Hillenbrand interview

Source: China Digital Times (2/14/24)
Interview: Margaret Hillenbrand on Her Books “On the Edge” (2023) and “Negative Exposures” (2020).
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Margaret Hillenbrand, professor of Modern Chinese Literature and Culture at the University of Oxford, joined CDT to discuss her two latest books: “On the Edge: Feeling Precarious in China” (2023) and “Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary China” (2020).

On the Edge” examines antagonistic cultural forms generated in response to the expulsion of hundreds of millions of China’s precariat from mainstream society, effectively condemning them to “zombie citizenship,” which Hillenbrand describes as “a state of exile from the shelter of the law.” The book covers a kaleidoscopic range of art: assembly line poetry, shit-eating livestreams (literally) on short video apps, and documentaries on trash, to offer but a sampling. Our conversation focuses on two forms: delegated performances, in which charismatic artists recruit vulnerable workers to participate in staged site-specific installations that often include degrading, even sadistic, elements; and “suicide shows,” in which workers stage dramatic protests on high-rise edifices and tower cranes to demand their unpaid wages. The first half of the interview is a wide-ranging discussion on the dark feelings generated by the “cliff-edge” of precarity and expulsion, and the potentially socially transformative powers of abrasive behavior, despite its obvious destructive potential.

The second half of the conversation focuses on “Negative Exposures,” a study of the relationship between “photo-forms”—photographs and their remediated renderings in other media—and “public secrecy” in China. The book makes a dramatic challenge to popular narratives of an “amnesiac China” forgetful of its traumatic past, proposing instead that the silences of the past are, at least in part, conspiratorial. (For more on “amnesia,” see CDT’s recent discussion with Perry Link on Liu Xiabo.) While readily acknowledging the state-engineered project to silence the past, Hillenbrand argues that photo-forms capture “the paradox of things that are fully known but are totally unacknowledgeable.” Silence about China’s past, in Hillenbrand’s telling, is part therapeutic, exculpatory, and self-interested—not so much a product of forgetting but rather, at least in part, of active choice. Our discussion of “Negative Exposures” focuses on photo-forms related to Bian Zhongyun, former vice-principal at an elite girls’ school in Beijing and the victim of the capital’s first recorded murder by Red Guards on August 5, 1966. In 2014, Song Binbin, daughter of a founding father of the Chinese Communist Party and former lead Red Guard at Bian’s school, stood before a bronze bust of Bian erected on the campus they once shared and tearfully apologized for her role in the vice-principal’s death. We discuss whether Song’s controversial apology “created ripples of sound” that have punctured public secrecy in China, or whether the silence of the past continues to hold.

The conversation closes with a brief discussion of Hillenbrand’s current book project, a study of three “facescapes” in modern China: the biometric face, the masked face, and the aesthetically modified face.

The interview transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

China Digital Times: Let’s start with “On the Edge: Feeling Precarious in China.” What is zombie citizenship? How does it relate to precarity in China?

Margaret Hillenbrand: These are the core questions I look at in the book and they’re linked. Taking the second one first: thinking about precarity in China means coming to terms with China’s vast underclass as a definitional presence within Chinese society. It’s the largest underclass in human history, at least 300 million people strong, and it’s the crucible of the Chinese experience of precarity. Precarity is a kind of master term for the present, globally, and it’s usually linked to things like zero-hours contracts, minimal security, maximal employee risk, that sort of thing. But it seems to me that the experiences of China’s underclass—they’re not by any means a homogenous group, I should say—really force us to rethink that term. These are people who are pincered between the unequal hukou system on the one hand and the prejudicial suzhi system on the other hand. They’ve been subjected to really long-term policies of spatial and social segregation, that I think cohere into an experience which is quite a lot closer to expulsion than precarity. This idea that banishment is the terminus of precarity, the endpoint of precarity—that’s the core thesis.

I try to develop a couple of conceptual tools to think through this pathway from precarity to expulsion, and that takes me to zombie citizenship. This is a state of exile from the shelter of the law, in which a really substantial minority of Chinese workers are living, despite—this is what I find so awful about it—the unequivocal protection that they’re promised in black and white, by the law of the land. Article One of the Chinese constitution actually states that the People’s Republic of China is a socialist state, under the people’s democratic dictatorship, led by the working class, and so on. Workers, I think, still proportionately stand at the vanguard of society, and it’s their hard grind that has built the steeples and the skyscrapers of the Chinese dream. It’s their blood and sweat that kept the wheels turning during the pandemic. But in reality, they’ve been cut loose from the safeguards of a legal system, which pledges things like the right to remuneration for labor, which pledges the right to rest and vacations, which pledges the right to occupational safety and health, but it isn’t really compelled to deliver on these things. And this is a state of cognitive dissonance at the end of the day and it seems monstrous. It’s so monstrous that it casts a pall over the whole of society. How could it not be, at a time when you’ve got chronic uncertainty creeping from the subaltern margins to the more comfortable segments of society? You’ve got highly educated graduates who can’t get jobs. You’ve got the IT workers who are trapped in the 996 work system. You’ve got the student interns who are sucked into what Jenny Chan calls an “intern-labor pipeline.” So tumbling into zombie citizenship—a life without core rights—menaces the many, not the few. It looms like a precipice. This is the second idea that I tried to get to grips with in the book: the idea that there’s a cliff-edge, and the fear of the cliff-edge has brewed social strife since the millennium, and culture is a place where all that tension bubbles over. The book is about how people who are teetering on the brink use culture to vent their feelings of distrust and disdain and rage and fury and so on. These are bleak feelings, dark feelings, that are basically outlawed in China’s “harmonious society.”

CDT: The first place you look at culture is in the chapter “The Delegators.” Delegated performance art is obviously a highly controversial practice globally. In China—speaking of dark feelings—you write that it allows threatened-class actors to turn on social others in a deeply cathartic fashion. There’s a number of different delegated performances you look at, but let’s discuss “Wrestling: One and One Hundred.”

Hillenbrand: That’s one of the most striking ones.

CDT: How is that a response to the precipice? How does it complicate potentially rosy narratives of solidarity in China or the formation of class?

Hillenbrand: Delegated performance is an art practice, globally, but it actually was surprisingly quite widespread in Chinese art at the turn of the century, and also beyond. But somehow it’s escaped any kind of close scrutiny. Actually, it’s pretty clear why. It’s because it’s so ethically dubious. In Chinese delegated performance, what you get is the artists recruiting either very low-pay, or no-pay members of the underclass to participate in site-specific installations. The stated aim, I think, is a “feel good” or “feel bad” aim. That’s what they say in their artist statements and their interviews and so on. But in practice, I found that this kind of performance has a really disdainful vibe to it. It’s almost sadistic, actually. These works stage-manage precarious people into scenarios of risk and duress and harm and humiliation and so on. You mentioned “One and One Hundred” but in another one, you get the artist co-opting 56 women to get on their knees and wash his feet. It’s kind of mind-bending, really.

CDT: It’s a shockingly vicious art.

Hillenbrand: It is, isn’t it? And yet it’s been kind of quite touted as bold and avant-garde. I find the whole thing really unsettling because these artists often describe their work in terms of critiques of social injustice—of zombie citizenship, basically, though they don’t use that word. But this is, I think, a completely deceptive front. It’s a bit of a con. What these artists are doing is effectively zombifying their underclass collaborators, while they themselves preside over the performance from a position of lordly power.

CDT: Quite literally lordly in “20 Hugs for Hire.”

Hillenbrand: They’re all quite mind-bending in their own ways. And it’s in this sense that they complicate the rosy narratives about inter-class solidarity. These are works in which the artists’ own fear of tumbling downwards are brutally deflected onto social others. What I find really interesting is actually these artists were themselves living pretty precarious lives. Many of them, when they were making these artworks, shared living space with migrant workers but then they go on to mistreat this self-same group of people in these performances which actively incite divisiveness and hostility. And I think that’s why the power dynamics, to get back to your question, come off as cheaply cathartic and shameless. There’s a sort of unabashed character to it, which I also found mesmerizing, in a way—the whole idea that art can be wicked and there’s no calling that out.

CDT: Suicide shows, I think, are the final culmination of the cliff-edge. Could you introduce suicide shows to CDT readers?

Hillenbrand: Suicide shows are a form of protest which emerged among workers in China’s construction industry over the last couple of decades. You get precarious workers who have been denied their wages threatening to jump from a rooftop of a high-rise building, or maybe a tower crane, sometimes, unless they receive the pay that they’re due from their bosses. These videos—these shows, I should say—they’re very carefully staged. They kind of follow a script. They’re filmed and then they’re posted online. For the book, I looked at a corpus of about two dozen of these shows that had been posted on video-sharing sites. They have been talked about by scholars but they’ve mostly got the attention of anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, labor historians (maybe most of all), I guess because of their genesis in employment disputes and employment law. But as I got to work on this archive of two dozen videos, I became increasingly struck by how intensely self-aware they were—how they were so self-reflective as performances. This performance power that they have comes directly from the breathtaking visual language that they create for zombie citizenship and the cliff-edge as a sort of lived experience for those who are both above and below. And it’s in this sense that these protesters—in the book I call them “cliffhangers”—present a blunt paradigm for what it means to be hanging on by your fingertips as winds howl around you and their limbs quiver.

But the more I think about these shows—and actually, your question made me think a bit more about this and I’m not sure if I got this point across in my book properly—the more it seems that they’re not just about visualizing the fear of falling into the abyss. I think they’re also about overcoming the sense of vertigo which causes zombie citizenship as a social plight. By performing their fear in the way they do, they also master it, in a way. Via that process, I think what they do is subvert the hierarchies on which stratified citizenship is based in China. I think that’s one of the reasons why suicide shows have just been so relentlessly slammed by the mainstream Chinese media over the years. They’re a form of civil disobedience which uses high-rise architecture to challenge the very edifice of rank and status and that’s very discomfiting.

CDT: In your book, I believe you mentioned they’re expected to jump, right, and thus reassert their position at the bottom? Once you build the high rise, you should jump out of its existence.

Hillenbrand: I didn’t say that in the book but you’re absolutely right. That is the ultimate fate that’s been enjoined them, isn’t it? Which is why when they do jump, they’re validated because they’ve followed through on their threat. When they don’t jump, they’re called shameless shysters and charlatans and all the rest of it. Underlying this visual language is the idea that once you’ve performed your function, you should disappear yourself—self-expulsion.

CDT: You end “On the Edge” on a hopeful note. What is the transformative potential of the art you examine, and what political force or social force do you see it exerting in China today?

Hillenbrand: When I wrote the conclusion of the book, I did wonder if it was a bit too positive. When I shared it with a scholar whose opinion I really respect, that colleague said it might strike a false note to end a bleak book on a whisper of hope. I totally take that point and it gave me a lot to think about. At the same time, I do think that the cultural forms that I talked about in the book open the way towards rethinking antagonism as the axiomatic opposite of the social good, as we tend to see it. In actual practice, codes of citizenly conduct are often about maintaining appropriate distance. They’re about obeying the laws of personal space. They’re about staying in your lane. They’re about knowing your place. The cultural forms I talked about in the book are actually about the exact opposite. They’re about crossing lines and getting right in the face of social others—whether that’s via site-specific installation that stages cross-class tension or a short video that does the same thing on your phone screen. Acting really abrasively, acting antagonistic, these are modes of being that reject the cold comforts of distance. Researching antagonism made me wonder if the kinetic energy of friction is more enlivening, or maybe even more socially transformative, than it is destructive. I’m not sure.

One of the effects of the silencing of class as a category of political action in China is that the policy of divide-and-rule, which is imposed by power holders, has found it much easier to pass unchallenged. If you can’t talk about class, you can’t really talk meaningfully about the why and the how of social atomization. Antagonism, the sort of dark feelings I talked about in the book, reverse this process because antagonism is a form of friction. It’s a chafing together of things that are brought into close or maybe even uncomfortable contact with each other. I think of it like an electric bulb, which generates heat as a byproduct of light. Antagonism makes the social temperature rise, at the same time as it vents feelings of anger and contempt. The cultural works that I look at in the book all stage moments of friction which transgress codes of citizenly contact but as they do that, I think maybe they also catalyze new possibilities for relating with other people. That might be falsely optimistic. I guess time will tell.

CDT: Let’s discuss “Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary China” now. Can you outline the idea of public secrecy and how it fits in with the top-down information control we tend to focus on at CDT? How does it differ from self-censorship? How does it complement censorship and amnesia as a framework for understanding why historical consciousnesses are full of potholes?

Hillenbrand: Public secrecy is an alternative way of thinking about historical erasure. Everyone knows that there are certain decisive episodes—whether the Nanjing Massacre, the Cultural Revolution, or the Tiananmen crackdown—that have struggled at different times to achieve the commemorative status that their magnitude truly warrants. Researchers who work on China have tended to take the view that these missing histories are, as you put it, the result of top-down information control. The traumatic past gets expunged so comprehensively from public culture that it basically fades from mind—that’s the argument. This argument that state censorship produces a collective amnesia is really entrenched. Whether we’re talking about academia or media representations, it’s really now quite baked in.

But it just doesn’t really convince me because do the people who’ve experienced really extreme events really forget them? They might well want to. They might crave oblivion but they’re far more likely to be mercilessly haunted by their pasts. I don’t dispute for a second that censorship is bad for memory. Of course it is. But I think this paradigm is deficient on its own because it presupposes that our minds are like databases that you can just wipe clean. There’s a whiff of brainwashing rhetoric around that that I also think is quite off. So then the question becomes: Why do certain events fail to get the memorial they deserve? Why do certain events get disowned? In the book, I argue that public secrecy—I borrow that idea from Michael Taussig who describes it as that which is generally known but cannot be articulated—is a key structuring force in contemporary Chinese socio-political life. It’s a collective endeavor. In the book, I say something like “the silences of the past are conspiratorial.” Public secrecy has a lot of stakeholders. It has a lot of participants. People want to obey this law of omertà for all sorts of different reasons. They might keep them because speaking out is dangerous for themselves or for their families or because some words really hurt—so silence is therapeutic. Some people are really ashamed of their past deeds. That’s obviously a really big thing. Some people mute themselves to keep the fragile peace or to maintain social bonds with other fellow secret-keepers, if you like. I think, in that sense, that public secrecy is highly mindful. It’s a mode of thinking about historical consciousness which restores agency to people instead of seeing them as targets for brainwashing.

You mentioned self-censorship. You could argue that self-censorship is also mindful, and I think it is, but self-censorship is fundamentally a reluctant practice. People police their words because they fear the consequences if they speak more plainly. Public secrecy is different from self-censorship because it acknowledges the much, much trickier truth that some survivors, some witnesses, some perpetrators, have no desire to speak about their pasts at all. In fact, they might vastly prefer silence for reasons of pain or fear or shame or guilt or complicity or whatever.

CDT: What drew you to “photo-forms” (photographs and images derived from them) as a lens for examining public secrecy?

Hillenbrand: I became aware of photo-forms as a category of images a long time before I realized that it might have something to do with public secrecy. I’ve been fascinated for ages about the role that photography plays in transmitting historical memory in China. About 10 years ago, I began noticing that there were certain images that were constantly migrating beyond the borders of the photograph. Some pictures were just repeatedly being repurposed in other media as cartoons, sculptures, video games, printed T-shirts, tattoos, all sorts of things. Once I started looking for these hybrid things in earnest, I found them by the dozen. The photographs that are remediated in this way tend to have some things in common. In particular, they’re all striking, maybe even searing, images of traumatic historical events. All of them have been classified at some point in their circulation histories. All of them are about episodes of the Chinese past which people remember pretty well, if they were there, but can’t talk about very openly. So I decided I would call them photo-forms—that was the working title I gave them. The more I studied these photo-forms, the more I got the sense that they must be performing some kind of socio-cultural work, but I didn’t know what it was.

It was around that time that I interviewed Badiucao, the cartoonist. Sophie Beach [former CDT English Executive Editor] was the person who put me in touch with him. In our discussion about the Tank Man photograph, he made a really penetrating remark. He said something like, “Although [this event, June 4th,] is really tightly controlled in terms of information, middle-aged people all have a kind of unspoken knowledge about it. It’s a secret closely kept by both sides.” It suddenly struck me really forcefully at that point that “secrets kept by both sides” are what photo-forms are all about. They’re artifacts that take an iconic photograph and then mask it, if you like, under a different material guise. They scramble it, in a sense, but always knowing full well what’s behind the veil because the original image is just far too famous to miss—even if the photo-form somehow warps its shape. What I realized at that point was that photo-forms articulate the paradox of things that are fully known but are totally unacknowledgeable. That’s a really interesting paradox. Also, in their warpedness, in the way they twist the image, they also get the sense in which public secrets are really distorting. They’re damaging. They wreck our consciousness of the past.

CDT: In the book, you’re very clear that public secrecy is far from unique to China. But how does public secrecy in China differ from the public secrecy maintained in the United States or the UK?

Hillenbrand: I think if I was going to write the book again, I would give it more attention. One of the things I did try and stay away from in the book, as much as I could, was the whole Chinese exceptionalism thing. These really insidious myths of Chinese uniqueness that plague the academic study of China, as well as representations in the media of Chinese society. But at the same time, I do think that it’s crucial that we track secrecy as an experience in a more systematically localized way. That means tracking how technocratic authoritarianism, the kind you get in China, interacts with secrecy and public secrecy as a tool of governance that’s as old as human society itself.

I don’t think it’s an accident that secrecy as a discipline is so young, so fledgling, wherever you go because secrecy repels researchers wherever they are—even when they’re working in so-called liberal democracies. It stands to reason that the intransigent character of secrecy, whether it’s public secrecy or more closet secrecy, is going to harden exponentially in authoritarian states. Scholars who study secrecy in China have a lot to deal with: there’s everything from counter-espionage laws, a vast censorship apparatus, a tightly controlled media environment, closed trials, disappeared dissidents—the more autocratic a state is, it seems the more kleptocratic and secretive it becomes. We’ve really seen that truth in action, haven’t we, in the last few years, as Xi’s grip on power has tightened. On the one hand, you’ve got the Party-state stepping up its efforts to export its anti-transparency norms overseas via things like highly secretive sales of surveillance technologies—secretive ways of selling secrecy technologies. Another thing is a difference in secrecy and public secrecy (it’s on a spectrum) but it’s a difference nonetheless: you get secrecy escalating as a power flex domestically in China. Obvious examples would be the disappearances of the two high-ranking Xi loyalists, Qin Gang and Li Shangfu. Their fates have been veiled—it’s almost theatrical. It’s an almost flamboyant kind of secrecy, isn’t it? This is what Debord calls “spectacular secrecy” and it’s a trademark move of a really hardcore cryptocracy. That kind of behavior, of course, is not exclusive to China, but we see it operating at full throttle there.

CDT: You lead off the book with the Nanjing Massacre. The Chinese state has gone to great lengths to propagate a very specific version of it. You described turning photo evidence of the massacre into logos that convey a feeling, a brand, but then in doing so completely obscure the stories of victims. Why would the state, alongside public-secret keepers, want to do that? What is their impetus for turning photos into logos?

Hillenbrand: To give a bit of background to it: these ultra-violent photographs of the Nanjing Massacre are displayed so widely in China now, often to children, that it’s quite easy to forget that for decades they were actually strictly classified. They were state secrets, just like the atrocities which had been hushed up during the Maoist era. But then, in the mid-90s or so, you get this process beginning to kick off where, as a response to the crisis of patriotism that was triggered by the crackdown at Tiananmen, this photographic archive of the massacre quite extraordinarily starts to be circulated in really intensive, really energetic ways in China. First of all via commemorative albums, huge books stuffed with grotesque photographs. Then later, they migrated again from the albums into popular-history books, museums, websites, films, paintings, reportage, graphic art, all sorts of things, video gaming. Then, over time, what we see is the state and its agents disseminating this archive of atrocity right across Chinese society by repurposing a core set of the worst images.

The ones that I looked at in particular were decapitation, violated women, live burials, killing fields, and the two Japanese soldiers involved in the infamous killing contest. I argue in the book that these photo-forms have essentially created a kind of codified visual language, a set of logos, that trigger what is almost a kind of Pavlovian nationalistic response from spectators. They see the massacre images and then have a synaptic response of patriotism. The massacre images sit right at the heart of the state’s evolving drive for patriotic education. Viewing these photos is a shortcut to feelings of rage and fury about the many wrongs that were done to China over the years. That’s their core value. That’s their core use-value to the Chinese state. But the problem, of course, is that these are perpetrator images. They’re war pornography, in many cases. So consuming them forces into being a new kind of public secret. Audiences have to pretend that they’re unaware of the dark origins of these photos because if they openly acknowledged their provenance they’d have to recognize that using war pornography as the basis for propaganda grossly violates the memory of the fellow Chinese people who endured that violence and that degradation. So it’s a really peculiar discourse.

CDT: Song Binbin bows before the bronze bust of Bian Zhongyun which is modeled on Bian’s husband’s [Wang Jingyao] secret altar photograph. How does that crack the ice [of public secrecy]? And does the crack spread, so to speak?

Hillenbrand: The main thing about Bian Zhongyun’s murder was the status of the school she was at. That’s why the ice begins to form. The school was attended by girls from some of China’s most elite political families. I think it’s Wang Youqin who says that by the mid-1960s, about half the pupils were the offspring of top cadres, including the daughters of Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi. When Bian Zhongyun was murdered on August 5, 1966, from that very instant onwards her murder was veiled in secrecy. The identity of the perpetrators was so incendiary that Bian’s husband was stonewalled at every attempt he made to bring them to justice. The ice seemed completely impermeable, even though he himself had very little doubt that Red Guard leader Song Binbin, daughter of Song Renqiong (one of the eight elders of the Chinese Communist Party), had had a hand in the violence. This state of frozenness went on for years until the early 2000s, when a photographic portrait of Bian Zhongyun appeared in an online memorial of Cultural Revolution victims.

From there, in a process that I’ve already kind of alluded to, that image was remediated again and again and again in a documentary film, cartoons, and a vast photo-realist portrait. Finally—this is where it gets really interesting—it was remediated as a statue, as a bronze bust, which was crowdfunded by [Bian’s] former pupils at the school and then erected in her former place of work. It was at this point that Song Binbin made her extraordinary pilgrimage to the school and made this extraordinary bow. That apology hit global news feeds—it was a big story. But not everyone, of course, was satisfied by it. Wang Jingyao thought it was phony and cynical and self-serving. It’s not hard to understand his misgivings. But I think the apology did do something. I think it cracked the ice, a bit, around the secrecy that surrounds particularly the Red Guard legacy within Cultural Revolution memory, for the simple reason that it was a significant speech-act about an event that’s been confined to really unnatural silence for nearly 50 years. So even though the words struck a jarring note for some people, they still created ripples of sound—or cracks in the ice.

But the thing is, I wrote this chapter in 2017. That was at a time when the echoes of the apology still resonated. It seemed like the cracks might spread at that point. But in the years since, as Xi Jinping has doubled down on so-called historical nihilism and has locked the Cultural Revolution down in an even tighter silence, I’m not sure you can say that anymore. By the time conditions ease again—if they do ease—the people who remember Red August, the month of mayhem in which Bian Zhongyun lost her life, probably won’t be with us anymore. In that sense, the ice will have frozen over again.

CDT: I’ll ask a silly question. You use monster motifs in both books: ghosts in “Negative Exposures,” and zombies in “On The Edge.” Are you working on another book? If so, which monster will you use?

Hillenbrand: I hadn’t actually realized that they did both have monsters in them until you pointed this out, which suggested there’s some macabre element in my mind that’s driving my research interests. There is a new book in the works. I don’t think it has a monster in it. It’s about the cultural politics of the face in twenty-first century China—and I definitely do not mean mianzi [editor’s note: 面子, “face,” meaning social standing]. I’m interested in the face as something which is fleshly, not figurative. I’m particularly interested in the face as a conduit or a channel through which you get bio-power flowing in contemporary China today. I focus on three particular facescapes: the biometric face, the masked face, and the aesthetically modified face.

So to get back to your monster question, rather than monsterdom it’s actually about facial perfection and new understandings of the golden ratio. So it’s the exact opposite of monsterdom. I’m really intrigued by the idea that the face is so overlooked in social theory. To this day, you just get the face being completely trumped by the body everywhere across the humanities. Embodiment is everywhere. It’s basically a compulsory mode of engagement for all sorts of disciplines from digitality, to sexuality, gender, race, whatever. Meanwhile, the face as something fleshly is one of the last uncharted terrains in the humanities and its absence is very particularly pronounced in the case of China. You’ve got “face as social protocol,” combining this undying fixation with the face of Mao Zedong. It just goes on and on and on with the result that there are lots of other, richer ways of thinking about the face that aren’t really being explored. Facescapes in China really need their moment. They need it now in this current era of pandemic and protest, surveillance and surgery. Faces really matter. This new project I’m doing is trying to get to grips with that.

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