China & Inner Asia: Table of Contents
Organizer: Li Zhang, Cornell University
Chair: Dorothy J. Solinger, University of California, Irvine
Discussant: Tim Oakes, University of Colorado
Media and ideological representations of places help frame individual desire and visions of travel. Just as important are the stories, myths and rumors passed along by sojourners and tourists returning to hometowns, all of which work to create an "imagined sense of place" (Massey, 1994). Appadurai has noted the power of the imagination as a force shaping peoples life aspirations, piqued by mass media, collective memories, and ideoscapes (1990, 1991). Recent theorizing in anthropology and cultural geography unpacks conventional meanings of the concept of "place," such that senses of places are maintained not only by the imagination but also by actual social relations and networks stretching across space. Yet control over and access to both mobility and relocation is shaped by differentials: of capital, connections and power. This panel explores disjunctures and linkages in experiences of mobility in Chinas cities. How do travelers, migrants and sojourners negotiate ruptures between imagined and grounded experienced places? How do places become categorized in a cultural-spatial hierarchy of desire?
Zhang addresses contrasting ways in which Wenzhou migrant entrepreneurs and other migrant workers imagine Chinese metropolises, and how such imaginings shape daily practice and life trajectories. Clark examines rural newcomers expectations and disillusionment in Shenzhen, both of which have partially shaped workers decisions to return to their hometowns. Louies paper focuses on transnational imaginings, of Guangdong families who decide against emigrating to America, perceiving a rise in work opportunities at home and in Chinas own economic global positioning. Hydes paper examines the symbolic and physical construction of Xishuangbanna as a city of sex and pleasure through male tourist desire for exoticism embodied by the Dai minority people and their landscape. "Place" has long been treated merely as background, through which people travel and in which practices and events occur. Our goal is instead to foreground the concept of "place" and to explore cultural meanings of places produced through power dynamics in local, national and transnational political and economic contexts.
Constance Clark, University of California, Berkeley
In the spatial hierarchy of development in China the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone ranked highly for youth searching for work, adventure, and love. For many young people thinking of travel, understandings of Shenzhen has been shaped through returning migrants narratives, letters, and displays of finery, print media, and television portrayals of Chinas most famous site of economic reform. "Spatial trajectories" (De Certeau, 1984) such as stories are one avenue of organizing and linking disparate places together. Improvements in telecommunications and infrastructure, and access to television have collapsed the conceptual distance between hometown and places elsewhere in China, such that, for some, journeys to development hotspots are perceived as a life choice. Yet for many youth riding the rails to Shenzhen, deep disjunctures arise between their imagined expectations and encounters in daily life.
Popular and scholarly attention has focused on the "floating population" that remains in the Shenzhen zone, disparaged by residents for sullying public spaces and increasing the crime rate. This paper considers young workers who have decided against long-term settlement in Shenzhen, portraying their experiences in the zone and the return to their Sichuan and Hunan hometowns. How is Shenzhen as place constructed in young peoples stories and "partial truths" of their sojourns? How are returning youth perceived by those who preferred not to travel or who lacked access to the means of mobility? This paper hopes to convey young Shenzhen workers constructions of place through daily practices, social networks, and narratives that bridge country and city in China.
Andrea Louie, Washington University
The transnational space of Guangdong, China is being redefined, as relations between Guangdong residents and Chinese Americans of Cantonese ancestry are renegotiated following the Open Policy. Increased contact with ideas and people from the "outside" have led many Guangdong Chinese to re-imagine potential lives in China in relation to opportunities abroad, leading to changing attitudes towards emigration. In the process, the historically rooted contours and spatial hierarchies of Guangdongs transnational spaces are being reworked. The status of America as "heaven (tian tang) or Gold Mountain for emigrants seeking a better life is being questioned; while local, familiar places are described as holding more potential for future personal development. At the same time, Chinese Americans who visit China at the invitation of the Chinese government to "search for roots" (xun gen) in ancestral regions in the Pearl River Delta area re-imagine and rework these places into family narratives of emigrations and as groundings for Chinese American identities.
As these groups with common ancestral roots encounter each other in their travels, differences (cultural, social and economic) become evident through the differing practices of place-making in which they engage. Varying conceptions in the meanings of Guangdong places bring about tensions in the ideology of "we are all Chinese" as they challenge historically shaped assumptions about the relationship between mainland Chinese and the Chinese abroad.
Li Zhang, Cornell University
1990s China has witnessed an unprecedented amount of flows of people, commodities, capital, and information. This far-reaching and frequent spatial mobility challenges the previous mode of anthropological endeavor based largely on bounded and seemingly natural units such as "villages" and "local communities." At the same time, new social inquiry is required to emphasize linkages between places and the ways in which different places have been and are being made meaningful in the new national order of things. This paper contrasts varying ways in which Wenzhou migrant entrepreneurs and migrant workers from other places imagine Chinese metropolises, and how such imaginings reshape their everyday practices, identities, and life trajectories. The majority of Wenzhou migrant entrepreneurs tend to view the city as a form of market and a battlefield for intense commodity competition. Many other migrant workers, before departing home, understand the city as a place filled with wealth and pleasure. Such romanticized images and fantasies are shattered soon after their arrival in the city. The paper further explores how these different imaginings of the city and their rural homelands have been shaped by the uneven entrenchment of regional and national capital and reform practice in a rapidly changing political and economic context.
Sandra Teresa Hyde, University of California, Berkeley
Xishuangbanna tourist brochures are peppered with images of beautiful Dai-Lue women bathing in rivers, wild elephants grazing the rain forests, and Hani and Bulong minority women dancing into the early hours of morning. "Banna" is symbolic in the Han Chinese imagination as an exotic border region that is a culturally desirable place to visit. With increased mobility and capital, Han Chinese travel to Banna to escape from their routine lives in the metropolises of China. The capital city of Jinghong is a city of prostitution (piaocheng) that provides male tourists with brothels, bars and gambling. What these men desire to consume are Dai women; however, these women are usually not Dai but workers from Sichuan and Guizhou dressed in Dai clothing to allure Han male customers.
Based on fieldwork in 1996 and 1997, this paper explores the shifting images that tourists, the Dai and women service workers simultaneously create and recreate about Banna. In my analysis, I raise the following questions: Why and how has Banna been categorized as a desirable place to visit? If Banna has become associated with prostitution and gambling, how do Han male tourists and female sex workers both react to and create a tourist landscape of the exotic? If Banna becomes a symbol for the eroticization of Dai culture, why do so few Dai women participate in the tourist industry? How tourism fosters the erotic/exotic in Banna has everything to do with how images of place are nurtured by social relations stretching across provincial borders.