Drawing on Deepika Bahri’s notion of the “reincarnative politics” of the so-called civilising mission of imperial colonialism, I will explore the redemptive anti-capital narrative in the evolution of the sexualised machine-woman from the hulijing, a fox-woman animal spirit, in Ken Liu’s acclaimed short story ‘Good Hunting.’ Yan, the hulijing, becomes trapped in her human body as a result of the changing landscape of rural China and the building of a railroad that interferes with the veins of qi in the land. In Hong Kong she is forced into prostitution, and becomes the mistress of the Governor’s son, a man obsessed with technological development to the extent that it becomes a sexual proclivity: “In a city filled with chrome and brass and clanging and hissing, desires became confused.” He drugs her and begins to alter her body, beginning with the amputation of her legs, replacing them with “shiny chrome” ones. This goes on until Yan is almost entirely mechanised, at which point she runs away from her abuser, seeking out an old ally, the spirit hunter, who has since become an engineer on the railways. She begs for his help, and he agrees to construct her body to her specifications, until assumes her “true form.” This paper seeks to explore the intersection of colonial biophysiological interference with the production of the sexualised machine, reading the woman in terms of Donna Haraway’s cyborg metaphor. The transformations of the hulijing into a woman and thence into a cyborg creature provides an analogy for materialism within the narrative of progress as inherently good. This paper will consider whether the image of the woman problematically signifies a pre-lapserian, pre-colonial purity of rural China. It will also consider the construction of the mechanised, and therefore presumably programmable woman, in terms of the notion of the cyborg as it is bound by the “integrated circuit” of the market as a sexualised commodity.
About the speaker
Chelsea Haith is a fully-funded DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford, working on urban geopolitics in speculative fiction. She is a Mandela Rhodes scholar and has worked in publishing and journalism. Her research interests include refugee literature, gender studies, the politics of representation, urban geopolitics and speculative fiction.