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In Session: Horrors of Capitalist Modernity: The Vampire, Zombie, Cannibal, and Plague
3: Cannibal Politics: An All-Consuming Crisis of Neoliberal Postsocialist Modernity
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Tiffany Yun-Chu Tsai
The Citadel, United States
China first encountered Euro-American capitalism in late-Qing and early Republican era and was inevitably incorporated with the global capitalist system. The May Fourth literature of the 1910s reveals the horrors of colonialist, capitalist modernity through the allegory of cannibalistic ingestion. China’s modernization underwent a threat of colonialism, a revolutionary awakening, and a demise of reformative hope throughout the 20th century. At the turn of the 21st century, cannibalism allegorizes a Chinese postsocialist reality in which the meaning of human existence is redefined through postmodern disillusionment of enlightenment and progressivism and a post-revolutionary frenetic pursuit of consumption. With the fall of socialist ideals and the expansion of global capitalism, contemporary writings of cannibalism present a doom of humanity in which excessive desires for objectification and cannibalistic consumption prevail; they also demonstrate a paradigmatic consistency of egoism from feudal hierarchy to capitalist hierarchy in post-revolutionary, post-socialist, post-1989 authoritarian China.
The cultural logic of cannibalism, which embodies a political and sociocultural ideology in service of money and power in contemporary China, seems absurd yet so pervasive in China’s postsocialist state-controlled market-economy in the global context of neoliberalism. It dictates power-consolidating, pleasure-seeking consumption over all values; ultimately, it spreads metaphorically and literally like virus within and beyond China. Hence, in the post-pandemic chaos of rethinking the world order, the trope of cannibalism theorizes and alerts China’s transition in modernity through revolutions and their failures and the world’s struggle with neoliberal capitalist horrors of all-consuming, dehumanizing, profit-driven egocentrism that consumes everyone from within.