“In the Mood for Texture: Hong Kong, Bangkok and Shanghai’s Urban and Media Revivals of Chinese Colonial Modernity”
This project explores two concomitant occurrences: the prominent contemporary phenomenon of the superimposition of three cities in East Asia and Southeast Asia onto one another and the revival of the aesthetics of ‘Chinese colonial modernity.’ Examining the doubling of Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Shanghai across the cinemas and hospitality industries of East and Southeast Asia, I gauge the valences of a transregional Chineseness that is both virtual as well as anchored in material structures. I analyze contemporary cinematic texts and material sites to investigate how a historical transnational formation—that of Chinese colonial modernity—continues to inform the present.
As film directors (e.g., Wong Kar-wai) as well as hotels, bars, and clubs revive 1930s Shanghai and 1960s Hong Kong modernities—as well as exploit the Chinese past of Bangkok’s old European trading quarters—the colonial is emerging as a primary signifier of the good life. I ask how invocations of twentieth century translocal Chinese modernity point to enduring regional imaginaries that diverge from those of One Belt One Road and similar policies. How do a Shanghai-themed club in Bangkok (“Maggie Choo’s”), or Hong Kong cinema’s use of Bangkok as a filming location, rely on referencing a Chinese modernity that emerged under, but also exceeded, conditions of colonial governance? How does this relate to contemporary re-regionalization? Combining ethnographic and archival investigation of the revivification of Chinese modernity with cultural studies analysis, my investigation focuses especially on texture, or the features of the built environment and the feminine sartorial styles highlighted both in the cinematic materials and exploited in Bangkok’s hospitality industry.
Arnika Fuhrmann (Associate Professor, Asian Studies, Cornell University) is an interdisciplinary scholar of Southeast Asia, working at the intersections of the region’s aesthetic, religious, and political modernities. Her work models an approach to the study of Southeast Asia that is informed by affect, gender, urban, and media theory and anchored in thorough cultural, linguistic, and historical knowledge of the region. Her book Ghostly Desires: Queer Sexuality and Vernacular Buddhism in Contemporary Thai Cinema (Duke University Press, 2016) examines how Buddhist-coded anachronisms of haunting figure struggles over sexuality, personhood, and notions of collectivity in contemporary Thai cinema and political rhetoric. Fuhrmann’s second book, Teardrops of Time: Thai Buddhist Temporality and the Aesthetics of Redemption in the Modern Poetry of Angkhan Kalayanaphong (forthcoming, SUNY Press), extends her interests in the work that Buddhism performs outside of the sphere of religious instruction and investigates how 20th century Thai poetry draws on Buddhist frameworks. In her current research project, In the Mood for Texture: Urban and Media Revivals of Chinese Colonial Modernity in the Global Asian City (Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Shanghai), Fuhrmann focuses on the revival of the aesthetics of “Chinese colonial modernity” and new imaginations of Asia across cinema and hospitality venues. Her writing has appeared in Camera Obscura, Diogenes, Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture, Oriens Extremus, and positions: asia critique. She works as an associate editor of the journal, positions: asia critique. Complementing her academic work, she engages in cultural programming and works in the curatorial team of the Asian Film Festival Berlin.