Red Detachment — the politics of cultural engagement with the People’s Republic of China

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

Relations between Australia and China have never been closer, or more fraught. From the time of the Cold War, our alliance with the US has been a source of tension between Canberra and Beijing. Trump’s erratic and irresponsible leadership and prosecution of a trade war with China has put Australia today in a uniquely difficult spot. Chinese influence operations, meanwhile, threaten our sovereignty and the integrity of our political system, and its island-building in the South China Sea has raised tensions in the region. In such circumstances, what, if anything, is the value of cultural engagement?

Cultural engagement takes many forms, both here and in China. It includes official cultural exchanges, performance, art exhibition, translation, artistic and literary residencies, cultural studies, and community cultural events. It’s not always easy or straightforward, however, as demonstrated by the controversies around the staging of the Cultural Revolution propaganda ballet The Red Detachment of Women in Melbourne several years ago, and the angry objections by Beijing to the work of Australian-Chinese political artists Badiucao and Guo Jian. And while it may enrich us intellectually and socially, it won’t solve Australia’s economic or political problems with the PRC. But it does make it less likely that we will resort to the kind of racism and stereotyping that can only sabotage our ability to interact and negotiate with the country that looks set to dominate geopolitics in our region for some time to come.

About the speaker
Linda Jaivin is the co-editor of The China Story Yearbook and an editorial associate of the Australian Centre for China in the World. She is also an essayist, cultural commentator and the author of eleven books, including seven novels and the Quarterly Essay 'Found in Translation' and a literary translator from Chinese specialising in film subtitles: The Grandmaster, Hero, Operation Red Sea, Farewell My Concubine). Her essay ‘Red Detachment: China’s Culture and Australia’s Future’ was published in the journal Australian Foreign Affairs earlier this year.

Before the seminar
All attendees are invited to join us in the CIW Tea House from 3.30pm for an informal discussion with the guest speaker before the seminar.

The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University’s College of Asia & the Pacific.