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395 CONCLUSION Imagining China and the Rhetorical Work of Interpretation W e have argued in this book that imagined communities are immensely complicated, internally contradictory, rhetorically productive fictions enabling citizens to imagine themselves —across clashing senses of history and geography, class and power, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, religious affiliation and cultural preferences—as organically bound up in the great, unifying, ennobling thing called a nation. This process of imagining is sometimes linked to a sense of mission (as in America’s “manifest destiny”), or to a sense of rejuvenation (as in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream”), or to a sense of protest (as in some Tibetans’ longing for cultural autonomy within China); it is almost always wrapped up in layers of consumerism (as in the Hong Kong fever for Lufsig) and rituals of performance (as in Ai Weiwei’s artistic provocations); and it is usually embodied in deeply personal ways (as in the HIV/AIDS discourse studied herein), or in proliferating concerns about the health of the public (as in China’s debates 396 Conclusion about pollution, breast milk, tainted infant formula, toxic water, and pandemics)—regardless of the specific forms these imaginings assume, they are, above all else, productive. Indeed, we proposed in our introduction that the powerful logic of synecdoche, by which parts are converted into wholes and by which individuals are woven into larger communities, provides citizens with a sense of grandeur and nobility, infusing daily life with a concrete sense of collective purpose and drive. Watch a citizen of the United States waving a flag on the Fourth of July, or a citizen of China standing proudly before the immense portrait of Chairman Mao that adorns the Gate of Heavenly Peace on the north end of Tiananmen Square, and you witness an individual floating almost magically up into the collective strength of the imagined community. Nationalism is one way we transcend ourselves. At the same time, we have also shown how imagined communities feed on darker impulses rooted in fear, racism, xenophobia, and exceptionalism . It is a short step from believing that one’s imagined community is the source of all that is right and true to worrying that some other imagined community, or internal “pollutant,” poses an immediate existential threat.1 If participating in what we saw Fredric Jameson call “the great fantasm” of nationalism is how we transcend our messy and complicated daily lives, it is simultaneously how we identify our enemies and justify violence against them.2 In this way, America’s master trope of “manifest destiny” became the warrant for over a century of genocidal adventurism against indigenous people around the globe, all launched in the name of God, Progress, and Nation. Surveying a century’s worth of unbridled national expansion in the name of Progress, and spurred in particular by the slaughter in the name of democracy and God known as the Spanish-American War, Mark Twain quipped that “the Finger of God was visible in it all, as usual.”3 When it comes to the available means of imagining the nation, Twain was lamenting, God comes cheap. In a parallel manner, China’s master trope of “reunifying the motherland ,” driven by a neo-Confucian sense of “harmony,” has justified the repression of political dissent and, in the case of Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims, the slow and steady destruction of ethnic and religious differences in the name of national progress and development. As we saw in Xing Lu’s chapter, Chairman Mao’s rhetorical legacy has played Conclusion 397 a foundational and justifying role for Chinese leaders for more than forty years, as virtually every cultural action, political purge, or military push has been justified since Mao’s death as honoring the legacy of the Great Helmsman. Whether God or Mao, Progress or Rejuvenation, we find reasons where we can to support the deeds we feel compelled to perform in the name of the nation. And so, within the rhetorical work of imagining the nation, violence and repression operate as the flip side of transcendence—imagined communities are both ennobling and grand but also enraging and deadly. By way of example, let us turn to the South China Sea, where as many as a dozen nations claim ownership over the contested waters, islands, reefs, and barely submerged rocks that dot the world’s most heavily trafficked commercial thoroughfare. As Robert D. Kaplan observes in Asia’s Cauldron, “more than half of the world’s annual merchant...


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