AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 709

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Session 709: China on Display

Organizer: Jennifer Hubbert, Lewis & Clark College, USA

Chair: Beth E. Notar, Trinity College, USA

The recent events of the Beijing 2008 Olympics and the Shanghai 2010 Expo have highlighted both the global manner in which China is on display in the 21st century and the forms of display through which cultural and political knowledge about China is constructed in the contemporary era. This panel considers the nature and history of exhibition culture and visual display in China from the late imperial era through the present. Addressing a variety of forms of exhibition culture, from porcelain collections and world’s fairs to auto expos and films, this panel considers the realm between the visual and the verbal, interrogating both the actors and the objects that play a role in creating narratives, assigning meanings, granting relevance and producing history. Who and where is the ideal “viewer?” How does this viewer play a role in creating narrative meaning and history beyond the bounds of intended prescription? How do viewers engage in their own forms of display and narration after the official displays have ended? Such questions encourage the panelists to problematize the historical assumptions, strategies, and place of exhibitions in and of China through approaching the questions through a variety of disciplinary and historical lenses. What might we learn from eighteenth-century scholars and art collectors who pondered questions of “antiquity” through Chinese decorative arts. How does the rising prominence of Chinese Auto Expos reflect both a new relationship between the national and the global and between people and things in the reform era? How is Chinese-language film an exhibition space for contemporary expressions of nostalgia and identity? Note: this panel offers an alternative format in which individual presentation time will be reduced to allow fellow panelists to provide commentary on panel papers and provide additional time for audience participation.

Green is the New Red: Exhibiting Sustainability in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 Shanghai World Expo
Jennifer Hubbert, Lewis & Clark College, USA

The Beijing Olympics had an official mission. The games were to be a green, high-tech and humanistic, terms that clearly framed urban sustainability in mythic proportions. Environmental protection was posed as the prerequisite for constructing facilities while urban citizens were encouraged to consume and act green to “build a city better fit for all to enjoy.” The 2010 Expo expressed a similar purpose. Themed "Better City, Better Life," the Expo was to build a “powerful…pilot example of sustainable…living” through exploring green urban practices within the futuristic lens of a world’s fair and greening the contemporary city in its honor. This paper considers what sustainability signifies as a practice invoked through international mega events, questioning how the two different venues and audiences promoted unique strategies for the construction of meaning and value. While Beijing citizens focused on sustainability as a referent to China’s place in the global hierarch, Shanghai citizens linked sustainability to conversations about population quality. This paper also questions how urban residents of Beijing and Shanghai understand green as a thematic endeavor of the global spectacle and a mode of governance, asking how traditional ideas of the “harmony of man with nature” were refracted through such practices.

"Electric Shadows' on Center Stage': Chinese-language Filmmakers as Nostalgic Curators
Alison M. Groppe, University of Oregon, USA

What is the best medium for showcasing the films, filmmakers, studios, stars, and music that comprise a cinematic tradition? Judging from a spate of recent and contemporary Chinese-language films that cast various kinds of nostalgic gazes onto Chinese-language films and music from earlier eras, the answer seems to be cinema itself. In this paper, I consider a diverse set of Chinese-language films that, distinctly but similarly self-reflexively, all engage with significant films and figures from the history of Chinese film and popular music. The primary films under discussion are: from Hong Kong, Wong Kar-wai’s "In the Mood for Love" (2000) and Stanley Kwan’s "Centre Stage" (Ruan Lingyu, 1992); from Taiwan, Tsai Ming-liang’s "The Hole" (1998) and "The Wayward Cloud" (2005); and, from the PRC, Xiao Jiang’s "Electric Shadows" (2004). In paying tribute to prior films and stars, these recent Chinese-language films bring new and renewed attention to earlier stages of twentieth-century Chinese cultural production, thus putting it on display and effectively archiving it. These films’ directors reveal themselves to be not just filmmakers but also fans; they function as nostalgic curators and commentators even as they strategically incorporate select fragments of Chinese film and popular culture history into their own narratives. Through their inquiries into fandom, spectatorship, identification and historiography, these films offer valuable alternative perspectives into what it means to be Chinese throughout the twentieth century and how “Chineseness” has been—and can be—exhibited in Chinese-language film culture.

Eighteenth-Century Europe and the Chinese Object as Artifact
Dawn V. Odell, Lewis & Clark College, USA

In the eighteenth century, Jean Theodore Royer, a Dutch lawyer and amateur scholar deeply interested in Chinese history and language, amassed hundreds of pieces of Chinese porcelain and other Asian objects. His collection was intended both for display in his home and as a “library” of artifacts, through which Royer aimed to learn the Chinese language, study Chinese history and absorb the values of elite Chinese society. By the time Royer began forming his collection, the Chinese blue and white ware that comprised its largest part was long out of fashion. His collecting practices were prompted then not by aesthetic considerations but by the objects’ historical properties. In this paper, I consider how Royer specifically, and eighteenth-century scholars generally, understood “antiquity” as it was expressed through Chinese decorative arts. Royer’s collection is now divided between the Rijksmuseum and the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden. I will argue that the tension between object as art and object as artifact continues to challenge the collection and display of Chinese objects in public galleries today.

China Auto Expos: Display, Array and Narrative "Replay"
Beth E. Notar, Trinity College, USA

This paper analyzes the Beijing International Automotive Exhibition of April 2008 and the Kunming International Auto Expo of June 2008 within the larger global "field" of auto expos. It situates them within two broader phenomena: first, that of world expositions, exhibitions, fairs and games which help constitute a "society of the spectacle;" and second, that of the global "system of automobility" or what others have called – in order to emphasize the relations of power that allow for the existence of cars, roads and driving -- a "regime of automobility" of which China is now a part. The paper examines the Beijing and Kunming Auto Expos as sites of display and array (or au-ray, auditory display); and pays particular attention to the narrative "replays" conducted mostly by men after the shows. While cultural analysts have often paid attention to the relationship between image and text in spectacle, this paper argues that we need to analyze both the visual and auditory aspects of display.

Paint it Black: The City and Ink Painting at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo
Lisa Claypool, University of Alberta, Canada

At the 2010 Shanghai World Expo site, ink painting in state propaganda is most typically presented in video. First mountains and streams appear on the screen, black ink against white ground. As the brush starts to paint structures not from natural life but from the city—skyscrapers, telephone wires, smoke stacks—one might be reminded of Socialist-era woodcuts, in particular, that revealed the energy and might of the city. Unlike those idealized static views of the city, however, in these paintings there is a visual progression as the ground becomes darker with pooled water and ink and the images start to look like a polluted environment. Out of the blackness a dim photograph of the city—often night scenes in color, brightened with sparks of neon light—begins to grow, solidify and supplant the ink painting, to take on movement as photograph morphs into video. Such a process appears more than once in the video shown at the National Pavilion, where quotations from the Confucian Analects about a harmonious society are interspersed. With an eye to how the video relates to historical state utilization of ink painting to represent itself and the city, this paper will discuss the new ideological uses to which that anonymous brush is being put and why propaganda doesn’t look like propaganda anymore.