CCS Scholars Forum - Winter 2021

Presented by Nancy E. Levine, Sean Metzger, and You Wang

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The CCS Scholars Forum is a series that aims to bring together scholars on campus working on disparate aspects of Chinese studies in order to facilitate greater dialogue and collaboration. Each speaker will deliver a short and accessible presentation, introducing a current research project; followed by a general discussion. Each forum will pair scholars at different stages of their careers from different fields. These forums are envisioned as a means to strengthen ties within our Chinese Studies community at UCLA. Students and faculty with an interest in China are strongly encouraged to attend.

For our forum in Winter 2021, we will have Nancy E. Levine, Sean Metzger, and You Wang share with us their current works. We will be live-streaming the forum via Zoom; please register for zoom link.


Kinship and the State: Epochal Changes and Family Ties Among Tibetan Pastoralists

This paper asks what can be known about the impact of Chinese state policies--in particular, policies promoting national integration, modernization, and settlement--on interpersonal, kin relationships among eastern Tibetan pastoralists. Trying to establish a baseline is complicated by longstanding isolation, the dispersal of these populations across the high plateau, regional variations, and historical particularities. Another barrier has been the difficulty of research access, in past and present. Despite these limitations and the obscuring effects of dominant theoretical paradigms, it is clear that development campaigns and state mandates are having an impact on the personal and family lives of these populations, in some expected and some surprising ways. These policies have transformed the ways in which pastoralists frame their identities, bound their kin groups, transfer property and statuses across the generations, and respond to new opportunities.
Among the topics to be discussed in this paper are how state mandated land rights and emerging economic opportunities have contributed to novel household forms and patterns of mutual aid in the present day. Such aid is especially critical in a population that is multiply disadvantaged and ethnically distinct and whose members find it difficult to negotiate the national culture.

Nancy Levine is Professor in the Department of Anthropology at UCLA.

She has been studying the impacts of transitions to a market economy and government-sponsored land privatization and sedentarization on family and society among ethnic Tibetan nomadic pastoralists since 1994. This research has involved brief stays among different pastoralist groups in Gansu Province, Sichuan Province, and Qinghai Province. In prior years, she conducted research on the impact of government reforms on family structure and domestic economy among agriculturalists in the Western Tibet Autonomous Region. Her earliest research took her to Tibetan speaking communities in northwestern Nepal for a total of more than three and a half years and involved a focus on marriage and household systems and population dynamics.


Vampiric Fashion

Olivier Assayas’s 1996 film Irma Vep (an anagram for “vampire”) turns on the novelty of casting Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung (playing herself) into an updated version of Musidora, a silent film actress whose career is associated with silent serials of Louis Feuillade. This much discussed transformation requires in the director’s vision a shift from Musidora’s silk body suit to a latex one. Ostensibly such a transformation helps to mark France’s place in a globalizing economy figured in part through the substitution of one screen icon for another. In this essay, I turn towards a more material substitution depicted in the film in order to think about the role of rubber and its relationship to Chinese fashion.

Specifically, Maggie Cheung’s costume facilitates a theoretical discussion of vampiricism that I use to think about Chinese rubber and the apparel it shapes. In particular, I turn from one fetish item (the catsuit) to another (the shoe). What is the history of rubber in China and its relationship to global fashion (if indeed there is one)? How might looking at rubber enable an analysis of the proliferation of brand-name fakes produced in China and circulated globally? What might be productive about using Cheung’s particular embodiment of the vampire for an analysis of the transnational circulation of certain rubberized clothing? How might the vampire’s continual return assist in theorizing certain temporalities of global Chinese fashions? 

Sean Metzger is Professor and Associate Dean of Faculty and Students in the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television.

Sean Metzger is a scholar who works at the intersections of several fields: visual culture (art, fashion, film, theater) as well as Asian American, Caribbean, Chinese, film, performance and sexuality studies. He has written two books. Chinese Looks: Fashion, Performance, Race (Indiana University Press, 2014) demonstrates how aesthetics, gender, politics, economics and race are interwoven through particular forms of dress in what Metzger calls the Sino/American interface from the late 19th through early 21st centuries. The Chinese Atlantic: Seascapes and the Theatricality of Globalization (Indiana University Press, 2020) complicates discourses of globalization through an examination of aesthetic objects and practices situated in cities from Shanghai to Cape Town. He has published more than 50 articles and reviews in various print and online venues. His current book project elaborates his research on Asian American theater.


Collaborating for Grand Peace: Farmers and Water Governance in Early Modern Jiangnan (1653-1821)

Scholars of early modern China have long acknowledged the importance of local water governance. However, maintaining hydraulic structures was perceived mainly as state or elite projects, while farmers — real agents of these hydraulic constructions — faded into the background. Farmers were seemingly too selfish and short-sighted to collaboratively craft water institutions for long-term benefits.
Through the repairs of the Taiping River (literally the River of Grand Peace) in Jiangnan, China’s economic center, this essay instead stresses the importance of male and female farmers in water governance. Over the 169 years between 1653 and 1821, the ten-mile Taiping River was dredged thirteen times. Little official supervision was involved; all these riverworks were completed under the collaboration of over three thousand farming households in the eighty-nine villages alongside the river. By juxtaposing locally circulated river records and genealogies of leading lineages, I explore how farmers collaborated across village boundaries to manage local landscape for the grand peace.

王悠 Wáng Yōu is a Ph.D. candidate in History at UCLA. At the intersection of environmental and economic history, her dissertation examines the establishment and evolution of communal water governance in early modern Jiangnan (1600-1850). 


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Published: Sunday, July 11, 2021