Lisa Richaud

Grant Type

Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship

Institutional Affiliation

Libre de Bruxelles, U.

Grant number

Gr. 10382

Approve Date

October 11, 2022

Project Title

Richaud, Lisa (Libre de Bruxelles, U.) "Casual Assemblies: Afterlives of Socialist Performance Culture in Beijing Public Parks"

Over the past thirty years, the generations who lived through the Mao era (1949-1976) have turned China’s public parks into stages for amateur performances of revolutionary tunes. Drawing on 13 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Beijing, this project explores these reverberations of Maoist culture in China’s urban public space. At the center of the analysis is the seeming paradox of displaying political messages in the heart of the capital city while framing these gatherings as ‘fun’ or ‘self-entertainment.’ Challenging previous interpretations in terms of political expression or nostalgia, this book takes these claims to non-seriousness seriously to show how performers of revolutionary model opera and choir singers have recreated everyday theatricality unburdened by the anxieties of the political past. But what happens when commitment is made largely irrelevant, as people engage with cultural forms once conceived as the very means to mold committed socialist subjects? This project seeks to theorize casualness as mode of engagement informing new experiences of being-in-public, togetherness, and relationships to the Maoist past. At stake in these situations is the possibility of being non-literal and reclaiming these pleasures from ‘politics’ (zhengzhi). The project echoes recent calls to leave room for the non-political in the anthropology of politics.