Contested Belongings: (Un)Imagining National Subjects in Chinese Political Cultures

Title: 1296 | Contested Belongings: (Un)Imagining National Subjects in Chinese Political Cultures
Area: China and Inner Asia
Stream: Gender & Sexuality
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Lin Song, University of Macau, Macau (organizer, chair, presenter)
Yajiao Li, Ochanomizu University, Japan (presenter)
Yingyi Wang, University of Washington, United States (presenter)
Ting Guo, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (presenter)


Despite intensifying mobilities within and beyond national borders in Asia, the constructed imaginary of unified, homogeneous “national subjects” continue to permeate political discourses and create tensions, disjunctions, and precarity. Offering a multi-sited critical analysis of the role and the intervention of “the nation” in Chinese political cultures, this panel probes into the meaning-making processes that complicate and contest official nationalist narratives, especially in terms of gender, sexuality, and affect. We start with a case study of married rural women’s struggle for land in China in the state’s increasingly regressive gender regime and legal system. We then offer a critique of the devaluation of work and social reproduction in Chinese NGOs against the backdrop of the state’s shifting modes of neoliberal governance. Next, we look at the gendered and affective rhetoric of motherly love evoked by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam amid recent Hong Kong protests, and explore its relationship with an appropriated Confucianism under the Xi Jinping administration. Finally, we investigate the structures of feeling in how the mainland Chinese student-migrants -- who straddle two nationalisms within the same country -- use digital media in Hong Kong. Collectively, this panel demonstrates how, instead of being monolithic and monologic, the nation is constantly imagined, reimagined, and unimagined through competing discourses.

Panel Abstracts:
Flow of Emotions: Digital Structures of Feeling in Mainland Chinese Students’ Social Media Use in Hong Kong
This study explores the cultural politics of emotion in the remaking of the contemporary Chinese national subject by investigating migrant mainland Chinese students’ social media use in Hong Kong. Whereas nationalism continues to flourish and evolve in mainland China under the “Chinese Dream” narrative, Hong Kong exercises a “peripheral nationalism” (Fong 2017) characterized by the insistence on a distinct local identity and the resistance to centralizing state-building. How does the cross-border migration shape migrant Chinese students’ emotional subjectivities and social identities? The study probes into these productive tensions through a close look at how digital structures of feeling (William 1977, Kuntsman 2012), in particular pride, contempt, and indignation, are reverberated and reconfigured through Chinese students’ use of state-sanctioned social media tools such as WeChat and Weibo. It hopes to draw a psychological map of the student-migrant subjects amidst the contentious relations between mainland China and Hong Kong.

No Land for Rural Women? : Socialist Rule of Law and the Quandary of Nongjianü
Under the accelerated progress of urbanization and industrialization, the exploitation of rural land near urban areas increased quickly in China since 1992. This only led to land dispossession among villagers, but also excluded women and their families who did not obey patrilocal residence in the new collective economic organization. These women are known as nongjianü, literally “rural married-out women”. Based on my fieldwork in Hebei, Guangdong, and Zhejiang provinces from 2013 to 2017, this paper explores the quandary faced by nongjianü in their struggle for land rights, particularly in relation to public interest litigation and non-illegal activities. I analyze the cooperation between three feminist legal non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and nongjianü. By shedding light on their work and their eventual closure or disappearance, I delineate how feminist lawyers fought economic oppression in China’s changing gender regime. I also discuss the limitations of the state political discourse of “socialist rule of law” in bringing forth real gender and class equality.

Commercialization of Philanthropy and the Value of NGO Labor in China
This paper explores the kind of labor constructed, recognized and negotiated in gender equality and LGBT rights organizations, in order to understand how the State and market construct and define NGO labor in neoliberal China, and how NGO workers create, reinvent alternative networks of care to socially reproduce themselves. Situated in the critical juncture of the post-2012 civil society, this paper traces shifting modes of neoliberal governance, the rise of the “commercialization of philanthropy” discourse, and discusses how they transform the NGO sector with the growing attention on professionalism. Caught between opposing ideologies of marketization and the State’s consolidated and deliberate effort in co-opting NGOs’ social reproductive functions, the NGOs and NGO workers struggle to reproduce themselves and make their work legible to the communities and donors they work with. The paper discusses how the double invisibilization, first by the State to portray NGOs as “selfless and heroic” entities that ask for no return, second by the market economy which devalues gendered and socially reproductive labor, render NGO workers’ labor ill-compensated both monetarily and emotionally. It further delineates the various strategies NGO workers utilize to challenge and resist such narratives of NGO work, with a critique of the (de)valuation of work and social reproduction in contemporary neoliberal China.

"So Many Mothers, So Little Love": Discourse of Filial Piety and Political Duty in Contemporary Sinosphere
My project examines the ways in which "love" as an affective concept has been employed as a marker of modernity and a powerful socio-political and religious instrument in the Sinosphere. In this paper in particular, I focus on Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s first female Chief Executive and her use of the term “love” as a way to articulate specific sentiments or politics, illuminating the role of emotions in the project of modernity and the crucial mechanism of love of post-secular politics. Responding to the 2019 Hong Kong protests, Chief Executive Carrie Lam employed the discourse of motherly love to justify her political stances. It has been noted that casting citizens as children and leaders as benevolent parents charged with disciplining them is a distinctively PRC metaphor with Confucian justifications. Lam’s Confucian reference further responds to the re-emphasis on Confucianism and traditional values under the Xi Jinping administration. This paper will investigate the history of such PRC appropriation of Confucian filial piety, the extent to which it has been applied in contemporary politics, and the gendered aspect of such appropriation

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