Chinese martial arts literature as a theory of stateless subjects for Taiwan, Hong Kong, China
Siu Leung LI
Liu, Petrus (2011) Stateless Subjects: Chinese Martial Arts Literature and Postcolonial History. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University East Asia Program. ISBN: 978-1933947624.
For some years to come, Petrus Liu’s highly politicizing book Stateless Subjects: Chinese Martial Arts Literature and Postcolonial History (2011) will continue to be an inspiring and instructive reference for reflecting on the cacophonous imagination and conflictual negotiation of subjectivity and identity in the entangling context of Taiwan—Hong Kong—China whose history has been unfolding intensely into an Attic drama of broken family feud in recent years.
The contribution of Liu’s Stateless Subjects extends beyond the study of a literary genre (in terms of which it already presents a brilliant, meticulous, and politically charged rereading of the martial arts novel, with specific references made to relevant film and television adaptations). Revisiting the literary origins of the current culture of martial arts that has been playing “a surprisingly important role in shaping China’s global identity” (Liu 2011, 1), Stateless Subjects is a grand project of postcolonial criticism that reinterprets the martial arts novel and the literary wuxia as a social theory and a theory of the subject—a reading that entails the necessity of incessant historical contextualization in the critical process. Liu’s skillful maneuvering of sophisticated theory renders the book an engaging cultural politics that serves excellently as an example of the eminent social and political relevance of the kind of cultural studies of literature that is unceasingly historicizing and contextualizing. Petrus Liu’s compelling theorization of a subject formation of “stateless subjects” by way of a rigorous reading of martial arts literature—yes, literature, not film, not television serials, and it is refreshing to go back to literary sources of film and media productions of martial arts and kung fu—in amorphous historical contexts is most illuminating and liberating in this regard. The significant implication of Liu’s theoretical interrogation is not a plea for an outright political movement for an independent “Taiwan statehood,” or an identity of the “Hong Kong local” (Xianggang bentu) accompanied by a truly autonomic Hong Kong Special Administrative Region under “one country, two systems.” This conceptualization of the “stateless subjects” is—to reemploy Liu’s own words originally on Gu Long—to “open up a different order of political action, critical inquiry, and social solidarity” (Liu 2011, 202). This “different order” on the political, cultural, and social level must essentially and imperatively be stateless to have clear and present meaning on the clear and present danger inflicted upon the free formation of self-identity, the liberation from biological bondage, the pursuit of democracy, and the absolute freedom for self-expression, all resulting from the hegemony of the state in the Taiwan-Hong Kong-(Macau)-China geopolitics.
Siu Leung Li is associate professor and Head of the Department of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University. His books include Cross-Dressing in Chinese Opera (HKU Press, 2003/2006), Fong Yim-fun’s Zhang Yuqiao: Heroine Across the Ages – Original Script and Reader (in Chinese, editor, Joint Publishing, 2011), Hong Kong Connections: Transnational Imagination in Action Cinema (co-editor, HKU/Duke U Press, 2005). Currently Li is leading a project on the compilation of the Hong Kong volume of Annals of Chinese Opera that is the HKSAR share of a PRC national project, funded by the HK Heritage Museum.