Chen, Kaun-Hsing

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Biography

Kuan-Hsing Chen grew up in Taiwan and completed his college education there before he went to the U.S. for graduate study. Chen received his Ph.D. from University of Iowa in 1988. He then moved back to Taiwan and joined the faculty of the foreign language and literature department at National Tsinghua University in Hsinchu. He is currently professor of cultural studies and the coordinator of the Center for Asia-Pacific/Cultural Studies at Tsinghua.

Trajectories: Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 1998

Trajectories: Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 1998

Chen writes in Chinese for his readers in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and China, and in English for an even broader international audience. His bilingual cultural background and his training in the field of English/American Studies allows him to  emphasize the balance between looking into a given locale’s geohistorical specificity and situating such locale into a wider horizon of Marxist internationalism (see Marx and the Idea of Commodity, Transnationalism and Globalism).

Many works in the field of postcolonial cultural studies, including those of Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, and Stuart Hall, have intensively criticized Euro/American imperialism. In contrast, throughout his scholarship, Chen has constantly reactivated Frantz Fanon’s thesis and through his research focus on the contemporary developments of decolonization, he articulates, explains, and criticizes the ongoing psychological complexes and cultural imaginations of the ex-colonized. These are the two major spheres in which the ideology of colonialism remains functioning actively, and of which decolonization is the challenging, unfinished business for the critics working in the field of cultural studies.

Major Concepts

Duplication of the Imperialist Eye

After those immediate anti-colonialist and independence movements which took place in many Third-World countries in the post-Second-World-War period, the colonized’s deep desire to displace and replace the colonizer has been manifested, in many contexts, into either internal colonialism or regional imperialism. The way in which Taiwan has been becoming one of the regional imperialist entities is carefully scrutinized by Chen in his article “The Imperialist Eye: The Cultural Imaginary of a Sub-Empire and a Nation-State” (see Nationalism).

As the former colony of Japan (1895-1945), the nation-state Taiwan opened itself to the capitalist investment which has poured into the island country from post-war Japan and America since the 1950s, and thus rapidly created its so-called economic miracle. By the 1980s, the Taiwanese capital had reached its limits in the domestic market. Re-investment overseas in the regions which were poorer and less developed than Taiwan itself first became the outlet popularized among Taiwanese businessmen; such an exporting of the surplus capital was later endorsed by the nation-state’s governmental policy. In Chen’s observation, while Taiwan has heavily depended on the neo-imperialism of Japan and America to stabilize its own political, economic, and even cultural structures, its aggressive approach of taking advantage of the cheaper labor, the lower standards of environmental regulation etc. in Southeast Asian and other Third World countries is in itself a manifestation of the ideology of “sub-empire.” That is to say, the ex-colonized now, in terms of both the psychology and the practice, becomes talented in cooperating with the ones stronger and more dominant than itself in the game of global capitalism. In the meantime, it learns to exploit those who are weaker and more vulnerable than itself in the same game (see Hegemony in Gramsci).

Taiwanese sub-imperialism is not only a matter of economic exploitation, but also a cultural discourse woven by various professionals working in the terrain of representation. Chen examines the mentality and emotion represented in the “marching southward” special series which was published in China Time in 1994. While supporting the updated “marching southward” policy of the government, the authors of the special series activated the genres of natural history, historical narrative, memoir, and travelogue to redraw the regional map on which Taiwan is assumed to be the center reaching out towards its Southeast Asian neighbors (see Benedict Anderson). The cultural discourse of “marching southward” becomes the frame through which the sub-imperialist Taiwan sees itself and the rest of the world according to its own will. To activate such a will and the self-centrism evoked by it, as Chen highlights it, is to see the world through the eyes of the age of imperialism, which duplicates “the imperialist eye.” Colonialist ethos does not vanish from the nation-state which presumably reached its post-colonial status decades ago.

Civilizationalism

Chen identifies three trends of decolonization which have taken place in the Third World areas. They are, roughly according to the order of their coming into the scene, “nationalism“, “nativism”, and “civilizationalism.” In his criticism, all of these trends carry their own problematics and cannot thoroughly demolish the negative effect of colonialism (see Paul Gilroy: The Black Atlantic). Nationalism directly came out of the independence movements after the Second World War. It has been used by its agents as an ideological weapon to expel the colonizer. However, in many newly independent countries, nationalism soon became subjected to the practice and rhetoric of internal colonialism. Nativism mainly derived from the “self-rediscovery movement” during and right after the Independence Movements in the 1950s. Nevertheless, by denying anything associated with the ex-colonizer, the nativists and their effort of decolonization remain defined by the former.1 Along with nationalism and nativism, civilizationalism is considered by Chen as the latest trend of decolonization motivated by the ex-colonized, to which he gives more attention in his recent works (1996b, 1998b).

Ashis Nandy’s thesis on the assimilation of Indian civilization without (or prior to) the intervention of nation-state and its ideological agency of nationalism is that which Chen identifies as civilizationalism.2 As suggested by Chen, such a civilizationalism is frequently associated with “Chinese”, “Indian”, “Near East”, “Oriental”, and “Islamic” in the contemporary contexts. The discourses of these large non-Western civilizations do not necessarily have any concrete substance; they are the “emotional signifier” which reacts to the now postcolonial world. On the other hand, Chen points out the real danger of civilizationalism is that these civilizations “might fall into the logic of colonial competition and in a struggle over representing the Other of the West, to occupy the space of the non-West”(1998b, 18). Civilizationalism has begun to manifest its potential of growing into the reproduction of ethnocentrism and the practice of exclusion (see Homophobia and Postcolonialism).

Little Subjectivity Complex

Different from the mentality and practice of civilizationalism, many smaller political entities such as Sri Lanka, Taiwan, or Korea share the attitude which Chen refers to as the “little subjectivity complex.” The little subjectivity takes place when these smaller nation-states feel uneasy about the civilizational hegemony claimed by their big neighbors of India, China, or Japan. They set their eyes on the West and consider themselves to be more successful in the progress of Westernization, or (in the preferable neutral term) modernization, than their neighbors. The little subjectivity complex reveals its agents’ fear of and resistance to the potential of being recolonized by those big civilizations. Nevertheless, the way in which these little subjects feel the need to choose the right side to which to attach themselves remains a form of discrimination subjected to the single object of superiority. As long as the West is still the only standard coming into their horizon, the little subjects look down on the others whom they judge as less valuable than themselves. The door of possible interactions among multiple others who come into the picture of globalization through different trajectories thus remains closed.

Endnote

1. Chen reutilizes the “rather neglected” theses of Fanon’s contemporary, Albert Memmi, to articulate the feature and limitation of the nativist trend of decolonization (Chen 1998b). Memmi’s work which is referred to by Chen is The Colonizer and the Colonized (1957).
2. Chen’s interpretation of the civilizationalist strategy of decolonization is drawn from Nandy’s search for the virtue of Indianness in Gandhi’s philosophy and that of Tagore. Two of Nandy’s works referred to by Chen are The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism (1983) and The Illegitimacy of Nationalism:Rabindranath Tagore and the Politics of Self (1994).

Selected Bibliography

  • “All Wired up for Whom: The Booming of Satellite TV and the Possibilities for Popular Cultural Democracy.” In Programming for People: From Cultural Rights to Cultural Responsibilities (Kevin Robin ed.) 156-163. United Nations World Television Forum.ed and intro. 1998. Trajectories: Inner Asia Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge, 1997.
  • . “Beyond Truth and Method: On Misreading Gadamar’s Praxical Hermeneutics.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 73 (1987): 183-199.
  • “Changes in Coverage of American News in Two Chinese Newspaper: A Comparison.” In Political Communication Research: Approaches, Studies, Assessments (David Paletz ed.) 129-147. Norwood: Ablex, 1987.
  • “Changes in Coverage of American News in Two Chinese Newspaper: A Comparison.” In Political Communication Research: Approaches, Studies, Assessments (David Paletz ed.) 129-147. Norwood: Ablex, 1987.
  •  “Critical Effects of Decolonization – Nationalism and Otherwise.” Newsletter of the People’s Plan Institute 2(1997): 4-5.
  •  “The Cultural Imaginary of Civilizationalism: Huntington and Nandy.” Taiwan: A Radical Quarterly in Social Studies 27 (1997): 173-197 (in Chinese with English abstract).
  •  “Cultural Studies and the Politics of Internationalization: A Interview with Stuart Hall.” in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies New York: Routledge, 1996. 392-407.
  • “The Debate on Cultural Power: Critical Postmodernism and Cultural Studies.” In Culture and Power: A Media, Culture, and Society Reader (Paddy Scannelled.) London: Sage, 1992. 73-90.
  • “Decolonization and Cultural Study.” Taiwan: A Radical Quarterly in Social Studies 21:73-139 (in Chinese with English abstract); a substantial portion of this essay was rewritten into “Introduction: The Decolonization Question” for Trajectories: Inner Asia Cultural Studies (1996): 1-53.
  •  “The Decolonization Effect.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 2(1997): 79-97.
  • “Deterritorializing “Critical” Studies in “Mass” Communication.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 13(1989):43-61.
  • “Deterritorializing “Critical” Studies in “Mass” Communication: Toward a Theory of “Minor” Discourse.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 13(1990):43-61.
  • “Ethnicities on Trial?” University of Technology Sydney Review: Cultural Studies and New Writings 1(1995): 158-162.
  • “The Formation and Consumption of KTV.” In Consumption in Asia: Lifestyles and Identities (Chua Beng Huat ed.) 159-182. New York: Routledge, 1996. Morley, David ed.. Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge, 2000.
  • “The Formation of a Diasporic Intellectual: An Interview with Stuart Hall”, in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies (1996): 484-501.
  • “History, Theory and Cultural Politics: A Minor Discourse of Mass-Media and Postmodernity.” Unpublished dissertation. University of Iowa, 1988.
  • “The Imperialist Eye: The Cultural Imaginary of a Sub-Empire  and a Nation-State.” Taiwan: A Radical Quarterly in Social Studies 17: 149-222 (in Chinese with English abstract), 1994; English translation in Positions: East Asia Cultural Critiques 8(2000): 9-76.
  • With Chua Beng Huat. “Introduction: Problematising ‘Asia’”. Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 1(2000):9-12.
  • “The Masses and the Media: Baudrillard’s Implosive Postmodernism.” Theory, Culture and Society 4(1987): 71-88.
  • “Mass-Media and Postmodernity: The Cultural Politics of Silencing in Jean Baudrillard.” Communication Yearbook 10(1987): 666-683.
  • “MTV: The (Dis)Appearance of Postmodern Semiosis, or the Cultural Politics of Resistance”. Journal of Communication Inquiry 10(1986): 66-69; also in The Postmodern Presence: Readings on Postmodernism in American Culture and Society (Arthur Berger ed.): 175-179. Walnut Creek: Alta Mira, 1998.
  • “Multiculturalism or Neo-Colonial Racism?” Ritsumeikan Studies in Language and Culture 8(1997): 347-376.
  •  “Not Yet the Post-colonial Era: The (Super) Nation-State and Transnationalism and Cultural Studies.” Cultural Studies 10(1996):37-70. and Morley, David ed. Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge, 1996.
  • “The Positioning Positions: A New Internationalist Localism of Cultural Studies.” Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique 2(1994): 680-710.
  •  “Post-Marxism: Between/Beyond Critical Postmodernism and Cultural Studies.” Media, Culture, and Society 13(1991):35-51; also in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies (1996): 309-325.
  • “Taiwanese New Cinema.” In The Oxford Guide to Film Studies edited by John Hill and Pamela church Gibson 557-561. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  • Trajectories: Inter-Asia Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge, 1998.
  • “Voices from the Outsides: Towards a New International Localism.” Cultural Studies 6 (1992): 476-484.

Author: Susan Chen, Spring 2000
Last edited: October 2017

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