Note — Sep 06, 2020

Sinofuturism as Inverse Orientalism: China’s Future and the Denial of Coevalness

Decolonizing, defunding, anti-racism, feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, etc. There currently are (deservedly) a lot of movements to re-balance power, perceptions, revisit history, and more. The “currently living” are also colonizing the future by extracting (stealing) resources from it, and the west has constantly rewritten histories and cultures to fit its own narratives. In a similar vein of decolonizing narratives, this paper at the SFRA Review looks at orientalism, techno-orientalism, sinofuturism, and how they obfuscate aspects of China and its own invention. The author argues that the latter two are ways “of deferring participation in contemporariness” to prevent China from existing fully in the present, focusing its views of the country on its past and imagined futures in lieu of the present. The west must be aware of the biases in these ways of contemplating Chinese futures, and pay more attention to local “articulations of the future in China, all waiting to be encountered in their own terms.”

Sinofuturism is an enticing proposition. Firstly, it portends to overcome the arbitrary distinction between China’s ancient past and its contemporary modernization, promising to open up knowledge production about the People’s Republic of China towards its uncharted future. […]

Under its glossy veneer of science-fictional novelty and cyber-exoticism, sinofuturism partakes in the problematic heritage of an enduring techno-orientalist discourse. […]

As Wendy Hui Kyong Chun notes, a generalized “high tech orientalism” has come to pervade most depictions of East Asia in popular culture, offering the modern Western subject “a way to steer through the future, or more properly represent the future as something that can be negotiated” […]

This genealogy of temporal othering evidences how both sinofuturism and techno-orientalism are not merely culpable of propagating exoticizing fantasies about the future in China or other Asian contexts, but also responsible for perpetuating a more generalized denial of coevalness. […]

Chinese philosophical traditions have argued around different conceptions of time over centuries, utopian futurity has driven numerous upheavals, and revolutionary temporality has been a key ideological battleground around the founding of the People’s Republic of China (Qian).