Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Post/feminist Impulses: Neoliberal Ideology and Class Politics in Annie Wang's the People's Republic of Desire (2006)

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Post/feminist Impulses: Neoliberal Ideology and Class Politics in Annie Wang's the People's Republic of Desire (2006)

Article excerpt

A transnational Chinese women writer, Annie Wang hails from a middle-class background and possesses "flexible citizenship" and global mobility (Ong, 1999:6). As Arif Dirlik underscores, the rise of global capitalism is attended by the rise of a "transnational capitalist class," which is responsible for the management of global "institutional, legal, and cultural" sectors (2006:167). This transnational class includes social groups such as "third world" intellectuals and cultural producers in a postcolonial context (Dirlik, 1997: 155). As a transnational professional, Wang had working experience in "high-tech companies" in Silicon Valley, The Washington Post's bureau in Beijing and the US Department of State (Washington Post, 2016). Insofar as she names herself "a bobo, a bourgeois bohemian," Wang is of a privileged class that benefits from the globalization of capital (Vongs, 2006), and growing up among "the higher echelons" of China, she had friends from the government elite (Crampton, 2001). With a liberal father who was a senior journalist, Wang regards herself and her two sisters, identified as "the Chinese Bronte sisters," as intellectuals who relish "high culture and non-commercial art" (Kim, 2012). In interviews, Wang fashioned an image of her younger self as a bourgeoisie bad girl, "a misfit in China" who was "too independent-thinking and opinionated" (Random House, 2012). Deemed by her Beijing neighbours as "too wild, too direct, too rebellious, too uncouth," the writer did not act "the Chinese way" nor possess "the good traditional manners expected of a Chinese girl" (ibid). A bourgeois rebel in a reticent Chinese society, Wang the "outcast" "naturally [felt] closer to Western culture:"

   In early 1980s when most Chinese had never heard of the Swan songs,
   or the Nutcracker, my father took me and my sisters to see ballet,
   modern dance by foreign troupes, opera. I was totally fascinated
   with the bourgeois. I became more familiar with Beatles songs than
   revolutionary songs. Our idols were James Bond and John Lennon
   instead of Chinese revolutionary martyrs Dong Cuirui or Lei Feng. I
   traded newly available translations of On the Road, The Birth of
   Tragedy, [The] Catcher in the Rye, and The Diary of Anne Frank, and
   Michael Jackson and Madonna tapes with my friends. My dream was to
   get a college degree from a famous American school (ibid)

Wang's childhood fascination with the bourgeois and the West lured her into the University of California, Berkeley, (2) thus fulfilling her American dream (Washington Post, 2016). This authorial narrative about the Chinese middle-class and its access to global and Western culture reverberates with those of the heroines in The People 's Republic of Desire.

Identifying herself as a "women's rights activist" alongside other descriptors, Wang is not equivocal about her political sympathy for women (Chinese Culture Net, 2016). This avowed interest in feminism echoes that of her father who, according to Wang, was "on the vanguard of the feminist movement" in the early Chinese reform era (ibid). Remarkably, Wang's authorial positioning calls forth the controversial group of post-seventies Chinese female writers such as Wei Hui and Mian Mian who go by various appellations: "beauty writers," "glam lit writers" and "bad-girl writers" (Yang, 2011: 2; Chan, 2010: 53). On the one hand, their portrayal of exuberant female sexuality in consumerist urban spaces seemed to initiate a unique brand of post-Mao Chinese feminism through a sexual revolution that set the Chinese and global literary markets astir in the 1990s. On the other hand, their espousal of sexual agency and individual choice in a class-based neoliberal rhetoric chimes with postfeminist ideology in Euro-America. As Sheldon H. Lu holds, the phenomenon of "beauty writers" constitutes not only the "politics of liberation and excess" in post-socialist China, but also the "logic of cultural commercialization" in a global capitalist milieu (2007:54). …

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