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303 Preface to Part Three Kent A. Ono T he West’s understanding of the East for far too long has been based on the fundamental notion that there is an incontrovertible difference between the two. Whether this is configured as an us/them, modern/backward, dove/hawk, or free/censoring dialectic, part of the aim of media in sensational contemporary (and sensational historical) times is to suggest the absolute alienness of people whose differences lie beyond comprehension. Such differences have been constructed as racial (hence biological), ordained (hence religious), endowed (hence political), and willed (hence cultural). The following chapters by Dodge, Brunner, and Gruber challenge such dichotomous assertions of absolute and uncrossable differences, to instead gesture toward what we might call the “shared imaginaries” in and between the West and China. This search for shared rhetorical ground between national cultures is a necessary precursor to understanding, appreciating, and cooperating across long-standing barriers. Most intriguing about these essays is how 304 Kent A. Ono they productively complicate a single or simple image of China. Like all good critical-communication research, they dive below the surface of the social, seeking out complexities and subtleties while theorizing the meanings of what they find. Also, like all good critical-communication research, they address objects, performances, texts, identities, histories, products, and culture writ large; in so doing, they situate their analyses within constellations of meaningful objects and spaces of memory, thus providing profoundly material and meaningful ways to reconsider China and to contemplate its possible futures. For example, Patrick Shaou-Whea Dodge considers the ways ordinary Chinese people and artists participate in quotidian resistances through the Internet. He depicts a dialectical process, where “netizen” resistance creeps up as soon as the Communist Party of China (CPC or the Party) cracks down on political speech. Both appear in the space of the Internet, suggesting the Internet’s ability to be a site both of freedom and of repression, simultaneously. His essay suggests that hegemony is not simply forced on the citizens by the government, end of story, but is constantly renegotiated in a perpetually shifting game of “cat and mouse.” Dodge suggests that through this dialectic we spy the emergence of new imaginaries. He looks specifically at art on the Internet for the ways it creatively resists what he calls “the facade of harmony,” focusing on Ai Weiwei and Liu Bolin for the subtle but powerful critiques embedded in their work. Dodge begins by examining the concept of harmony within China, which prescribes a social ethic of acquiescent coexistence. Within that framework, however, he suggests that harmony is an ill-fitted abstraction that actually obscures underlying tensions. He illustrates the complexity of harmony—the give-and-take, the both/and dimension that contains elements of consent and resistance, accommodation and agency, and acceptance and rejection—as a series of rhetorical postures, moves, and counter-gestures. As his analysis unfolds it becomes clear that “harmony” is a delicate performance full of countervailing forces and submerged meanings. Similarly, Dodge studies how ordinary citizens using the Internet in China negotiate complex appearances, in which expressions of freedom may be subtly masked as conformity and compliance. The mythical creature “grass mud horse” is a perfect example of resistance that looks Representations, Imaginations, and the Politics of Culture 305 like harmonious discourse. This Chinese saying, taken up as a rallying point for freedom of expression, literally suggests an alpaca, but in spoken Chinese, by playing with the language’s complicated tones, it can be rendered as offensive speech or a swear word, meaning roughly that someone is being censored or harmonized by the Party. The grass mud horse has, thus, become a meme in China, circulating far and wide throughout the country. It has been incorporated into a song that is part of a larger campaign geared at drawing attention to and resisting censorship. The expression contains satirical and humorous qualities, suggesting a form of resistance that is enjoyable and not merely antagonistic—the wordplay offers an invitation to make fun of censorship in a winking way. This new digital style of resistance has predigital historical roots, but whereas previous incarnations had an epic quality, Dodge argues that contemporary satire can be by turns mocking, parodic, and/or cleverly ironic in its effort to register disagreement or dissent. To understand this use of satirical discourse, Dodge looks closely at the cases of Ai Weiwei and Liu Bolin. Ai Weiwei, well known globally as an activist artist who has challenged...


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