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Postutopian Returns: The Peach Blossom Spring in Contemporary Chinese Landscape Aesthetics

Prof Andrea Riemenschnitter, Chair of Modern Chinese Language and Literature, University of Zurich

The return to regional political, philosophical, and religious discourses on the position and agency of humans within the planetary system has, of late, engendered alternative approaches towards utopian visions.

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For example, the art exhibition “Not to Be Told to Outsiders” curated by Qiu Zhijie (Beijing, 2016) plays with the ambiguous meanings of a line from the ancient legend of The Peach Blossom Spring. On the one hand, this utopian mountain village hides from the external world and has good reasons for not wanting to interact. Therefore, the accidental visitor is admonished to keep the secret to himself when leaving. On the other hand it turns out that, whether described to other people or not, a return to the place proves impossible. The inwardness of this ancient utopia rendered it largely unattractive to modern utopian thinkers, but made it highly adaptable to current refigurations as eco-utopia. Xu Bing's transnational installations of Peach Blossom Spring gardens and an award-winning utopia trilogy by novelist Ge Fei are the result of several years of productive engagements with the globalized present as seen from a Chinese cultural perspective. These revisions of the ancient legend are open for both, world literary hybridization and nostalgic recordings of the local. In this way, they significantly contribute to a cultural refashioning involving the rediscovery of Asian cosmological theories and moral values for a heightened environmental awareness. At the same time, transcultural paradigms catering to a cosmopolitical world view are employed to effectively deconstruct Western modernist doxa. In view of the growing political impotence vis-à-vis globally spreading social problems and environmental issues they look for alternative paths that might leads out of the dominant resource raiding materialism.

Professor Andrea Riemenschnitter is Chair Professor of Modern Chinese Language and Literature and currently Marie S. Curie FCFP External Visiting Fellow at Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies. She studied Music, Sinology, German Literature and Sociology in Munich, Bonn, Taipei and Goettingen. Awards include the title of Honorary Fellow at Lingnan University, Hong Kong, as well as visiting (senior) fellowships at ARI NU Singapore, UC Berkeley, Beijing Normal University, Shanghai Fudan University, Tsing Hua University (Beijing), and IFK International Research Center for Cultural Studies, Vienna. She has published on Ming/Qing travel literature as well as modern and contemporary Chinese/Sinophone literature, theatre and film, focusing on topics such as aesthetics, modernity, regional identity, history and memory, and translation. Covering a broad range of subject matter and materials, she currently works on literature, theatre and visual media tackling nature and the environment, landscape aesthetics, and regionalist narratives addressing questions of place, memory, and subjectivity. Furthermore, she leads a research group studying Hong Kong culture in the context of post-/colonial community-building. She is the author of Carnival of the Gods - Mythology, Modernity and the Nation in China's 20th Century (in German, 2011).


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