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Disenchanted Democracy: Chinese Cultural Criticism after 1989.

Ben Xu. Disenchanted Democracy: Chinese Cultural Criticism after 1989. Ann Arbor. University of Michigan Press. 2999. xiii + 271 pages. $47.50. ISBN 0-472-11062-4.

DISENCHANTED DEMOCRACY IS ONE of the best and most lucid of recent analyses in English of mainland Chinese cultural and literary debates of the 1990s. All the critical and intellectual shibboleths that have dominated recent Chinese critical discourse (there are only so many of them) are here: modernity, modernism, postmodernism, postcolonialism, post-new-eraism, subjectivity, national studies, humanism, sublimity, new conservatism, antirevolution, and so forth. By clearly distinguishing the diverse meanings of such terms in the Chinese context, showing how they changed in the 1990s and diverged from the equally esoteric, often neo-Marxist Western usages from which they derived, Ben Xu is able neatly and eruditely to explicate a wide and otherwise bewildering array of Chinese intellectual and ideological positions. His thesis is that the 1989 Beijing massacre, followed in 1993 by Chinese intellectuals' upsurge of relief (and pride) that China's economic reforms would not be derailed after all, led to a major intellectual rupture between the 1980s and 1990s that belies continuities in critical language. All "post-ist" and conservative critiques define themselves by what they supersede or oppose; what they oppose in today's China is 1980s criticism and "radical" democracy, even though those alternatives remain completely censored there.

Literary scholars will be interested in Ben Xu's analyses of Wang Shuo's "hoodlum fiction" and of Sino-Western coproduced films. Above all, Xu's book provides indispensable general background for "positioning" recent books of literary and cultural history not only by native Chinese, but also by up-and-coming Chinese expatriates in North America, and even some native critics and expatriates of Taiwan, since all parties want in on the mainland Chinese and Chinese-Taiwanese discourse. That discourse is nearly hegemonic in North American Chinese studies, but it is easy to miss the nuances, even though the citations are to the usual Adorno, Althusser, Benjamin, Bhabha, Jameson, Said, and Spivak.

Jeffrey C. Kinkley St. John's University, New York
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Kinkley, Jeffrey C.
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2000
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