Academic journal article Melbourne Journal of Politics

Mapping, Enumeration and Government under Chinese Socialism

Academic journal article Melbourne Journal of Politics

Mapping, Enumeration and Government under Chinese Socialism

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper employs notions of mapping and governmentality to investigate practices of government under Chinese socialism. Projects of enumeration such as the household registration system and the National Census are presented as administrative maps and as technologies of government. Analysed in terms of their cartographic and schematic elements, such maps are shown to hold intimate relationships with the necessities of government under a planned economy. The movement of 'temporary' workers, and the fluid criteria determining 'urban' and 'non urban' status lead us to consider some paradoxical and contradictory elements within a proposed Chinese governmentality.

Introduction

In this paper I outline a number of theoretical arguments, which draw together the peculiarities of a modernist aesthetics of knowledge, practices of mapping and ways of governing. The framework developed is then applied to the context of Chinese socialism. The introductory section gives an analysis of the 'bird's-eye view' as the aesthetic/erotic object of desire within the epistemology of the modernist state. The Foucauldian notion of governmentality is then used to give depth to this analysis by focusing our attention on particular practices of government and particular ways of knowing the population. The second section develops an understanding of mapping and government in the context of socialist China and centralised economic planning. The Chinese National Census is presented as both an administrative map and as a technology of government. The contradictory tendencies towards completeness and exclusion in practices of economic planning lead us to develop a distinction between 'cartographic' and 'schematic' modes of mapping. In the final section I turn to the hukou (household registration system) to investigate two distinct but related phenomena: the fluidity of administrative criteria determining 'urban' and 'non urban' hukou status, and the fluidity of the movement of 'temporary' workers--both of which occur in an administratively ossified population. Analysed in terms of their cartographic and schematic elements, administrative maps of the population are shown to hold intimate relationships with the necessities of government under a planned economy. By pursuing practices of mapping as technologies of government, we are led to consider some paradoxical and contradictory elements within a proposed Chinese governmentality.

Mapping and Modernism

Applied to the notion of government, according to James Scott, the desire for the 'bird's-eye view' epitomises the mentality of 'high-modernism' (1). For the high-modernist, the bird's eye view allows the production of objective and exhaustive knowledge, which in turn prefigures the application of scientific principles to problems of government. The aerial view is hence fetishised as both a political and aesthetic ideal. Describing the view from the top floor of the (former) World Trade Centre in New York, Michel de Certeau writes of the erotics of knowledge that found the 'cartographic desire', the desire which inspires the movement towards this totalising viewpoint:

   It transforms the bewitching world by which one was "possessed"
   into a text that lies before one's eyes. It allows one to read it,
   to be a solar Eye, looking down like a god. The exaltation of a
   scopic and gnostic drive: the fiction of knowledge is related to
   this lust to be a viewpoint and nothing more. (2)

The knowledge inaugurated from this position 'makes the complexity of the city readable, and immobilizes its opaque mobility in a transparent text' (3). It allows one to take in the massive complexity of the city in a single frame. As part of a modernist (4) science of government, the 'aerial view resolved what might have seemed ground-level confusion into an apparently vaster order and symmetry' (5). The project of the modernist state, then, is to create a terrain and population that will be amenable to the operations of the bird's-eye view--to generalised cartographic social maps. …

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