2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 351

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Cries in the Wilderness: Green Cultural Production in Local Cross-Strait Contexts

Organizer and Chair: Darryl C. Sterk, National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Discussant: Robin Visser, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA

Environmentalism is a global value. Like liberalism it has spread around the world. We argue that the content of environmentalism has to be localized, and not just on the level of national culture. If environmentalism is about carbon output, it does not matter where one is and what one knows about where one is, but it does if environmentalism is about a localized, culturally inflected biophilia and bioconcern. We attempt to localize environmentalism in China and Taiwan. We find biocultural complexity at the local level that has to be respected in any attempt to generalize. The panelists keep one eye on the local and the other eye on the big picture. Darryl Sterk discusses Wu Mingyi’s The Man With the Compound Eyes, a novel about urban indifference to an environmental disaster that threatens indigenous ways of life. Li Li Peters discusses the urbanite curiosity about peoples who live close to nature that has made Zhang Yimou’s itinerant spectacular Impressions such a success, as well as the impact of that success on minority ways of life and on the natural landscape of Guilin, Guangxi. Thomas Moran locates Liu Liangcheng’s explorations of human-animal relations in his popular One Man’s Village in a small borderland village in Xinjiang. Finally, Matthias Liehr’s paper studies the localization of environmental values in the Chinese green public sphere through a study of “I Wish that the Woodcutters Would Wake Up!”, noting how Xu Gang grounds his appeal to a cultured readership with references to local issues like the deforestation of Wuyishan.

Seeing the World Through Different Eyes: Eco-Aboriginal Vision in Wu Mingyi’s The Man With the Compound Eyes
Darryl C. Sterk, National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

The ecofiction writer Wu Mingyi’s environmental aesthetic formed under the influence of scientific discourse, Western writers such as Nabokov and Thoreau, as well as Chinese traditions of literary landscape representation. Though he is no starry eyed romantic about the aboriginal relationship with the environment, Wu Mingyi has turned to indigenous wisdom, specifically to the traditions of the Bunun and Pangcah (or Amis) aborigines who live on Taiwan’s east coast as well as the fictional Woenesian islanders who live only in the imagination. Though he seems to be an atheist, Wu Mingyi is obviously touched by the sense of the “sacredness” of the land which some of Taiwan’s Christianized aborigines feel. He is also moved by aboriginal responses to the environmental calamity that is the central Event in the novel, which include building a forest church whose doors are always open to Chinese tour groups. Finally, he even adapts a Pangcah mythic image for the title and central idea of his novel: the man with the compound eyes, a metaphor reminiscent of Gaia, is partly inspired by the creator figure in Pangcah mythology. The capacity of His compound eyes transcends human vision, but Wu Mingyi suggests that, in the mind’s eye, the idea of the world simultaneously witnessed from a myriad perspectives is comprehensible. And just as the old Huayan Buddhist idea of the infinity of mirrored images was an aid to awakening, Wu intends the idea of a man with compound eyes as an aid to environmental enlightenment.

An Impressive Landscape? Eco–aesthetics, Ethnographic Spectacles and Touristic Consumption in Zhang Yimou’s Outdoor Extravaganza Impressions: the Third-Sister of the Liu Family
Li Li Peters, University of Denver, USA

In its evolution from folklore to ethnography to popular landscape-musical on the socialist screen, and now to dazzling outdoor show in the contemporary capitalist era, the story of The Third-Sister of the Liu Family has always been about ethical politics, eco-aesthetics and the consumption of ethnographic visuality. Directed by famed auteur Zhang Yimou and his collaborators, Impressions: the Third Sister of the Liu Family is a song and dance spectacular performed by local Zhuang and Yao minorities in the “natural theater of mountains and rivers”(shanshui juchang). Impressions has been acclaimed as a triumph of ‘tourist culture’ and ‘cultural enterprise’ in China. This paper shows how tourist mobility, transience and consumption have fundamentally changed local modes of living and ethnic identities. As large numbers of Zhuang and Miao people have abandoned farming for entertainment, they not only present their homeland to national and global tourists as a consumable landscape, but they themselves are also co-opted in the consumption of their homeland. Using nature as a stage does not lead to the traditional ideal of ‘unity of nature and human beings’; rather, the surreal effects of sound and light generated by high-tech devices have only rendered the natural landscape phantasmal.

Bringing it All Back Home: Ecocriticism and Liu Liangcheng’s One Man’s Village
Thomas Moran, Middlebury College, USA

In this paper I offer readings of essays by Liu Liangcheng, including “A Dog’s Life,” “The Man Who Knew Mules,” and “Sleeping with Insects,” that are collected in the 2005 expanded edition of Liu’s One Man’s Village. Liu brings nature home: in Liu’s essays the writing of nature turns from the wild to the village as he explores the human-animal continuum as it is lived in village life. Liu offers a model of observation of the non-human world that avoids the controlling gesture of biosurveillance: he provides a way of knowing the world through language that reveals that we are embodied minds existing in a state of intersubjectivity with the creatures around us. Since its 1998 first edition One Man’s Village has sold well and attracted favorable critical attention, and so I argue that while Liu writes of personal experiences with the material non-human world in the particular locality of one village in Xinjiang, his readers have brought his work home to China’s urban centers, where it may be contributing to a general shift in the perception of the non-human world among some Chinese readers. I also argue for the responsibility of the ecocritic to bring her/his reading home: we must attend to and change the world that lies beyond language and just outside the door. Finally, I argue for the importance of bringing the recent debates and insights of both North American ecocriticism and the Chinese discourse of ecoaesthetics home to the study of contemporary Chinese literature.

A Remonstration in the Wilderness: Xu Gang’s “I Wish that the Woodcutters Would Wake Up!” and the contextualization of global environmentalism into the Chinese social imaginary
Matthias Liehr, University of Heidelberg, Germany

China is witnessing the emergence of what some scholars have termed a ‘green’ public sphere. The reconfiguration of state-society relations in China since the early 1980s has facilitated environmental NGOs, as environmental calamities challenge the ideology of developmentalism. New spaces for civil society actors to publicize their views are opening up. Among the most noticeable voices within this new public sphere are authors of ecological literature who often play multiple roles as social activists, writers, experts and journalists. Moreover, their writings constitute important linkages between global trends and local particularity: Even a cursory analysis of Chinese eco-literature indicates that the concepts, ideas, images, representations, and vocabularies of Chinese environmental discourses have not evolved within a domestic cultural framework, but are products of transcultural flows by which global notions on environmentalism are incorporated into existing sociocultural frameworks. Focusing on Xu Gang’s 1987 eco-reportage “I Wish that the Woodcutters Would Wake Up!”, my paper explores ecological literature within the broader context of Chinese environmental civil society development, showing how the author has culturally appropriated elements of global environmentalism, by framing his account in the context of deforestation in the Wuyi Mountains, Fujian and within the popular Chinese genre of ‘reportage literature’. This strategy allows him to appeal to cultural tropes within the Chinese social imaginary, for instance to the image of the remonstrating official and to the idea of nature as a mirror for moral superiority. This creates a unique approach to civic participation in China aimed particularly at China’s educated urbanites.