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  • Chinese Modernity and Global Biopolitics: Studies in Literature and Visual Culture by Sheldon H. Lu
  • Belinda Kong (bio)
Sheldon H. Lu. Chinese Modernity and Global Biopolitics: Studies in Literature and Visual Culture. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2007. xiii, 264 pp. Paperback, isbn 978-0-8248-3177-6.

In Chinese Modernity and Global Biopolitics, Sheldon Lu brings together an impressive range of essays that probe China’s experiences of globalization from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first century, with particular focus on what he calls “global biopolitics”—the myriad ways in which globalization is “felt personally in the everyday life of individuals” through the “politics of the body, the psyche, and affects” (p. 2). The book comprises nine central chapters organized chronologically and divided along genre lines. Part 1, the section with the longest historical reach, looks at literature and contains discussions on Wang Tao’s late Qing classical tales of transnational and interracial romance (chap. 1), Yu Dafu’s and Zhang Xianliang’s narrative fictions of frustrated male desire (chap. 2), and the recent rise of highly sexualized “body writing” by female novelists such as Mian Mian and Wei Hui (chap. 3). Part 2 turns to contemporary art and explores the body performances of Ma Liuming and Zhang Huan (chap. 4) as well as the installations on global war and violence by Qin Yufen and Cai Guo-Qiang (chap. 5). By moving from works produced or performed within the mainland to those in the diaspora, this section begins to shift the book’s emphasis from a nation-based to a diasporic model of Chinese cultural practice. Part 3 further expands on this transnational frame by situating a number of recent mainland films and television dramas in relation to Hollywood and Hong Kong cinematic representations of China as a nation-state (chap. 6), the East German cinema of “postsocialist nostalgia” (chap. 7), and a Taiwanese documentary’s use of local dialects for imagining cultural and national identity (chap. 8). Part 4 comes full circle by returning our attention to contemporary People’s Republic of China (PRC) via mass media that variously respond to the destruction and reconstruction of urban space (chap. 9).

The wide geographical compass of Chinese Modernity and Global Biopolitics is by now a hallmark of Lu’s work, and he effectively demonstrates here that preoccupation with China’s global status constitutes a significant theme for cultural producers both within and outside the PRC. The interdisciplinary breadth here also admirably showcases how a cross-genre study can offer synthetic insights into discourses of nation, modernity, and globalization. By spanning the realms of literature (both classical and popular) and visual culture broadly defined (art, photography, video, television, and film of both artistic and commercial stripes), this book marks a key place in the growing corpus of recent scholarship on transnational cultural Chineseness, since other studies tend to concentrate predominantly on either literature (Tsu and Wang 2010; Tsu 2011) or visual culture (Lu 2001; Shih 2007). For the most part, Lu takes pains to avoid reducing cultural politics to geographical location or aligning cultural agency too easily with the diaspora. In his conception of sinophone cinema, for instance, he emphasizes that [End Page 533] “Greater China is not necessarily a monolithic, colonial, oppressive geopolitical entity,” nor is “[s]inophone cultural production from the margins an inherently postcolonial, counterhegemonic discourse” (p. 163). Instead, Lu’s analyses typically move across mainland and diasporic contexts in order to highlight thematic continuities and cultural networks as well as common constraints of capitalist production and mass consumption facing both those inside the PRC (such as the “beauty writers” of chap. 3 and Zhang Yimou in chap. 8) and those without (such as the New York–based artist Cai Guo-Qiang in chap. 5). Thus, when he asserts that globalization “could be repressive or liberating” and exhorts us to evaluate the “power relations embedded in each and every instance of transnational interaction” before assigning roles of victim and agent (p. 4), he speaks to assumptions underpinning gendered as well as geopolitical identities. Nonetheless, in the area of film, Lu grants Hong Kong a certain privilege, perceiving it as the only site...