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New Left Review I/237, September-October 1999


Xudong Zhang

Postmodernism and Post-Socialist Society: Cultural Politics in China After the ‘New Era‘

Enthusiasts for Chinese postmodernism are nowadays put on the defensive by those who dismiss the issue as a Chinese problematic, or resist postmodernism in general. [*] The article as it appears here is an abbreviated version of a longer essay under the same title. The full text will appear in Postmodernism and China, co-edited by Arif Dirlik and Xudong Zhang, Duke University Press, Durham 2000. The author wishes to thank Arif Dirlik, Fredric Jameson, Harry Harootunian, Peter Osborne, Madeleine Y. Dong, Rebecca Karl, Zhiyuan Cui, and Elizabeth Perry for their comments. However, it is often neglected that, at a pedestrian, journalistic level, it has never been too difficult to identify and inventory postmodern(ist) works in arts or theoretical discourse in China today by mechanically using the standards established in Western critical and theoretical discourses. Nor has it been hard to describe radical paradigmatic shifts and profound socio-cultural ruptures in the past two decades, as sweeping changes in post-Mao China are virtually the norm. To avoid the unproductive effort of qualification and justification, I would like to begin by making a simple distinction between ‘postmodernism in China’ and ‘Chinese postmodernism‘. The conceptual separation between the two interrelated and sometimes confused categories may highlight the gap between an international cultural and discursive fashion and the Chinese reality; it can also reveal the theoretical hinge between a nameless reality and the system of naming which connects uneven and often discontinuous historical times and spaces.

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