SUMMARY The objective of my current research is to produce a multi-volume critical history of the PRC’s cultural practices and their conditions of production and consumption in the context of four decades of social, political and economic evolution, 1976-2015 (I, 1976-1989: Post-revolutionary Culture; II, THE 1990s: The Rise of Consumerist Culture; III, 2000-2015: The Nobel Prize Years; IV, Conclusion, Theoretical Review, and Overview 1975-2020).
This research will consider change and stasis in the condition of cultural production and reception in the context of the “long moment” that consists in the constitution of a “modern” China, a process started in the nineteenth century and which has yet to be concluded. This research is founded on 35 years of scholarly observation of recent Chinese cultural practices. The project is equally grounded in a 30 year long record of scholarly production on “contemporary” Chinese cultural practice and reception.
WORKING TITLE: A CRITICAL CULTURAL HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA (1976-2015)
KEYWORDS China; history; memory; culture; modernity; nation; literature; poetry; theatre; fiction; cinema; television; internet; popular music; architecture; tourism; theme parks; consumption; public art; performance art; fine arts; digital humanities
This project seeks to produce a critical history of cultural practices of ''post-revolutionary'' People's Republic of China, that is the period after the death of Mao Zedong (1976) and the seizure and consolidation of power by Deng Xiaoping in 1978, up until 2015, a period of four decades. The project will focus on the production and consumption of cultural practices in a historicised context of forty years of social, economic and political evolution. At a meta-level, this research will consider what has changed in the political, technological and epistemological domains and what has remained in a state of stasis when seen in the framework of a long moment constituted by the emergence of “modern China,” a process of modernization and nation-building which commenced in the mid-nineteenth century and which has yet to be concluded. This project is founded on an extensive and in-depth acquaintance with the period and the terrain and grounded in three and a half decades of scholarly observation, research and academic publication on “contemporary” Chinese cultural practice and reception. It will make available a digitised version of the applicant’s personal archive collected over a period of thirty-five years.
SCOPE The thematic scope of the three volumes of the monograph will include high culture (literature , cinema, theatre, arts), popular culture (rock music, officially sanctioned soft pop 通俗音乐, television), consumer culture (internal and external tourism, theme parks), architecture and town planning (official reconfiguration of public space and its contestation by the pubic and artists).
The monograph will adopt a critical theoretical, cultural history approach. While the basic critical apparatus employed will be on the continuity of the applicant’s recent work, the particular objective will be to consider a forty-year period as a discrete moment in China’s history. The questions posed are necessarily suggested by the historical social reality of the past four decades which have seen China’s integration into a world economic system, the continuance, and after 1989 reinforcement, of an authoritarian state apparatus of control (technological enhancement of surveillance) coupled with the state’s attempt to construct its own imaginary of “culture,” and the response of “unofficial” or dissident producers and consumers of culture. The nature of submission and revolt in a cultural context over the forty-year period will be discussed in the light of Arendt, Camus and Castoriadis. Dissidence will be understood not simply as a contestation of state power but as a call for, a recall of, the struggle for autonomy understood as society’s struggle against itself ; a situation described by Castoriadis (2013, Quelle démocratie, Tome I, p. 41) as a “logical circle of submission.” This history will equally examine the function of the past and its construction in China since 1978. The lack of history, of history-telling is of major concern to and in China (J-F Billeter, 2000, La Chine trois fois muette. Beyond this negligence of history-telling, a particular concern is the erasure of physical and non-physical traces of the past, and above all of revolutionary and dissident twentieth-century culture. The official valorisation of Chinese culture as “timeless”, the construction of culture as “old” or “foreign,” and of China now as modern, technological and “harmonious” society will be traced over a period covering the past twenty years. The sections dealing with consumer culture, tourism and theme parks will demonstrate how the the Chinese imaginary of modernity is constructed and promoted via simulacra such as the Florentia Village near Tianjin, and Thames Town, near Shanghai; arranged tours of Chinese tourists to Europe being similarly constructed to accord with this imagined “foreignness.” Similarly, architectures, town planning and the reconfiguration of public space in China meet the demands of associating technology with the modern, and culture with the old (Chinese culture being presented as pre-modern through the construction of themes parks presenting a re-invented representation of the old). Public space is thus officially designated and arranged, but yet also susceptible to temporary occupation by the public, musicians and artists (nostalgic Cultural Revolution choral singing in the parks of major cities, and art performances by such avant-garde artists as the Gao Brothers).