In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

253 REPRINTS AVAILABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE PUBLISHERS. PHOTOCOPYING PERMITTED BY LICENSE ONLY© BERG 2008 PRINTED IN THE UK CULTURAL POLITICS VOLUME 4, ISSUE 2 PP 253–256 CULTURAL POLITICS DOI 10.2752/175174308X310947 BOOK REVIEW DESIRING A COHERENT CHINA EMILY CHUA Desiring China: Experiments in Neoliberalism, Sexuality, and Public Culture, Lisa Rofel, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007, 264 pages, $74.95/£45.00, HB ISBN 0–8223–3935–8, $21.95/£11.99, PB ISBN 0–8223–3947–1 In her new collection of essays anthropologist Lisa Rofel productively reexamines changes in China over the past twenty years that have too often been glossed over in the abstract terms of reform, transition, and globalization. Such accounts depict a China rapidly on its way to achieving the standard features of cultural life under global capitalism, which to many are already familiar. However, Rofel argues that far from adopting a prepackaged set of neoliberal practices and cosmopolitan identities, China is engaged in an uncharted and experimental search for a post-Maoist narrative of national coherence. Examining the domains of practice and public culture where macroinstitutional configurations are articulating with and shaping individual subjectivities, Rofel EMILY CHUA IS A GRADUATE STUDENT IN ANTHROPOLOGY (SOCIAL CULTURAL) AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY. > CULTURAL POLITICS 254 BOOK REVIEW sees the emergence of a new structure of the self in contemporary China. Whereas Chinese subjectivity was once defined by political and class-consciousness, she finds it is now being reconstituted as the seat of individual desire that has the freedom to express its own material, sexual, and affective belongings. The first two sites of national public culture Rofel looks at are the popular television drama Yearnings and an exhibition at the controversial feminist Li Xiaojiang’s women’s museum in Henan, both projects from the early 1990s. Treating the television drama as a cultural artifact “whose meaning was created in the spaces between the soap opera and viewers’ retellings of it,” Rofel traces the interpretations through which viewers engaged the story as “transferable truths” about their own lives (p. 41). She finds contested notions of national and personal value in heated debates over which protagonist was best qualified to represent the post-Mao nation. These competing narratives were alike, however, in fostering a particular art of longing that was only nascent at the time. This longing was one in which “the individual body replaced the collective body as the unit of measurement for productivity and deserved wealth” – and which thus foregrounded and foreshadowed the personal experiments and the neoliberal policies to come (p. 53). Rofel’s trajectory is ethnographically enriched and conceptually elaborated in her subsequent chapters on gendered and sexual identities in the late 1990s. Disrupting the idea that “neoliberal coherences ” (p. 110) of identity, practice, and culture have been uniformly imported and effortlessly embraced, Rofel examines how coherent narratives of the desiring nation and the self have only emerged through a contingent process of personal and public negotiation. She finds that rather than adopting a singular form of “global gayness” (p. 96), for instance, gay men in China are constructing their sexual identities between transcultural engagements with foreign discourses and people on the one hand, and “intense desires for cultural belonging, or cultural citizenship in China” on the other (p. 89). Alongside expressions of homosexual identity as a universal human nature newly freed from Chinese socialist repression,one thus also finds an intense concern with the meaning of “Chineseness” (p. 96). Rofel examines this articulation in the domains of gay kinship , terminology, and contests over the relative suzhi or quality of lovers as opposed to “money boys” (p. 104). As foreshadowed in the controversies sparked by Yearnings, cultural citizenship emerges here as something more than a politics of Chinese identity, since individuals are competing in fact for positions in new hierarchies of cultural competence. Another site of cultural competition for Rofel is the figure of the heterosexual female consumer. Here, Rofel shifts her analysis to the production of cosmopolitanism – a term she uses to refer not to a deterritorialized force that is universalizing “the place of no place,” but to particular “ways of ‘worlding’ China, of placing China CULTURAL POLITICS 255 BOOK REVIEW...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 253-256
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.