THE FACULTY FORUM
Volume 10, No. 1 September 1998
Except for my last-page editorial, this month's edition of the FF has been given over to a single topic: the future of Chinese Cultural Studies at Duke and its partner institutions in North America and Asia. The guest editor, Professor Jing Wang of the Asian and African Languages and Literature Department, organized a conference on this topic last May which featured speakers from participating universities. The conference initiated an ongoing program of cooperative study among these institutions. --V. S., General Editor of the Faculty Forum.
Wang on Chinese Popular Culture Studies Project
Wang, 1998 Inaugural Address
Participants in the Conference
Excerpts from Conference Papers:
Editorial: Ardor in the Court
NOTE: Full Academic Council minutes from 1991 to the present are located at http://www.duke.edu/web/acouncil
A LUCE PROJECT, 1997-2001
by Dr. Jing Wang
Department of Asian and African Languages and Literature
DIMENSIONS OF THE PROJECT
President Clinton's June summit in Beijing has put China in the spotlight of the American media. Renewed talks about U.S. trade interests, going side by side with the making of a euphoric myth about a "new China," have marked the turning point in American public opinion about a country which both liberals and Republicans have loved to bash since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. How shall we, as academics, and moreover as China scholars, respond to this change of public heart? While the public is quick to condemn or to celebrate, academics are likely to take a longer view. In the case of China, where uneven development belies Western journalists' sweeping account of crony capitalism's new conquest, our central challenge is how to talk about China without losing sight of its multiple localities.
This is a kind of challenge that a young and vibrant community of China scholars aspires to meet. Paradoxically, because Chinese studies at Duke have a short history compared to well-established centers elsewhere, we are in a more advantageous position to reinvent traditional Sinology. Indeed, being less handicapped by institutional bureaucracy--which often holds intellectual agendas hostage--the loosely configured "Chinese studies" at Duke, joined by several UNC colleagues, is making its name as a vanguard in Chinese popular cultural studies in North America. But one should also ask: how has Duke's lack of an area studies tradition impacted our scholarship?
Because a self-contained infrastructure of Chinese studies does not exist at Duke, it becomes less urgent for us--whether we are speaking of humanists or social scientists--to examine "China" as a single concentrated field. At the same time, it is much more urgent for us to learn how to place "China" within the larger world map, i.e., how to place China in the Pacific Rim discourse, China in the interface between the Pacific and Indian Ocean Basin, China in East Asia, and China in Asia. One should, of course, also point out that this type of cross-regional scholarship is in danger of fast becoming a new vogue in academia as funding agencies such as the Ford Foundation and the SSRC are in the process of restructuring area studies by subsuming it into the umbrella agenda of globalization. Whether the post-Cold War era unfolds a "world without boundaries" is yet to be seen and argued. Those of us involved in this Luce Project remain critical of both area-bounded and ungrounded "borderless" scholarship. We are constantly reminded that we need to situate Chinese studies at the intersection between Chinese nationalism, Asian regionalism, and global transnationalism.
It is from this institutionally specific culture that a research agenda on modern and contemporary Chinese popular culture has emerged. Duke's Asian/Pacific Studies Institute, in collaboration with the Institute of Comparative Literature and Cultures at Peking University, now hosts a multi-disciplinary project on Chinese popular culture. This project, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation for a three-year period from 1997-2000, signifies the first step taken by China scholars at different geo-political locales towards building a foundation for a field of Chinese popular cultural studies. As the project's principal investigator, I have organized this collaborative project with Professor Dai Jinhua at Peking University.
Methodologically, this project aims at integrating four major disciplinary approaches to popular culture, namely, historical studies, anthropological studies, sociological studies, and cultural studies. Approximately, more than a hundred participants from different disciplines signed on to the project. They include historians, literary and cultural critics, film and media scholars, gender studies and communication studies scholars, sociologists, political economists, and anthropologists from different universities and research centers that span across Hong Kong, Taiwan, Canada, America, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Guizhou, and Shaanxi. Institutions involved include Duke University, Columbia University, University of Chicago, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Washington, UC Berkeley, McGill University, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Academia Sinica and National Tsing-hua University (in Taiwan), Peking University, Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences, Beijing Film Academy, Beijing Broadcasting College, Beijing Business College, Guizhou Academy of the Social Sciences, Northwestern University, and Shanghai Academy of the Social Sciences.
This grant will help Duke and Peking University establish two identical audio-visual and archival collections of the specific genres of urban media culture of Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. These collections will serve as national resource centers for scholars in China and in the U.S. With the help of Dr. Kristina Troost at Perkins Library, all materials will be cataloged online on a CJK terminal at Duke. They could be used either on site or borrowed through interlibrary loan. See the selected list of the inventories of the collections below, under the heading "Archives."
In addition to the archives, the project will also sponsor three international conferences between 1998 and 2001. The inaugural conference, "Mapping the Popular in Post-Socialist China," was held at Duke in spring 1998 (see "Inaugural," below). The 1999 conference in Beijing figures to attract hundreds of participants from different parts of Asia, Australia, and America. The third conference, on Regional Cultural Studies, will meet in China in 2001. Papers from the three conferences will be published simultaneously in Chinese and English. In addition, Chinese manuals on the bibliography of urban media culture and on regional cultural studies in provincial periodicals and magazines will also be prepared by Professor Dai Jinhua and her team of graduate students.
HISTORY OF THE PROJECT
A project of this scope did not emerge overnight. It grew out of a three-year-long research cluster on each campus: Duke and Beida (a short-hand for Peking University). In 1994, Nan Lin, the Director of Asian/Pacific Studies Institute at Duke, established a new funding category of research clusters. Under the aegis of APSI, Jing Wang initiated the cluster of Contemporary East Asian Popular Culture with the help of Anne Allison (Cultural Anthropology), Leo Ching (Asian and African Languages and Literature), and Ralph Litzinger (Cultural Anthropology). From 1994 till 1997, members of the Popular Culture Cluster held monthly seminars, discussed each other's work in progress, invited outside speakers who shared similar research agendas, and surveyed the field of existing scholarship on East Asian popular culture published in North America. Participating Duke/UNC colleagues also included Peter Nickerson (Religion), Stan Abe (Art and Art History), Tomiko Yoda (AALL), Ken Surin (the Literature Program), Judith Farquhar (Anthropology at UNC, Chapel Hill), Jim Hevia (History from UNC), Yue Gang (Asian Studies Curriculum at UNC), and graduate students from History, Anthropology, the Literature Program, and Sociology. In addition to regular members, cluster meetings occasionally attracted faculty whose fields are not immediately related to East Asia such as Miriam Cooke (AALL), Robert Healy (School of Environmental Studies), and Lawrence Grossberg (Communication Studies at UNC). The China group from the cluster now forms the core of the Luce project.
In the meantime, Dai Jinhua from Beida also launched a research group examining the emerging media cultural market in Beijing. In 1994, Wang invited Dai (who was then a visiting scholar at Cornell University) to give a lecture at Duke's Pop Culture Cluster. They started mapping out a vision of collaboration which has now come to fruition with the Luce grant.
THE NATURE OF THE PROJECT
Why does "popular culture" form a vantage point for contemporary Chinese studies? The Luce project examines the historical development of Chinese popular culture from the May Fourth period of the 1920s and 1930s through Mao's decades up to the Deng and post-Deng eras, with a specific emphasis on the 1980s and 1990s. In 1992, Deng Xiaoping went south and gave a series of the by-now famous Southern Excursion Talks. In the immediate wake of those high-profiled visits, China embarked on a path of accelerated economic reform which in turn stimulated the growth of a cultural market that marked the transition from the elitist to the "popular." The term "popular" itself points to several interlocked referents: the spread of urban media culture, the emergence of a localizing agenda of regional cultures, and the transition from the elitist to "people's" culture.
The Luce project proposes to examine three interrelated agendas. First, it examines the rise of Chinese urban popular culture in two interactive contexts--i.e., the global context of the flow of transnational capitalism on the one hand, and the domestic context of China's economic reform, socialist state sponsorship, and public policies on the other hand. Second, it examines the contemporary discourse of "regional cultures" (diyuan wenhua) in inland China and seeks to study the possibilities and implications of cross-fertilization between regional folk cultures and commercial cultures based in the metropolis. Third, it explores the complex issue of the ideological programming of Chinese national culture through popular media such as advertising, newspapers, films, popular music, and soap operas. This particular focus on the study of media culture and state ideology raises a series of questions regarding agency: Are there localized identities? What forms do they take? How are they negotiating with ideological power?
How does this U.S.-China collaborative project benefit both sides? In mainland China, partly because the capitalist model of "work and spend" culture arrived "late," and because a popular culture industry has only recently emerged, Chinese researchers have not yet fully developed the field of popular cultural studies. This project will help to consolidate new research clusters such as the Institute of Popular Culture Studies at Beida; it will identify individual researchers of different disciplinary backgrounds from different regional research centers, and help them form similar clusters across the country; no less importantly, it will help these scholars extend their affiliations beyond their regional bases with researchers across the Pacific Ocean. Furthermore, for Chinese scholar-intellectuals who are now undergoing a legitimation crisis in the face of rampant consumerism, this project provides fertile ground for their investigations of the historical relationship between Chinese intellectuals and "mass culture." These investigations will raise the issues of how Chinese intellectuals reposition themselves in contemporary China and through which channels they can contribute to the shaping of the nation's cultural agendas.
For U. S. scholars and policy makers, this project will provide an in depth analysis of (1) the mutually constitutive mechanisms of cultural production and consumption, and hence of the current and future directions towards which the Chinese culture industry and commodity markets are moving; and (2) the complex roles played respectively by Chinese post-socialist state and the transnational market in programming a burgeoning leisure culture industry and dictating consumer behaviors.
Most importantly, this Luce project will contribute to the growth and remapping of popular culture studies as an academic field. Popular Culture Studies form an important part of the Humanities and Social Science disciplines in the U.S., with a huge literature available for the U.S., Europe, and Latin America, but with much smaller archives and literature for Asia. However, the complex theoretical questions underlying the rise of popular culture in post-socialist countries such as China pose significant challenges to the reigning Western paradigms. What is "popular" in a country in which the mass media are not entirely in private hands? What is the relationship of "culture" to consumption and commodification? These are urgent questions that need to be brought to the attention of Western scholars who work on popular culture in other areas. The case of post-socialist China provides a crucial catalyst for the reformulation of many of popular culture studies' disciplinary premises and for the reconceptualization of its intellectual and theoretical agendas.
SEVEN FIELDS OF INVESTIGATION
The Luce project examines seven interlocked themes which grew out of the three intellectual agendas: (1) the study of Chinese urban mass culture in the 1980s and 90s against the dual background of domestic post-socialist state sponsorship and the transnational macroeconomy; (2) the historical study of regional cultures, especially folk traditions and minority cultures; (3) the examination of the hegemonic construction of national identity through mass media, and the concomitant inquiry into the possible sites where localized identities may be formed to negotiate with the overarching cultural agendas programmed by the nation-state and the (global) market respectively.
I. CHINA AND THE IDEOLOGY OF ASIANISM.
Written with Leo Ching
This theme allows us to examine the rise of the ideology of Asian regionalism and the role that China plays therein. Several manifestos representative of Asianism will be examined: Japan Can Say No (1989), China Can Say No (1996), and The Asia That Can Say No (1994, co-authored by a Japanese politician and the Malaysian prime minister). What is the historical relationship between the Japanese colonial mapping of the co-prosperity sphere and the recent rise of Asiacentrism (and, in particular, Sinocentrism as a form of pop consciousness)?
This discursive move from Eurocentrism to Asiacentrism compels us to rethink the dynamics of the dichotomy between the local and the global on the one hand, and between economic reality and cultural ideology on the other. What is the complex relationship between "Asianism" as a cultural ideology and "Asianism" as a development model? Is the cultural ideology built upon, and hence an attendant mirror discourse extrapolated from the economic? Or, is it an emerging regional discourse that attempts to negotiate the economic contradictions of globalism? The discussions of those larger issues will help us frame our investigation of the Chinese case. China Can Say No and other bestsellers that exploited the popular sentiment of Sinocentrism in the 1990s will serve as our starting points of discussion. To analyze the publication and popular appeal of this book (and its sequels), we need to trace the process of how ideological formations articulate existing problematics in the economic sphere. What are the relations between a popular/populist discourse, the economic strategy of the state, and the actual conditions of the market? We will examine the movements of transnational corporations in China in the mid-1990s, study the state policies that governed and regulated their entry into the Chinese market, and map out the positions in the market occupied by national industry, transnational corporations, and state-owned enterprises because of, or in spite of, state policy statements.
An understanding of those socio-economic factors will help us assess the implications of the emergence of such a publication representative of the larger discourse of Asianism. This project will be built upon the research results of sociologists and political economists and draw heavily from the literature on the debates over "localization" and "recollectivization" of the Chinese microeconomy. This study situates China at the intersection between transnationalism and regionalism. In other words, "China" must not be taken for granted as simply existing "out there" or "self-contained." The construction of China as a place must be examined in its shifting relationship to other places and other identities (such as Asia, East Asia, and the United States).
II. THE GENEALOGY OF POPULAR/MASS CULTURE IN MODERN CHINA.
This field of investigation delineates the historical construction of the discursive category of "mass culture" (dazhong wenhua) since the 1920s. In the process, we map out the roles that elites and the nation-state played respectively in defining the "popular" cultural forms. We will examine the debates over "mass culture" in the context of the New Culture Movement in the 1920s, the emergence of the "mass culture" problematic in the controversy over the Proletarian Literary Movement in the 1930s, the debates over "folk" (minjian) and "mass" (dazhong) in the making of "national form" during the Sino-Japanese War between 1937-45, the rise of the literature and arts of the "workers, peasants, and soldiers" (gongnongbin) from 1945 to 1976, the dawning of contemporary popular culture against the backdrop of "New Enlightenment" in the 1980s, and the proliferation of mass-media culture in the 1990s. By interpreting the different meanings of dazhong emerging in different historical periods, we will understand better the relationship between the elites' agenda of hua dazhong ("educating the masses"), the state's agenda of dazhong hua ("popularizing culture"), and the market's agenda of dazhong wenhua ("popular/mass culture).
III. THE NATION-STATE AND ITS PROMOTION OF POPULAR CULTURE.
As stated above, historically, the Chinese state made heavy investments in defining and making a national and nationalist popular culture. In the 1990s, state sponsorship of "popular culture" took an intriguing turn: the state collaborated with the print media and the market in producing a new discourse of "leisure culture" (xiuxian wenhua) in urban China. The Chinese category of "leisure" appeared immediately after Beijing instituted a 44-hour weekly work system in February 1994. Around the same time, presses like Beijing Youth Daily started publishing weekly special editions of leisure culture (e.g., "Guide To Today's Fashions," "Auto Age," "Skyscrapers' Age," and "Computer Age") educating the masses on how to consume cultural and commodity goods. What to do on the "double leisure day" (what we know in the West as the "weekend") became a hot topic in newspaper columns, and in street and office talks. By May 1995, when a 40-hour work week system was implemented nationwide, a leisure culture fever swept over the capital and other urban centers. In February 1996, the Beijing city government published the latest version of "The Civilization Contract with Beijing Residents" in which the definition of a "civilized" Beijingese incorporates that of a good consumer who knows how to choose his or her own leisure activities.
The resident's capacity for being a modern and cultured citizen is therefore being measured by his or her recognition of the changing concept of time into that of "pastime." Several interlocking inquiries need to be made regarding the relationships between free time, economic and public policies, popular consumerism, and mass production. What are the social, cultural, and political implications of the new consumerist modernity? How does leisure--the democratization of time--figure in the debate over the construction of the public sphere in China? Is there a structural transformation of wage labor that corresponds to the movement of the Chinese consumer market from an "organic economy" (which satisfies physical needs) to a "social economy" based on emulation (in pursuit of fashion)? What are the relationships between the leisure industry, consumer behavior, popular buyers' guides (e.g., Brandname Shopping Guide [Jingping gouwu], For Your Service [weini fuwu], Fashion [shishang]), and a street economy grounded in small grocery stores, local shopping centers, and department stores?
IV. THE PLEASURE INDUSTRY AND THE CONSUMPTION OF SMUT AND PORNOGRAPHY.
Written with Tani Barlow
Leisure culture accommodates marketization by opening up spaces of pleasure for consumers. Smut, mistresses and nightclub culture, and the sex industry sprang up rapidly in the metropolis in the 1990s. Smut exists among classifiable, transmissible, and therefore studiable popular forms. While we have seen research done on soap operas and formula films, we have yet to see analyses of the social meaning and liberatory possibilities of pleasure that comes from reading about or seeing images of degradation, rapine, prostitution of virgins, and sexualized criminality. No smut archive yet exists. No research on Chinese smut literature has been undertaken.
It is, however, impossible to understand modern urbanity without looking into the decadence and sleaze that accompanies it. We will examine the following related topics: What pleasures does smut provide consumers? What does smut say about the ways that social life is experienced in this time of socio-economic transformation? How is smut being marketed and to whom? An integral part of this analysis is the impact (through Guangzhou) of Hong Kong popular culture on China, especially the importation of nightclub and karaoke cultures that are quickly spreading from South China to the inland. We will also investigate the formation of new specialities of the pleasure industry such as "men's medicine" and cosmetic medicine and their relationships to getihu ("private entrepreneurial") business practices.
V. THE MEDIA CULTURAL MARKET AND THE CONTESTATION OF IDEOLOGIES.
Written with Dai Jinhua
Mass media, in particular television, advertising, the publishing market, and the film industry, constitute the most important sites where the contestation of state ideology and different kinds of capital (entrepreneurial, national, and transnational) is taking place in China now. In that sense, media, the book and newspaper market, and the film industry serve as a "public space" (gongyong kongjian) shared and maneuvered in by different ideological machines that relate to each other, not in oppositional terms but rather in complicitous ones. The topics that we will address include the following: public sphere and public space, the representation and reconstruction of the "individual" in media space, the national/communal/individual imaginings, the making of the middle class and middle class tastes, "place" and cultural performances, the relationships between nation-state, nation, and nationalism.
VI. REGIONAL CULTURAL STUDIES.
If the above five fields of investigation give the impression that consumerism's presence in the 1990s's China is nearly complete, does it then mean that the study of Chinese popular culture is nothing more than the study of consumer and media culture? The answer is no. We cannot emphasize enough the pivotal role that the study of regional folk cultures plays in this project. The regions in question not only include macroscopically defined geographical areas (for instance, lingnan valleys, Shaanxi and the Central Plateau, Yunnan/Guizhou and the southwest where the minorities are thickly populated), but also urban clusters made up of their own area and historical specificities such as Shanghai (haipai) versus Beijing (jingpai) versus Guangzhou (yuepai) culture.
It is worth noting that regional cultural studies in China have been developed since the mid-1980s. Back in 1985 when Culture Fever reached its peak, Chinese intellectuals' debates over modernity versus tradition and westernization versus self-positioning had given rise to a demand for comparative cultural studies which included the reevaluation of indigenous cultures in their changing manifestations throughout Chinese history. In this context, comparative regional studies emerged as a new field of inquiry in the mid-1980s that provided the traditionalists with a strategic offense against those who propagated total westernization. Scholarship on regional cultural studies was solidly based in the mid-1980s at major academic and research institutes in Xi'an, Guangzhou, Guizhou, Beijing, and Shanghai.
It is worth noting that individuals in the Beida group have already established research affiliations with their counterparts in Xi'an, Shanghai, and Guizhou. Our goal is to bring those regionally based researchers together to discuss their intellectual concerns, research results and activities under the "umbrella" agenda of regional cultural studies. The formalization of this network of communication is the first step toward our promotion of regional cultural studies. We will address general questions such as the trend toward localization of different regions on both economic and cultural terms. What is the relationship between the increasingly decentralized local economy and the making of the local cultural agenda? What are the relationships between projects of local cultural renaissance, local archaeological projects, and local/regional tourism? How are those projects financed? Bearing those general inquiries in mind, we will also study specific cases of regional cultural products in the age of commodification.
VII. THE STATE/IDEOLOGY PROBLEMATIC AND THE QUESTION OF LOCAL IDENTITIES.
Written with Peter Nickerson
This terrain of investigation continues our examination of regional cultures and focuses on the debates over the popular culture perspective from below. Are there forms of cultural practice that are fimly rooted in the creative impulses of the "people"? One strategic site for us to conduct such an examination is in local and popular religion, a very important sub-field within regional cultural studies. For instance, religious Daoism in Taiwan and South China remains a locale where the autonomy of the local community may be asserted. Research projects will be conducted on the mechanism of seances held at neighborhood shrines for local deities and operated by spirit-mediums and their associates. Do the discourses employed during the mediums' performances serve to establish the shrine as independent, distinctive ritual, and therefore social, spaces? Does the converts' consultation of the god's/medium's advice serve as an alternative practical strategy for solving health, family, or financial problems? Do those cult practices allow participants to disengage themselves from modern medical, economic, or other institutions? What is the socio-economic structure in which shrines are embedded (i.e., forms of shrine management, ownership, financial participation by clients and community members)? What are the relationships between the medium shrines and other religious sites, in particular the larger urban temples, which may serve to integrate shrines into larger religio-political organizations? Finally, can the potential creation of alternative and autonomous social spaces subvert the claims made by larger political and state organizations on the national loyalties of Taiwanese and Chinese respectively? The investigation of these questions will shed light on the current debates concerning Chinese/Taiwanese identities. It will also lead us to consider the role of popular religion in shaping popular attitudes towards state ideology, whether it is that of unification or independence.
The print and audio-visual Luce collection at Duke and Beida encompasses a diversity of genres. They include (1) bestseller magazines; (2) TV programs such as talk shows, prime-time news, entertainment shows, and other syndicated programs; (3) soap operas; (4) music CDs and casettes; (5) feature films; (6) advertisements and TV commercials; (7) bestsellers; (8) posters; (9) newspapers that consist of major presses and mosquito papers, and (10) smut publications from Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai.
Some samples from the inventory list:
Life Magazine from Sanlien
Chinese Film Market
Movie and TV News of the Orient
Beijing Youth Weekly
Hainai Island News
Delights of Tales
Colors and Fashion
The Age of Affluence
Foshan Literary Monthly
Windows of South Wind
Oriental Sesame Street
The Happy City of Entertainment
Half of the Sky
Time and Space in the Orient
Leisure & Fashion
FUTURE ACTIVITIES AND CHALLENGES
The 1998 inaugural conference was the first step Jing Wang and her colleagues took towards establishing an international network with scholars firmly grounded in Chinese cultural studies with a strong research agenda on popular culture. In 1999 and 2001, two more international conferences will be held in China in a northern and a southern location respectively. Three conference volumes will be published in both languages in the next five years. It is the goal of the project participants to use the existing collaborative team as a base to enlarge their research network in Beijing and Shanghai and then in the next three years, to extend it to Guangzhou, Guizhou, and Xi'an, sites where regional cultural studies of Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest China are based. Also on the agenda is the recruitment of China scholars in Europe, Australia, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
The building of archives and an international network represents initial efforts made by the scholars involved in this Luce project to develop centers of Chinese popular cultural studies at Duke and Peking University. The project emphasizes the importance of linking the humanities and the social sciences in shaping up a diverse intellectual agenda for such a center. How to promote interactions between humanists and social scientists remains a challenge for both Wang and Dai in the coming years. Compartmentalization of academic disciplines, in Wang's view, is detrimental to the development of popular cultural studies, and indeed, to any academic ventures. Because the institutional culture of Chinese studies at Duke is still in the making, Wang hopes that Duke can avoid the pattern of intellectual development that befell other prestigious China centers in the U.S., that is, the lack of interest of humanists and social scientists in conversing with each other. She and her China colleagues in AALL, Art History, Cultural Anthropology, Religion, and History hope to tap into the rich resources at the Duke's China Data Center and in so doing, learn how to build a channel of communication with Duke social scientists who conduct empirical researches on China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
The China Data Center at Asian/Pacific Studies Institute now houses the country's most extensive holdings of census and survey data from Taiwan and China in the world. The Center has formal and informal exchange programs with the Urban Survey Team and the Rural Survey Team of the Chinese Statistics Bureau, the Population Studies Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the Election Survey Center of the National Chengchi University, and the Institute of Sociology of the Academia Sinica. It has acquired the 1982 and 1990 national census data of China; a ten-year panel data of 5,000 rural households in China; a twelve-city household ten-year dataset; three national surveys of China; surveys of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and other cities in China from 1985 to 1995; social change surveys in Taiwan since 1988; and the National Opinion Survey in Taiwan between 1990 and 1995. Faculty who are members of the Data Center include Nan Lin (Sociology), Dennis Yang (Economics), Emerson Niou (Political Science), Xueguang Zhou (Sociology), Wei Li (Fuqua School of Business), and Tianjian Shi (Political Science).
The Luce project may prove to be one of watersheds for the development of Chinese cultural studies at Duke. But more importantly, it is the critical mass of a theoretically informed China faculty in various disciplines that situates Duke in an advantageous position to find its niche as a leader in Chinese popular cultural studies in North America. Wang and her collaborators are excited about this opportunity. What is most rewarding in the end is neither the grant nor the spotlight that ensued, but the practice of border crossing in the triple sense: disciplinary, institutional, and cultural.
THE INAUGURAL 1998 CONFERENCE
[The first Luce conference , "Mapping the `Popular' in Post-Socialist China," was held at Duke on May 8, 9, and 10.]
Excerpts from the introductory remarks by Dr. Jing Wang (AALL)
I would like to welcome you to this conference: MAPPING THE 'POPULAR' IN POST-SOCIALIST CHINA. There is no need for me to elaborate on the vast social, cultural & economic changes that have taken place in China since 1992. That was the year when Deng Xiaoping went south and gave a series of talks speeding up market reform. 1992 therefore marked the beginning of a so-called consumer revolution & of the making of a popular culture that cultivates Chinese consumers' desires for soap operas, frozen food, and convertibles. To celebrate or to mock China's consumer/popular culture belongs to Western journalists' stock of trade. But as concerned China scholars and Asian scholars, we find this a propitious time to journey beyond the by-now familiarly constructed reality represented in sensational headlines in the press such as "China's Fast Drive to Riches." This is the time for us to raise questions about categories that we use to conceptualize contemporary China's historical transition. One such category is the "popular."
The participants in this conference gather here today to explore different disciplinary approaches to the question of popular culture. In the process, we hope to make a step--however small it may be--towards developing a HISTORICALLY grounded and cross-disciplinary Chinese popular cultural studies. There are many questions to address: what does it mean to study popular culture in a post-socialist country such as China? What is "popular" in a country in which the mass media are not entirely in private hands? What does "culture" mean in different historical periods from the May Fourth (early 20th century) through the revolutionary period down to the 1990s Post-Mao and now the post-Deng era? We may also ask: Can the Chinese case help us re-articulate the relationship between cultural producers and consumers, between the production end of culture ("imposed from above") and the consumption end of culture ("emerging from below")?
Our six panels are to examine crisscrossing ramifications underlying the term "Chinese pop culture." Although we bracket the term "popular"--by that I meant that we question the category of the popular as a given--we recognize the term's continuing discursive function in organizing perceptions of how cultural space is structured. The six panels serve to bear out the sheer diversity of the heterogenous cultural space drawn together by the term "popular." The heterogeneous space ranges from intellectual and state discourses on "mass culture" to an emerging pleasure and leisure culture industry; from urban media culture to a discourse of cultural populism rooted in organic notions of "the people" and of the "local." Both notions give rise to a discursive construct of "regional cultures" (diyuan wenhua) that is associated with "popular culture" understood as "people's" culture.
This event is the first of a series of conferences and workshops on a collaborative project of modern and contemporary Chinese pop culture which is funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. Our purpose for this first gathering is to identify problematics and to discuss various disciplinary underpinnings for Chinese popular culture studies. We will be raising methodological and theoretical questions along with specific inquiries into particular genres of pop culture. But this is not meant to be a conference encompassing various genres of pop culture, but rather a brainstorming session on larger questions pertaining to the "popular."
In closing, I wish to acknowledge with thanks the generous support of the co-sponsors of this conference: the Office of Vice-Provost for International Affairs, the Josiah Trent Memorial Foundation, and the Asian/Pacific Studies Institute.
PARTICIPANTS AND PAPERS
The two-day conference consisted of six panels.
Panel 1 China and Asianism
"Pan-Asianism: Between Imperialism and Transnationalism"
"Regional/Global: Mass Culture and the Ideology of Asianism"
Panel 2 The "Mass" Formula: Discoursing the "People" and "Culture"
"Making a Name and a Culture for the Masses in Modern China"
"Public Culture and Popular Culture: Metropolitan China at the Turn of the 21st Century"
Panel 3 Consuming Pleasures: Gender/Body Regimes/Media/Space (I)
"Behind Global Spectacle and National Image-Making"
"Re-Advertising Hong Kong: History, Capitalism, and Advertising"
"For Your Reading Pleasure: Self-Health Information in 1990s Beijing"
Panel 4 Consuming Pleasures (II)
"Furnishing a Home of Their Own: The Social And Cultural Consequences of Commodifying Residential Property and Space"
"The Customer Is God: On the Question of Consumer Rights in Post-Socialist China"
Panel 5 Roundtable Discussion on Regionalism and Populism (I)
"Topologies of Power: Regional and Trans-Regional Ritual Networks in Southeast China"
Panel 6 Regionalism and Populism (II)
"Restoring Chengde, Searching for the Reincarnation of the Panchen Lama"
"A Poetics and Politics of Taiwanese Spirit-Medium Cults"
PARTICIPANTS IN THE CONFERENCE:
Stan Abe (Duke), Anne Allison (Duke), Tani Barlow (U of Washington), Yvonne Sung-sheng Chang (U of Texas at Austin), Leo Ching (Duke), Dai Jinhua (Peking U), Deborah Davis (Yale), Kenneth Dean (McGill), Prasenjit Duara (U of Chicago), Judith Farquhar (UNC), Jim Hevia (UNC), Huang Ping (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), Li Hsiao-t'i (Academia Sinica), Li Tuo (Beijing), Nan Lin (Duke), Ralph Litzinger (Duke), Eric Ma (Chinese University of Hong Kong), Peter Nickerson (Duke), Ken Surin (Duke), Jing Wang (Duke), Yiman Wang (Duke), Ka'ren Wigen (Duke), Mayfair Yang (U of California, Santa Barbara), Tomiko Yoda (Duke), Yue Gang (UNC).
EXCERPTS FROM CONFERENCE PAPERS AND COMMENTARIES
[It is hard to capture the spirit of a conference in a summary statement. The following excerpts present only fragments of the discussions that engaged participants. No attempts were made on the editor's part to collate a diversity of problematics and perspectives that paper presenters and commentators addressed. Excerpts sometimes take a life of their own when lifted out of context. The editor is responsible for any possible misquotations . --J.W., guest editor]
Li Tuo, a free-lance writer and critic in Beijing, spoke on mainland humanist intellectuals' pessimism concerning "popular culture" and "capitalism with Chinese characteristics." He paid specific attention to the rise of the "new rich" in his analysis of the new commodity culture:
"Today's world is no longer the `age of mechanical reproduction'--in Benjamin's words--but rather an age of `transnational reproduction.' `Let a segment of society get rich first'--this simple slogan of the 1980s--has galvanized millions of Chinese people and formed a overwhelmingly strong mobilizing force in our society. This slogan conjured up the happy utopian vision in which wealth would reach a small segment of society first, and then quickly spread over to the rest of the masses. Chinese people were so deeply entrenched in the ideology of socialist egalitarianism that they could not fully comprehend what market economy and capitalism really means. Disappointed with socialism, they transformed their dreams about a socialist utopia to market economy. This utopia is at the brink of bankruptcy at the end of the 1990s. The rise of the New Rich, in accompaniment with an extreme polarization of the rich and the poor, has become a cruel material reality for us today.
"In January 1998, the bestseller Traps of Modernization, written by an economist He Qinlian, sold out immediately upon publication. This book is a pungent critique of China's economic reform, setting off a hair-raising alarm about our vision of the so-called Age of Prosperity. The statistics quoted in this book reveal a disturbing trend that wealth is concentrated on a small minority and does not trickle down. Indeed, in the past ten years, both Chinese and foreign observers have paid exclusive attention to China's tremendous growth rate and to the material plenitude that such an economic development brought us. But few have asked how we can redistribute affluence and which social classes and blocs are reaping disproportionate benefits from our growth.
"An important change took place in the 1990s--chaoqian xiaofei--consumption that exceeds spending capacity. While our media discussed this phenomenon now and then, they totally evaded the class question underlying this abnormal pattern of consumption. More specifically, the media was acquiescent about the link between chaoqian consumption and the New Rich. On the contrary, because of the state's control of media, its theory about the emergence of a `well-to-do society' (xiaokang), `thanks to the state economic reform,' is being propagated and gaining its popularity. True, the universal rise of living standards and the appeal of a 'well-to-do' society propelled analysts to draw equations between `consumption beyond capacity' and the `urbanites' or the `masses.' It seemed as if this beyond-the-capacity spending habit could be linked with the `people' or the `masses.' Nothing can be proved more incorrect than this perspective. In fact, I argue that it was the rise of the New Rich that accounted for the phenomenon of `consumption beyond capacity.' In other words, this pattern of abnormal consumerism is a privilege of the few rather than a national habit as state media proclaimed. The enormous fortunes the nouveau riche accumulated in the short period of a decade have already made them on a par with Western upper classes. Their entitlement to luxurious mansions, brand name automobiles, vacation villas, country clubs and other expensive commodities now wove the dreams of the so-called xiaokang classes who, paradoxically, fall far behind the spending capacity of the `well-to-do.'
"An article published in the third issue of the 1996 Reading spoke at length about a `new ethics of commercialism' (shangye lunli) circulating in post-Mao China. The values of this new ethics run counter to the values underlying an authoritarian society. Many of those concepts were unfamiliar to us--for example, conformity with self-interest based on human reason, emphasis on credit and individual orchestration, independence from familial network, obedience to law, equal competition, and gaining wealth through diligence. Belief in the new ethics is predicated on a thorough uprooting of the peasants,' or, one could say, the Boxers' leveling-off mentality. Capitalist values were thus disguised under the new slogan of `the ethics of commercialism' which now constitutes China's mainstream ideology.
Huang Ping, a Sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, commented on the question of "optimism versus pessimism" about Chinese consumer society:
"I would like to remind ourselves that the optimism/pessimism and socialism/capitalism binary divide arose from the larger discourse of the nation-state. The birth of the nation-state gave rise to the following binary constructs which operate from within the state, for instance, social justice versus institutional efficiency, freedom/law, individuality/collectivity, democracy/autocracy, and inevitably the discourse of optimism versus pessimism. It is futile to get bogged down in the debates over those binaries and try to choose one single position, if we are not aware that they emerged from the discourse of the nation-state in the first place.
Dai Jinhua, the Project co-director and a Film Studies Scholar at Peking University, analyzed the best seller China Can Say No and spoke on the complicitous relationship between the two seemingly antagonistic popular discourses: Chinese nationalism and Americanization.
"There are two antithetical positions one usually takes when one comments on China's transition from a nationalist-socialist culture into a global commercial culture. One either celebrates it or condemns it. The former position leads to the unthoughtful endorsement of the globalization, or more specifically, Americanization, of Chinese culture. The condemnatory position yields such popular discourse as "China can say no." I want to argue against this either-or and pseudo-binary perspective and argue instead, that Sino-centrism and Americanization complement rather than oppose each other.
"The publication of China Can Say No (1996) provoked sensational speculation both at home and abroad about an emerging anti-American nativist ideology which reveals the Chinese antagonism towards globalization. But although publications expressive of such nationalist sentiments have sold extremely well, lying side by side with them on street books stalls are volumes and volumes of translations of American authors. For instance, Richard Nixon's Beyond Peace, the volumes on America's three founding fathers and the sequel on West Point Military Academy, Stephen King's series, and Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, have all ranked as best sellers in the Chinese market. This is the peculiar spectacle in post-Mao China today--the hybrid existence of anti-American Cold War ideology, the open-door policy to transnational capitalism, and the media's fervent promotion of discourses on national industry and nationalist ideology.
"China Can Say No gave us a false impression that the upsurge of Chinese nationalism curbed the aggression of transnational capitalism in China and forced it into retreat. This is not true. In summer 1996, Lee Cooper Jeans held a promotion sale at our Beida campus. It was quite a sight to see the long queue of Beida students formed beside Lee Jeans's huge advertisement featuring a human-size American cowboy. Many of those prospective consumers patiently waiting in line held study guides to TOEFL and GRE in their hands. And at different locations of public bus stations in Beijing, one can also spot ads that say `China Can Say: Yes.'
"How do we read the strange coexistence of the `China can say no' syndrome and the Chinese desire for Americanization? This is not yet another narrative that exemplifies an inferiority complex characteristic of the Third World's synchronic march toward modernity. In the early 1980s, when the Chinese woke up from the tragedy of the Cultural Revolution, we realized all of a sudden that China was no longer the `Center of the World Revolution.' We Chinese not only did not succeed in carrying out our mission of `liberating the poor suffering people--two thirds of the world population--from oppression,' but on the contrary, we were exiled from the global progress toward `civilization' and `progress.' This crude awaking marked the beginning of the painful slide of the Sino-centric imaginary toward the margin of the world. It became an undeniable fact that China is no longer the leader, but merely a part of the Third World.' Since the 1980s, then, China has embarked on a historical journey of self-repositioning, a quest for a rejuvenated centered position. China was bound to look up to American as a model for the hegemonic center. Slogans such as `marching toward the world,' `connecting with the world,' and `global village,' reflected precisely such a contradictory sentiment--ecstasy mingled with sorrowful anxieties.
"China Can Say No, therefore, conveys a complicated message. Its authors understood too well that a new Sinocentrism can only be built on the challenge and antagonism to the United States. Bashing America and gratifying the unquenchable American thirst of the Chinese market are two sides of the same coin. The tortuous narrative about China and America falling in and out of love throughout modern history did not culminate in a tale of animosity. Instead, a new narrative fabricated by the Americans emerged to justify the logic of anti-containment policy toward China. `China is too big to be contained,' `China is too important to be isolated,' `China holds the key to America's economic regeneration.' China's pro-American sentiment, as I take pains to demonstrate in my paper, is best revealed in popular culture and in the increasing commodification of Chinese society. All signs indicate that the twenty-first century will witness the prospect of `China and America going hand in hand to build a new world order.'
"In discussing contemporary China, we are often mired in our discussions of Chinese nationalism and transnationalism as mere discourses. We kept shoving aside the hidden but crucial problematic of nationalism, i.e., the struggle between transnational capital and national industries. In fact, targeting America as the `enemy' of the nation helped the state displace the real contradictions at home, that is, the increasingly expanding gaps between the the rich and the poor, and the real struggles of state workers and employees in the face of privatization of state-owned enterprises. On the same note, we should remind ourselves that `nationalism' has always been part of the official patriotic discourse of Chinese socialist state. The state gains from the popular discourse of Chinese nationalism as it hides from view the ills from within. I feel ambivalent toward the nationalist discourse evolving around `China can say no,' but at the same time join the other humanist intellectuals in questioning China's unthoughtful progression toward a global modernity that stakes everything on `wealth and power.' We need to raise the question: who defines `progress'?"
Judith Farquhar, an Anthropologist at UNC who works on self-health literature, raised a methodological question: How do we delimit the research on (Chinese) popular culture?
"I would like to add a few comments to Dai Jinhua's reservations about China's transition to global modernity. The question as to whether `Chinese people' appreciate the change that is sweeping over their society is a very open one. China's post-socialist modernity seems to have turned away from the totalizing idealism of a collective `common will' (tongzhi, comrade) to make considerable public space for the various wills found in the world of magazines (zazhi). This apparent devolution has not gone unnoticed in either criticism or everyday talk. Last fall in Beijing there was no shortage of people who were anxious to explain to me why the bad old days of the Cultural Revolution were at least morally superior to the present. Intellectuals have recently echoed this refrain as well. In keeping with my comments elsewhere, we could understand the historical seriousness of intellectuals as merely a way of building cultural capital, setting apart a stratum of society for those elite thinkers who are above the vulgarities of the mass media. But the fact that ordinary people in many walks of life are just as disturbed by the speed and thoughtlessness with which Chinese people seem to be turning away from the collective, away from responsibility for national life and for each other, argues for the generality of a contemporary unease. Perhaps nostalgia for the values and collective demands of socialism, along with outrage at the `selfishness' and `greed' of contemporary urbanites, is just another fever sweeping Beijing. Maybe it is, like other fads that sweep the capital, state-fostered."
[Farquhar went on to make speculations on the methodology of popular cultural studies.] "One can't delimit the project by looking at a ridiculously small sector of the popular culture market. Even though I only looked at family magazines, popular health education books, and traditional Chinese medical books, it rapidly became clear that every kind of point of view was available in these materials. Magazine tables of contents, for examples, discourage one immediately from taking any one article too seriously. For every article on dieting there's one warning about the dangers of dieting; articles that conflate pleasure with consuming are side-by-side with articles that argue for a back-to-basics simplicity; every exhortation to cultivate some Chinese essence is matched by plenty of articles on a universal psychology or civilization. So the focus of first resort, which for an anthropologist is usually culture, seems to be ruled out. With this literature, the literarily-inclined cultural anthropologist (I parody only myself here) who considers a content analysis in search of a specific Chinese culture is immediately frustrated. This is not only because of the tidal wave of American banalities that fills the pages of cheap self-health publications; one is also discouraged by the realization that even the more cultural-nationalist genres of writing draw their rhetoric from a familiar repertory of global themes. In China studies, we can of course do content analyses of the fads and fevers that sweep the popular media and periodically invade consumption practices. But this is frustrating, since the moment we identify most such movements they have already begun to recede, and all our interpretive effort over the meaning of their content becomes outmoded before it can be published. If commentary on the meaning of current events is what we seek to produce, we can never compete with journalists, some of whom have crafted fairly sensitive discussions of popular consciousness. So, in our efforts as true scholars to write for the ages, we seek interpretive depth and explanatory power, seeking to grasp not only the meaning of Disco Fever or Mao Fever but exploring the indigenous cultural processes through which meaning is made. But I don't think this recourse to depth completely solves the challenge of the brief temporality, the transitoriness, of these fads. We may, in neo-functionalist fashion, posit a `need for making meaning' in our reading of popular fashion, but we have not thereby explained why meaning has to be made over and over again in so many different ways. In the classic dilemma of the study of culture, we can explain stability but we can't explain change.
"Other ways of limiting the scope of this popular culture investigation are also hard to sustain. For example, one could treat this category of materials as an epistemological problem, asking what do people in Beijing appear to know these days and how is this sort of knowledge formed and structured both by logical imperatives (e.g., asking what objects or conditions operate as unexamined assumption) and by sociopolitical conditions (e.g. noting the agenda that might arise from the stranglehold that the Women's Union appear to have on magazines for women). But somehow as one reads the materials that fill the pages of magazines and self-health handbooks, it is hard to think of this as knowledge. And this is not just because it's so shallow and obvious. Knowledge, after all, should accumulate, it should add together to give us a more or less coherent representation of the world or, in this case, of the healthy body and the wholesome life.
"This classical vision of knowledge does not help us at all when we turn to popular culture. In magazines, of course, but also in the more systematic popularizing works of traditional medicine, any epistemological investigation encounters only a miscellany, an excess, factoids flying off in every direction, implying all manner of lifestyle alterations while requiring none. What we seem to have here is the difference between truth and truism; the former is a high and demanding problem which will never be solved; the latter is `a proposition that states nothing beyond what is implied in any of its terms.' In other words, the truths we can collect in popular health advice verge on being self-evident, pre-resolved, common-sense grandmotherly nuggets. As such they are not saved, or even remembered, much of the time, and they are not in themselves transformative. Their longest temporality is as recycled fragments of a thick and featureless stratum of common-sense.
"Another way of delimiting the domain of popular culture is to openly embrace a critical project and then proceed to collect deconstructible texts on which to operate a critique. Or course, we have seen a great many such projects in the United States, where critiques of the commodification of women's bodies, the snares and delusions of studio photography, and pandering journalism about the stars are well advanced. These critical projects could, and perhaps should, be exported to reform China along with the images and representations that have occasioned them. But who will be operating the critique? Every writer must answer this question for himself--in my own case, the critic would be a more or less feminist, more or less privileged, more or less American anthropologist who, steeped in post-structuralism, routinely seeks to relativize and denaturalize cultural phenomena. Increasingly, however, we are asked to examine our agenda and consider what is at stake in this kind of work. I am not sure I can embrace a project that seeks to awaken Chinese people from some consumerist ideological dream, mostly because I have no way of being sure that `Chinese people' are asleep in the way this critique tacitly presumes. Moreover, what would be accomplished? Capitalism with all its seductions and sins would go right on expanding in China and so would my reputation as a critic.
"These three approaches to delimiting the field of popular culture--the cultural, the epistemological, and the critical--all have their virtues, and their central concerns cannot be purged from our research. (Nor should they be). But each of them is perhaps a little too successful in limiting the field, to the point of severe reductionism at times. So while we may produce an object worthy of contemplating, interesting in itself, even as we do so the endless stratagems and devices of social life go right on working through media ranging from television to rumor. In the domain of the popular, counter-evidence for our every argument emerges even before we have fully realized what it is we wish to argue."
Deborah Davis, a Sociologist from Yale, talked at length about changing popular attitudes toward domestic property and space (home furnishing in particular) in metropolitan China.
"Between 1995 and 1996, housing reforms entered a new phase. The central government designated residential housing an engine of growth. And new banking policies allowed for ten year mortgages at 70% of purchase price. In 1990, 2% of Shanghai residents held title to their homes; by December 1996, it reached 45%. Now with the sudden recommodification of residential real-estate, it is clear that questions about privacy, individuality, and status competition will be voiced and discussed in a fundamentally different way than in earlier decades.
"By the mid-1990s, whether in public housing units of between 20 and 30 sq. meters or in luxury, private housing where the norm was between 100 and 130 sq. meters, separate bedrooms had become the norm. In floor plans, bedrooms consistently occupy more than 50% of interior space. Shanghainese now live in a built environment in which personal privacy and conjugal intimacy are more likely to be an explicit emotional and cultural construct than in previous decades. Between 1992 and 1996, there was a paradigm shift in attitudes toward furnishing residential space which appears to define a cultural divide between `the past' and `the present.' In the present, style has become paramount and homes have emerged as arenas of status competition as never before in post-1949 China. Whereas in the 1970s household furnishings were basic and nearly invisible in the market place, by the late 1990s domestic products, often modeled directly on the stylistic trends of North America and Europe, filled millions of square feet of display space.
"In the context of this conference, the question I confront is how best can an outsider initiate analysis of these paradigmatic and material transformations. My most immediate reaction is to begin with the established sociological assumption that life style defines class position and then to devise a research design that will enable me to investigate whether ownership and purchases of certain items cluster by an individual's age, sex, education, party status, place of birth, occupation and education. However, I am now struggling with the assumption that one can ever accurately `read' class from life style and also whether possession and purchase of household items can really provide stable signals of class.
However, one could safely say that in 1997, proletarian taste and life-style had vanished in the world of the newly commercialized domestic environments of urban Shanghai and in its place was a transnational, global reference group, which looked utterly `bourgeois.' The designer furnishings of upper class Hong Kong or middle class America with its messages of individual distinction and luxurious comfort were ubiquitous, and I presume at some level had entered the poorly defined and elusive `popular imagination.'"
Eric Ma, a scholar of Journalism and Communication Studies from Hong Kong, analyzed an 1996 award-winning Hong Kong TV commercial and spoke of the interplay between nostalgic media and the Hong Kongnese anxieties, triggered by the 1997 sovereignty transfer, for 'an authentic history' of the former colony.
"In the years before and after the handover, the upsurge of nostalgic media in Hong Kong, in which the fisherman ad (that my paper is focused on) serves as an illustrative example, can be seen as a collective psychological response to the crisis at hand. Nostalgic practice fosters cultural solidarity. Behind the trend of nostalgia is a collective urge to rediscover the authentic history of Hong Kong and to reassure the people that the success story of Hong Kong will continue in the face of the socio-political discontinuity in the 1990s. And the narrative of such a history goes like this: when the British came, Hong Kong was just a small fishing village on barren rocks and now it has developed into a world financial center under the British rule. This version of Hong Kong's history is highly ideological and over-simplified. Hong Kong had a vibrant trade culture before the British came, but this part of Hong Kong history has been suppressed and marginalized by both the British and the Chinese literate."
"Whither goes Hong Kong? Before 1997, Hong Kong colony was one of the very few places in the modern world which fostered a strong local culture without a nationalistic discourse. The colonial government of Hong Kong adopted a non-interventionist policy and refrained from enlisting political commitment from its colonial subjects, while political movements in China were prevented from influencing the colony. Both China and Britain, before the sovereignty transfer, did not impose any strong nationalist or political identity in the territory. Local history was deliberately ignored to prevent the development of collective political efforts independent from both Sino-British dualistic political structure. Indeed, the Sino-British Joint Declaration describes Hong Kong in neutral and neutralizing terms such as `inhabitants' or `residents,' whose local culture is rendered merely as `life-style.' History was not deployed to narrate a nation for political identification. As a result, local history has never been incorporated into the general school curricula, and only recently has there been some modifications after the handover. Contemporary Chinese history is taught as part of `Western History.' Hong Kong colonial reality was adjusted and reframed in the school curricula as `Economic and Public Affairs,' which stresses administrative and managerial operations.
Politics and history are thus absorbed in administrative terms. To the general public, local history does not have a strong discursive expression. Even in the run up to 1997, Hong Kong did not envision a new beginning in autonomous terms. As Cheng urges, `(Hong Kong) is an exceptional case in the history of decolonization in which even the hope of autonomy and self-rule after the colonists departed is never seriously entertained.' In the years before 1997, the sense of disappearance and discontinuity triggered an upsurge of nostalgic media to fill up the empty cultural and historical spaces. Popular media became the symbolic resource for fostering a sense of continuity and history. It was in this context that the fisherman ad takes up easily the discursive position to narrate the history of Hong Kong."
Tani Barlow, a Feminist Critic and China Historian at the University of Washington, and the editor of positions: east asia cultures critique, commented on Farquhar, Ma, and Davis:
"How do we think about desire outside the simple psychoanalytic formula? In Ma's piece, desire kept being raised as an issue yet buried itself in nostalgia. There was little explanation about why nostalgia could be so powerful. The answer for Ma might be that nostalgia is a predictable effect of capitalist/consumption loops.
"Hong Kong is anomalous in some distinctive ways, as Ma put it: `there is no sense of its own colonial subjectivity, without a distinct nationalism, without even a `state' as such until now.' My question then is: how do the desiring practices of nostalgic communitarian anxiety connect to transnational capital flows and cosmopolitan desire? Hong Kong, like Taiwan, partakes of interstate, homologous institutions and institutional practices. How is the Hong Kong Bank (which produced the award-winning fisherman commercial) at once local and also partaking of universal values as exemplar of capital? Is there any relationship between the nostalgic desire to consume a `real past' and the disturbingly globalized position of a place like Hong Kong?
"This focus on the role of desire in consuming a nostalgic past as a means to an upwardly mobile future is carried over in Farquhar's paper, although the temporality is different for her and the nostalgic force is actually embedded in a persistent historicity (i.e., the Maoist past) that will not be denied even within the new lifestyle practices such as globalizing self-health norms and practices. In fact, Farquhar ends her paper by suggesting that some of the desire for consumption is spectral in the sense that this desire is haunting a people whose habitus has vanished but whose conservative praxes are left intact.
"Dai raises the question of how to grasp nationalist affect and nativist consciousness within what she names narratives of identification. Nationalism, as she explained, was partly the result of the psychological shock that China experienced in reentering the transnational in the early 1980s. The politicized demand for a foreign public enemy was part of the psychic drama of self-discovery in which China found herself marginalized and impoverished.
"Now the aporia on which these psychic/political narratives are predicated and on which the national self is thus erected, is a subconscious memory of Maoist autarky. The aporia appears in the erasure of those grids of inequality, i.e., the sociological categories of class, gender, and ethnicity which, in fact, continue to score the nation, but which are now inexpressible. What is lost with Maoism as the national discourse is precisely these categories. Social empathy for the oppressed via these suppressed categories is lost in the predominant and triumphant signifier of `nationalist China.' China Can Say No privileges `nation' and tells a story of China at the expense of those other categories. Dai's critique reminds us of the possibility of a critical language which presumes the psychoanalytic notion of desire while restoring the analytical categories of class, race, gender, and so on.
"After commenting on those three papers, I would like to suggest that one of the effects of the kind of capitalist culture that the papers addressed is niche marketing. Niche marketing is predicated on the marketer's understanding of class and taste. And here Davis's interests may run into the questions these panelists are raising. Pleasure and its varieties lend itself to niche marketing where the pleasure of consuming commodities can be quantified and studied. Print runs, distribution networks, advertising, polling, etc. are ways of negotiating how `class' is articulated into categories through WORDS. But this remark assumed that each one of the papers on the panel can be rethought with the question of social desire in mind as a long-term problematic.
"There is finally the issue of unnamed and ambivalent social desires and social pleasures, emotions that are unquantifiable and unnameable. Here I am raising questions of my own [Barlow's project on smut literature] about such things as smutty narratives and pictures as secret pleasure. Are those expectations of pleasure what anchors politics? I am not talking about pornography, which has a more easily legible history precisely because it is always regulated by the state. I am talking about the dirty, boulevard culture where mildly exciting, mildly illicit, masturbatory stories are for sale, where criminality is vaguely sexual, where material and imaginative pleasures constitute invisible capital. The libidinous fusion of youth and commodity--what do we do with that predictable element of popular urbanity? How do we understand social desire and the pleasure that it seems to deliver?
Kenneth Dean, a Religion specialist at McGill University, spoke of the place of ritual and rural cultures in popular cultural studies, and raised questions about the representations of "regional culture."
"Imported Western theoretical tools for the analysis of cultural changes are applicable to urbanized zones of China. Rural majority all but disappears from the picture. There is one Western theoretical approach in which the rural population does figure prominently, that is the ethnographic approach. All too often, though, ethnography depicts rural culture as frozen in time, an archaic holdover completely unadapted to the modern, let alone post-modern world.
"The most striking thing about rural popular culture is its dynamic nature. Far from being changeless and sheltered from the transformations of the larger world, it is in intimate connection with them. Popular religion in south China, for instance, has been actively responding to capital since the Song dynasty. The form of response is noteworthy. Money is transformed from a means of payment into a means for accumulating spiritual capital. The way this is done is by sacrificing it, burning a simulacrum of it. This is achieved within the framework of massive ritual expenditure of energy and resources. It is achieved through ornate social technologies or excess. These technologies of excess and expenditure form a realm of anti-capital and anti-production, and by doing that create a kind of safe zone in which traditional cultural forms can continue, in spite of changes in the larger world.
"The relation of ritual forms to capital is not only negative, as an analysis of the contemporary situation shows. Ritual revival is now a key magnet for attracting overseas investment capital into the rural regions of China. Ritual at the same time interrupts capital in a way that safeguards local cultural forms, and reconnects with capital in a way that begins to integrate the rural areas into the very system its rituals interrupt. And the way it does this to some extent runs counter to State control because, in its eagerness to attract overseas capital, the State has to compromise on its social agenda. So through one side of its mouth, the state bureaucracy finds itself nurturing popular cultural forms that it condemns through the other side of its mouth, through anti-superstition campaigns. The State also finds itself compromising on its economic control, as what are seemingly the most archaic segments of society start to determine where international capital flows.
"Now a few words on representations of `regional culture': All claims for the unity of culture--or for the eternal, abiding essence of Chinese culture--are in fact political claims for cultural hegemony. The unity of culture must be imposed, and zealously guarded. The term wenhua for culture was imported into China from Japan in the 19th century, and was soon absorbed into the project of modern nation-state construction. In the usual understanding of regionalism, literati or intellectuals from each region of China defined their understandings of regional culture in relation to the assumed (or imposed) central unified culture. This could take many forms. Just to cite a few: (1) A heightened conception of the Han Chinese as contrasted to the indigenous `barbarian' others in the early colonization of the South through the Five Kingdoms and Northern Song. (2) `More Chinese than even the central plains Chinese,' a discourse that emerged in the southern Song--the beginnings of lineage formation and genealogical linkages to the central plains. Simultaneously we witnessed the canonization of a large number of local gods, leading to the formation of a local pantheon, backed up by specific communities and temples. (3) Composition of regional (administratively defined spatial units) gazetteers, beginning in the southern Song and continuing through the Ming and Qing. (4) The beginnings of regional sensibility in the late Ming. (5) Revolutionary tracts, in standard vernacular Chinese or occasionally in dialect, emphasizing Western notions of racial purity and cultural essence. (6) Collections of folklore by scholars captivated by Western notions of ethnological distinctiveness, as well as infected with reformist notions of the intellectual's burden. (7) Socio-economic case studies of local communities and regions by social scientists and Marxist revolutionaries.
"It would be important to compare the varieties and representations of regionalism across time and in different areas of China. Such a study would be a necessary corollary to a comprehensive socio-economic and cultural history of the regions of China."
Peter Nickerson, a Daoist scholar in Religion at Duke, spoke about the complex relations between popular religion, regional "local" culture, and the regulatory mechanism of the nation-state in the context of Taiwanese spirit-medium cults.
"Recent studies by John Grim and Ron-guey Chu suggested that the activities of the medium shrines provided a way for their adherents to assert a distinctively Taiwanese (as opposed to more broadly Chinese) identity. This contention might even suggest the existence of some link between Taiwanese religion and the movement for Taiwanese independence.
"Indeed, throughout much of Chinese history, the immediate contact with the divine provided by possession has empowered local communities and their leaders, and assisted those who would tilt the balance of power away from the center and toward the localities. Having said all this, I must go on to note that I do not think we can take this conventional wisdom about the link between popular religion and localism for granted. I can only provide some preliminary thoughts on the complex issue of popular religion and the socio-political in the specific context of Taiwan.
"What is the role of spirit-possession within the politics and culture of a modern state? Historically, the imperial state and ordinary people in local society often had widely divergent interests in the cultural deployment of the symbolism built on popular religion: hence the continual efforts of the state to regulate popular religion; or to co-opt it by incorporating popular gods within the state-sanctioned pantheon, and at the same time `superscribing' more acceptable and politically useful meanings onto certain figures in the popular pantheon. From the other side, religious organizations often facilitated various forms of resistance against state authority by localized groups.
"After the Nationalists retook Taiwan from the Japanese in the wake of World War II, occasional, feeble attempts were made to keep popular religion in check. These measures were almost completely ineffectual and were entirely abandoned by the 1980s. Now, the government in Taiwan has, in effect, ceded the religious sphere to the people. On the one hand, this gives the adherents of Taiwanese medium cults a greater degree of autonomy, as their religious practices become decoupled from the state's need for legitimation. On the other hand, a relationship between religion and the secular has emerged which in some respects strikingly resembles what is prevailing in the modern West, namely, where autonomy in the life of the spirit is obtained at the cost of the vastly reduced relevance of religion to practical life. The autonomous knowledge enabled by spirit-possession and other such practices exist in the epistemic penumbra--`what sciences cannot explain--'of the systems of modernist, positivist knowledge. As in much of the West much of time, religion becomes a non-threatening supplement to lives largely determined by political and socio-economic forces over which religious institutions themselves exercise little direct influence."
Leo Ching, a Cultural Studies scholar at AALL, spoke of Asianism as a construct of media regionalism and looked into the impossibility of regionalist imagination in the age of globalization.
"I am concerned with the renewed interest in Asianism in relation to the increasingly trans-national forms of mass culture, especially those that are associated with `Japanese' mass culture. I am also interested in the growing tendency in other `regionalist thinking' in both economic production and symbolic reproduction under global capitalism. Why does the increasingly globalized world engender multiple regionalist associations? Are regionalist projects the effects of global capitalism? How is a regionalist culture possible in the circuit of global cultural dissemination?
"Although regionalism may at times appear to be anti-globalism, the regionalist imaginary is fundamentally complicitous with the globalist project of the capitalist world-system. More specifically, I want to argue that regionalism--in both its sub- and supra-national manifestations--in the late twentieth century reveals the inescapable contradiction between the immanent logic of capital and the historical formation of nationalized economies.
"Regionalism is a discursive construct rather than empirical reality. Conceiving regionalism as such is to conceptualize it as a set of discourses that are in relation to and in contention with, each other. In other words, regionalist discourse does not exist in singularity, it is always directed at some other forms of territorial discourse (e.g., the world system, nationalisms or other regionalisms). Without the sorting out of the ideological implications of the regionalist project, it is difficult to understand why people resort to thinking regionally and what social contradictions regionalist thinking tries to resolve in the first place. Conceiving regionalism as a discourse serves to better understand the differing constructions of regionalist projects within late capitalism. Political and economic rationalism alone cannot explain why Asian regionalism has been, more often than not, made on cultural grounds rather than economic (North America) or political (Western Europe).
"What I am interested in here is not an ethnographical analysis of the 'presence' of Japanese mass culture in Asia. Rather, I am concerned with the discursive construction of the relationship between the concept of mass cultural and regional identity. In other words, I am interested in how and why certain Japanese mass cultural forms generate the possibility of imagining a regional identity or make this imagined regional community 'thinkable.'
"Let me cite an example: the NHK morning drama 'Oshin.' Its tremendous popularity in Asia is attributed to a certain 'commonality,' a certain structure of feeling that has rearticulated something that is invariably 'Japanese' into something that we could call 'Asian consciousness' or 'the Asiatic imaginary.' This regionalist cultural imaginary is interesting in a number of ways and cannot be dismissed as simply 'false consciousness' in its most crude sense. First of all, this culturalist regionalism sets itself against the background of a specific regional economic development under late capitalism. It is argued that the female protagonist's life/work cycle itself represents the ethics and cultural traits of Japanese capitalist development. This national narrative is then allegorized into a regional story that dramatizes the parallel, but belated economic development of some of the Asian countries such as Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia and, belatedly, China. As one of the advocates of Asianism put it recently, 'Oshin' is tremendously popular in Asia because it embodies the many attributes of 'Asian' values (perseverance, diligence, stick-to-it-ness, patriotism, etc.) that bind the various nations together on a developmentalist progression in the post-colonial, post-cold war world order.
"One of the ways in which we might consider the dissemination of Japanese-produced commodity-image-sound is to conceive it as a 'regionalist project' that is not merely an effect, but the very necessary constituent of, global capitalist culture. One of the major disseminators of Japanese-produced mass-images in Asia is Star TV (which stands for Satellite Television Asian Region) that broadcasts from Hong Kong using a satellite launched from China. From Japan in the east to Israel in the west, from Mongolia in the north to Papua New Guinea in the south, Star TV broadcasts to thirty-eight countries in Asia with a potential viewership of 2.7 billion, the largest regional television market in the world. More importantly, STAR TV has made possible, for the first time in the region's history, a synchronic dissemination and thus reception of images in Asia. It is not clear whether STAR TV has the capacity of generating an imagined regional identity. However, it is clear that various notions of 'Asian-ness' have been constructed through this media regionalism.
"These integrated assemblages, which make possible the grouping of whole ranges of events, processes, peoples, and identities within Asia, and despite its purported heterogeneity in relation to other imagined cultures, expresses the same space of capitalist accumulation. MTV Asia is broadcasted alongside MTV Europe; columns of news about Japanese 'aidoru' stars appear next to the latest gossip from Hollywood, Mandarin soap opera from Taiwan follows the never-ending episodes of 'Beverly Hills 90210.' What was once rendered incompatible or incommensurable is now within the workings of late capitalism, 'harmonized' into compatible and commensurable zones of accumulation and production. Ironically, it is this possibility of a regional mode of cultural dissemination that renders any coherent sense of 'Asia' an impossibility. Any general sense of 'Asia' is constantly defragmented under STAR TV's 'culturally specific programming.' It is in this sense that I would argue that Asianism in its mass cultural formation emerges at the very moment when that regionalist association is no longer imaginable."
Ralph Litzinger, a Cultural Anthropologist at Duke, commented on Dean's, Nickerson's, and Ching's talks and spoke about methodological questions of popular cultural studies.
"Bill Nichols (a film theorist) once argued that the crucial issue in ethnographic/documentary film (with its claim to the historical real) is the question: what to do with people? Think, for a moment, about the difference between reading Dean's fabulous paper and seeing the video images of ritual presented by Nickerson. I like the use of this video material, but I think we need to think more about how and why we use this material. Is it data? Evidence? Or perhaps, a supplemental kind of material that is already built upon the local (if we can think of a Fujian temple site in this way) production of an image or discourse? If it is the latter, how do we present it as such? Barlow once wrote about 'the localization of the sign,' which is still--as I read it--an important part of her notion of colonial modernity. Ethnographic video/film images are interesting to me because they promise the viewer a kind of localized experience, but at the same time, they almost immediately de-localize the image by sending it globally into other interpretive domains. I would argue that our fascination with this stuff has less to do with the real and more to do with the experience/sensation of the transport. Arguably, this is what all realist texts about other places do, but the visual image has a kind of immediacy and power that written texts do not. Ching remarked that we need to think more about the image. For me, this has to do with attending to the issue of representational power, transport (of the viewer to another reality), and the claimed transparency of the historical real.
"We cannot just study the production of images over there (the space called China) as part of the popular culture agenda; we also have to attend to the politics of our own image production--what we call scholarship--and this, of course, applies to more than just visual material.
"Speaking of scholarship, are there methodologies (what I like to think of as critical interpretive practices) that are particular to popular culture/mass media studies? There is a lot of debate going on in anthropology/cultural studies at the present time exploring this issue. For example, what does it mean to use interview materials in our analyses of popular/mass culture? Is the inclusion of a speaking subject really what we mean by attention to the reception of an image or a discourse? What kind of 'evidence' is an individual's interpretation?
"When I asked Ching on the first day of this conference if he thought it was important to interview a CEO from STAR TV in order to understand something about the class of these producers, he responded along the lines that such an approach would recuperate the individual as a locus of explanation. In principle, I am in full agreement that methodological individualism is to be avoided. But I am left wondering if the issue is really that simple. For me the question is about being clear theoretically as to why we privilege certain kinds of material--data, texts, interviews, etc.--over others. There is some really good literature on 'multi-sited' ethnography (e.g., Marcus, Akhil Gupta, and others) that might shed light on this issue.
Jim Hevia, a China Historian at UNC, talked about popular religion and politics in the context of China/Tibet controversy over the reincarnate identification process of the Panchen Lama.
"The confusion of efforts to find the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama highlights the ambiguous and challenging status of Tibetan Buddhism. Between the Qianlong emperor's 18th-century attempt to clarify the status of lamas vis-a-vis his own rulership and the State Council's 20th-century assertion of final authority in the reincarnate identification process, Tibet continued to be more than a cultural problem for Chinese leaders. But over this same period a great deal changed in the relationship between politics and culture.
"It is not only that 'culture' has become an all-too-convenient entity in the political life of 20th-century nation-states, trotted out in public to de-politicize differences while providing little recourse when there are real power struggles, like the Dalai Lama's religio-political claims, to be dealt with. Nationalism has shifted its significance at the same time: sites like Chengde (not to mention the Palace Museum and national theme parks like Splendid China in both Shenzhen and Orlando) make 'China' an object of contemplation for spectators constructed as ordinary bourgeois consumers of modern state rhetoric. This is a China which firmly and prominently places Tibet within its borders. Surely the bureaucrats and policy-makers whose job it is to confine Tibetan activism to the domain of 'mere' cultural difference still remember how fundamental 'culture' was to Mao's revolution. But they can now limit their activities to the territorial problems posed by 'minority peoples.' They no longer need to be the engineers of a new population who would be both enabled and required to live, throughout China, a full-scale alternative to bourgeois capitalism in all its cultural forms. They can instead concentrate on mobilizing carefully de-politicized representations of the nation and its many cultures, while sleeping soundly at night in the comforting conviction that no future revolutionary will attempt to build a Chinese utopia by making new men and women or forging a truly new 'spiritual civilization.'
"This shift from a hegemonic Maoism that made no distinction among the people, confidently colonizing all backward areas with the promise of socialism, to a reform state which produces carefully individualized and ethnicized citizens and interest groups, was very profound and must be acknowledged in any consideration of modern Chinese state actions.
"The People's Republic of China has been engaged in various gestures toward Tibet that both celebrate and colonize domestic differences with its borders. Once we have discarded the idea that protecting historical sites and discussing theological niceties are politically innocent, is this anything other than business-as-usual for modern nation-states? Externally, nation-states vie with each other for prestige, recognition and development resources, such as UNESCO restoration funds. Internally, they police and discipline diverse populations, often invoking `multi-culturalism' and official religious tolerance to de-politicize any claims for separation or self-determination. In all such efforts, the instituting of a representational order, which places history, everyday life, nature and national territory into a museum, is a crucial technology of rule.
Jing Wang, the Luce project director and a Cultural Studies scholar at AALL, continued the discussion about the new ruling technologies of post-socialist Chinese state and spoke of the importance of inserting the study of policies into Cultural Studies of China.
By emphasizing the hybrid of 'cultural policy studies' (for which the Australian Key Centre for Cultural and Media Policy serves as a prime example), I meant paying attention to the institutional conditions that regulate different cultural market sectors. For instance, advertising, tourism, or publishing--each of those cultural industry sectors is linked to a particular field of government and open to different means of social management. Take tourism for example. Out-of-the-country tourism is regulated by the Chinese National Bureau of Tourism. In 1995 Southeast Asia was the only legitimate foreign land to which Chinese citizens could travel with tourist visas. Within the country, domestic tourism in historical sites is managed by triple government agencies--the National Bureau of Tourism, Provincial Institutes of Archaeology and National Bureau of Cultural Artifacts, and in the case of Tibet, the State Council. Together, all those branches of institutions discuss such matters as whether the state should or should not reconstruct the Yuanming Garden in Beijing and whether or not the Tang Dynasty imperial tombs in Xi'an should be excavated for tourist revenues. The core of our study of cultural industry is thus the relationship between policy and politics, especially when decision making involves several government agencies which pursue rival interests.
"Having emphasized the importance of policy studies to cultural studies, I want to say that I have no intention of privileging the problematic of 'state intervention in the cultural field.' In contemporary China, we all know how the rhetoric of state intervention crisscrosses with those of market forces. It is far too simplistic for us to assume that domination is total, and resistance is complete. I emphasize the culture/government couplet not to repeat the truism that the post-1989 Chinese state is as oppressive as ever. Those of us who followed the Mapplethorpe controversy and the ensuing Culture War in America will understand that cultural policing takes place in the U.S. as well as in a communist country like China. In fact, the question I would like to raise via this preamble about cultural policy studies is this question: are the post-1989 Chinese cultural policies the replay of an old authoritarianism? Or, are they tilting toward a revamped socialist social-democratic cultural politics?
"To capture the flow of the historical transition of the 1990s China, one can do no better than catalog, in lieu of dichotomizing, divergent trends. But there is a legible narrative that collates proliferating signs, symbols, and new laws that greet Chinese consumer-citizens on a daily basis: namely, the political, the cultural, and the economic in post-1992 China now emerge as interchangeable terms of value. Capital builds new alliances. Innovative forms of complicity are being formed. Interests crisscross and the most unlikely partnerships are being made.
"There is a renewed interest in the buzzword 'culture' (wenhua) in post-1992 China. It is the talk of the town. More curiously, it emerges as the top agenda item for public policy makers and city planners in both the central and local state. Although the elitist connotation of 'culture' resonates in the humanists' debates (1994-95) on the moral idealism of high culture, yet the word 'culture' today strikes a very different chord in the consumer public and in the busy mind of policy makers. I propose to examine three interlocked trajectories through which the motion of a society in transition can be captured: first, the popularization of the discursive construction of 'leisure culture' (xiuxian wenhua) since 1994; and second, the burgeoning policies of 'cultural economy' that promote the collapse and convertibility of cultural capital into economic capital.
As the post-socialist state is the key player in initiating and consolidating both trends, does it mean that the Chinese state has not shed much of its totalitarian character? I argue the opposite by naming the third trajectory of China's epochal transition as the metamorphosis of the post-1989 state apparatus from a coercive to a regulatory body of governance. All three trajectories demonstrate how 'culture' is reconstructed in the 1990s as the site where capital--both political and economic capital--can be accumulated. The state's rediscovery of 'culture' as a site where new ruling technologies can be deployed and converted simultaneously into financial capital constitutes one of its most innovative notions of statecraft since the founding of the PRC. This proves that crises have only perfected the state machine instead of smashing it.
"By switching the command metaphors of its ruling technology away from the rhetoric of control toward those of access, Chinese state is pursuing a social-democratic politics of cultural policy reminiscent of what was pursued by post-War Western European welfare states. I am foregrounding the state question because it is a missing element whenever we address the issue of contemporary China's historical transition. We tend to talk about such a transition in terms of economy (its moving from state to market economy) and culture (from high to pop), but rarely in terms of the restructuring of the state discourse. I think it is important that we put the analytical categories of 'state' and 'policy' back into our study of Chinese pop culture and cultural industry that has been increasingly dominated by the trope of the market. We need to examine the structural transformation of the Chinese postsocialist state, and the mutually constitutive relationship between state policies and pop cultural industries."
Yue Gang, a Chinese Literature scholar at UNC, commented on Wang's talk.
"During his recent trip to Beijing, Terry Eagleton saw a profound contradiction. The portrait of Chairman Mao peacefully coexists with, if not cordially smiles at, the golden arch of the McDonalds in downtown Beijing. But the British Marxist scholar seems to have forgotten that contradiction is the primary principle of the dialectic. In Mao's own reinterpretation of the dialectic, contradictory unity is the principle of historical progress. The question is: in whose terms will the contradiction be resolved? Wang takes a further step to deconstruct this kind of binary opposite. What immediately caught her eye was the noodle shop Red Sorghum right across the street from McDonalds, a third-term, in her words, that prepares us for the maze of multiple possibilities leisurely unfolding into the horizon of the emerging popular culture and market place. This is not the third term of synthesis in the dated scheme of contradictory unity nor the beginning of the free flow of the postmodern signifier. This noodle shop operates in the logic of neither/nor: neither socialism nor capitalism, yet is is solidly grounded in the material reality of a post-scarcity economy. So the leisure time is neither a symptom of bourgeois decadence nor a healthy dose of schizophrenic hallucination. The Chinese state no longer represents coercive totalitarian forces, nor has it been decentered as China bashers would want to see. Wang takes pains to show that she is not defending the Chinese post-socialist state while faithfully digging into the archives of government regulations to show why ideologically-motivated China watchers fail to catch up with the dazzling pace of China's social change.
"The noodles sold at Red Sorghum are certainly better than the lack of the Mao years, when the masses sometimes had to sustain their red hearts with barely filled stomachs. And red sorghum is definitely more healthy than the red meat served in the McDonalds. But let's remember that these noodles sell well not simply because they are more palatable to the popular taste: the 'red sorghum' was first exported to the international film festival for name recognition so that the noodles obtained an aura of glory in the dometic food market. In the end of the day, the popular may be a luxury. For the tens of millions of laid-off workers and the displaced floating population from the countryside, they have too much leisure time but not much to eat."
ARDOR IN THE COURT
"It's the law. . . . The law is sacred."
--The Honorable Judge Kenneth Starr (1998)
"The scandal isn't the law-breaking, it's what is legal."
--Attorney Edward Bennett Williams (1974)
In all its naked madness, the first O. J. Simpson trial at least enriched our public discourse with four new verbs of uncommon precision and vigor. To beat the rap in a Jack-the-Ripper style double killing, the thing to do is Baileyize the witness, Cochranize the jury, Scheck the evidence, and--as a foolproof back-up--Dershowitize the entire legal process. The public display of those actions over a year's time proved that those who objected to televising the trial were wrong on two counts. First, there is no justification for any citizen being less entitled to witness so significant a trial than the anointed few spectators who were permitted to attend in person. And, most important, the trial's lesson in the perversion of judicial process was an eye-opener of immense value to the legally untutored general public: So this, they now know, is how our legal system actually operates, or at least can operate.
When our thoughts turn to the thirty-year old mother who lies below ground with head nearly severed from her shoulders, we can take comfort in at least one mode of justice that will play out in her favor. Over the next five or eight years, her children are likely to review every scrap of evidence in the case and pose some awkward questions to the chief suspect. Then perhaps justice of some sort will roll down like mighty waters. Unfortunately, no similar confidence can be mustered toward the subsequent spectacle of legal chicanery that has riveted the nation's attention for many months now. But the $40-plus million squandered on the Whitewater/Lewinsky investigation is sure to produce one positive outcome: a broad public awareness that this is how our prosecutorial system operates, or at least can operate.
To finesse the politics of the thing, let's postulate that President Clinton and his wife are guilty of every crime alleged against them and will serve prison time appropriate to the principle that no one is above the law. Let's add that the Independent Counsel's people have done in every instance what the law allows or perhaps even requires. With these folk out of the way, we can cut to the essential issue, a legal process whose absurd and indecent extremes can trash the lives of harmless bystanders everywhere.
However suspect her social intelligence, Monica Lewinsky was such a bystander, not accused or suspected of any crime when she got hauled into a stranger's (Paula Jones's) litigation and interrogated about her private sex life. The only appropriate answer, "That's none of your copulating business," would be "contempt of court"--as though the questioning were not obscenely contemptible. To lie about her sex life would be "perjury." If, however, she does reveal the secrets of her sexual history to this snooping pack of strangers, and if by that token her name turns into a planet-wide sex-joke for ages to come, that trifling problem takes a back seat to Paula Jones's desire to "restore my reputation." As a result, all across the land Monica's monikers now pollute the air: to entertain his millions of radio listeners, Don Imus thinks nothing of dubbing her "the fat slut"; to amuse its upscale readership, The Wall Street Journal weighs in with "the little tart"; and to fatten his ratings, Jay Leno runs off countless jokes about her knees. But according to the pre-trial "discovery" rules that prefigured these sadistic acts of defilement, the immeasurable harm done to Ms. Lewinsky's reputation is irrelevant. It is only Ms. Jones's "reputation" that matters. It's the law.
After the legally perpetrated paulajonesing-lindatripping of Monica (a compound verb: setting a perjury trap by violating her privacy and closing the trap by betraying her intimate trust) comes the grand jury process. Unlike the trial process, which has been the staple of a thousand TV shows and movies, the grand jury has been a largely unknown commodity to most Americans, who have therefore trusted naively that the purpose of a grand jury is to sift out the facts of a case to find if reasonable evidence of a crime can be indicated. Now, thanks to the Lewinsky case, we know better. The actual purpose of the grand jury system, we now understand, is to review only such "facts" as the prosecutor thinks will advance his case, while any information in the target's favor may be rigidly excluded. Meanwhile her lawyers are prohibited from cross-examining those who testify against her, no matter how frail their evidence or suspect their motives.
The threat of indictment that results from this corrupt process may then be used to intimidate a witness into "co-operating" with the prosecutor. All the while, bribes may be offered to witnesses for the prosecution by way of immunity from prosecution, reduced jail time, or other benefits, even if these witnesses have already been convicted of theft and perjury (e. g. Hale vs Hubbell). Less obliging witnesses may be threatened with extra jail time if they fail to produce testimony to the prosecutor's liking (e.g. Susan McDougal).
It gets worse. In search of sexual secrets between consenting adults--we're not talking about rape, murder, or terrorist conspiracy here--a prosecutor may rip family bonds asunder. (I have to believe that with the first question about my daughter's sex life, the court would get a two-word answer--"Copulate You!"--and bring on the shackles). But the ultimate depravity of our legal process lies in its unlimited violence against the innermost sanctuary of individual privacy. At some point in the next century, science may well invent some form of skull-scanner into which a witness's head may be rammed for exposure of his innermost thoughts and memories. (Or, more likely, a drug will serve that purpose). Pending that ideal instrument of judicial inquiry, its low-tech equivalent already graces our halls of justice via secret wiretapping and the seizure of diaries or e-mail, and, in Monica's case, the rifling of a closet through which a squad of FBI agents were authorized to sniff in search of a semen-stained dress. It's the Law. Sacred, they call it.
To anyone who doubts the Stalinesque turpitude that the Law can perpetrate, we need only mention the name of Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy, whose reticence in the court of Judge "Maximum John" Sirica (TIME's Man of the Year in 1973) drew a sentence of twenty-some years, longer than he would have received for first-degree murder. (Jimmy Carter released Liddy after five years.) As this case shows, the fundamental problem with The Law is its spurious claim to godlike inerrancy while behind the black robe is just another fallible homo sapiens, learned in the law but not necessarily wiser or closer to ideal justice than anyone else. Sorry to say, the law is not sacred. Like any other human mechanism, it is a blind force that may be applied to sacred or putrid ends, depending on the wisdom and integrity of its functionaries.
Clearly a civilized society requires the rule of law, but to chirp "It's the law" to justify every judicial excess is to undermine the rule of law. That judicial excess has characterized the snoopfest into Monica's sex life is easy to prove. It requires only that the hare-brained dummy who thought up the virtually unlimited discovery process (was it Catherine MacKinnon?) be the first to volunteer for this witch-dunking ordeal, with the Congressmen who voted for it lining up for their turn behind her, followed by the legal beagles and media mouths (e.g. Imus, Leno, the Wall Street Journal editors) who so obscenely relish Monica's humiliation. To facilitate that moment of truth, perhaps, after all, we should bring on that skull-scanner of the future so as to better gauge the sanctimony of these people.
In the name of that sanctimony, I shall leave the "fat slut" and "little tart" epithets to whoever finds them pleasing. My judgment of Ms. Lewinsky focuses elsewhere: on the moment when Monica's long-term intimate confidante gave the signal and a clutch of FBI men materialized from among the surrounding diners to surround her table with badges flashing. As Ms. Tripp pushed away from the table, it's been said, Monica cried. Stunned, trapped, legally unaided, and alone, she must have seemed an easy mark for the subsequent hours of legal terrorism that a roomful of government lawyers could bring to bear against her. But she never cracked. For a full half year, she stood unbroken against the most massive array of federal resources ever assembled to investigate a civil "crime."
The American Republic owes a debt to that act of courage. The half-year of time thus purchased facilitated three important developments. First, it tempered somewhat the hysteria of the media. (Remember that flock of Big Name anchors who deserted the Pope in Cuba?) Second, it produced new insights in Constitutional Law: future Presidents must hereafter regard their entire staff, from their closest aides to their bodyguards, as informers for any political adversary with wit enough to file a civil lawsuit anywhere in the country. And third, Monica's months of fortitude permitted the general public to witness the depravity of our foregoing legal process, notably the pauljonesing-lindatripping of a young woman's private, non-criminal sex life.
Until, in a case of this sort, a non-litigant is guaranteed the right to keep mouth shut, sex life private, and family bonds inviolate, no one is safe from the putrid dimension of the law. Is it not curious that in a sexual harassment suit now pending against a UNC coach, the big losers figure to be the scores of women who have played soccer there over two decades? Now, like Monica Lewinsky, they all face the prospect of being summoned before strangers and commanded to reveal their sexual history under threat of contempt/perjury/obstruction of justice charges. This ordeal of degradation is being undertaken to protect women from sexual harassment, we are given to understand. Sacred it is not.
To find anything sacred in the Lewinsky case, we had best look outside the courtroom, leaving behind Linda Tripp's treachery and the government's search for a semen-stained dress in favor of the higher law that Hawthorne invoked when he defined the Unpardonable Sin. Across the whole Hawthorne oeuvre, nothing was more damnable than to violate, in cold blood, what he thought sacred: the innermost sanctuary of another person's being. From "Young Goodman Brown," the following excerpt first defines the Unpardonable Sin and then reveals why Hawthorne thought it unpardonable:
"It shall be yours to penetrate, in every bosom, the deep mystery of sin. . . [making you] more conscious of the secret guilt of others, both in thought and deed, than [you] could now be of [your] own."
As modern men and women, we of course eschew the word "sin." But these words still have relevance to a young woman whose life has been ripped apart, in cold blood, not really for her sensual peccadillo but as a useful weapon in someone else's high-stakes political battle. In the 1830s Hawthorne called this syndrome the Unpardonable Sin. In 1998 we call it something more shameful: "It's the law."
The Faculty Forum is published monthly by the Academic Council of Duke University. Editor: Victor Strandberg (English). Editorial Advisory Board: Matt Cartmill (Biological Anthropology & Anatomy), Howard Clark (Biomedical Engineering), Buford Jones (English), Seymour Mauskopf (History--on leave), and Kathy Rudy (Women's Studies).
The purpose of the Faculty Forum is to provide an opportunity for faculty members to discuss topics of common interest. The FF therefore welcomes, and indeed depends on, contributions by faculty members. Contributions may be published anonymously, but the editor will need to know the identity of all contributors so as to authenticate the contribution and permit appropriate editing procedures. We welcome fact, opinion, and creative whimsy from across the wide range of Arts & Sciences and Professional Schools--book reviews (new or reprinted), short essays, serendipitous items from random reading, and voices from the eternal kulturkampf.
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