Bodies of Difference: Experiences of Disability and Institutional Advocacy in the Making of Modern China

Bodies of Difference: Experiences of Disability and Institutional Advocacy in the Making of Modern China

Bodies of Difference: Experiences of Disability and Institutional Advocacy in the Making of Modern China

Bodies of Difference: Experiences of Disability and Institutional Advocacy in the Making of Modern China

Synopsis

Bodies of Difference chronicles the compelling story of disability's emergence as an area of significant sociopolitical activity in contemporary China. Keenly attentive to how bodies are embedded in discourse, history, and personal exigency, Matthew Kohrman details ways that disability became a fount for the production of institutions and identities across the Chinese landscape during the final decades of the twentieth century. He looks closely at the creation of the China Disabled Persons' Federation and the lives of numerous individuals, among them Deng Pufang, son of China's Communist leader Deng Xiaoping.

Excerpt

In the summer of 1998 I spent a week in Beijing. the highlight of that warm-weather visit was not the anthropological conference I was attending at Beijing University, nor the interview that I conducted with an official from whom I had long sought an audience. the most meaningful aspect of the week, for me, was the lunch I had with a dozen people, mostly men, whom I had befriended in the mid-1990s, when I had conducted the major portion of the research for this book.

One of these friends was Hai Jun. Hai had picked me up at the Beijing Drum Tower subway station, and once we had cleared the tangle of bicycles parked around the tower, we motored for about a mile to our destination, a Shandong restaurant, weaving through back streets filled with sundry vehicles, potholes, and pedestrians. Two years had passed since I had last been in Hai Jun’s city, or upon his motorcycle, and it seemed to me that the few pedestrians who bothered to even look up as we drove past were far less attentive to the sight of us. Have things changed that much in my absence? I wondered. When I had first visited China in the 1980s, my tall, EuroAmerican persona had frequently been the object of significant stares, even in cosmopolitan centers like Beijing. and when Hai had begun giving me rides through the capital city in 1994, many people would gawk at the sight of two men riding on a three-wheeled motorcycle, one of them an obvious polio survivor and the other an obvious foreigner. It was the odd combination of our alterity (sociopolitically mediated otherness) and our bodiliness (sociopolitically mediated body-self) that no doubt had caused many to stop and stare. But on this day in 1998 it seemed to me that we hardly attracted attention at all.

Hai parked in front of the restaurant next to a group of similarly designed motorized tricycles and then he quipped over his shoulder, “Looks . . .

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