In the Western media, stories about China seem to fall into one of two categories: China’s astounding economic development or its human rights abuses. As human rights discourses follow increasingly hegemonic conventions, especially with regard to China, many of their key assumptions remain unexamined. This special issue—the second in a two-part series beginning with “Cosmologies of the Human”—critically investigates the relationship between China and the human as it plays out in law, politics, biopolitics, political economy, labor, medicine, and culture. The contributors interrogate the evolving meanings of “China” and “the human,” both inside China and internationally.
The issue tracks the ways in which global discourses treat China—still officially socialist—as similar to, different from, and alternative to Western capitalist modernities. Several essays probe the modern theoretical underpinnings of human rights abuses in China, including a crucial distinction between “the human” and “the people.” Others review the impact of Maoism on Marxist debates in China and in the West, as well as the specific influences of Mao’s writings on French politics and theory in the 1960s. A visual dossier compares eight contemporary Chinese artists, directors, and public image-makers in order to discuss the figure of the human from Tiananmen Square to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. While many contributors discuss China and the West comparatively, the issue interrogates the universalizing claims of both Western and Chinese norms of the human by privileging the local, particular, and eccentric.
Contributors: Ackbar Abbas, Michael Dutton, David L. Eng, Doug Howland, Petrus Liu, Camille Robcis, Teemu Ruskola, Shuang Shen, Shu-mei Shih, Wang Xiaoming
David L. Eng is Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy and Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America, both also published by Duke University Press. Teemu Ruskola is Professor of Law at Emory University and Visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown University (2011–12). Shuang Shen is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Chinese at Pennsylvania State University.