A new review of my film, 农家乐 Peasant Family Happiness, has just been published online in Pacific Affairs! Written by Tenzin Jinba, Professor of Anthropology at Lanzhou University (Gansu, China) and author of In the Land of the Eastern Queendom: The Politics of Gender and Ethnicity on the Sino-Tibetan Border, he starts his review by noting the questions immediately brought to mind by the film's title: "We may wonder: What does visiting peasant homes have to do with happiness? Are peasant hosts happy, too?" His own research (which I assigned last year in my course on ethnicity and nationalism in East Asia) explores many phenomena experienced and confronted by ethnic minority communities in Sichuan Province due to tourism development and modernization that were very similar to what I have observed and analyzed in Guizhou and Guangxi. I'm grateful for his expert attention to the questions raised by my film regarding ethnic identity in China, development processes, social transformation, and individual ambitions in rural communities. These are issues that are only deepening in meaning and political potential in light of China's poverty alleviation campaign that is being touted as part of the next Five Year Plan. As I continue to visit Ping'an and Upper Jidao nowadays, I'm keenly aware of how tourism is both definitely "here to stay" in both places and how changes in the domestic and global tourism industries, combined with shifting opportunities for village residents, are creating new challenges and possibilities for village social relations and imaginations of what "peasant family happiness" might entail in the future.
At the 2016 Association for Asian Studies meeting in Seattle, I will be a part of a roundtable discussion on Aboriginal and community media in China and Taiwan. I'm very excited that this has been accepted because it will provide an opportunity for Asia scholars to view new contemporary documentary films by ethnic minority filmmakers from both China and Taiwan. The event will feature visual anthropologists, film scholars, and media practitioners from Yunnan University, Yunnan Arts Institute, and Tainan National University of the Arts, and we intend to leave plenty of time for discussion and dialogue with audience members.
I will post details on the films to be shown when they are confirmed, but here is the panel abstract and the date/time. Hope to see many scholars of media, community development, and ethnic minority politics in Asia there!
Collaboration and Power: The Politics of Community Media in China and Taiwan
Saturday April 2, 3-5 p.m.
Washington State Convention Center, Room 615
This roundtable critically engages with the thorny questions of power, agency, subjectivity, and ownership that underlie contemporary community media projects. Our collective goal is to develop new approaches to understanding the socio-political contributions and consequences of community media in China and Taiwan. Prominent examples from China include the “China Villager Documentary Project” initiated by Wu Wenguang, as well as numerous projects in ethnic minority regions of Yunnan spearheaded by academics and development organizations. In Taiwan, community media has played a significant role in indigenous, labor, and other social-political movements for decades. Our session will begin with excerpts of recent documentaries from Tibetan communities in China and indigenous communities in Taiwan. These films are produced by first-time filmmakers through participatory video workshops, and the excerpts will be followed by brief comments from the discussants and a substantial period of open dialogue. Notions of collaboration, participation, engagement, and empowerment are often taken-for-granted as positive features of community media production, and we aim to unpack such prevailing assumptions by analyzing the effects of community media within the context-specific conditions of contemporary China and Taiwan. Can these films reflect or embody new social relationships and subject positions for rural, minority people in China and Taiwan? How does the emphasis on collaboration and participation in community media reinforce and reimagine existing power relations? What forms of empowerment and/or agency are possible, and what desires or possibilities might be overlooked or overshadowed in these projects? Anthropological filmmakers Chen Xueli and Li Xin, from China, will speak to shifting power dynamics between rural and urban Chinese in their experience as trainers in participatory video workshops as well as to the subjectivity of the “native” filmmaker. Film scholars Ray Jiing and Tony Tsai will reflect upon their work with community media programs in Taiwan and on the archiving, preservation, and future of these documentaries. Jenny Chio, anthropologist and filmmaker, will discuss the role of media in rural development and the idea of “participation” in neoliberal strategies of self-governance. Together, we will foster more critical perspectives on the entanglements of power, collaboration, and media production in marginalized communities today.
The American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting is about to begin in Denver, and I'm really looking forward to my panel this year which looks at the relations of power evoked and enabled by images of crowds. Our papers, on crowds in Turkey, China, Bangladesh, and Indonesia, will think through the politics of authority, authenticity, and sincerity embedded in photographs of crowds. My talk juxtaposes news photographs of ethnic minority delegates attending national political meetings in Beijing against amateur, locally-made videos of rural Miao festivals in which crowds of ethnic Miao people feature prominently to explore how visual imagery informs ethnic politics and subjectivities in contemporary China.
We hope that these panel will prompt conversations on the significance of crowds and the workings of photographic representation in understanding the social and political power of mass gatherings. Details on the panel are below:
THE CROWDED FIELD: PHOTOGRAPHING MASSES, VISUALIZING POWER
Organized by Jenny Chio and Zeynep Gürsel
Saturday, November 21, 8-9:45 a.m.
Colorado Convention Center Room 111
Panel Abstract:If, as Benedict Anderson has convinced us, the rise of nationalism and the modern nation-state was spurred by the circulation of printed mass media that allowed individuals to imagine themselves as part of a greater community of like-minded citizens, what happens when communities are literally imaged, and symbolically imagined, through pictures and photographs? Crowds alternatively signal both experiences of authentic communitas and unruly disorder. Moreover, images of crowds, from rallies to protests to political assemblies, are unsettling, ambivalent indexes of political will, grassroots participation, authoritarian state power, and collective belonging. In this way, photographs of crowds simultaneously articulate and affirm the recognition of social collectivities, moving quickly from the particularity of the crowd itself, as a temporary, specific gathering of individuals, towards generalities of groups, types, and mass publics. Such photographs, and the imaginations that enliven their salience, thus encompass a multivalent site for assertions of political authority, social belonging, and newly potentiated collectivities. To examine what photographs of crowds actually do – politically, socially, culturally – this panel explores the functions of power and imagination of crowds when they are visualized. Drawing on diverse political contexts, we explore how the making of a particular image of a crowd into an icon-index of an imagined community or public is achieved through photography and visual technologies. Across our papers, we ask: How is the crowd imaged, in what forms, and for what purposes? In what spaces and forms do such images appear and circulate? Furthermore, how is a particular reading of an image of a crowd secured or unmoored as it circulates? Can a state ever create an authentic image of the nation, and what happens when an affective term such as sincerity is attributed to the collective, rather than located at the scale of the individual? What might be the politics of visibility when we consider the dialectical movements between anonymity and authority in photographs of crowds? We address these questions through ethnographic analyses of the visual representation of crowds in Turkey, China, Bangladesh and Indonesia. To begin, Gürsel explores how a state might claim and contextualize the sincerity and authenticity of the crowd, analyzing Turkey’s 2013 “National Will Rally” organized by then President Erdogan and state claims for a sincere photograph of the Turkish nation. Chio’s paper considers how ethnic minority bodies, individual and collective, are imagined in the body politic of China, from individual ethnic delegates at national assemblies to the collective ethnic crowd in local, rural video recordings. The social ambivalence of crowds as an analytic is further explored in Chowdhury’s paper on political protests against the war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh. Strassler’s comparison of crowd images and crowd-sourcing in the recent Indonesian elections draws together the themes of sincerity, authenticity, and the truth-value of photographs that inform the panel as a whole. Taken together, our aim is to build a theoretically robust understanding of the relationship between the crowd, political imaginaries, and state authority.