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Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism

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In the last two decades, Chinese transnationalism has become a distinctive domain within the new "flexible" capitalism emerging in the Asia-Pacific region. Ungrounded Empires maps this domain as the intersection of cultural politics and global capitalism, drawing on recent ethnographic research to critique the impact of late capitalism's institutions--flexibility, trav In the last two decades, Chinese transnationalism has become a distinctive domain within the new "flexible" capitalism emerging in the Asia-Pacific region. Ungrounded Empires maps this domain as the intersection of cultural politics and global capitalism, drawing on recent ethnographic research to critique the impact of late capitalism's institutions--flexibility, travel, subcontracting, multiculturalism, and mass media--upon transnational Chinese subjectives. Interweaving anthropology and cultural studies with interpretive political economy, these essays offer a wide range of perspectives on "overseas Chinese" and their unique location in the global arena.


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In the last two decades, Chinese transnationalism has become a distinctive domain within the new "flexible" capitalism emerging in the Asia-Pacific region. Ungrounded Empires maps this domain as the intersection of cultural politics and global capitalism, drawing on recent ethnographic research to critique the impact of late capitalism's institutions--flexibility, trav In the last two decades, Chinese transnationalism has become a distinctive domain within the new "flexible" capitalism emerging in the Asia-Pacific region. Ungrounded Empires maps this domain as the intersection of cultural politics and global capitalism, drawing on recent ethnographic research to critique the impact of late capitalism's institutions--flexibility, travel, subcontracting, multiculturalism, and mass media--upon transnational Chinese subjectives. Interweaving anthropology and cultural studies with interpretive political economy, these essays offer a wide range of perspectives on "overseas Chinese" and their unique location in the global arena.

34 review for Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism

  1. 5 out of 5

    April

    Another book from my college days. Essays about the different aspects of overseas Chinese and how they integrate into various international communities, their labor practices, economic situations, and how they accumulate capital, and at what cost. "As a result of the implosion of space that characterizes flexibility, production processes have been increasingly segmented, deskilled, and globalized into a new international division of labor increasingly independent of specific places and their popu Another book from my college days. Essays about the different aspects of overseas Chinese and how they integrate into various international communities, their labor practices, economic situations, and how they accumulate capital, and at what cost. "As a result of the implosion of space that characterizes flexibility, production processes have been increasingly segmented, deskilled, and globalized into a new international division of labor increasingly independent of specific places and their populations across the world. At the same time, proliferation and segmentation of new commodity markets, of global scope, have promoted and in turn been fed by new lifestyle consumer constituencies." pg. 10 "Juxtaposed--in time, but not in space--to the rise of these unskilled and semiskilled laborers are the new transnational functionaries associated with the globalization of capitalist production, distribution, marketing, finance, and consumption. With globalization there has been the appearance of new managerial, financial, legal, technical, and commercial service professionals, and of design professionals in architecture and advertising. These transnational professionals and technocrats provide the managerial and other integrative competencies called forth by the organizational and technical innovations of flexibility (Featherstone 1990, 7-8). They have evolved new, distinctive lifestyles grounded in high mobility (both spatial and in terms of careers), new patterns of urban residence, and new kinds of social interaction defined by a consumerist ethic. These professionals have come to form what Weber (1978) called 'status groups,' yet ones sharing common class privileges as members of a globalized capitalist managerial elite." pg. 10-11 "Third cultures are the products of the globalization associated with late capitalism, and they arise out of the new transnational economic processes that transcend the porous political boundaries of nation-states even as they now penetrate them. According to Featherstone, third cultures arise when groups face problems of intercultural communication at first hand and confront the necessity of continually moving to and fro between different cultures, each to some extent spatially defined. Modern Chinese transnationalism can be considered one such third culture, an emergent global form that moreover provides alternative visions in late capitalism to Western modernity and generates new and distinctive social arrangements, cultural discourses, practices, and subjectivities. Perhaps most crucial, new identities are thereby constituted--'new types of flexible personal controls, dispositions and means of orientation, in effect a new kind of habitus' (Featherstone 1990, 8)." pg. 11 "They [diaspora Chinese] face many directions at once--toward China, other Asian countries, and the West--with multiple perspectives on modernities, perspectives often gained at great cost through their passage via itineraries marked by sojourning, absence, nostalgia, and at times exile and loss." pg. 12 "A question we have so far finessed is, In Chinese accumulation strategies, what is being accumulated? Succinctly stated the answer is, capital. But here we imply not Marx's idea that capital has a single form--material wealth--but rather the idea from Bourdieu (1986) that there is a variety of capitals--economic, cultural, symbolic, educational, social, and linguistic. For Bourdieu, such capitals are different, mutually convertible kinds of culturally defined resources that can be converted into personal power, thereby supporting one's life chances or social trajectory (Postone, LiPuma, and Calhoun 1993, 4-5)." pg. 22 "The different publics engendered by modern air travel, satellite communications, and flexible capitalism enable capitalist systems to exploit different forms of labor, and to mix and transfer them across geopolitical spaces." pg. 25 "Transnational publics are forming new Chinese subjectivities that are increasingly independent of place, self-consciously postmodern, and subversive of national regimes of truth." pg. 26 "The connection between former opium farmers and banking shows a significant continuity in the institutions and the personnel involved in them. The opium-farming kongsis were the pioneering financial institutions of the region and led inexorably to the Chinese banking and financial combines of the twentieth century." pg. 74-75 "Indeed, nationalist fears have been fueled by an alternative vision that challenges state control of what constitutes Chinese modernity. This is the trope of 'Greater China' (da Zhonghua), a term coined by overseas economists to describe the increasing economic integration among China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan produced by globalization. The combined foreign currency reserves of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, together with those of China, it is claimed, would place the Chinese bloc way ahead of Japan as Asia's first-rank economic giant (Kotkin 1992, 197). Indeed, Greater China as a zone founded on overseas Chinese capital challenges the modernist project of the Chinese state. Some writers have gone so far as to claim that overseas Chinese, not the nation-state, are 'the mother of China's [economic] revolution' (cited in Chen 1994). While this view may be more popular in the southern provinces, such as Guangdong and Fujian, that have benefited most from overseas Chinese investments, it is strongly rejected by mainland officials, who feel intense tension over capitalism and worry about the erosion of state control." pg. 175-176 "Although the tension remains between wishing to distinguish between the People's Republic of China and overseas Chinese, this insistence on cultural continuity makes Chinese everywhere the same; if they are not part of the mainland society, they are still an extension of China, as civilization (wenhua)." pg. 180 "He has told all his children that they will not inherit any property from him--that their educations represent his capital, benqian, given to them. He has done this in order to avoid the common situation in which the children of a Chinese man with money spend it freely and thoughtlessly, not realizing how hard it had been to earn. 'I earned my money a penny and a penny at a time.'" pg. 211 "The first half of the twentieth century in China saw the emergence of nationalist consciousness and a concern for cultural survival in a colonial context. At the same time, the new nation sought to disengage itself from an older imperial state order and dynastic system. With the strengthening of the Kuomingtang, a new state organization captured and harnessed nationalism to the project of the state. With the Communist revolution in the second half of the century, nation and state became fully coterminus, and the state took charge of all aspects of life. Beginning with Mao's historic talks at the Yan'an Forum on Literature and Art in 1942, all cultural and artistic production was harnessed to the task of state indoctrination and the upholding of party policies. Henceforth, nationalism as a critical discourse became a state discourse (A 1994). The Maoist period can be seen as the full appropriation of nationalism by the state, in which nation and state came to be fully integrated into a single entity." pg. 291 "In this period of transition, the second mode challenges and offers relief from the first; however, this should not prevent us from seeing what Foucault (1980) realized with the early-twentieth-century discourse of sexual liberation: that liberation is always a prelude to a new insertion into another mode of power." pg. 311 "Thus diasporic populations can introduce new or revive older forms of oppression into a nation-state; overseas Chinese investors are able to escape punishment because of their extraterritorial status and investment clout. One should not assume that what is diasporic, fluid, border-crossing, hybrid is intrinsically subversive of power structure. This reminder should not even be necessary: While 'ethnic' diasporas such as those of Chinese or Jews have long been pointed to, the mainstream diaspora of peoples of European descent associated with two centuries of Western imperialism, settlement, and the erection of the racial color bar over two thirds of the surface area of the world's continents has gone unmarked and unnoted (Stavrianos 1991, Du Bois 1962)." pg. 326

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