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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Creating Emergent Futures in Chinese Communities
2: "The World Is Gone, I Must Carry You": The Dongbei Renaissance and Ruinated Futurity
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
University of California, Irvine, United States
By the end of 2019, in a global epoch of looming anxieties over the crisis of neoliberal capitalism, the “Dongbei Renaissance” has emerged in Chinese media as a transmedial boom of literature, arts, cinema and music portraying the tumultuous transitions of dongbei, or Northeast China, from a socialist industrial headquarter to a decadent urban ruin in the late 1990s. Unlike many other mnemonic movements that center on the survivors’ first-hand experience, the Dongbei Renaissance is characterized by the efforts of a rising young generation to retell the stories in their parents’ time, communicate transgenerational pains, and restore a corrosive process of urban dislocation. Paying attention to the literary sphere of this nascent cultural boom, this paper explores a notion of ruinated futurity, by which I analyze intergenerational transmission of silence and repressed trauma not as a tomb of social memory, but as a seed to cultivate a future laden with an ethico-political promise to the past. Through a reading of the narrative openings that surfaced in the Dongbei Renaissance, I attempt to discuss the conditions under which futurity is invoked and the restorative potential of literature today to animate a world upon post-disaster landscapes. Attending to how literature, in the interactive digital media turn, continues to speak to the depth of humanity in precarious times, I suggest that “ruinated futurity” points at once to a mnemonic future oriented towards ethical relationality and to a media future in which “old” media forms are constantly revitalized in today’s networked mediascapes.