Red Nostalgia: Commemorating Mao in Our Time

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This essay departs from the figure of exoticism to theorize chinoiserie for the twenty-first century, so we may better address the new realities and forces at work in the context surrounding the (re)creation and redefinition of the “orient.” The paper takes as its focus the cult of posthumous Mao that became fervent in the 1990s and has since the turn of the millennium created a nexus in which global capitalism and “effective authoritarianism” negotiate conflicting interests and, together, create a line of development in their search for a global modernity. I argue that Chinese state capitalism in the twenty-first century took advantage of cultural consumerism made possible by global capital while working upon and with the genealogy of orientalism, of chinoiserie, in the so-called West. I seek to show that the commodity industry of posthumous Mao today witnesses chinoiserie's transformation from a western fantasy into a policed imagination – a chinoiserie with Chinese characteristics. For the first time, perhaps, in the case of “China,” the orient constructs itself, for its own purposes, as the “Orient,” the product of a new chinoiserie that serves the state along the lines of its nationalist and universalizing ambitions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-384
Number of pages14
JournalLiterature Compass
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2015


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