Reflection on The Great Han
Kevin Carrico makes a thorough inquiry into the Chinese nationalist imagination, as he points out in the introduction that the nationalism that is being taken as the core ideology in contemporary China often lacks solid reasoning behind it [PDN1] – which is the creation process of that nationalism and the “affective power [PDN2] ”. In the introduction he also points out the long-existing controversy concerning Chinese conceptualization of “race” and signifier “minzu”. [PDN3]
Considering[PDN4] the Hanfu? movement (and other practices which he mentions in the later parts) as almost a myth generating process which invents a tradition in closing the gap between mundane reality and aestheticized fantasies, Kevin Carrico unfolds his argument in his “critical approach” which stands in opposition to the postmodern “politically correctness” that penetrates contemporary anthropological scholarship[PDN5] . In the first chapter, Carrico recalls a conversation at a Han clothing event in which his interlocutor praised “tradition” and rejected “the new”, “the westernized”, and “the modified” (you could name more) forms of clothing, food, and architecture construction that he/she accused of leading to the “unreal China” [PDN6] of today. Carrico seems to indicate that this is not the same as a common kind critique of modernity, but a distorted split between the idealized past and the biased awareness of a problematic present caused by a nationalism-induced particular kind of fantasy[PDN7] . He partially criticizes Benedict Anderson’s conventional materialist approach (which highlights how a sense of national homogeneity is caused by routine mass media enticement[PDN8] ) as neglecting the “imagination” aspect of the identity fantasy production, but he validates it in the sense of contemporary Chinese application, whereas the national symbolic imaginary itself (in a public instead of individual sense) in fact involves very much the ritualized aspect. [PDN9]
He does not avoid, to some extent, a normative judgement on this kind of identity fantasy, arguing “while national imaginaries play an essential role in shaping one’s thinking about the world, this world as experience inevitably fails to ever even begin to approach these imaginaries”, insisting the gap as a perpetual solidified structure, with no positive significance in generating any actual positive transformation, except, however, for the individuals perpetually stuck between of the claimed imaginary ideal and lived reality, leading to the emergence of an analogously “identificatory theodicy”. [PDN10]
In the second chapter, in providing a brief overview of the history of Han Clothing Movement, Carrico implies that Han Clothing (considered by the movement as) carrying the intertwining envision [PDN11] of great moments throughout history, pertains to a fallacy of suppression (being suppressed)[PDN12] . Thus, the participants’ imagination of Han-ness is aestheticized, in contrast towards the “disappointing reality[PDN13] ”. The labeling and representation of “Han-ness”, compared to the minorities, is so unmarked, ordinary and colorless, thus requires “re-vitalizing”. The last part concerning Han-ness expression in urban setting, acts as an interlocutor into his rich field experiences.
Through the thick illustration and depiction of several individuals who participate in the Han Clothing movement, Carrico brings the “individual identity” perspective into the picture, in supplementing his previous efforts in the constructing of the grand-level framework. The ways in which Carrico describes the individuals seem to have a deliberate purpose of showing their efforts in attempting to avoid the mundane, routine, dissatisfied life, with the Han Clothing Movement as an all-encompassing remedy to associate with their individual fantasies and enable their “momentarily transcendence”– whether it’s Liang’s heroic “role playing”, Yan’s weekend escape into “stability and sense of veneration”, Xia’s pleasant hearing of fortune telling, Tsin’s consolation found at the movement and temporal escape from the warlike demolition situation, and Brother Emperor’s self-exaltation. “The meaning of Han Clothing symbolism is thus found at the intersection of social experience and personal desires”, as Carrico puts. The fourth chapter goes into the practices (virtual & material) in the above-mentioned fantasy generation process of the Han Clothing Movement, with detailed discussion of the three media (supported with rich fieldwork materials): clothing, ritual and photography, along with that Carrico presents the tensions and his concerns of the fundamental dilemmas that the movement faces. First and foremost, Carrico deconstructs Han Clothing’s embodiment of sacred meaning, cultural significance, ritual-generative and imaginary self-transformation power. [PDN14] He further discusses the dilemmas and tensions that caused, such as misunderstandings between different nationalistic factions and the misunderstanding of the movement as “cosplay“ by outside observers, which these in general are regarded as identity dilemmas[PDN15] . The movement’s participants believe the solution [PDN16] is to further push forward the Han renaissance[PDN17] . Carrico, however does not show a positive attitude towards this view, by highlighting the movement’s self-contradictory “scared-profane” tension. [PDN18]
In Chapter 5 Carrico examines the participants/ enthusiasts’ perception towards “the Manchus”, which portrays the Qing as an exterminator of the Han, and regards the Xinhai Revolution as anti-Manchu (instead of anti-imperial ruling) with a conspiracy framing of Manchu and the imagined Manchu power. [PDN19] Carrico reads this Manchu conspiracy as the product of the “untenable idea of identity”, with the complete splitting of “us” and “them”, the “them” is thus charged as the sole reason for explaining everything. Carrico asserts that “The Han clothing movement is a collection of individuals seeking the elusive realization of a transcendent and whole ideal of identity that they call Han.” He regards the indication [PDN20] of gender relationship in the Han Clothing Movement as regressive[PDN21] , and discusses the ladies’ academies [PDN22] in contemporary China, in association with the Han Clothing Movement. Whether the distinction of color, style, accessories or typical ways in posing embodies and indicates the gender distinctions and moral values, with again the attempt to revitalize the ideal image of purity. And in terms of the academy, it seems, the founders and teachers, similar to the individuals in Han Clothing Movements, recognize and are puzzled by many issues existing in contemporary Chinese society, with their eagerness and helplessness in finding the solution, they attribute the cause entirely to the female (the imagined enemy), their lack of the real femininity (or feminism?), the losing of purity of modern female. “Yet in their eagerness to find a single cause for these issues, in a process that echoes the Han Clothing Movement’s Manchu conspiracy theories, they have misrecognized their origins.” Carrico’s reinforcing his overall statement here, that this kind of way in attempting to solve the problem, will do nothing but generating a further problem, trapping into a reproducing process of dilemmas.
All this leads to his conclusion, recapping the Han-ness as exaggerated and fantasized identity and making attempt to apply his theoretical framework to other relevant practices- “a broader spectrum of sociocultural developments” in contemporary China. The first one is the proliferation of Confucian Academies[PDN23] , where Carrico keenly identifies the embedded similarities with the Han Clothing movement: aiming to resolve a long-existing national issue[PDN24] , and a dreadof living reality that calls for turning back to the past/tradition, and again seem to have no use for actually resolving the existing pedagogical dilemma[PDN25] . The second one is Confucian Jiang Qing, who alleges the illegitimacy and inferiority (mere “secular”, [PDN26] “desire”) of democracy, and develops his own political system of reenchanting[PDN27] , completely ignoring China’s democratic heritage and imagining a false dichotomy among “Chinese culture” and “the rest”. The third example provided is the contemporary “new left”, which stands against capitalism due to the incurred social justice issues and advocate the new mobilization of society. Carrico again identifies its similarity with Han Clothing Movement, with the same imagination of an ideal future constituted by the romanticization of Maoism past and the revolutionary tradition that constructs an imaginary enemy as being responsible of the “utopia disappearance”, again with triple-purposeful blindness towards the real past, real present, and realistic future projection. Quoting Carrico “New Leftism is then, in conclusion, an unexpected neotraditionalism under the guise of a forward-looking “resistance.”- which is equivalent to the so-called Maoist revolutionary heritage. The last example is the re-building of the old[PDN28] town as tourism sites after the Wenchuan earthquake. The town was previously a vanguard site of modern industry development and has now been turned into a tourist location representing a traditional and ethnic feel after the earthquake’s complete destruction. Carrico argues this presenting of the “modified” past covers the actual traumatic memories, yet also buries its past as an industrial site, however the complete shifting away from the real keeps the “underlying dilemmas remained”. To recap his framework again, there always exists the imagined, distorted target in being attributed all the existing problems to it, and there always exists an idealized result or imagery in connection to the past, to the tradition. Lamenting the reality by blaming the false target, while worshipping the sacred fantasy of a perfect future connected to Han-ness, all these practices that fall inside of this framework, produce new dilemmas, more and more dilemmas without actually solve any existing problems.