Executive Session - Oral Presentation
Reviewed by: Society for East Asian Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Resistance
Secondary Theme: Citizenship
Chinese President Xi Jinping has made the pursuit of the “Chinese Dream” a key organizing principle of the Communist Party. While the goals of national rejuvenation and building a prosperous society often linked to this Chinese dream are not in themselves new ambitions, Xi’s evocative slogan has provoked much discussion over who is dreaming, as well as the content and the significance of these dreams.
Our panel takes up the newfound centrality of “dream” in the Chinese Community Party’s political rhetoric to engage in a broader discussion about imagination and resistance in contemporary Chinese society. We propose that tensions in the way in which “Chinese dreams” come to be articulated within and through opposition to state-sanctioned imaginations offer an opportunity to explore competing visions of individual and collective life in China today.
This topic invites a variety of analytic strategies. The Chinese dream might be approached as a political technology intimately tied to the state’s governing project. From this perspective, affective images of existing and non-existing objects evoked in state efforts to promote the “Chinese dream” might be explored as modes of governance designed to elicit particular behaviors and dispositions. The proliferation of unrealizable individual dreams in the wake of this national effort might be interpreted as unhealthy attachments that Lauren Berlant refers to as “cruel optimism.”
Discussion of the “Chinese dream” might also attend to imaginaries that develop in opposition to or attempt to subvert state visions of a shared national community. The circulation of state-sanctioned imaginaries creates fissures and new points of collaboration within and between variously situated actors. The move to pluralize Xi’s dream could be seen as nourishing incipient forms of political resistance. Psychic manifestations of resistance to the Chinese dream might also be explored by attending to the tensions, ambivalences and blockages appearing in Chinese citizens’ everyday lives.
This panel brings together research from a variety of field sites to explore the impact of Xi’s Chinese dream. We attend to the postpartum distress experienced by mothers in Sichuan awaiting their second child, entrepreneurial dreams of young migrant workers in Shanghai, and diverging ideas about the deployment of “psychological science” expressed by psy experts and clients in Kunming. We also explore imaginations offering social and political critiques the “Chinese dream” manifested through the hallucinations of people with schizophrenia, idioms of distress and resilience among rural migrants, the practices of Han Chinese who turn to Tibetan Buddhism to combat widespread cynicism, and debates about the politics of healthy dreaming among long-term recovering heroin users in southern Yunnan. Our panel’s discussion of dreams in contemporary China engages rich ongoing conversations related to state power, the psychoboom, production of subjectivity, and anthropological studies of imagination.