Sky River: Promethean Dreams of Optimising the Atmosphere

In the summer of 2022, China’s Yangtze River Basin suffered a record-breaking drought and heatwave caused by anthropogenic climate change, which damaged crops, caused electricity shortages and industrial shutdowns, and led to scarcity in drinking water supplies. Of course, water paucity is not new to China, given that the country has 18.5 per cent of […]

Peasant Worker Communist Spy: A Chinese Intelligence Agent Looks Back at His Time in Cambodia

This essay examines the nostalgic reflections of Sino-Khmer journalist turned Chinese Communist Party (CCP) intelligence agent Vita Chieu (周德高, 1932–2020) on his time working for the CCP and the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh. The essay engages with Chieu’s memoir exegetically to underscore his activities as an intelligence agent and highlight how he reflected nostalgically about working for the CCP even decades after resigning from the party and renouncing communism.

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Mainlanders’ Nostalgic Writing in Taiwan: Memory, Identification, and Politics

After the Kuomintang was defeated by the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, about 1.5 million people followed the Nationalist government to Taiwan. This marked the beginning of four decades of social separation across the Taiwan Strait, in a political standoff that lasts to this day. Over the years, civil war exiles in Taiwan produced much nostalgic writing. This essay examines the evolution of these texts from the 1950s to the 2010s, exploring the authors’ narratives of China in relation to the concept of ‘homeland’.

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‘The Mine Was Our Home’: Narrativising Nostalgia between Socialist and Post-Socialist Mining Zones

At a Chinese-owned fluorspar mine in Mongolia, one group of workers stood out from the rest. Their life stories—often narrated with a tinge of nostalgia for home and a golden age of industrial labour—were closely intertwined with fluorspar. Joining them on an annual trip from their workplace to their once fluorspar-rich hometown in Jiangxi Province […]

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Ambivalent Nostalgia: Commemorating Zhiqing in the Jianchuan Museum Complex

Zhiqing, an abbreviation for zhishi qingnian (‘educated youth’), refers to the nearly 18 million urban young people, most with elementary to high-school education, whom the Chinese Communist Party sent to live and work in China’s rural areas between 1968 and 1980. Since the early 1990s, official and unofficial museum commemorations of the zhiqing generation have articulated a pervasive nostalgia marked by narratives of a ‘zhiqing spirit’ that celebrate qualities of perseverance, patriotism, and self-sacrifice. This essay examines the Museum of Zhiqing Lives in the Jianchuan Museum Complex, China’s most high-profile private museum project and home to the largest collection of Maoist artefacts.

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Johnnie Got His Gun, While Liang Took Up the Plough: Nostalgia in the United States and China, Then and Now

This essay examines the nostalgic pragmatism of the reformer and Confucian philosopher Liang Shuming (1893–1988). Liang’s responses to the social and economic dislocations of the early Republican era, including a series of concrete steps to ameliorate them, are surprisingly relevant to the spiralling cycles of racism and violence afflicting US society in the twenty-first century. His diagnosis of the harms of industrial society and prescription for restoring the moral as well as physical health of rural populations remain valid both for China and for the United States—in particular, with regard to addressing climate change and its attendant psychophysical trauma known as solastalgia.

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Newborn Socialist Things: A Conversation with Laurence Coderre

I recently participated in an event on ‘Socialist Stuff’ hosted by Stanford’s materia working group. Fittingly, it featured all the technical difficulties typical of hybrid in-person/remote gatherings, but we nonetheless muddled through in pursuit of a productive alchemy between Jacqueline Loss’s work on Cuba and mine on China (Loss 2013; Loss and Prieto 2012). I […]

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Magic, Religion, and the Naturalisation of Chinese Communist Party Rule

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has developed strategies that draw on a dedication to the Party that is specifically religious yet does not require belief in a doctrine. These strategies revolve around the Leninist concept of ‘party spirit’, which, paradoxically, has become a commodity that is produced, supplied, and consumed. This essay discusses these strategies […]

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From Grassroots Nostalgia to Official Memory: Red Relics in Contemporary China

Collections of ‘Red relics’—objects relating to the history of the Chinese Communist Party—were initially understood primarily as a form of grassroots nostalgia for the supposed purity and equality of the Mao era and a reaction against the changes of the reform era. This essay argues that in recent years, these objects—particularly those from the revolutionary, pre-1949 period—have been increasingly coopted into the Party’s narrative about the rejuvenation of China under its leadership.

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On Nostalgia and Returns

Amid a global pandemic and worsening repression in contemporary China, what does it mean to be nostalgic? This essay explores this question through two disparate but intimately connected lenses. First, it examines changing registers of nostalgia in China over the past several decades, analysing the role of the Party-State and how it is imagined in their production. Second, it examines what nostalgia might mean for scholars who study state–society relations and the production of nostalgia in China, when they confront the potential of not being able to return to China to conduct research, and the ethics of that research should they continue to engage.

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