Neoliberal Melancholia and the Narration of Chineseness in the Twenty-First Century

Wang, Tracey, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Chong, Sylvia, AS-English (ENGL), University of Virginia
Shukla, Sandhya, AS-English (ENGL), University of Virginia
Brickhouse, Anna, AS-English (ENGL), University of Virginia
Kokas, Aynne, AS-Media Studies (MDST), University of Virginia

My dissertation project, "Neoliberal Melancholia and the Narration of Chineseness in the Twenty-First Century," examines how the rise of China—both its material realities and its articulations—generates a paradigm shift in discourses on Asian American political identity and racial formation in the U.S. I argue that the political, economic, and social developments of the twenty-first century, which see the cementing of China’s position as the world’s largest manufacturing economy, necessitate revisions in the racialization of Asian Americans and racial categories themselves that absorb groups into American hegemony. More than an investigation of the trope of “new China,” my project delineates the economic and political developments in the shadow of the rise of China as the cultivation and implementation of neoliberal state policies through the collusion of international, national, and local networks of government bureaucracies, transnational corporations, and powerful immigrant investors. This dissertation builds on the work of Michael Omi, Howard Winant, Lisa Lowe, Claire Jean Kim, Helen Jun, and Jackie Wang to account for the pivotal changes in immigration legislation, poverty management, and valuations of labor under racial capitalism. My project theorizes how neoliberal governments and corporations work in tandem to regulate and control the terms of transnational migration and labor regimes. I offer the term neoliberal melancholia to describe the sense of pervasive loss and mourning for racialized subjects who must adhere to neoliberal values of compulsory entrepreneurship and conceptualize all social relationships as strategies for capital accumulation. In particular, the term allows me to investigate the racialization of Asian Americans during the rise of China, and how their formation as model minorities and ideal neoliberal subjects legitimize anti-Black systems of carceral governance.

I study Madeleine Thien’s novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing (2016), Lulu Wang’s film The Farewell (2019), Ling Ma’s novel Severance (2018), and the history of New York Chinatowns to theorize new global sensibilities and geographies of racial formation that exceed existing civil rights frameworks within Asian American studies. I argue that these texts complicate and depart from some of the field’s most pressing questions about racialization, racial solidarity, and political horizons. My project examines how these cultural artifacts arise and what modes of knowledge enable their emergence. In that sense, my intervention is epistemological—I am interested in how these texts are cultural corollaries to an era in which Chinese people, Chinese capital, and Chinese labor have become multivalent metaphors for financial dominance, commercial production, and neoliberal abjection. My project shows how these texts interrogate and are forged within the machinations of neoliberal governments and corporations that furnish life in the contemporary era. The burgeoning material and social infrastructures they represent and give shape to tell us something new about the assemblage of identity and the struggle for political coherence.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Asian American studies, critical ethnic studies, model minority myth, neoliberalism, rise of China
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