Day Ten: Attempts at hybridising understandings of cultural theory - The China Chronicles

By Deena Dajani · 13 June 2013

On the first full day of our exchange programme, our hope was to be able to overcome conceptual dead ends through thinking together. Divided in small groups with Chinese researchers, we transformed the day into an experiment of hybridising our understanding of cultural theory. Translation had its limits. Language prevents communication as much as it promotes it. Concepts transgressing the limits of translatability were staged together in the creation of a fragmentary play. Those fragments carry the fruits of our personal and cultural exchanges.

We discussed many issues and clarified unfamiliar concepts. They patiently explained the current Chinese household registration system, positive discrimination for minority ethnic groups and how people upload information regarding corrupt officials on social networking sites (this public accusation is frighteningly called 'human flesh').  A very interesting research project at Sun Yat-Sen University looks into the circumstances faced by migrant workers in Chinese cities. An immense amount of information is being collected about their economic situation, relationships to their hometowns and families, as well as their work place. Given the importance and urgency of this topic it will be useful to learn more about the economic, social and political struggles of migrant workers.
What fascinated us was the scale of China's social and political experiments, and the fact that these experiments are the combination of modern communist ideology and the 'traditional' systems that lasted for several thousands years. China's experiments continue on a monumental scale a, as befits a civilisation-state with deeps, distinct and intertwined intellectual roots.
Chi'i (also spelled Chi or Qi) is a fundamental concept in Chinese philosophy and culture. Found in Chinese traditional religion but especially Taoism, Ch'i literally means "air" or "breath", but as a concept it refers to the energy flow or life force that is said to pervade all things.  Today, we discussed protest; how people throughout the world, in every city, in every continent, stand in the streets and express outrage, joy, demands.  We are so used to thinking of life in the Western secular world in a language of economy.  One "Invests" in something, in others, in an idea.  One "gains" or "loses" and protests accordingly.   
We learned today, briefly and partially, about how ideas of energy, breath, and life, infuse protest in China.  The flows of energy that enter and exit the body are not divorced from the flows of energy that inform the social space and political sphere. If you feel anger, emotion, a flow of energy through your body, you have to release it.  The need for collective protest is informed less by immediate causes and gains and more by a collective need to release emotion and outrage.  To protest, to release ones energy, is as basic as breathing and just as necessary.  To hold anger in the body is bad for oneself and the universe.  So people will cry out in the streets.  Peasants, farmers, women, working people.  It is an ancient philosophical tradition that one cannot understand in one day, one week, one month.  And yet, somehow, it feels like a breath of fresh air, of hope.

- The Oecumene Team, 11 June 2013

About the author

  • Deena Dajani

    Research Associate
    Deena Dajani
    The Open University
    My research project experiments with Arabic oral and dramatic traditions as forms of subjugated knowledges and sites of political disputation. This experimentation navigates beyond interest in Arabic... Read more

Oecumene: Citizenship after Orientalism is funded by an European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant (Institutions, values, beliefs and behaviour ERC-AG-SH2).

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