This paper will engage with Chinese science fiction (sf) writer Chen Qiufan’s (b.1981) award-winning novel The Waste Tide (2013) regarding the embodiment in the protagonist Mimi of China’s neoliberal social and cultural shifts since the 1990s. While witnessing a wide array of market-driven and neoliberal policies brought forward by the nation-wide privatisation, Chinese people are allowed to develop a certain degree of individual autonomy resulting in a reconfiguration of economic, social, political, and cultural powers. Since the Chinese discourse on neoliberalism has elaborated a subjectivising impulse that aims to prime the powers of the private self, people still found themselves in a turmoil where the previous living stability projected by the socialist ideology and planned economy had been replaced by the uncertainty and insecurity accompanied with the competitive nature of the neoliberal market. The consequential developmental unevenness between the favoured regions and the rest, therefore, has produced a huge gap between the rich entrepreneurs and the marginalised migrant workers.
As one of the leading figures of the “New-Born Generation” authors marking the latest upsurge of the Chinese sf New Wave, Chen Qiufan in The Waste Tide draws upon the fierce social conflicts in a cyberpunk Silicon Isle famous for its e-waste recycling industry, where tens of thousands of migrant workers are enslaved by the money-making local entrepreneurial clans and transnational corporations while exposed to toxic e-waste as well as virulent medical body replacements. In this case, this paper will feature on the heroin of The Waste Tide, an innocent waste girl named Mimi, whose body hosts two split identities after surviving a fatal virus – i.e. Mimi 0, the original weak, sensitive, yet benevolent character, and Mimi 1, the rational, nearly omniscient, yet merciless and violent consciousness who eventually triggers a rebellion of migrant workers against the local clans through the cyberspace. It will be argued that such a combination of Mimi 0 and Mimi 1 represents an embodied hybridity among China’s migrant worker in the neoliberal era, which indicates the uniqueness of China’s acceptance of neoliberalism.
About the speaker
Lyu Guangzhao is a PhD student of Comparative Literature at UCL, working on a comparative study between contemporary (mainly post-1990) British and Chinese Science Fiction. He is a currently a member of London Science Fiction Research Community (LSFRC) and one of the co-organisers of London Chinese Sci-fi Group.