Research Programs: Summer Stipends

Period of Performance

7/1/2014 - 8/31/2014

Funding Totals

$6,000.00 (approved)
$6,000.00 (awarded)

Totalitarian Power and Rising Capitalism in Recent Chinese Fiction

FAIN: FT-61611-14

Belinda Wai Chu Kong
Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME 04011-8447)

My project examines a recurrent trend in recent Chinese fiction: a spotlight on the body as a new vital site of political control and state profit. I argue that these "biocapitalist fictions" -- which probe the growing entanglement of the communist state's governance of bodily life with its capitalist goals -- directly challenge perceptions of a globalizing China as ever more liberal, where citizens are ever more free to exercise bodily integrity. While social scientists have long argued for the significance of China's modes of life governance, such theoretical work remains scant in literary scholarship, despite the proliferation of novels engaging with these issues. My project demonstrates how, against images of China's increasing liberalization, contemporary writers insist on the endurance and even expansion of totalitarianism in the era of Chinese capital, calling for renewed attention to totalitarian state power as it capitalizes on biological life itself.

Associated Products

Xiaolu Guo and the Contemporary Chinese Anglophone Novel (Book Section)
Title: Xiaolu Guo and the Contemporary Chinese Anglophone Novel
Author: Belinda Kong
Editor: Carlos Rojas and Andrea Bachner
Abstract: This essay examines Xiaolu Guo as a paradigmatic writer of geopolitics, biopolitics, and capitalism in contemporary Chinese Anglophone fiction. The essay first focuses on A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers to rethink models of the Anglophone. Against utopian conceptions of English as a privileged language of heterogeneity or hybridity, Dictionary is analyzed in terms of biocapital and geopolitics, as a narrative of the Chinese migrant’s absorption into the Anglophone publishing industry and the Anglophone empire. The essay then analyzes UFO in Her Eyes as representative of a recent turn in Chinese fiction toward issues of biocapital, the increasing entanglement of the communist state’s regulation of bodies with its capitalist goals. Unique among biocapitalist fiction, however, UFO further situates contemporary China in a global post-9/11 context of state surveillance and defense security. Guo’s novels, then, offer a distinctly instructive framework for comparative biopolitics, biocapital, and the global security state.
Year: 2016
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Oxford Handbooks Online: ebook available via subscription
Access Model: Subscription only
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Book Title: The Oxford Handbook of Modern Chinese Literatures
ISBN: 9780199383313

The Pandemic Planet: Disease Discourse, Biosecurity States, and Contemporary Biopower (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: The Pandemic Planet: Disease Discourse, Biosecurity States, and Contemporary Biopower
Author: Belinda Kong
Abstract: One of the prevailing truisms of globalization is that we live in an era of pandemic threats, of rapid travel and dangerous proximity that facilitate the adaptation, spread, and (re)emergence of infectious diseases, and that consequently we need robust systems of disease surveillance to protect public health and even species life. As international news outlets and supranational health organizations such as WHO repeatedly warn us, we are one viral mutation away from the end of the world as we know it. If Foucault’s chapter on “Panopticism” opened with a description of the plague-stricken town, in the new millennium, the most potent and haunting icon of disease is not the afflicted city or the epidemic nation but the pandemic planet. In recent years, however, a range of critics have flipped the causal chain of this story to emphasize the ways the biosecurity state underlies and produces this contemporary imagining of global contagion. My paper will discuss several of these arguments and their implications for the thinking of power: science historian Nicholas King’s “emerging diseases worldview,” sociologist Melinda Cooper’s “preemption,” and philosopher Brian Massumi’s “ontopower.” Infectious disease discourse in the broad sense, then, encompassing not just state rhetoric but that of health organizations and the media as much as literary and scholarly writing, offers a key site for reexamining and extending models of biopower in our time.
Date: 03/19/2016
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: ACLA 2016 conference program
Conference Name: American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) Annual Conference, Seminar on "The New Security State: Surveillance, Counter-Surveillance, and Strategies of Resistance"

The New Security State: Surveillance, Counter-Surveillance, and Strategies of Resistance (Conference/Institute/Seminar)
Title: The New Security State: Surveillance, Counter-Surveillance, and Strategies of Resistance
Author: Belinda Kong and Carlos Rojas (seminar co-chairs)
Abstract: Literature has long been closely imbricated with practices of surveillance. Not only does literary production necessarily rely on practices of observation (either at the level of the individual or a broader collectives, as with the close synergy between the rise of the modern novel and Western imperial projects), literature itself has often been the object of close scrutiny by the state and other corporate entities. In this respect, literary representation anticipates—and is symptomatic of—a broader array of technologically-based surveillance practices that have emerged in the modern period. As technological advances continue to enhance the ability of states and corporations to surveil the public, even as the public is also increasingly able to deploy similar technologies to its own ends—including efforts to surveil the operation of the surveillance apparatus itself. This latter practice of counter-surveillance is particularly evident in the ways that citizen videos (and the public circulation of videos originally produced by the state) have helped precipitate a national debate in the US over police brutality, but it also has much broader ramifications. Our panel will examine some of the implications of these developments as they pertain to the new security state. We are interested not only in how issues of surveillance and counter-surveillance are addressed in literary works, but also how some of the discourses and visual archives generated by these surveillance practices may be approached as virtual literary works in their own right. Potential topics include examinations of state censorship regimes, social media and practices of collective authorship, surveillance video and found footage as a form of textual production, digital archives and shifting loci of identity, practices of exhibitionism and impersonation, selfies and confessional discourses, as well as advances in wearable technologies and cybernetic states.
Date Range: March 18-20, 2016
Location: Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: ACLA 2016 conference program

Totalitarian Ordinariness: The Chinese Epidemic Novel as World Literature (Article)
Title: Totalitarian Ordinariness: The Chinese Epidemic Novel as World Literature
Author: Belinda Kong
Abstract: This paper reads Hu Fayun’s 2006 novel Ruyan@sars.come in order to articulate the concept of totalitarian ordinariness. This concept, I argue, can usefully disrupt two persistent western tropes of “the world” in the new millennium: (1) totalitarianism as a relentlessly nightmarish state of crisis, one that belongs to the political other (such as communist China) but remains a threat to be kept at bay, and (2) pandemics as an inescapable reality in the age of globalization, one whose potential scope is exacerbated by exotic third-world cultural practices and recalcitrant undemocratic states, what I call pandemic orientalism. Both discourses offer an alarming vision of the contemporary world, defined by geopolitical or microbial dangers arising from or magnified by the non-West, and in 2003, they converged on China during the SARS outbreak. These discourses, however, rarely consider writings from the imagined locales of crisis, and when they do, they tend to zero in on authors, texts, or textual moments that reinforce prevailing tropes (the Anglophone marketing around Yan Lianke’s Dream of Ding Village being one prime example). Ruyan@sars.come, offering another model of the Chinese epidemic novel, is organized around not just an explicit censure of the communist government’s handling of the SARS outbreak but also an emphasis on the everyday and mundane, including a central plotline on middle-aged romance. Hu’s is thus at once a trenchant political novel and a sentimental romance, interweaving a direct critique of totalitarian power with a narrative of life’s ordinariness at the height of an epidemic.
Year: 2018
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Article is forthcoming in the journal's next theme issue on "Chinese Literature as World Literature"
Access Model: Subscription only
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Modern Chinese Literature and Culture
Publisher: Ohio State University

SARS, Hong Kong Cinema, and Epidemic Camp (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: SARS, Hong Kong Cinema, and Epidemic Camp
Author: Belinda Kong
Abstract: Priscilla Ward has suggested that, in the post-HIV world, a set of tropes have emerged in both scientific and cultural accounts of infectious diseases, constituting what she calls an “outbreak narrative.” One common feature of this narrative is a “geography of disease” in which “timeless, brooding Africa or Asia” serves as “the birthplace of humanity, civilization, and deadly microbes.” While Ward’s archive is largely western, this paper examines a work of outbreak narrative from one Asian site at the height of an epidemic -- the lowbrow Hong Kong film CITY OF SARS. Produced and released in the summer of 2003, while SARS was still spreading throughout the world and the WHO travel advisory on Hong Kong had not yet been lifted, this movie is decidedly local in its address. Drawing on a host of locally well-known television actors and entertainment personalities (rather than the handful of arthouse movie stars who have international renown) and split into three independent storylines about how ordinary people deal with the outbreak, the film mobilizes several popular genres familiar to local viewers: the hospital drama, the sentimental adolescent romance, and farce. The last segment especially offers an innovative form of what I call epidemic camp. On the local level, the movie’s generic storylines can be read as providing a sense of normality and continuity, even banality, amid a time of crisis for the city. On the global level, they can be invoked to disrupt the logic of contemporary western outbreak narratives, particularly what I have called pandemic orientalism elsewhere. Critical attention to self-representations at those epidemic sites can generate a powerful counterdiscourse to the ongoing rhetoric of global health security in our time.
Date: 03/14/2018
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Conference program
Conference Name: Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) Annual Conference

Fleshing Out the Future: Speculative Fictions of China’s Biocapitalism in Chan Koonchung’s The Fat Years and Xiaolu Guo’s UFO in Her Eyes (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Fleshing Out the Future: Speculative Fictions of China’s Biocapitalism in Chan Koonchung’s The Fat Years and Xiaolu Guo’s UFO in Her Eyes
Author: Belinda Kong
Abstract: In post-millennial Chinese literature, we find a recurrent and acute concern with the body in capital—a genre I will call biocapitalist fiction. This preoccupation with China’s new biopolitical regimes cuts across national and linguistic boundaries, uniting mainland and diasporic as well as Sinophone and Anglophone writers. Against the utopian rhetoric of Chinese capitalism as post-socialist freedom, contemporary writers insistently spotlight authoritarian capital’s predation on the body as a vehicle for state profit. Diasporic authors such as Yan Geling, Yiyun Li, and Ma Jian, for instance, have carried forward the themes of biocapitalist cannibalism and reproductive control in earlier mainland works by Mo Yan and Wang Shuo, all of them sharing a dystopic hyperrealism of the present. More rarely tackled yet equally provocative is the fate of future Chinese bodies. My paper will examine two recent works that address this issue: Chan Koonchung’s The Fat Years and Xiaolu Guo’s UFO in Her Eyes. Published in 2009, the former in Chinese and the latter in English, both novels forecast near-future Chinas, the first of global economic dominance and the second of rapid rural commercialization. In contrast to other biocapitalist fictions, however, Chan’s and Guo’s texts raise the question: what kind of political order comes into being and what becomes of embodied life itself when the target of state biopower is no longer an isolated subject or specific social identity—such as the political dissident, the star athlete, the male baby, or the reproductive mother—but simply the generic citizen, every citizen?
Date: 03/29/2014
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: AAS 2014 Conference paper info
Conference Name: Association for Asian Studies (AAS) Annual Conference

Asian Biocapitals (Conference/Institute/Seminar)
Title: Asian Biocapitals
Author: Belinda Kong (seminar chair)
Abstract: The image of rising Asia as a new economic power has by now become a global commonplace, and Asian as well as Asian diasporic writers—from Mohsin Hamid to Tash Aw, Kyung-Sook Shin to Yu Hua—have variously depicted Asian modes of capitalism. Of particular prominence in recent literature is a spotlight on the body in this era of Asian capital. Narratives of cannibalism, organ harvesting, agribusiness, and epidemics abound. Indeed, social scientists have for over a decade called attention to the distinctive ways capitalism intersects with biopolitics in Asia, in such areas as biotechnology and genomics, the organ trade and human trafficking, population control and family planning policies, as well as transformations of bodily life more generally in capitalizing countries. This panel invites papers that explore the theme of “biocapitalism” in contemporary Asian fiction broadly defined, Anglophone or otherwise.
Date Range: March 21-22, 2014
Location: New York University, New York, NY
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: ACLA 2014 Conference program

Theorizing Biocapital: Why Asia? Why Literature? (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Theorizing Biocapital: Why Asia? Why Literature?
Author: Belinda Kong
Abstract: The past decade has marked the emergence and spread of biocapital scholarship—analyses of biopower in relation to capitalism. This theoretical approach has been cross-disciplinary but particularly alive in the social sciences, as anthropologists and sociologists examine the power relations and capitalist dynamics of such areas as the life sciences (Franklin and Lock), biomedicine (Rose), genomics (Sunder Rajan), biotechnology (Ong and Chen), and state governance (Greenhalgh), among others. So, while the term biopower originated with Foucault in reference to Western contexts, it is now deployed as a broader research method by many social scientists in probing present capitalist milieus. In particular, many scholars focus on Asia as a major force in current technologies and sciences of life—in effect, as the site where much of our contemporary understanding of life’s boundaries get defined. This paper traces the most prominent scholarship on biocapitalism in recent years. In addition, it proposes the relevance and fruitfulness of biocapital as a theoretical framework for reading contemporary Asian fiction, with special attention to post-Tiananmen Chinese and Chinese diaspora fiction.
Date: 03/21/2014
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: ACLA 2014 conference program
Conference Name: American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) Annual Conference

Anglophone Chinese Literature: The Case of Xiaolu Guo (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Anglophone Chinese Literature: The Case of Xiaolu Guo
Author: Belinda Kong
Abstract: I use Xiaolu Guo’s novel UFO IN HER EYES not only as a case study for biocapitalist fictions but also as a conceptual entry point into the broader question of how Anglophone texts can be read alongside Sinophone ones and how they together constitute one strand of contemporary Chinese literature. At the most basic level, this analysis opposes models of linguistic or national essentialism. To some extent, my analysis still relies on writers’ shared ethnic identity for the category of “Chinese” literature, but recent scholarship on comparative ethnicity within a transnational framework should help complicate this seemingly straightforward reading. Ultimately, I am interested in how Chinese biocapitalist fictions represent one of the most prominent specimens of the totalitarian dystopia genre in world literature today, and by extension, how this genre actively shapes global discourses on Chinese power. What counts as “Chinese literature,” then, is not simply the ethnic identity of the author or the thematic content of the narrative, but also this discursive function of the text within a contemporary global cultural economy.
Date: 04/03/2014
Conference Name: Duke Workshop on "Remapping a Discipline: Modern Chinese Literary Literatures Conference" (by invitation only)