Our special China Transnational issue of Mascara found inspiration after last year’s conference of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature in Melbourne, ‘Looking In, Looking Out: China and Australia’, a colloquy that was enriched by the presence of the esteemed translator, Li Yao, as well as Chinese post-graduate students. It was apparent, however, that Australian Studies in China is often framed from the perspective of industry, institutions and dual nationalisms. This opened up a space that felt necessary for creative contributions from the Chinese diaspora, from the voices of experimentalism, political struggle, human rights activism; and from the border homelands as China maps out new geostrategic objectives.
This kind of complexity is reflected in May Ngo’s ‘Little Red Book’, a story about an ethnic Chinese family in Cambodia during the Vietnam War, when China’s presence alternated its alignment with and against the Americans. Martin Kovan’s border fictions and his critical writing point to a tendency to flatten out minority narratives, or the need to register the pessimism of living for generations on the perimeter of powerful regimes, such as the Kachin people have, ‘and dream of a different tomorrow: a jade bridge crossing over from poverty to a life free from it.’ Tsering Dhompa’s startling memoir, Coming Home to Tibet reminds us that ‘This is not a simple story.’ There are many perspectives we need to engage with, however demanding, if what we value can survive the totalising rhetorics of power. Language is a space where this must be negotiated.
Yet many of these poems and stories are free of explicit ideology; experimenting in textual practise or supplementing the visual with the verbal as poets, Nadia Rhook and Bella Li do; perhaps the most avant garde being AJ Carruthers’s prosodic dissonances of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, (EvFL stanzas). In her interview with Emily Yu Zong, Hao Jing Fang describes Chinese science fiction as heterogeneous and resisting politicisation. Restraint in Brianna Bullen’s story ‘The Last Giant Panda’ compels a reconsideration of cyber indulgence and our disregard for non-human animals. Gender politics and the violence of banality in suburban life are rendered surreal and allegorical in Dorothy Tse’s ‘The Door’ translated by Natascha Bruce. In Wanling Liu’s ‘Childhood Surprise’ and in Xiaoshuai Gou’s ‘The Cup’ these tropes formally shape the flash fiction, suggesting traces of culture and memory.
29 years following the Tiananmen Square massacre this issue remembers and honours the student dissidents whose civic protests and hunger strikes tragically ended in bloodshed. The events of 1989 have been erased as a forbidden zone in Chinese press, education and scholarship but they were deeply disturbing for all of us whether watched through the lens of the media as distant spectators or whether through the intimate and moving platform of diplomacy. Today, as insiders or global citizens, a collective dynamics connects the micro histories in our lives, which are inseparable from and reliant on memory’s shards and the stirrings of political consciousness. Ravi Shankar’s eloquent review of Liu Xia’s Empty Chairs not only honours her struggle for freedom (‘a life that hides behind death masks’) but her poetics as a woman whose literary art has been overshadowed by the masculinised machineries of political repression and representation.
The social theorist Arik Dirlik gave his last urgent book a one-word title: Complicities. Published not long before the author’s death last year and subtitled The People’s Republic of China in Global Capitalism, the book argues for the complicity that exists between China and the rest of the world at almost every level today. ‘These relationships in their very fluidity dynamize global politics and culture’, he writes, insisting that, given such entanglements, any ‘criticism must account for outsiders’ complicities’ too, articulating ‘the contradictions of a global capitalism to which no outside exists except in its interior’. As readers, it is worth considering to what extent this might implicate creativity in language as a process of interaction, adaptation, responsibility/responsiveness—to change, connection, conflict and recovery. The scope if this China Transnational issue is borderless, receptive to the language of territories and identities claimed as Chinese, or contested, or impacted on by an expanding Sinosphere, across varied literary tropes and linguistic spaces. Across it all there are some commonalties: the importance of the child as sign of the future or the past; the presence of history; the power of anger; the art of being heard.
Through a program of support from the Copyright Agency Limited and the Australia Council for the Arts it has been a great privilege to work with our mentee Shirley Le, indeed with each writer featured in this issue. We are delighted to have published Chinese Australians of mixed ancestry and several Chinese students who currently call Australia their home. At a time when almost daily the public’s fears and insecurities with respect to our shared cultures are being ignited politically, we hope you find in this issue writing that is brave, nuanced, unique and transnational.
Michelle Cahill and Nicholas Jose