Friday, April 09, 2010

Nostalgia and consumerism in post-Communist China

Qiu Xiaolong's sixth Inspector Chen novel is full of interesting and melancholy reflections about China. The author happened to be in the United States during the uprising at Tiananmen Square and the violent reaction to it, and he decided to remain.

Twenty-one years on, his work remains suffused not just with nostalgia but with reflections upon nostalgia. In rampantly commercializing China, such a once-taboo subject as Mao's ex-mistress becomes a public, commercial attraction.

And, in a vicissitude of Chinese history, even Mao, briefly out of favor after his death, recycles into popularity, "becoming a brand name in the materialistic age, with Mao restaurants and Mao antiques and people collecting Mao badges and stamps for their potential value in the market."

Oddest, perhaps, is the old house presided over by an impoverished grandee of a kind who throws parties dedicated to recapturing the grand atmosphere of 1930s Shanghai. Is nostalgia a capitalist thing?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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5 Comments:

Anonymous kathy d. said...

Nostalgia isn't anything, I don't think. It isn't a capitalist thing.

However, it's what the nostalgia is about that is the crux of the matter.

April 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll keep this question in mind as I read the book. I suspect that Qiu is wary or scornful of nostalgia, with sympathy or pity for those who fall prey to it, at least with respect to their country.

April 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In re nostalgia, one ought not to forget that Qiu writes as a man looking back at his native country.

This current book is full of remarks on new apartment buildings shooting up in Shanghai. The contrast is implied and, I think in one case explicit with the old-style shikumen houses portrayed so memorably in his first novel.

So, even if he has no love for the systems of Chinese politics, whether imperial, communist or capitalist, he writes with some feeling for what he left behind.

April 09, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I think it's kind of universal for people to feel nostalgia for their homes and neighborhoods--of their childhoods and past, that sense of community, the experiences, the old friends and their homes and schools.

In the U.S., so many people don't want their neighborhood buildings torn down to make way for high-rise buildings, condos, etc. This is true in New York.

April 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I can imagine that Qiu's nostalgia might be especially sharp, first because he has left his native country, and second because he must have sharply divided feelings. He'd have seen the violence of the Cultural Revolution, the violence of 1989, and then the overturning of the Communist utopia, and yet, for all that, China is still his country.

I mentioned shikumen houses. Here’s a post I made three years ago about the term and its contribution to the atmosphere of Qiu’s first novel. One senses nostalgia for such houses in his current novel.

April 09, 2010  

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