Imagining Utopia: Reading Ou Ning’s
The Bishan Commune: How to Start Your Own Utopia

By Mai Corlin

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 31, no.1  (Spring 2019), pp. 1-46

Concerned with the imagining of utopia in the Chinese countryside, the vantage point of this essay is The Bishan Commune: How to Start Your Own Utopia, an outline for a utopia drafted in notebook form in 2010 by artist, editor, curator, and public intellectual Ou Ning. The notebook presents research into micro-nations across the world as well as drafts and ideas for an alternative community in rural China; a utopian ideal of another way of life far away from Chinese society and authorities based on the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin’s idea of mutual aid and James Yen’s rural reconstruction practices of the 1930s.

Through the notebook, Ou Ning makes the power and control of the Communist Party of China visible by displaying struggles with an authoritarian power and by presenting a utopian vision of how life could be. However, the struggle displayed in the notebook and articulated through Ou Ning’s anarchism is not a violent struggle. Rather it is a struggle for the right to analyze and define the problems of Chinese society (and the world in general) and – not least – the right to imagine and propose other worlds.