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【ACS Institute 2023 -Day 2- 8/11- Activity Report】Fan Yang - “One Belt One Road”and Ordinary Lives: Views from Cultural Studies


“One Belt One Road”and Ordinary Lives: Views from Cultural Studies

Speaker: Fan Yang (Associate Professor, Department of Media and Communication Studies, University of Maryland, Baltimore County)

Date: August 11, 2023

Location: ACS Institute, International Center for Cultural Studies, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, Taiwan.


Notes taken by Qi Li (PhD student, Institute of Social Research and Cultural Studies, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University)



Fan Yang is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Communication Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). She is the author of Faked in China: Nation Branding, Counterfeit Culture, and Globalization (2016). Her scholarship lies at the intersection of cultural studies, transnational media studies, globalization and communication, postcolonial studies, and contemporary China. In the seminar “China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ Initiative: Infrastructure, Representation, and Imagination”, she took an interactive way of engaging the audiences’personal experiences, curiosity, and reflection within the context of OBOR.


One Belt, One Road (OBOR, or Yidaiyilu) is often known in English as the Belt and Road Initiative, or the BRI. Officially launched in 2013 by China’s President Xi Jinping, it encompasses a multitude of Chinese-funded development projects around the world. With its ostensible goal to enhance the flows of trade, finance, and communication across Asia, Europe, and Africa, among other parts of the Global South, the project is aggressively promoted within China, however highly controversial in the international news media, partly due to the intensifying geopolitical tensions between China and America.


The seminar tends to ask what a cultural studies perspective can bring to the fast-expanding scholarship on OBOR in a global context, an emerging field currently dominated by economics and political science. Challenging the common misconception that OBOR is a unified state project with coherent policy objectives, the discussion emphasized the multiplicities of actions (both state and non-state), fragmented interests, competing visions, and contradictory outcomes that emerge from the new communicative spaces and logistical networks carved out by OBOR.


At the beginning of the seminar, Yang invited all participants to give an introduction about their names, homes, affiliations, and what the OBOR looks like/feels like from their vantage points. Participants from Indonesia, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Australia, South Korea, US, Taiwan, Thailand, etc. shared their particular concerns about OBOR project: the rising power and influence of China in Southeast Asian and African countries, the Chinese maritime history and its contemporary transformation, and the port politics, the OBOR capital circulation and accumulation, and many other distinct perspectives based on multi-disciplinary training.


After the introduction round, Yang briefly introduced the timeline of OBOR. The “Silk Road”which performs as the core symbol of OBOR was coined in 1877 by Ferdinand von Richthofen, a prominent German geographer and geologist. She then situated the OBOR transnational network in the context of the 1955 Asian and African Countries convening in Bandung, Indonesia. During the 1970-1975, the investment and technology aid from China made the Tazara Railway Tanzania, which was the largest foreign aid project by socialist China. In 2009, as China became the biggest trade partner of Africa, the leader of China considered expanding China’s influence in the world. Yang marked 2013 as a turning point of OBOR, when Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a speech at Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University, on which he first  illustrated the image of the Silk Road Economic Belt. In the same year, Xi gave another speech in Indonesia about the Maritime Silk Road and officially established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).


Then, Yang offered a theoretical framework of the OBOR through three dimensions: infrastructure, representation, and imagination. She invited participants to discuss in groups and present three keywords for OBOR and illustrate how these keywords fit in the infrastructure-representation-imagination ternary. Most group discussions concentrated on the form, role and impact of infrastructure. Regarding this, participants provided their observations and reflections on the issues of displacement, debt, digital RMB, industrial park, and Sinovax. Some groups put their attention on the generative imagination of extraction and “tianxia”which is more related to the Chinese soft power towards OBOR.


At the end of the seminar, Yang explained her particular attention to the material and ideological disparities between the Global North and the developing world in shaping the infrastructure, representation, and imagination of OBOR. She further offered her reflection on OBOR’s possibilities in contributing to the global project of decolonization amidst the entangled histories of colonialism, imperialism, and neoliberal globalization.


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