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UEP Professor Weiping Wu discusses new book

Published: Friday, February 14, 2014

Updated: Friday, February 14, 2014 08:02

The Friends of Tufts Libraries Wednesday afternoon hosted an author talk with the Chair of the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning Weiping Wu, who spoke about her newest book, “The Chinese City.”

Laura Wood, the director of Tisch Library, started off the event with a presentation of the Maxine Newberg Gordon Book Prize.

Wood explained that the prize is given out in honor of Gordon (J ’70), a math major who died after losing a battle with breast cancer in 1999. Gordon was passionate about both mathematics and literature, and the award is given to a current student who shares her passion.

“Her family, friends and colleagues established a special endowment to honor her,” Wood said. “The endowment is used to purchase literature for the library. In addition to supporting the collections for the benefit of the Tufts community, the endowment includes an annual book prize.”

Robinson Professor of Mathematics Todd Quinto followed Wood with remarks on this year’s prize recipient, junior Thomas Snarsky. Quinto explained the uniqueness of the award and the difficulty of combining two different fields of study.

“The math majors I’ve seen over the years who get this award are all very special because they do combine two fields that don’t always go together, but with these students, they go together in a wonderful way,” Quinto said.

He explained that Snarsky is double majoring in mathematics and philosophy, and that he has succeeded in some of the Department of Mathematics’ most challenging courses. Quinto also said that the award was a book of the recipient’s choice.

“Through the generosity of the Gordon family, each recipient of this prize chooses a book, a copy of which is given to the library and another copy [which] is given to the recipient,” Quinto said. “Tom selected ‘Imperial’ by William Vollmann.”

According to Quinto, the book discusses 20th century totalitarianism and blends both critical journalism and literary fiction.

“The most remarkable feature of his work is his pervasive sense of justice,” Quinto read aloud from a statement written by Snarsky. “He doesn’t just write about the needy. Instead, he writes about the dazzling moral complexity of human life and the human condition at both its best and its worst.”

Snarsky told the Daily after the event that he felt very grateful for the prize.

“It’s really a great honor,” he said. “I got to speak with the family who funds it and, you know, it’s a privilege in [and] of itself that they fund the award at all. To receive it means that I was picked out in some meaningful sense from the rest of the math majors and the rest of the folks who study literature.”

After Snarsky received his award, Wood returned to introduce Wu, whom she said has been a recipient of numerous awards and fellowships. Wu has served as a consultant for both the Ford Foundation and the World Bank, according to Wood, and has published six books.

“She has steadily produced books,” Wood said. “Her research explores the impact of migration on cities, the role of planning and policy development on urbanization and linkage between higher education and industry.”

Wood and Wu agreed that “The Chinese City” is different than her previous publications. Wu said that she and co-author Piper Gaubatz, a professor at the UMass Amherst, wrote the book to discuss the transformation of China.

“When Piper and I started writing this book, especially because we were targeting a larger audience, we thought understanding a Chinese city offers a lens into understanding the Chinese transformation in the last 40 years,” she said. “We also wanted to speak to the audience like you ... we refrained ... from making really large statements and judgments about Chinese cities.”

Wu explained that urbanization in China can be divided into two categories: the migration to cities and the changes within the cities. Marketization, decentralization, industrialization, migration and globalization were the factors Wu listed as contributing to this rapid growth of cities.

“These factors coming together in a really short period of time ... very few countries have had this sort of intermingling of these large forces at work over that short period of time,” she said. “That intermingling, in many ways, is the driving force of this rapid urbanization of the country.”

Urbanization is not constant across the country, however, as Wu said that it is almost entirely concentrated in the eastern half of China.

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