“Disposable” Bodies on Screen in Xu Xin’s Karamay: Biopolitics, Affect, and Ritual in Chinese Central Asia

Byler, Darren. "'Disposable' Bodies on Screen in Xu Xin’s Karamay: Biopolitics, Affect, and Ritual in Chinese Central Asia." Transnational Chinese Cinema: Corporeality, Desire, and Ethics of Failure. Eds. Brian Bergen-Aurand, Mary Mazzilli, and Hee Wai-Siam. Los Angeles: Bridge21 Publications, 2015. N. pag. Print.

“Disposable” Bodies on Screen in Xu Xin’s Karamay: Biopolitics, Affect, and Ritual in Chinese Central Asia | Based on an analysis of political speech and embodiment in the film Karamay, in this chapter I argue that ritualized ways-of-being, which rose to the fore in Maoist China, continue to form a deeply felt common affect for marginalized people despite rapid changes in the built environment and economic structures of mainstream Chinese society. In an effort to explore these claims, I analyze the way the monumental documentary film Karamay describes the long duration of a historical trauma, injustice, and alienation through its embodiment by a group of Han and ethnic minority oil workers and their families. I then consider the way this ritual embodiment relates to an affective atmosphere of failure for those on the margins of economic development and social justice in Chinese Central Asia. In order to parse the sources and forces of this shared experience, the chapter considers the valence of the biopolitical concept of “disposability” in tension with the anthropological concept of “ritual.” It argues that a refrain that emerges from a close reading of embodiment in contemporary independent cinema in Reform-era China is an effect of political rituals that fail to provide the sense of well-being they promised in the Maoist past. Yet, despite their failure, intimate portrayals of the motion of these rituals still hail the viewer as an embodied phronetic struggle for existential stability. | In (2014) Transnational Chinese Cinema: Corporeality, Desire, and Ethics. Brian Bergen-Aurand, Mary Mazzilli, and Hee Wai-Siam eds. Los Angeles: Bridge21 Publications.

PDF icon View PDF (727.96 KB)
People Involved: 
Status of Research or Work: 
Completed/published