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Arnika Fuhrmann, "In the Mood for Texture: Hong Kong, Bangkok and Shanghai’s Urban and Media Revivals of Chinese Colonial Modernity"

Thursday, March 8, 2018 at 4:45pm

A. D. White House, Guerlac Room
29 East Ave, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA

This lecture explores two concomitant occurrences: the prominent contemporary phenomenon of the superimposition of three cities in East Asia and Southeast Asia onto one another and the revival of the aesthetics of ‘Chinese colonial modernity.’ Examining the doubling of Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Shanghai across the cinema and hospitality industries of East and Southeast Asia, Fuhrmann gauges the valences of a transregional Chineseness that is both virtual as well as anchored in material structures. She analyzes contemporary cinematic texts and material sites to investigate how a historical transnational formation—that of Chinese colonial modernity—continues to inform the present. As film directors (e.g., Wong Kar-wai) as well as hotels, bars, and clubs revive 1930s Shanghai and 1960s Hong Kong modernities—as well as exploit the Chinese past of Bangkok’s old European trading quarters—the colonial is emerging as a primary signifier of the good life. Furhmann asks how invocations of twentieth century translocal Chinese modernity point to enduring regional imaginaries that diverge from those of One Belt One Road and similar policies. How do a Shanghai-themed club in Bangkok (“Maggie Choo’s”), or Hong Kong cinema’s use of Bangkok as a filming location, rely on referencing a Chinese modernity that emerged under, but also exceeded, conditions of colonial governance? How does this relate to contemporary re-regionalization? Combining ethnographic and archival investigation of the revivification of Chinese modernity with cultural studies analysis, her investigation focuses especially on texture, or the features of the built environment and the feminine sartorial styles highlighted both in the cinematic materials and exploited in Bangkok’s hospitality industry. 

This event is co-sponsored by the Society for the Humanities, Performing and Media Arts department, Asian Studies department, East Asia Program, and the Cornell Contemporary China Initiative (CCCI).

ARNIKA FUHRMANN is an interdisciplinary scholar of Southeast Asia, working at the intersections of the region’s aesthetic and political modernities. Her book Ghostly Desires: Queer Sexuality and Vernacular Buddhism in Contemporary Thai Cinema (Duke University Press, 2016) examines how Buddhist-coded anachronisms of haunting figure struggles over sexuality, personhood, and notions of collectivity in contemporary Thai cinema. In a new research project, Fuhrmann focuses on new media and how the study of the digital allows for a perspective on the political public sphere that transcends commonplace distinctions between liberalism and illiberalism. This project intersects with her interests in the transformation of cities in contemporary Southeast and East Asia. Fuhrmann’s recent writing has appeared in Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and CultureOriens Extremus, Diogenes, and positions: asia critique. She is Assistant Professor of Southeast Asian Studies in Cornell University’s Department of Asian Studies.

This event is free and open to the public. If you need accommodations to participate in this event, please contact as soon as possible.

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Institute for Comparative Modernities (ICM), Southeast Asia Program, East Asia Program, Department of Performing and Media Arts, Asian Studies, Society for the Humanities




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Catherine Clepper

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Arnika Fuhrmann

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Cornell University

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