Rethinking Modernity: Space and Factory Discipline in China

Essay Excerpt

The search for the modern is the zeitgeist, if there is one, of China’s recent period of economic reform (1978-89). This is but an intensification of a process that has marked at least the entire 20th century in China.  One of the most telling ways to examine this process is through changing representations of urban space.  Spatial relations, as cultural, political, and economic practices, have featured prominently in discussions of modernity (Davis 1990; Harvey 1989; Holston 1989; Rabinow 1989).  Urban design is, arguably, the epitome of modernity (Rabinow 1988:361).  How can we evaluate this project in China?  As the Chinese party-state rather self-consciously claims to be borrowing at least selected Western practices, can we therefore conclude that modernity there is like that described for “the West”?  Most important, do various people’s struggles with modernity in China present a confirmation of, or a challenge to, recent discussions in the United States and Europe that have been rethinking this category?  In what follows, I argue that hegemonic transnational flows of commodities and values create a powerful discourse on modernity spreading out of the West, but we must nonetheless remain wary of creating unified readings out of local Euro-American practices and allowing those to overpower interpretations elsewhere. (93)

Rofel, Lisa. "Rethinking Modernity: Space and Factory Discipline in China." Cultural Anthropology 7, no. 1 (1992): 93-114

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