Qiaoxiang on the Silk Road

Cultural Imaginaries as Structures of Feeling in the Making of a Global China

Author: Ana Maria Candela


The contemporary era of globalization poses challenges for reimagining Asian nations once associated with the Third World as spaces within the global capitalist world. The idea of the Global South incorporates these nations into a new post–cold war global imaginary, but does so in a way that recognizes the structural and social inequalities that continue to distinguish these nations from their more privileged counterparts in the Global North. The challenge of reimagining former Third World nations in the contemporary era of globalization is further complicated by the deepening of structural inequality within those nations. Growing class divides and uneven development in these nations have made it difficult to imagine Global South nations as homogenous entities. This article explores the complexities of imagining China in the era of globalization by examining a set of historical narratives: the Silk Road and qiaoxiang (sojourner villages), which emerged as strategies for situating China within new global imaginaries by re-narrating the histories of South China. Although the narratives mark a departure from nation-centered histories of the Mao era, they do not reflect a withering of the state or of nationalism in the face of globalization. Rather, they are connected to reconfigurations of the nation and state related to the challenges of managing the nation's current phase of capitalist development. By examining the ways in which these narratives are over-determined by shifting class formations, regional economic development strategies, place-based social and cultural legacies, global intellectual trends, and state interventions, which all shape South China's economic development, this article describes the function of these narratives as structures of feeling. As such, the Silk Road and qiaoxiang narratives give voice to the anxieties produced by China's opening to the capitalist world economy and attempt to reconcile the contradictions of China's current phase of economic development by rendering a complex social reality into historically recognizable forms.

Regions: East Asia
Countries: China

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September 2013
© Arthur Jones, PhD