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Minor China: Affect, Performance, & Contemporary China in the Global


In our globalized moment, cultural production emerging from China and other non-Western locations has become of central concern for critical theory, art history, and cultural studies. In order to counteract previous decontextualized and over-universalizing discussions of contemporary Chinese art, most art history, theatre, and performance studies scholars have emphasized how art and culture emerged within specific historical and political contexts. However, by repeatedly relying on contextualization, the Chinese are reproduced as lacking imagination, contradictions, and complexity. By examining the historical emergence of this discourse, I demonstrate the limits of past approaches in order to explore other methodological possibilities.

In contrast to other scholars who have situated contemporary Chinese performance and art within over-determined modes of contextualization, this dissertation locates alternative methodological possibilities in affect and feelings. This project argues that historical contextualization reproduces presumptions around the Chinese state as authoritarian and its subjects as conscious actors. Thus, I develop a method called minor China that privileges the realms of affect, fantasy, and the immaterial over such presumptions. The minor, akin to the musical structure that feels melancholic and less prevalent than the major, focuses on such contours to direct attention to the assumptions that frame how we write about Chinese culture and the state. I develop the minor from the recent theoretical turns towards minor feelings and affects, from scholars such as Lauren Berlant, Sianne Ngai, Steven Shaviro, and Eve Sedgwick. As I engage these analytics for their methodological capabilities, I situate minor contours to understand what they offer for cultural and political economic analyses of China.

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