AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 372

[ China and Inner Asia Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]

Session 372: Sinophone Interventions: Reconfigurating Sinophonic Time and Space in East Asian Cultures

Organizer: Jia Tan, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China

This panel explores the concept of Sinophone cultures, especially in light of their illumination of irreducible differences between and within China’s current territorial claims. Among its landmark contributions, the Sinophone perspective brings critical attention to the variant geographical and historical contexts that have been deemed qualitatively commeasurable and/or forced under singular national scope. However, borne out of the Anglophone or Francophone studies, the concept of Sinophone is at the risk of subscribing to a center-periphery model and overlooking the process of heterogenization within China and its various Sinophonic counterparts, as well as the exchanges between the two. Expanding on the significant contribution of the Sinophone framework, this panel presents research projects that address the reconfiguration of Sinophonic time and space, which complicates the China vs Sinophone model, and positions the investigations in the context of modern East Asia histories. Contextualizing sino-hegemony in broader senses, both spatially and historically, this panel intends to historicize the homogenization of Chinese-ness and its delicate entanglement, or possible complicit relationships with other hegemonic powers such as Japanese imperialism, American hegemony and British colonialism in East Asia at specific historical conjunctures. Moreover, this panel investigates not only case-specific strategies for articulating subject positions that stand in tension with normative Chinese national citizenry, but also those actions’ broader political and intellectual implications that materialize enabling momentum evoked by the Sinophone concept.

Negotiating with the Foreign: Wang Zhenhe’s Linguistic Transgressions and Radicalization of National Historiography
Yin Wang, University of California, San Diego, USA

Following the sinophonic approach’s dissection of “Chinese language” as a homogenizing and totalizing principle, this paper examines how “Chinese language” as a category-maker also serves ahistorical purposes via discourses of local dialect, regionalization, and nationalist history of colonialism. If the sinophone approach has already unveiled the artificiality and processional invention of “Chinese language,” then how could such critical valences be further advanced toward discourses framing “Taiwanese language” (as opposed to Mandarin institutionalized by KMT since 1949) under Min Nan, a Chinese state-recognized dialect attributed to southern Fujian Province of China and neighboring areas? Moreover, what might be the productive ways of addressing the interrelationship between the variant linguistic practices across the political polities’ divide? Most importantly, what is at stake in rescuing traces of japanization and americanization commonly found in spoken languages at Taiwan from subjugating effects of colonialism, and in juxtaposing them with experiences of sinicization in concrete historical contexts? This paper situates the above issues in selected works of Wang Zhenhe, a Taiwan novelist active in the 1970s, with the focus on his satirical neologism made possible by intense employment of local idioms and non-Mandarin vocabulary, and also subversive transcription of such coined words through comedic sequence of Chinese characters. Reviewing the shifting criteria in China for including (or not) Wang’s works into Taiwanese literary representatives, and the relative underrecognition Wang’s works have received in Taiwan, this paper explores theoretical potentials of Wang’s works that interrogate modern nation-state’s complementary claims on monolinear time and multicultural order.

The Local as the Translational: Sinophone Performances in Colonial Taiwan
Chun-Yen Wang, Cornell University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

The concept of sinophone proposes unpacking ideas like China, Chineseness, and Chinese culture. Faced with critiques of inauthenticity that is usually attached to cultural representations outside of mainland China, sinophone reminds us that Chineseness is discursively formulated in a homogeneous cultural imagination that operates with the Chinese nation-state. “The diasporaic” and “the local” seem two contrasting notions, yet, I argue, both of which are subject to the same national configuration of “central-peripheral” horizontally and a ranking sequence of “national-ethnical” vertically. With regard to the configuration, this paper focuses on the way in which we unravel the problematic of the so-called “Chinese local culture” by shedding light on sinophone articulation. Locally cultural representations are easily viewed with “inauthenticity” or “semi-authenticity” due to a claim that local culture cannot represent the whole picture of Chineseness, yet to which it belongs. Theatres in colonial Taiwan serve to historicize sinophone articulations in performance and facilitate revisiting the idea of “the local.” Xiqu theatres (a.k.a. traditional Chinese theatre) were prosperous in Japanese colonial Taiwan, particularly in the 1920s. Jingju (a.k.a. Peking opera) was a representative. Xiqu has been seen as a cultural-cum-ethnical representation, which has all to do with “Chineseness.” How do we understand that Jingju was highly welcomed by people in colonial Taiwan, who mostly spoke no Mandarin? The paper asks how the Jingju could be articulated as a local as well as sinophone performance, which translated the ethnical and cultural imagination under the rubric of “Chinese culture.”

From Critique of Ideology to Jargon of Authenticity: the Other Question in Wu He's Remains of Life
Chien-heng Wu, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

Sinophone is often taken as a critical idiom putting into parentheses the supposed givenness of Chineseness. To expose the hegemonic operation undergirding various discourses of authenticity, examples of sinophone articulations are often sought from cultural as well as geographical peripheries, and the critical tasks are undertaken to problematize the processes through which the purity and centrality of Chineseness come into being, thus truncating the legitimacy of such discursive formation and opening up space for rearticulation. Through the optic of these critical engagements, the sinophone designates a mode of minor articulation denying the would-be transcendence of grand national narratives and subjecting them to the vicissitudes of historical contingency. Such focus indeed captures the critical spirit of the term; yet the conceptual complexity sometimes gets flattened out by casting it into a center/periphery model, leaving undertheorized the internal dynamics leading to the formation of any given entity, be it on the center or the margin; no less alarming is the tendency to see sinophone as a negative category, a handy vocabulary issuing charges without inviting changes. This paper is an attempt to understand sinophone in a more comprehensive manner through a reading of Wu He’s Remains of Life. I argue that despite its stylistic experimentation (e.g. creolized linguistic practice and unorthodox syntactical arrangement) and consistent critical vigilance, the novel ultimately fails to register a positive ethics - the espoused ethics of disengagement risks romanticizing indigenous cultures at the expense of a sinophone articulation of community which the novel seems to promise.

Sinophonic Articulations within China: Historicizing “Protect Cantonese” Street and Media Activism
Jia Tan, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China

The concept of sinophone focuses on the “historical process of heterogenizing and localizing” of continental Chinese culture “outside China and on the margins of China and Chineseness.” What is at stake in expanding on “sinophone” geographically and including practices inside China, by Han or ethnic minorities, as possible sites of re-inventing and heterogenizing “Chinese-ness”? Furthermore, what are the historical and situated exchanges and interactions between the heterogenization of Chinese-ness outside China and the formation of Chinese-ness within China? How could we utilize the sinophone framework to not only legitimize diverse sinophonic practices outside China, question the Western “ethnicized reductionism”, but also further problematize the state-sponsored Han-centrism within China? The “Protest Cantonese” media and street activism that first appeared in Guangzhou and soon spread to Hong Kong and overseas in July 2010 provides a dynamic site to examine the set of questions mentioned above. Resonating sinophonic articulations that promote heterogeneity and multiplicity of Chinese-ness, recent “Protest Cantonese” activism tactically combined cultural, social and political expressions such as antagonism against state campaign of Mandarin, or Putonghua; criticism of urban planning policy and calling for freedom of speech, etc. Examining the history of Cantonese media industry in Guangzhou and Hong Kong, I argue that such activism is fostered by the Cantonese speakers’ access to Hong Kong media in pre- and post- 1997 era under the expansion of global capitalism. Moreover, the signifier of Cantonese is as heterogeneous and contested as Chinese both within and outside China.