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Techno-Orientalism with Chinese Characteristics: Maureen F. McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang


Christopher T. Fan argues that McHugh’s award-winning 1992 science fiction novel perceives the twilight of the American Century by offering a “critical realism,” to use Georg Lukács’s phrase, of postsocialist US–China interdependency. In other words, it offers a form in which we perceive ourselves as subjects and objects of the twenty-first century world-system’s most important bilateral relationship. Moreover, as a novel about US–China interdependency, it implicitly critiques the binary Orientalism that structures the rapidly growing body of work on “techno-Orientalist” formations. Fan's analysis thus extends arguments about American Orientalism’s non-Manichean formations (Christina Klein, Melani McAlister, Colleen Lye) into the postsocialist era.

The novel’s near-future, China-centric world analogizes McHugh’s personal crises of professional desire as a precarious laborer in New York City, with the massive reorientation of desires from Maoist politics to market-directed individuality that she witnessed among her students when she taught in China from 1987–1988. Chinese racial form plays a crucial mediating role in the novel because it reflects the revival of Confucian humanist discourse in reform-era China as a way to focus a national project of rapidly generating capitalist desire. Finally, by describing US–China interdependency, this article also generates a theory of US–China neoliberalism that corrects for universalist, Euro-American accounts of neoliberal subject formation (Lauren Berlant), as well as insufficiently subject-sensitive accounts (Aihwa Ong).

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