China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This interdisciplinary panel investigates the complexity of Chinese consumer cultures in the Republican, socialist, and post-socialist periods. Sang presents the literary and media discussions concerning the modern girl and consumption during the Republican era. Opposing the view that the modern girl simply symbolized the vices of capitalistic consumer culture, she presents the ambivalence in the urbanites’ attitudes – admiration and revulsion – toward this new gendered subject. Focusing on the Mao era, Gerth shows how the state repressed the consumerist desires for certain commodities by labelling them “bourgeois” or “feudal,” and channeled these yearnings toward the “three big items” (the wrist-watch, sewing machine, and bicycle) manufactured in China. Hui compares the screen images of fashion and consumption in Chinese cinema in the 1960s and the 1980s. He explains how the ambiguous representations of clothes in socialist films reveal the contradictions with which Chinese socialism was confronted at the Cultural Revolution. He also discusses how the seemingly depoliticized depictions of fashion in the early stage of the economic reforms served the state discourse of modernization. Yee showcases the consumption of animals in Chinese literature in the 2000s. Adopting an interspecies perspective, she explains how these fables disclose a nuanced partnership between man and animal. This panel examines the tensions between consumer desire and a spectrum of anti-consumption critiques – from Confucian objections to extravagance to Republican-era nationalism, from Maoist condemnation of bourgeois decadence to present-day ecocritical voices – to understand the interplay among disparate forces that have shaped Chinese consumer culture.