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Over Chinese Bodies: Towards a postcolonial sinology


Ross, K, Over Chinese Bodies: Towards a postcolonial sinology (2010) [PhD]


In the European imagination, China has often been a land of fabled creatures and mythical spaces. On the one hand it has been portrayed as a model for good government (the eighteenth century French physiocrats), a place of gender equality (women’s liberationists in the 1960s and 70s), and a revolutionary society in which art and culture are taken seriously as political (French political groups during the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s). On the other hand, China has been presented as a dystopic society, one which is cruel, corrupt, overpopulated, and dangerous. As this thesis demonstrates, ‘population’ has been central to many depictions of China as a threat from at least the mid-twentieth century onwards. Size, as the most obvious issue is only one aspect of population which attracts attention. Others include the changing of gender roles and norms (considered, by China’s critics, to be unnatural and a crime against femininity), the introduction of reproductive policies with such unintended consequences as the uneven ratio of boys and girls at birth, and also a rapidly developing consumer culture hungry for resources. In the language of postcolonial theory, China is ‘othered’. To deal with this Chinese ‘other’ requires an engagement with forms of western theory which theorise the nexus between power and knowledge. As the Bulgarian psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva argues, if we approach China knowing what we will already find then our universalist, and Europeanist, assumptions will go unquestioned and the possible breach in these assumptions - that others exist – will go unnoticed. Kristeva puts it bluntly: ‘It’s not worth the trouble of going to China if one insists on closing one’s eyes to this breach’. In Chapter Two of this thesis, I trace how China has been ‘othered’ in western representation and analyse, critique and extend the concept of orientalism proposed by Edward Said. Drawing on both postcolonial theory and psychoanalysis for inspiration, this thesis argues that a postcolonial sinology would be a form of knowledge production which rejects a position of mastery ‘over’ China by developing a methodology which is alert to the possible of the heterogeneous, or a difference which is irreducible. The analysis of the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ method of punishing Chinese bodies provides an example of how this method may work. Another important and influential attempt to pay attention to the ‘difference’ of China is presented in Chapter Three. Kristeva’s text from 1974, About Chinese Women, has been criticised by Gayatri Spivak for putting Kristeva and the western subject, at the centre of a work purportedly concerned with Chinese women. My analysis shows that About Chinese Women has been misread precisely because Kristeva’s approach unsettles and disturbs. As a text about Chinese women, Kristeva’s book reveals very little, relying as it does on already published research by China specialists. What Kristeva’s book draws attention to, however, is the importance of women in China for western feminism and the importance of engaging with the other in a manner which calls into question the self. In this thesis, ‘population’ in China and Chinese bodies, particularly those of women, provide an empirical base for testing the feasibility of a postcolonial sinology. The thesis concludes by showing how uncritical and unreflexive western engagement with the Chinese population control program continues to position China as the inexorable ‘other’.

Item Details

Item Type:PhD
Research Division:Language, Communication and Culture
Research Group:Cultural studies
Research Field:Asian cultural studies
Objective Division:Culture and Society
Objective Group:Other culture and society
Objective Field:Other culture and society not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Ross, K (Dr Kaz Ross)
ID Code:64816
Year Published:2010
Deposited By:Asian Languages and Studies
Deposited On:2010-09-02
Last Modified:2010-09-02

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