Western Theory’s Chinese Transformation


The highlight of the 2011 special issue of Positions on Slavoj Žižek is the debate between Liu Kang and Žižek on “Revolutionary China.” It unpacks the Western left’s political unconsciousness and myths about China in several respects. First, revolution is not a parody-travesty of the “tradition” that Žižek concocts from romanticized fantasies of a “retrospective tradition” drawn from Jorge Luis Borges and T. S. Eliot. Second, revolution is not Alain Badiou’s “truth event,” which tends to reduce the Chinese Cultural Revolution to an abstract “event” in process, neglecting the real calamities of the so-called utopian experiment. Third, the key problematic of the debate is alternative modernity. Contrary to Žižek’s and Badiou’s rejection of alternative modernity, Liu argues that the Chinese search for alternative modernity ought to be understood in terms of complex and overdetermined historical contradictions. “Revolution” in contemporary China continues to command tremendous emotional, intellectual, and political power, rather than being a “symptom” of or “antidote” to the left’s depression. Finally, Žižek’s contemporary China fad showcases the performativity of an ex-Soviet bloc, PTSD victim’s communist nostalgia, with his radicalism completely hollowed out by Chinese academics. The China that truly exists, however, continues to challenge various myths manufactured by the Žižekians.