Society and Identity
This panel offers critical reflections on existing and emerging forms of cultural politics in contemporary China through the analytical lens of identity, class, power and governance. Locating cultural politics in the realm of the everyday, papers in this panel seek to unpack the socio-economic processes in which both material and non-material products are packaged, promoted, and consumed by Chinese citizens in both rural and urban locations. This panel pays attention to culture and governance in contemporary China as well as their innate connections through power. In particular, this panel seeks to understand how cultural as well as political commodities are produced through deliberate packaging – a myth-making craft of branding and profit-making central to various market practices – that targets different classes of consumers and citizens. Encompassing a new range of experiences and services that are not material products in the conventional sense, packaging culture and politics in this contemporary economy requires tapping into the needs, desires, and emotions of particular groups of people. These needs and desires indicate the growing disparity of the rural and the urban in terms of lifestyle and pleasure, governance and partnerships.
Drawing on ethnographic research in Guangdong, Guizhou, Anhui, and Sichuan in China, papers in this panel illustrates a gradation of immateriality-materiality being packaged for consumption and governance -- from “superstitious” beliefs, to handicraft skills and cultural experiences, from unhealthy snacks and fast food to the everyday operations of NGOs. Our case studies show how intangible aspects of culture such as fengshui and minority tradition can be branded as art and heritage for middle-class and tourist consumption, how packaged convenience food as a tangible product becomes a dietary staple for left-behind children of migrant parents, and how Chinese NGOs become strategic partners of the state through innovative approaches. This panel thus addresses larger issues of social disparity, class, and governance in the context of China’s changing social and economic realities. The cultural politics of fengshui, minority tradition, fast food, and NGO work in rural and urban China reveals the specific process of packaging at work, one that reproduces the dominant economic and social order in China today, which at the same time also opens up new spaces for the articulation of citizenship and participation.