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Critical Curatorial Practices in the 21st Century: Public Space, New Media and Geopolitics


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The Chinese Contemporary: Spiritual Problems, Sentimental Education, and Historical Narratives

Convener:Chih-ming Wang

In relation to ICCS core themes of “Conflict, Justice and Decolonization”, this research cluster focuses on the “Chinese Contemporary” to understand and explore how China’s popular media—literature, film, and TV drama—shape how Chinese feel and think today. While the Rise of China as a globalizing political economy, especially expressed in the Belt and Road Initiatives, has received increasing attention in the last decade, attention to how contemporary Chinese—young and old—think and feel about being in the world remains underexplored. Much discussion has looked at the “little pink” as the epitome of China’s nationalist education, as indication of China’s wolf-warrior diplomacy, but few attended to how and why the Chinese people respond to nationalist calls with great ambivalence, as often expressed—however covertly—in literature, TV dramas, online chat groups, and even variety shows. The covert inscription of dissent indicates possibilities of alternative readings of the Chinese Contemporary as troubled by, rather than invested in, hyperbolic nationalism; it offers a new way to think about the core themes of conflict, justice, and decolonization in inter-Asian societies.

As an offshoot of the first five-year project, this research cluster hopes to complement and challenge the political economic reading of the Rise of China on the one hand, and to suggest a transmedial approach to the questions of subjectivity and the contemporary on the other. Attention to such issues as spiritual problems, sentimental education, and historical narrative, embodied in the various campaigns to cleanse social atmospheres, allows us to explore the loosened and unruly conjunctures of the revolutionary legacy, cultural dynamism, and enhanced censorship in the open and reform era. As the media remains an organ of state propaganda in China, attention to how media plays a role in shaping the contemporary Chinese mind can greatly enlighten us on the mechanism and development of covert resistance in the age of great censorship and suggest a more empathetic approach to the study of China beyond the pale of Orientalism.

Hence, we will examine the Chinese Contemporary first by critiquing the Orientalist legacies in the methodologies of China studies (Year 1), then zooming in respectively on the “spiritual problems” emerging in the open and reform era (Year 2), the question of biopolitics and neoliberalism (Year 3), the sentimental education in TV dramas (Year 4), and finally memories of revolution and the rise of China in the so-called “New Era” (Year 5). We believe that a concentrated look at these questions will shed new light on how the contemporary as a temporal structure is conceived in the convoluted framings of conflict, justice, and decolonization.

Research Topics