"Danwei Walls as 'Spaces of Appearance' in China's Postsocialist City". by Prof Gerda Wielander, Westminster University

4pm–5.30pm Wednesday 28 October 2020

Zoom Registration Required at: https://uofglasgow.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJIvfuiuqzovGdBeET1SHHc9s9tl3viZ_hC_



This talk analyzes visual interventions on danwei walls—once dominating the socialist Chinese city but today mere traces of previous social and spatial forms. The talk will consider these walls as medium of expression, arguing that in the fast changing urban landscape, danwei walls—or what remains of them—have become spaces of appearance for political action in a context where public demonstrations of bodies assembling in roads and squares is disabled by repressive policies and sanctions. Not only do danwei walls provide a public space on which a group of people, through linguistic and visual expression assert that they are “still existing, taking up space and obdurately living” (Butler 2015) but the danwei walls themselves have become precarious, existing as mere fragments of what before were connected structures defining living communities.

The analysis is based on visual ethnography of three case studies which will be presented during the talk. They include an urban culture wall in Beijing’s Chaoyang District, broken up walls in an area set for demolition in Beijing’s Dongcheng District, and a protest wall in Shanghai’s Jing’an District arguing that danwei walls should be read as important historical records documenting the changes in China’s urban and social fabric.



Speaker bio


Gerda Wielander is professor in Chinese studies and Associate Head of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Westminster. Her main research interest lies in the link of the personal and spiritual to wider social and political developments in modern and contemporary China. She is the author of Christian Values in Communist China (2013), as well as several book chapters and articles in leading peer-reviewed journals. Her most recent work includes a volume on Chinese Discourses on Happiness (2018). Current projects include an exploration of happiness and the Chinese socialist project, the use of “faith” in political discourse, and an analysis of visual interventions on Chinese public walls. With colleagues at Westminster International University in Tashkent, she is working on the reception and effect of the BRI in Uzbekistan; she has also started a collaborative project on Sinophone creative responses to Covid-19, racism, and xenophobia. Gerda is editor of the British Journal of Chinese Studies.

The Scottish Centre for China Research Seminar Programme gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the MacFie Bequest. 

First published: 5 October 2020

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