Travels in the Body: Technologies of Waste in the Chinese Diaspora

Deborah L. Madsen

in China Abroad

Published by Hong Kong University Press

Published in print March 2009 | ISBN: 9789622099456
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9789882206687 | DOI:
Travels in the Body: Technologies of Waste in the Chinese Diaspora

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The theme of toilets in particular, and waste in general, permeates the cultural production of the Chinese diaspora. This chapter analyzes the toilet as an element of material culture that usually remains invisible and yet in Chinese diasporic literature is assigned an important cultural value as a site for cross-cultural encounters. It is interesting to note that other diasporic Asian literatures do not share this thematic emphasis, with the exception of South Asian texts that deal with the issue of caste and of the “untouchables” whose caste-prescribed duties include cleaning toilets. Mulk Raj Anand's 1935 novel Untouchable is a classic of this type. The emphasis upon the toilet as an icon of cultural transformation and subjective conflict specifically in Chinese diaspora writings seems to be a feature of, more or less, latent Orientalism in westernized discourses of cultural “Chineseness.”

Keywords: toilets; waste; China; diaspora; caste; untouchables; Mulk Raj Anand; cultural transformation; Orientalism; Chineseness

Chapter.  7818 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Asian History

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