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Chinese Modernity and Global Biopolitics

Sheldon H. Lu

Publication Year: 2007

This ambitious work is a multimedia, interdisciplinary study of Chinese modernity in the context of globalization from the late nineteenth century to the present. Sheldon Lu draws on Chinese literature, film, art, photography, and video to broadly map the emergence of modern China in relation to the capitalist world-system in the economic, social, and political realms. Central to his study is the investigation of biopower and body politics, namely, the experience of globalization on a personal level. Lu first outlines the trajectory of the body in modern Chinese literature by focusing on the adventures, pleasures, and sufferings of the male (and female) body in the writings of selected authors. He then turns to avant-garde and performance art, tackling the physical self more directly through a consideration of work that takes the body as its very theme, material, and medium. In an exploration of mass visual culture, Lu analyzes artistic reactions to the multiple, uneven effects of globalization and modernization on both the physical landscape of China and the interior psyche of its citizens. This is followed by an inquiry into contemporary Chinese urban space in popular cinema and experimental photography and art. Examples are offered that capture the daily lives of contemporary Chinese as they struggle to make the transition from the vanishing space of the socialist lifestyle to the new capitalist economy of commodities. Lu reexamines the history and implications of China’s belated integration into the capitalist world system before closing with a postscript that traces the genealogy of the term "postsocialism" and points to the real relevance of the idea for the investigation of everyday life in China in the twenty-first century.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

This book is the end product of multiple origins, beginnings, and middles. It unifies ideas from different periods of my thinking, living, and research interests. The diverse materials were first presented at numerous places, including the University of California at Davis, University of California at Berkeley, University of California at Riverside, University of Southern California, University ...

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Introduction: China and the Global Biopolitical Order

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pp. 1-19

This book is a multidisciplinary study of Chinese modernity in the areas of literature, visual culture, and biopolitics. In his deceptively titled monograph, A Singular Modernity: Essay on the Ontology of the Present, Fredric Jameson at one point entertains as many as fourteen possible narratives of modernity in European history, extending from the German Reformation through the French Enlightenment to the Soviet Revolution.1

Part 1 Literature and Biopolitics

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1 Waking to Global Modernity: The Classical Tale in the Late Qing

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pp. 23-37

China’s encounter with modernity in the nineteenth century entailed a radical reconceptualization of China’s position within the new world that it had just discovered. It reluctantly realized that it had to jettison its old universalist yet sinocentric view of itself and the world. The Qing Empire was but a nation-state among a multitude of other countries. At the same moment, the self-reorientation awakened and animated ...

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2 When Mimosa Blossoms: Blockage of Male Desire in Yu Dafu and Zhang Xianliang

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pp. 38-52

In this chapter I discuss the stories of two modern Chinese writers: Yu Dafu, of the May Fourth generation in the first half of the twentieth century; and Zhang Xianliang, from the socialist period in the second half of that century. Although they come from two different historical periods, certain commonalities exist between these two male writers. They are linked by what might be called a common political and libidinal “economics of deficits.”1

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3 Body Writing: Beauty Writers at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century

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pp. 53-67

At the end of the twentieth century, two Shanghai-born women writers, Mian Mian and Wei Hui, took China’s literary scene by storm with their shocking stories and writing styles. Their novels were immensely popular with China’s new generation of readers, the so-called Generation X (xin xin renlei, literally “new new human beings”). The writers themselves were born in the early 1970s and have no recollection or experience of ...

Part 2 Art: From the National to the Diasporic

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4 The Naked Body Politic in Postsocialist China and the Chinese Diaspora

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pp. 71-92

This chapter explores the body art of Ma Liuming and Zhang Huan, two leading body/performance artists from the People Republic of China since the early 1990s.1 Throughout ancient China, the naked body, or full nudity, was relatively absent in iconography, in contrast to Western art.2 In modern and contemporary China, the naked body cautiously surfaces in art works once in a while. Today, no public platform for the artistic performance of the naked body in postsocialist China exists.

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5 “Beautiful Violence”: War, Peace, Globalization

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pp. 93-111

Qin Yufen (b. 1954), a Chinese woman artist based in Berlin, Germany, created a gigantic installation, Beautiful Violence (Meili de baoli), at the Mattress Factory, a museum of contemporary art in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as part of the exhibition “Visual Sound” in 2001. Beautiful Violence consists of 5.75 miles of barbed wire configured in loops. Multicolored party balloons are attached to the wire. Small speakers ...

Part 3 Sinophone Cinema and Postsocialist Television

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6 Hollywood, China, Hong Kong: Representing the Chinese Nation-State in Filmic Discourse

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pp. 115-129

Media theorists and cultural critics have argued that the post–Cold War era is the age of transnational media and cultural globalization. Transnationalization, in this formulation, breaks down national barriers and extends to the remote corners of the globe. Globalization, as succinctly defined by Roland Robertson, “refers both to the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole.” 1

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7 History, Memory, Nostalgia: Rewriting Socialism in Film and Television Drama

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pp. 130-149

The legacy of Chinese socialism has been a hotly contested issue both inside and outside China from the vantage point of the postsocialist, postmodern, post–Cold War present. Chinese socialism, through such momentous historical events as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), had been an inspiring experience in worldwide anticolonial, anti-imperialist, anticapitalist struggles as well as academic Marxism in the West.1

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8 Dialect and Modernity in Twenty-first-Century Sinophone Cinema

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pp. 150-163

This chapter attempts to explore and differentiate the uses and functions of dialects in varieties of Chinese-language films in the early twenty-first century. I briefly examine such diverse films as The Dance Age (Taiwanese documentary, 2003), which hinges on a notion of local modernity based on the Fukienese/Taiwanese dialect in early twentieth-century Taiwanese popular songs; a mainland Chinese art-house film The World (2004) by Jia Zhangke, ...

Part 4 Cityscape in Multimedia

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9 Tear Down the City: Reconstructing Urban Space in Cinema, Photography, Video

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pp. 167-190

Chai-na (literally, “tearing down!”) is indeed the proper name for contemporary China, as we witness the destruction of old buildings and the construction of new structures wherever we go in a Chinese city. This process of massive scale gathered great momentum throughout the 1990s with the infusion of transnational capital and continues into the twenty-first century.

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Historical Conclusion: Chinese Modernity and the Capitalist World-System

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pp. 191-203

In 2005, China officially named July 11 national “Navigation Day.” On that day six hundred years ago in the Ming dynasty, Admiral Zheng He and the Chinese fleet launched the first of a series of sea voyages. The Chinese government conspicuously organized a commemoration of the six hundredth anniversary of this primal event. Special postage stamps were issued to mark the anniversary and editorials in official newspapers such as the ...

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Postscript: Answering the Question, What Is Chinese Postsocialism?

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pp. 204-210

Chinese socialism has been a dominant tradition throughout the twentieth century and beyond. It is no exaggeration to say that Chinese modernity has been to a large extent the development, revision, and rethinking of socialist modernity. Much of the socialist legacy has been repudiated and jettisoned, and yet much of it persists in people’s minds and still exists, like a ghost from a previous life, at the beginning of the twenty-first century.


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pp. 211-232

Chinese Glossary

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pp. 233-239


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pp. 241-253


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pp. 255-264

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861865
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824831110

Publication Year: 2007