chapter  12
12 Pages

Ma Jian’s Red Dust: Global China and the travelling-self

ByJEFFREY MATHER

Postcolonial theory has taken many directions in China over recent decades, and has increasingly become subject to a number of pressing questions about its relevance and effectiveness. Rey Chow (1997) has expressed scepticism towards the idea of postcolonialism, arguing that its terminology and approach are inappropriate in the context of China and can lead to monolithic understandings of Chinese nationalism. Arif Dirlik (1997) has stressed the influence of global capitalism in China, and the ways in which global trends and transnational flows have challenged us to move beyond postcolonial models and frameworks. Anfeng Sheng (2007) has pointed to the translations and critical misuses of postcolonial theory in China, arguing that while the translation of important postcolonial texts into Chinese has elicited provocative questions about China’s ‘third world’ status or its relationship with the history of Western imperialism, such postcolonial accounts often ignore the history in which the theories themselves were written, and tend to reinforce the binaries of East and West along with essentialist notions of Chinese identity. Ben Xu (1995) has been even more disparaging towards postcolonial theory as it has been used with regard to China, suggesting that critical engagement with the postcolonial, along with other ‘posts’ such as postmodernism and poststructuralism, has – despite the oppositional veneer – been ultimately complicit with the politics of the state, reflecting an inherent conservatism in post-1989 (Tiananmen Square protests) scholarship in China.