney, I have co-edited De-Centering Cold War History: Local and Global Change (Routledge, 2012).
I am currently working on two new research projects. The first is an analysis of the role of Maoist China in inspiring and defining political and intellectual activism in the US and France between the late 1960s and the late 1970s. The second is a street-level history of a district of Beijing between 1953 and 1983, tracing how communism (and capitalism) redefined and transformed the practices and rhythms of the everyday.
I teach introductory classes on Modern China and Modern East Asia as well as a course on Communist China through films, memoirs, and fictional narratives. I am also looking forward to teach a new course on “The Global Sixties”. In all my courses, by expanding the reading list beyond what are usually considered historical sources, I lead students to look at how history is continuously produced around us and to read everyday materials as potential “archives.” For graduate students, I teach Historiography, Comparative World Revolutions, a course on the Chinese city, and I contribute to the world/comparative minor.
I was born and bred in Venice, Italy and moved to the US in 1998. When I am not working, I am usually working out or cooking.
Ph.d. Columbia University, 2004
M.A., Columbia University, 1999
B.A. University of Venice, Ca' Foscari, 1992