Identifying and Mapping Issues, Theories, & Research in Asian/American Rhetoric(s): An Annotated Bibliography

Desiring China: Experiments in Neoliberalism, Sexuality, and Public Culture

Posted in Uncategorized by Jennifer Sano-Franchini on February 1, 2010

Rofel, Lisa. Desiring China: Experiments in Neoliberalism, Sexuality, and Public Culture. Durham: Duke UP, 2007.

Desiring China “describes how the production of desire lies at the heart of global processes” in the context of post-Mao, post-socialist China after the June 4th, 1989, Tiananmen demonstrations (1). In this way, Rofel draws connections between national economies, public culture, and desire, or individual subjectivities. In sum, she says, “My argument, in brief, is that central to the meanings and practices of becoming a transnational citizen-subject in China is the historical and cultural constitution of ‘desire,’” and she adds, “One of my main arguments is that the construction of this inner self occurs through public allegories” (6).  To do this work, Rofel examines and analyzes pertinent public cultures: the soap opera Yearnings; a women’s museum established by feminist Li Xiaojiang in which gender is commodified (66); transnational homosexual identities; cosmopolitan Chinese identities as constituted through consumption, sex, and fashion; legal cases pertaining to intellectual property; and negotiations over China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, in order to observe how public cultures are simultaneously contingent upon and constitutive of definitions of desire and sexuality.  In other words, this book may be understood as a study of rhetorics of desire via public culture in the context of post-socialist China; Rofel observes how meaning created in certain texts (Yearnings) or spaces (the women’s museum) are mobilized, circulated, received, interpreted, and evaluated by audiences in this specific context.  The notion of transnational desire is fundamental to this text, both for the ways in which China desires and is desired by others: “These economic reform experiments initiated the process of creating ‘desiring China’” (7, 30).