2014年7月12日星期六

Leftist Projects and Subaltern Silence | 碧山计划

A lively and important discussion started by Harvard sociology PhD Ms. Zhou Yun critique of the Bishan Jihua (碧山计划) has come to my attention. The Bishan program's initiator Ou Ning (​欧宁) is a rather big name as an art curator and intellectual. Based on what the discussions, it is Ou Ning’s effort to revitalize the village and help them become livelier through civil society. Specific goals elude me as well as the online discussion, but Ou Ning's vision of the ideal village (Bishan) focuses more on the cultural aspect of the locality than the model CCP village development program would. As a result of the program, Bishan village now has a bookstore, a hip bar, and reoccurring cultural + crafts festivals. (The one time I met esteemed sociologist Dr. Yu Jianrong  于建嵘 at a discussion about NGOs, he talked very enthusiastically about his own version of Bishan in Guizhou’s 黔西南).


Bishan Bookstore (碧山书局)
Photo Credits: Ou Ning

Zhou Yun makes some very good points about how the liberal-elite discourse perpetuates the inequality between rural (farmers) and urban elites. She also points that while tourism seems to commodify the rural areas, many residents in rural areas like Bishan with rich cultural endowment would prefer tourism. But I also share the concern of some of the comments below that think 1) she is thinking ahead of herself--if the arrangement of capital doesn't change and farmer continue to be “at the bottom of the economic food chain,” analyzing discourse may not be the best recourse. 2) She is exaggerating the lack of consensus between the locals and Ou Ning based on some impressions. (I would presume that Ou Ning would know more about villages than a hypothetical foreign NGO, such as depicted in Passage to Manhood: Youth Migration, Heroin, and AIDS in Southwest China.) Even if some Bishan residents have no opinion regarding Ou Ning's ambition, she does not acknowledge the existence of local supporters.

One of the sobering comments below (emphasis added):

"Of course, capital and power might destroy the village cultural and ecosystem. But before capital has even reached the village, if one starts to worry about whether [a project] is 'elitist' or 'nativist,' it seems to be akin to worrying about whether the sky will fall. 
Dr. Fei (Hsiao-tung)'s Peasant Life in China: A Field Study of Country Life in the Yangtze Valley still has much relevance today. Because even after one hundred years (since he wrote it), China still is a maiban country: foreigners print money to exploit the (Chinese) city, the city exploits the rural villages, the villages exploit the environment, and the environment cannot speak so it can only be exploited (without question). Right now the question is how to empower the two weakest in along the food chain--the village and environment. There are many ways in regards to how to empower them, and some forms are terrible indeed if viewed from certain angles."
“诚然,资本和权力可能对乡村文化生态可能会带来毁灭性的影响。但在资本没有到位之前,就开始焦虑精英主义还是自然主义,岂不杞人忧天。  费老的《江村经济》在今天依然有现实意义,正是因为一百年后的中国今天依然是买办大国,洋人印钞抢城市,城市抢乡村,乡村抢环境,环境不会说话, 只有被抢。当下如何反哺处于权力链条上最底端的乡村和环境才是重点。如何反哺当然会有各种形式,有些形式可能从某个角度来看可以说是极为糟糕。” 
The larger question presented here is--if the Chinese government does allow for more organizing from the bottom-up (here, “bottom” includes elites such as Ou Ning), are the locals and the public open to leftist / utopian projects such as the the Bishan Jihua? Ou Ning definitely sees a possibility. Then again, I would anticipate a Marxist response being that the rural areas will still have to rely to some extent on consumers from the urban areas, which clearly does not shield them from capitalism (I recall a U-Madison graduate student's point about certain Laos rubber plants’ different modes of production seem to provide good alternatives for their lives, but from a Marxist perspective they still have to function under the same global capitalist system and respond to the global rubber price).  Still, a cultural revival of the rural areas in the popular imagination will definitely benefit the image and subsequently the material conditions of some villages.

It’s also interesting how many participants in this discussion accept the de facto “nongcun” (rural) v. “chengshi” (urban) dual categorizations for people. Politically, these categories are designated by the government; 
culturally many discussion participants also  distinguish between the two, with the urban is "modernized," while the rural is the "backward" or "marginalized." In reality I think 1) a significant amount of people fall between the two, such as the migrant hair stylists of Fujian or college students with rural backgrounds / hukous, both types which successfully emulate urban sensibilities. 2) There are many different kinds of vested interests and cultural identity within the “urban” or “rural.” 3) The Urban v. Rural category carries both feudal and modern weights, since the hukou system extends beyond the CCP but has been reemphasized and evolved since the CCP. 4) Ethnic minorities would complicate the dualistic picture. I wonder if Zhou Yun would maintain a similar stance regarding the lack of subaltern voices if she were writing about a village in Xinjiang or Tibet. 

All in all, I am glad that this discussion is open and receiving media attention; it seems that at least some Chinese netizens are willing to imagine a more bottom-up approach and aware of leftist projects such as the Bishan Jihua