minjian

(popular space)
Political cultural concept
The Shanghai literary critic Chen Sihe’s concept of minjian began to appear in two essays, published in 1994, entitled The Ups and Downs of Popular Space’ (Minjian de fuchen) and ‘The Origins of Popular Space’ (Minjian de huanyuan). Instantly these essays evoked discussion among literary critics and university students in Shanghai, and the concept of minjian has since drawn attention both home and abroad. The essays exalt the floriate of Chinese literature since the 1980s as a revival of the humanities and creative energy. In this literary renaissance, asserts Chen, there has been an autonomous drive in which one may detect the ‘hidden structure’ of the ‘popular space’. He also describes how the contemporary ‘popular space’ was rooted in Chinese literature at the turn of the twentieth century and its political and cultural vicissitudes in later decades.
As Chen defines it, ‘popular space’ is close to Habermas’s theory of the ‘public sphere’ as they both resist the power of the nation-state. Yet the Chinese popular space is primarily a ‘cultural space’, discursively engaged with the process of Chinese modernization, and different from the ‘public sphere’ of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe, where bourgeois liberals institutionally handled their political and economic affairs interests. In the triangular relation between the Chinese ‘popular space’, the nation-state and the intellectual class, ‘popular space’ has always been oppressed by the state, whose power has been concentrated through a series of national crises, and by intellectuals, whose primary goal has been to serve the state. However, the ‘popular space’ has never disappeared; instead it has shown energy and vitality, with a capacity to enrich itself by drawing upon diverse resources, whether from the feudalist (traditional), urban or peasant cultures. In one form or another, whether visible or not, it has persistently engaged or negotiated with these oppressive forces.
Litzinger, Ralph (2001). ‘A Government from Below: The State, the Popular, and the Illusion of Autonomy’. positions: east asia cultures critique 9.1 (Spring): 253–66.
Wang, Jing (2001). ‘Guest Editor’s Introduction’. positions: east asia cultures critique 9.1 (Spring): 1–27.
CHEN JIANHUA

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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