Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, East Asian Studies, New York University (NYU)

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2013
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of California / Berkeley
Consuming Revolution: Yangbanxi as Material Culture of the Chinese Cultural Revolution

As the 'post-Mao' designation of the contemporary period makes plain, the present circumstances in the People's Republic of China are often considered in contrast to what preceded them. While the dramatic socioeconomic changes China has undertaken over the past thirty years may render this desire understandable, the clean break intimated by the 'post-' prefix is a fallacy. The rampant market commodification said to define the Chinese 'postsocialist' condition did not emerge from a vacuum. Despite the widely held characterization of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) as a time of aestheticized politics and ideological indoctrination, it was by no means devoid of everyday things, which were also 'consumed' in their own way. This project examines Cultural Revolution material culture and investigates how the circulation and consumption of quotidian objects during that time prefigured postsocialist market commodities. As the pinnacle of the socialist performing arts, the yangbanxi––a repertoire of, originally, eight model works––were promoted by objects spanning every conceivable form. I focus on the constellations of things, brought together by and around these yangbanxi 'tie-ins,' as they developed in relation to three 'media': ceramic knickknacks, amateur performances, and recorded sound technologies. Each of these constellations invoked different modes of circulation and consumption, and I examine how these disparate modes participated in and facilitated Cultural Revolution constructions of time, the body, and space. In doing so, I pay particular attention to the materiality of these ideologically 'marked' things, thereby troubling notions of propaganda as a top-down process of passive indoctrination. Instead, I consider how individuals interacted with and through these constellations of things and the relationship between such interactions and commodity consumption under postsocialism.