China as Crisis, Spectacle,
On June 4, 1989, after weeks of peaceful demonstrations by Chinese civilians for reform and democracy, the Chinese government sent troops and tanks to massacre hundreds at Beijing's Tiananmen Square. In the following weeks, Chinese armies were ordered to clean up the mess they had created; soldiers became so socially constructive that they cut civilians' hair on the streets of Beijing. Meanwhile, hundreds were arrested and tried, and an unknown number executed. 1
Benedict Anderson (1983, 68), in a footnote in his book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Spread of Nationalism, says: "So, as European imperialism smashed its insouciant way around the globe, other civilizations found themselves traumatically confronted by pluralisms which annihilated their sacred genealogies. The Middle Kingdom's marginalization to the Far East is emblematic of this process." The fact of China's marginalization in the twentieth-century world is obvious; it is a marginalization that makes us think of it as the "other country." 2 However, Anderson's remarks contain another, equally important point, if only in passing, in the word traumatically. The trauma faced by Chinese people in the whole process of "modernization" has yet to be properly understood. The Tiananmen incident confronts us with this fact.
The first point about this trauma is the futility of intellectual discourse at the moment of shock. There is nothing subtle, nothing reflexive, about
This essay is drawn, in part, from Woman and Chinese Modernity: The Politics of Reading Between West and East, by Rey Chow (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991).