- Ghost Protocol: Development and Displacement in Global China eds. by Carlos Rojas and Ralph A. Litzinger
Recent scholarship on contemporary China has been somewhat haunted by the image of the ghost, of the specter, and the phantasmal. There are very good reasons for this to be the case. One could see ghosts as the narratological device through which people make sense of their own as well as of others' [End Page 293] roundabout journeys within, between and away from communities of belonging. Ghosts can act as moral forces in the present. They make demands, take their toll on the living to whom they are forever bound by broken obligations. In this manifestation, ghosts fill with their enduring, re-signifying presence the social voids left behind by continuous change, of which contemporary China has experienced a great deal. In recent years, Chinese novels and documentaries, which the co-editors of the book under review are highly competent commentators of, have relied precisely on the register of the uncanny/phantasmal (mohuan) to thematize the struggles of communities hollowed-out by development, of families stretched thin and bereaved by oneway migration or of the modern Chinese self as it makes peace with its fractured conscience haunted by the violent memories of high socialism. By reconnecting them to the echoing legacies of their past, the narratological device of the ghost make communities, families, and individuals whole, if perhaps unresolved, once again.
Ghost Protocol is an admirably crafted collection of essays that brings together leading and up-and-coming scholars of China working across the humanities and the interpretative social sciences to interrogate the problematic permanence of the ghost of Socialism, and of its accompanying critiques to the capitalist order, in contemporary post-socialist China. Their permanence, the book argues, complicates, but also makes more complete, our current understanding of political transitions to global capitalism everywhere, while seriously undermining any claims in support of the empirical stability and theoretical completeness of the project of capitalist modernity. As an intervention in the study of post-socialism, the book effectively re-works some of the mainstays of the literature in ways that further their analytical purchase. In both expert and lay circles, a post-cold war expectation lingers on. This is chiefly about the unidirectional transition to liberal capitalism that should somehow befall all latecomers of modernity, and especially those countries that have entertained fantasies of socialist alternatives. The collective volume intelligently deploys the case of China—a wellspring of counter-arguments to preconceived ideas about the homogenizing forces of capitalism—to challenge precisely such lazy and unhelpful reiterations of the "capitalism-after-socialism" master trope. The book convincingly suggests the reader think of contemporary China not as pre-, post-, or neo-capitalist but as the "hyperbolic expression of both global capitalism and its putative communist antithesis"—that is as taking the convergent but unanticipated road of conjugating "capitalism-cum-socialism." This argument is successfully pursued in the effort to destabilize scholarly assumptions about the opposing relationship between the supposedly diverging political forms of the present as well as tackling the empirical question of China's capacity to successfully handle and survive its systemic contradictions. [End Page 294]
The volume's point of departure is Derrida's well-known suggestion in the Spectre of Marx that the Marxian radical critique of capital will maintain its relevance in a post-communist world. Its continuous relevance would seemingly stem from its capacity to illuminate evolving spaces of structural conflict and emancipation against the liberal ideology of irreversibly pacification ushered in by the demise of the Soviet bloc. While Derrida himself made little mention of China, the volume's introduction effectively builds on Derrida to argue that China's unprecedented experiment at vernacularizing the accumulative logic of capitalism into the languages and praxes of its surviving and thriving socialist state apparatuses—a dynamic here aptly captured by the idiom of the "protocol"—truly invites a renovated engagement with the dialectical materialism of...