World Report

Cultural Semiotics at Nanjing, P.R. China

By Richard L. Lanigan

The International Institute of Semiotic Studies (IISS) at Nanjing Normal University (NNU) hosted a meeting of scholars from all over the world on November 15 to 17, 2008. Composed of three campuses, the conference was held at the historic old campus with its buildings exemplifying classical Chinese architecture, most notably the distinctive tile roofs with ornamentation. The official title of the conference was “Nanjing International Symposium on Cultural Semiotics and the 8th Annual Conference of the China Association for Linguistics and Semiotic Studies”. The conference was devoted to four main subject areas: Theories of Cultural Semiotics, Literary Semiotics, Semiotics of Arts, and Linguistic Semiotics. The conference was a joint effort of the International Association for Semiotic Studies (IASS), the Jiangsu Association for Philosophy and Social Sciences, Nanjing Normal University (NNU), the International Semiotics Institute, Imatra, Finland (ISI), and the Chinese Society of Linguistics.

Keynote speakers (from left to right): Susan Petrilli, John Deely, Roland Posner, Jean-Claude Mbarga, Ji Haihong, Zhang Jie, Richard Lanigan, Augusto Ponzio, Youzheng Li.

The program of the conference opened with a performance of Chinese folk music and dance performed by students from NNU. Welcoming remarks were offered by President Wen Xiaoming (NNU), Eero Tarasti, President of IASS, Liao Jin, Vice President of the Jiangsu Province Association for Philosophy and Social Science, Hu Zhuanglin (Distinguished Professor, Beijing University), President of the China Association for Linguistic and Semiotic Studies, and Jie Zhang, NNU’s Director of IISS and Dean of the School of Foreign Languages and Cultures. Eero Tarasti (President IASS) provided a retrospective account of the planning for the Nanjing Symposium that began at a planning meeting during the 2007 IASS 9th World Congress in Finland. The symposium represents a pre-congress planning meeting in preparation for a proposed IASS World Congress in 2012. At the conclusion of the symposium on November 17th, the IASS Bureau and NNU organizers had a very positive review meeting expressing an affirmative decision to carry planning forward for a 2012 congress at NNU. The opening ceremony concluded with a group photograph taken in the large grassy court yard just behind the NNU entrance marquee. The universities four main buildings are sited on each side of the grassy park area, one building being the Concert Hall where all plenary sessions were held. One of the delights of the conference was to see small children and their parents flying kites in this park throughout the days and evenings of the meeting.

Excluding ceremonial remarks, the bound conference program presents 120 authors, paper titles, and abstracts. While there were some absentee foreign scholars, the majority of the professors were on hand to present their papers, the vast majority in English as the international language of the conference. More technical papers dealing with linguistic semiotics were usually presented in Chinese. I was personally impressed with the fact that every Chinese professor or student that I encountered were very fluent in English and all of the students were wonderful teachers helping me with my very limited Chinese!

While it is not practical to review all 120 papers, a summary review of the Plenary Program Papers will give everyone a sense of the subjects analyzed and discussed at the symposium. The program on Saturday, November 15th was co-chaired by Susan Petrilli (Italy) and Ji Haihong (Vice Director of IISS). Eero Tarasti (Finland) presented the first paper entitled “What Is Existential Semiotics?”. The second plenary paper was by Hu Zhuanglin (Beijing) entitled “Cognitive Semiotics and Its Research Interests”. He was followed by Roland Possner (Germany) who spoke on “Semiotics as a Theoretical Basis for the Human Sciences”. The last paper entitled “Reception and Transformation of the Former Soviet Union’s Cultural Semiotics in China” was delivered by Jie Zhang (Director of IISS and a Russian language expert).

The Plenary Program on Sunday morning, November 16th was chaired by Zhao Yiheng (Sichuan). As an aside, let me note that I taught at Sichuan University, Chengdu City in 1996-7 as a Senior Fulbright Fellow. The opening paper by Li Youzheng (Vice President of IASS) was “Chinese Semiotics and the Change in Composition of Theoretical Semiotics”. “From Semiosis to Semioethics” by John Deely (USA) was the second presentation. The program concluded with a paper by Augusto Ponzio (Italy) entitled “On the Dialogic Nature of Sign”. The afternoon continuation of the plenary program was chaired by me. There were three presentations, the first being by Susan Petrilli (Italy) titled “Rhetoric and Mass Media in Global Communication”. The second paper by Xiong Xueliang of Fudan University (Shanghai) was “A Semiotic Approach to Some Metonymic Phenomena”. The final paper of the day was by Wang Yin (Sichuan International Studies University): “The Embodied-Cognitive and Humanist View of Meaning”.

The last day of the conference, November 17th, featured a morning Plenary Program and an afternoon session devoted to concluding remarks by representatives of each of the plenary program panels from the entire symposium. The first morning speaker was Patrizia Violi (Italy), her presentation was “How to Remember a Traumatic Past: The Construction of Memorials as a Problem”. Following this paper, Wang Mingyu (Heilongjiang University) spoke on “A Semiotic Approach to Linguistic Cultural Studies”. Jean-Claude Mbarga (Vice President IASS, Cameroon) presented his research paper on “Sociosemiotics of Cultural Diversity in the Era of Globalization”. The final presentation was a jointly authored paper by Dmitrij Dobrovolski and Irina Levontina (Russia): “Russian Net versus German Nein ‘No”: A Semiotic Approach”. After a pleasant coffee break, the conference closing ceremony consisted of review commentaries by a number of the plenary speakers representing the IASS Bureau and the NNU organizing committee.

Let me close my symposium report by noting that the NNU hosts did an extraordinary job with all events running on time and very well organized. The entire cadre of NNU faculty and students provided guidance and assistance with every aspect of symposium attendance from conference and hotel registration, to directions on campus, to travel coordination. I need to make special mention two outstanding social events that were the very embodiment of Chinese culture. First on Sunday evening, we were all treated to a concert of Traditional Chinese Music. The performers were world class musicians with solo performance by artists who had won first prize awards in various national competitions featuring traditional instruments. Second on Monday afternoon, we were bused to to visit two of the monuments central to Chinese history: (1) the memorial tomb of Dr. Sun Yat-sen (variously Sun Yixian) whose dates are November 12, 1866 – March 12, 1925, and (2) the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum of the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Queen Ma (who was given the title “Queen of Xiao Ci”, translated as “Queen of Filial Piety and Kindness”]. The tombs are sealed and remain sealed in tribute to the fundamental Confucian principles of Harmony and Filial Piety. To conclude, I am hopeful that the collaborative success of the international symposium is a positive sign for the proposed IASS World Congress at Nanjing in 2012 with the tentative theme of “Harmony within Plurality”.

Anyone wishing more information about the International Institute for Semiotic Studies at Nanjing Normal University should contact the Vice Director, Professor Ji Haihong

Announcing a New International Journal of Semiotics, Chinese Semiotic Studies

Chinese Semiotic Studies (CSC) is the official journal of the Research Center of Chinese Semiotic Studies affiliated to  China Association for Linguistic and Semiotic Studies and the Research Institute of Nanjing Normal University International Semiotic Studies. The journal aims at the promotion of semiotic studies in China and in the world at large and the promotion of mutual understanding among semiotic scholars with different cultural backgrounds. Chinese Semiotic Studies accepts papers from all over the world in the form of  theoretical discussions, applied perspectives including observational or experimental studies, short notes or replies and review articles or other types of submissions relevant to the journal’s mission. Chinese Semiotic Studies encourages submissions that look across disciplinary boundaries and interdisciplinary nature of the journal can be reflected in some of the fields scheduled for publication which are closely related to semiotics: Philosophy, education, Language, literature, semantics, pragmatics, cognitive science, anthropology, the fine arts, music, cinematography, architecture, intercultural communication including non-verbal communication,  memetics,  etc.. Authors should follow APA style carefully. Each article should have an abstract and should be followed by a short paragraph explaining how the content relates to semiotic studies as a whole.

Chinese Semiotic Studies only accepts electronic submissions in E-mail attachment.

The first issue of the journal will accept papers from the participants of Nanjing International Symposium on Cultural Semiotics & 8th Annual Conference of China Association for Linguistic and Semiotic Studies only. Those who officially participated in Nanjing International Conference on Semiotics (Nov.15-17, 2008) please notice: The deadline for sending the submission for the collection of papers is postponed until January 31, 2009.

All submissions are sent to The receipt of submissions is confirmed by E-mail. The paper is reviewed by two members of the editorial board or external experts chosen by the editors and the reviewers remain anonymous.

Editorial department: School of Foreign Languages and Cultures, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing, Jiangsu Province 210097, China