Moving the Margins
- Ralph A. Litzinger (Author)
Other Chinas: The Yao and the Politics of National Belonging. Duke University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Arif Dirlik (Editor) and Xudong Zhang (Editor)
Postmodernism and China. Duke University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Maria Noëlle Ng
Postmodernismand China, edited by Arif Dirlik, a historian, and Xudong Zhang, a professor of Comparative and Chinese Literature, is a collection of sixteen essays with an introduction and epilogue by the editors. Its aim is to make "the problems of a Chinese postmodernity explicit and available to critical interrogation." The admitted tasks of the editors and contributors, then, are "to map out the terrain of what might be construed as postmodern in intellectual and creative activity" and "to engage the question of whether postmodernity and postmodernism are relevant concepts for grasping the condition of contemporary Chinese societies." Keenly aware of the contradictory nature in the desire to "authenticate," as it were, a category identifiable as Chinese postmodernity, Dirlik writes in the introduction, "[W]hile the ultimate justification for the use of the term may lie in spatial fracturing and temporal dissonance, which call into question any claims to cultural authenticity, Chinese postmodernists insist nevertheless on marking Chinese postmodernity as something authentically Chinese." The pan-Chinese process of identification—"[a] situation of simultaneous unity and dispersal"—in which all ethnic Chinese within the PRC, Taiwan, and other centres of the diasporic population partici- pate in varying degrees, is reflected in the range of Chinese contributors who are sta- tioned in PRC, Taiwan, the United States, as well as Hong Kong.
In the essay "On Be(ij)ing in the World," Anthony D. King and Abidin Kusno examine the way "in which China has become part of this world of global capitalism" by contributing to "the same urban symbolic language" and by speaking "in the same architectural and spatial terms" that exist globally. The critics select three architectural forms as illustrations: the skyscraper, the apartment, and the villa. Needless to say, these building forms are foreign to the traditional, horizontal courtyard housing that is being destroyed in big cities in China’s push to catch up with the world. As replacements, Profit Tower and City Plaza greet the international business class that China courts. (The critics do point out in their conclusion that "heritage and preservation projects in many cities" are being carried out.)
To Dai Jinhua, "this process of the giddy and aggressively rapid urbanization," while bringing "joy and excitement of discovery," is causing concerns among contemporary Chinese people, especially the intellectuals: the "Chinese [are] suddenly stripped of hometown, homeland, and home country." The 1990s could be seen as a decade of the "individualist dream of wealth." For the intellectuals, therefore, "nostalgia is a strategic need, a necessary spiritual space for imagining and for consolation." Dai traces in "Imagined Nostalgia" nostalgic representations through films, television soap operas, and literature. Unfortunately, many of her examples are not available to western readers, with the exception of The Bridges of Madison County, both as novel and film. Though Dai believes that the Chinese audience liked this sentimental product because it "indicates a space, a destination, for the contemporary Chinese urbanite’s harborless ship of nostalgia, a resting place for the individual’s remembrances," the argument is not entirely convincing. Her analysis of contemporary writers such as Wang Shuo and Jiang Wen is accurate, and her comments on "the reversal of cultural representation" from north to the south are timely; though to Southerners, southern cities such as Shanghai and Guangzhou have always been more alluring than the North.
Postmodernism and China is a complex and rich collection of essays, touching upon diverse disciplines, including cinema and the visual arts, literature, urban planning, and history. This diversity is rationalized by Zhang Xudong (in the epilogue) regarding any examination of Chinese postmodernism, which involves "an intense force field in which one thing readily becomes an allegory of another," and any comparative study of postmodernism in China and the West involves "analysis of cultural fluidity conditioned by a multiplic- ity of socioeconomic and ideological contexts." This statement very much sums up the collection.
As further evidence of Zhang’s claim, Litzinger’s Other Chinas, a study of the ethnic minority Yao in China, shows the reader an aspect of Chinese history and society that is little mentioned in mainstream western discussions. These non-Han ethnic people live in "south-central and southwestern China," with an estimated population of "over 2 million," and are popularly written about as hill tribes that exist in "another place and time, a world where history stood still and people lived close to the natural world." In other words, the Yao have been romanticized for general consumption. Litzinger, a cultural anthropologist, became interested in Yao culture through contacts with the Yao diaspora in the United States in the 1980s. His project in recuperating Yao culture and history from Chinese dominance, which Litzinger calls "the politics of ethnic marginality," is grounded in changes in the discipline of Cultural Studies after the end of the cold war and the emergence of transnational movements.
His examination begins by juxtaposing western ethnographic narratives before Communist China, which "saw the upland people . . . as historically isolated peoples," and present-day studies of the Yao within China, narratives that "point to alternative ways in which a subaltern subject was being imagined." The Yao, then, are being reimagined in a China in which "debates about the nation, its relationship to its socialist past, and its place in the new global order of late capitalism raged on almost daily." The midsections of Other Chinas consist of reports of the fieldwork Litzinger conducted in Jinxiu Yao Autonomous County as well as his analysis of Chinese ethnography during the Cultural Revolution and after. Other Chinas is thus not just about the Yao minority, but also about the construction of identity through ideological representations. The book concludes by reminding the reader that "Centers and peripheries have not faded with . . . the rise of a new and more pervasive global capitalism . . . or with the diminishing role of the nation-state." Like Postmodernism and China, Other Chinas foregrounds the complexity and cultural fluidity implicit in any scholarly undertaking concerning Chinese cultures in the twenty-first century.
- Two Tales of a City by Sean Rossiter
Books reviewed: The Story of Dunbar: Voices of a Vancouver Neighbourhood by Peggy Schofield and City Making in Paradise: Nine Decisions that Saved Vancouver by Ken Cameron, Mark Harcourt, and Sean Rossiter
- Constructing American Biography by Victoria Lamont
Books reviewed: Constructing American Lives: Biography and Culture in Nineteenth-Century America by Scott E. Casper
- Ethnicity in America by Carin Holroyd
Books reviewed: An Absent Presence: Japanese Americans in Postwar American Culture 1945-1960 by Caroline Chung Simpson and Color-Line to Borderlands: The Matrix of American Ethnic Studies by Johnnella E. Butler
- Studying Canadian Studies by Kit Dobson
Books reviewed: Canadian Cultural Studies: A Reader by Gail Faurschou, Sourayan Mookerjea, and Imre Szeman
- Power Works by Maria Noëlle Ng
Books reviewed: Cultural Politics: Class, Gender, Race and the Postmodern World by Glenn Jordan and Chris Weedon and Engendering China: Women, Culture and the State by Christina K. Gilmartin, Gail Hershatter, Lisa Rofel, and Tyrene White
MLA: Ng, Maria Noëlle. Moving the Margins. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #181 (Summer 2004), (Wiseman, Livesay, Sime, Connelly, Robinson). (pg. 122 - 123)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.