China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
When the Chinese state institutionalized disability in the 1980s under the leadership of Deng Pufang, it used the discourses of humanism (rendaozhuyi) to articulate a moral and political framework of disability. This paper uses the founding of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation (Canlian) as a cultural moment to offer a bio-political account of disability and humanism in post-Mao China. Furthermore, it situates this account in the context of China’s anxious bid to join global humanitarian discourses of human rights. Treating humanism as a transnational ideology, I argue that the state deploys this ideology to interpellate disabled subjects under a statist apparatus and appropriates it in the process of sociopolitical formation.
More importantly, I examine the subversive counter-discourse of humanism in Shi Tiesheng’s early fiction by focusing on his 1983 story “A Summer Rose” (Xiatian de meigui). The story stages a plot of disability euthanasia and weaves into its narrative painful ruminations on its ethical implications. The disabled (amputee) protagonist constantly asks: Is a disabled life worth living? By emphasizing the traumatic experience of disability, the story insists upon the socially isolating conditions of the disabled body and debunks the ubiquitous discourses of humanism in the 1980s. I suggest that eugenic logic is deeply entrenched in the cultural and even institutional frameworks of disability and that Shi Tiesheng’s fiction mocks the moral mechanisms that legitimize what life is worth living.