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The current place of Marxism in Asian and Asian Studies thinking.
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NEW ASIAN MARXISMSNEWASIAN
Duke University PressCopyright © 2002 Duke University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMICHAEL DUTTON
Dreaming of Better Times: "Repetition with a Difference" and Community Policing in China
Zi Zhang asks: "Can one know what the future will hold in ten dynasties' time?" Confucius responds: "The Yin dynasty inherited the notion of propriety from the Xia. Therefore we can know what has been added and subtracted. The Zhou dynasty inherited their notion of propriety from the Yin, and from this we can know what has been added and what has been subtracted. Others may continue to use this notion of propriety as inherited from the Zhou. Therefore, even in one hundred dynasties' time, we can still know." -Confucius, Analects (emphasis added)
* Can one be so certain of the past, let alone of the future, as the great sage? On this, I think, more recent events in China have their own story to tell....
The time is 1994; the city, Beijing.
As one rides through the streets of this city as it commemorates the centennial of the birth of the "Great Helmsman," one is struck by the number of vehicles that display a double-sided portrait of his face. On the one side, there is the young, fresh-faced revolutionary Mao, on the other, a more benevolent and aging father figure. There is nothing added to nor subtracted from these double-sided portraits save for the compulsory beautifications made possible by the airbrush. The power of such a portrait, however, lies not in its physical beauty and accuracy but in the symbolic renewal it connotes. It is in the "additions" or "subtractions" in memory formation that the picture of Mao becomes less a form of remembrance than a potent and very contemporary political symbol. The recognition of this point leads us to a very different set of propositions to those advanced by the great sage, Confucius.
How are we to account for the popularity of this double-sided portrait? Is it Party propaganda, superstition, or a faded remembrance of more stable times that leads to this double-sided portrait being purchased and displayed? Which side of this "Maoist coin" is favored in the act of display, or is the very "double-sidedness" itself a tactic, designed deliberately to capture the widest possible constituency? On the one side, there is a young rebel Mao for the "Cui Jian" generation, while on the other there is an aging statesman for those who crave more stable times. There is, it appears, a Mao for all. Yet this multiplication of Mao images to the extent that there is indeed a "Mao for all" leads to irony. It undermines the unity of what He stands for and replaces it with a multiplicity of possible meanings. This, in turn, shifts the spotlight from the (real) Mao to the uses of Mao or, more accurately, to the uses and politics of memory and its redeployment.
It is the way in which memory is played on through this double-sided portrayal of Mao that takes us beyond the face and the figure. This "double-sided form of remembrance" focuses attention on the ambiguity and multiplicity of things remembered. It puts a focus and a face on the politics of the act of remembering. Moreover, it offers a form of remembrance which, though ambivalent in meaning, is nevertheless visible, focused, conscious, and celebrated. If this reedification of Mao offers something of the venerated and visible side of remembering Mao, a more unconscious side is captured, not in the photographic image but in the actions of the Chinese public security forces. Here one finds the "double-sidedness" of Mao remembered in another way.
In contemporary policing, one discovers many of the tactics and technologies of Maoism "remembered" and redeployed as mechanisms through which public order can be maintained in times of economic and social reform. Remembrance for the public security forces differs in kind from the double-sided Mao portraits. There is little that is conscious about their process of remembrance. Hence, the "remembered technologies" of contemporary policing are not celebrated as Maoist procedures but reappear almost unnoticed and largely unannounced as mundane practices of everyday policing. Nevertheless, by silently reinforcing a continuity with the past they also fortify the idea of these procedures as natural. Furthermore, by redeploying Maoist tactics in new domains and for new ends they also operate to bring forth change. The Janus-faced nature of these redeployed Maoist tactics and technologies has been made possible only because such devices have successfully secreted themselves in everyday life. It is through this process of secretion that they derive their symbolic power, while their utilitarian strength is derived from the fact that they are not repetitions of the "same" but "repetitions with a difference." The symbolic strength of "repetition" combined with the flexibility offered through often hidden "additions" and "subtractions" to "remembrance" constitutes the very basis on which "repetition with a difference" operates, and it is this notion which is at the theoretical heart of this essay.
There is therefore a dual theoretical object in opening with this notion of "repetition with a difference." First, it enables the theoretical benefits derived from this notion in terms of ongoing debates within Western social theory circles about the past and power to be highlighted. The work of Michel Foucault is central to this discussion. Second, it allows a critique of the burgeoning Chinese literature that consigns the past to "relic status." "Repetition with a difference" makes it possible to think about recalling the past in a more dynamic fashion. By relying on, and extending, the work of Marx and Benjamin in this area, this essay suggests that "the relic" plays a far more constitutive role in the formation of contemporary discourse and government strategy than these theoretical approaches would allow. This paper exemplifies this through a detailed examination of strategies of contemporary social policing in China. It is with regard to the technologies and strategies deployed in the area of social control that it is suggested that the Chinese police are indeed "dreaming of better times." Such technological "remembrances" in policing, then, are neither fortuitous nor necessarily conscious. They are a combination of pragmatic management decisions about contemporary policing needs built on often unconscious desires to return to more stable times. Moreover, they indicate an attempt to think through such a return-again, sometimes consciously but at other times not-in the language of the past. It is in focusing on the strength and power derived from these less visible and therefore sometimes incalculable technological and strategic "additions" and "subtractions" that this paper is propelled away from the logic and concerns of Confucius. At the same time, it is in recognizing the possibility of "technologies of power" as heterogeneous combinations of different forms (be that sovereign, semiotechnical, disciplinary, or possibly some other form) that this essay also has cause to depart from the work of more recent "philosopher-sages" of power in Western social theory.
"REPETITION WITH A DIFFERENCE" AND WESTERN AND CHINESE SOCIAL THEORY
The concept of "repetition with a difference" offers a means by which certain forms of Marxist argument can be redeployed to redirect debate around Foucault's work on power. Generally, debate in this area has been dominated by what could only be described as the "commodity argument." That is to say, an argument that has centered on a critique of Foucault's so-called inability to answer the question of who holds power. However, criticism structured in this way offers little room for fruitful engagement as it dismisses Foucault's insistence that it has been the "how" and not the "whom" of power that has been central to his endeavours in this area. Through the deployment and discussion of the notion of "repetition with a difference," Foucault's notion of power can be taken seriously. That is to say, power can be examined not in terms of "who controls" but rather in terms of how it is constituted. At the same time though, it can be critiqued as historically too segmented. Thus, this notion of "repetition with a difference" depends on an emphatic restatement of the postmodern insistence that there can be no formal transhistorical unity to power. This, in turn, opens onto the ground on which a critique of the discursive unity of "disciplinary" in Foucault and post-Foucauldian works is made possible. Hence, one can no longer speak of purely disciplinary forms of power not because we recognize them only as "disciplinary blockades" (Foucault) but because their very constitution and theoretical strength may well derive from forms of remembrance that are anything but disciplinary. Moreover, when these forms are "reenacted" they do not automatically lead to disciplinary ends, and it is at this point that the politics of repetition translates into the difference of re-enactments. This difference also disturbs those simplistic accounts of Foucault that interpret his work on power to mean a trajectory from premodern to modern, disciplinary forms. The question here is, if disciplinary power just supercedes sovereign and ideological power, then how are slippages "backward" within the modern period, into sovereign and ideological forms, possible? Here, but in a somewhat different setting, the concerns of this paper brush against those of certain contemporary Chinese social theorists who attempt to deal with contemporary Chinese problems by blaming the powers of the "relic." And while there is cause to doubt the appropriateness of this approach theoretically, there is no denying its political strength.
Nowhere is the political strength and popularity of relic arguments more obvious than in the documentary television series Yellow River Elegy. First screened to audiences in June 1988, it broke all viewing records, despite the fact that it stood in stark contrast to recent valuations of Chinese tradition prevailing in the newly industrializing economies of Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong. This documentary series forwarded an orthodox Weberian view that traditional, Confucian-dominated Chinese dynastic values fettered development. In this, and many other mainland Chinese accounts, tradition becomes a signifier of decay, a shackle, and something overcome only by the process of "opening up." Here, the documentary reiterated a theme already central to political discourse in China, namely, the issue of "feudal remnants." Discourse on "feudal remnants" has a long history in China but reemerged in its current form in 1986 in the work of one of China's foremost scholars, Su Shaozhi. Su critiqued the existence of feudal remnants within contemporary China, for he claimed they acted as fetters on the Chinese socialist modernization program. The point to be noted, however, is that relic arguments have gone well beyond intellectual debate and have even emerged in the realm of government. Like the double-sided face of Mao, however, the policing of those unhealthy "remnant forms" is subject to a wide variety of interpretations.
POLICING THE REMNANTS
In 1988, Zhao Xiaogang and Guo Zheng, in an article in the internal Chinese police magazine Police Research, outlined the relationship between crime, backwardness, and development. They pointed out that:
Development is part of a natural tendency toward social advancement and a revolution against the barbarous and the backward. If there is a lack of reasonable strategies and development planning, however, then no precautionary measures are available to halt the erosion of cultural and spiritual values. If this occurs then there will be few restraints upon the spread of criminal activity.... But crime should not be used as an excuse to halt or slow down the open-door policy or economic reform. On the contrary, it demonstrates the need for all levels of society to become involved in the fight against crime.
Here we are offered a series of explanations and strategies for crime prevention which deem policing to be part of the wider fight against barbarousness and backwardness. The "problem of tradition" (namely, the problems caused by the process of overcoming the barbarous and backward) appear alongside the means of resolution (i.e., "the need for all levels of society to become involved in the fight against crime"). This method of resolution, elsewhere labeled the "mass line in policing," has the privileged role of protecting the socialist spiritual values against erosion or degradation during the process of development. So far, Zhao Xiaogang and Guo Zheng's argument shares the same grounds as those offered in the "feudal remnants debate" and in the script of the Yellow River Elegy insofar as they all present "re-emergences" as "relic forms" and thereby inherently ascribe to them a passive, negative role. None of these works can account for either the dynamism of "relic forms" or their ambivalence. For instance, the postrevolutionary regime in China has in certain key respects reinvested in traditional dynastic mechanisms of social control to police socialism. Such a revalorization of dynastic forms of social control are not mere repetitions but "repetitions with a difference." Under this banner, "reappearances" can be discussed as something other than "returnings to," and it is at this point that one begins to ask questions about the politics of remembrance.
In Zhao Xiaogang and Guo Zhen's account, the politics of remembrance take the form of bifurcation, with tradition becoming little other than the sum total of negatives that are perceived to be hindering the economic reform program. The modern/traditional dichotomy operates as a means by which to relabel those elements identified as useful, as modern, and those perceived to be dangerous as traditional. In this way, the "mass line" becomes unambiguously modern because it helps solve problems allegedly raised by tradition. What this does, in effect, is to disallow attempts to understand technologies like the mass line as historically ambiguous (i.e., as complex and unstable combinations of both modern and traditional technologies of social control). Yet, when one looks at technologies such as the mass line in policing, it is precisely in the ambiguity of its signification process that its strength lies.
Neighborhood and village committees in every village, town, and street in socialist China are the heart of the mass line in policing, and as such, have impeccable Maoist credentials. Yet Maoist techniques of mass mobilization have a lineage that radically predates Maoism and can even be traced back to the village pacts of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Certainly, the moral homilies about filial piety, propriety, and so forth, outlined on the banners of the dynastic village pact meeting halls, have given way to the street blackboards and banners proclaiming socialist spiritual civilization. Nevertheless, at a purely technical level, one finds that their mode of operation and organizational form are not at all dissimilar. Similar sorts of arguments can be mounted about the household registration system through which every household in the country is a registered unit, and family members wishing to move from one jurisdictional area to another must alter their household register and get permission from the authorities. In the contemporary period, this system has been inextricably linked to the demographic demands of the central plan and still constitutes the basis for all of China's census work. Planners consider it a key technology of socialist economic organization and, as such, it is regarded as absolutely different from registration systems that operated in the dynastic period. Nevertheless, there are some significant areas of overlap with the dynastic systems of registration. First, it is worth recalling that early dynastic systems of registration aimed to keep the peasants on the land or to free them only for the soldiery. Maoism was little different in this respect, and it is significant that in the Maoist period demographic policing was such that the only real alternative employment for the peasant was the army. Indeed, even in contemporary China the social implications of this system are such that at least one contemporary mainland Chinese critic has insisted that this system operates as a means by which a caste-like system of distinctions has been enacted between city and rural dwellers. Nor is it simply a form of class differentiation based on location that is reinforced by this system; gender discrimination is another side effect.
Excerpted from NEW ASIAN MARXISMS Copyright © 2002 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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Harry Harootunian, New York University
Meet the Author
Tani E. Barlow is founder and editor of positions and teaches Chinese Women’s history at the University of Washington. She is the editor of Formations of Colonial Modernity in East Asia and Gender Politics in Modern China, both of which are published by Duke University Press.
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