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Feminist Formations, Volume 26, Issue 3, Winter 2014, pp. 167-196

DOI: 10.1353/ff.2014.0030

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Untangling the Intersectional

Biopolitics of Neoliberal Globalization:
Asia, Asian, and the Asia-Pacific Rim
Charlie Yi Zhang

The article argues that the biopolitical stratification of human beings through the
intersection of race, gender, and class is a central neoliberal governing technique to
facilitate the global division and migration of labor. Also, the intersectional cultural
contours of race, gender, and class provide a fundamental discursive repository for
the justification of the globalizing process. These governing parameters are not simply
the essential conduits to enable neoliberal globalization, but they are also crucial sites
to normalize it. Focusing on the Asia-Pacific Rim in general and China in particular,
the article attempts to unpack the different values laden with the discourses about
Asia and Asian to illustrate how the intersection of race, gender, and class is invoked
to facilitate and justify the transnational movement of capital and labor in this area.
In an interlocking relationship with one another, these categories create a matrix of
power that sustains the dominance of neoliberalism as the single world order. As
the article suggests, within this matrix, any attempt to challenge one form of oppression without considering the overarching structure would reproduce other forms of
domination and reinforce neoliberal global control on a different level.
Keywords: China / governmentality / intersectional biopolitics/ neoliberal
globalization/ Pan-Asianism
In August 2012, the Chinese Olympic gold medalist Liu Xiang was stricken
down again by his Achilles heel after only a few strides during the Olympic
110-meter hurdles race in London. Different from the 2008 Beijing Olympics,
where he pulled out with an injured foot, Liu opted to hop the race with his
other leg this time. As the national and pan-Asian hero widely heralded by the
2014 Feminist Formations, Vol. 26 No. 3 (Winter) pp. 167196

168Feminist Formations 26.3

Chinese media, Liu reaped overwhelming criticisms for his failure in Beijing,
so it is not difficult to understand why he took this emotive act as an attempt
to mitigate the incoming censurealthough not efficaciously. In China, Liu
has been deified as an iconic figure with unsurpassed symbolic weight. As the
so-called Asian Flying Man, his racialized hyper-masculinity is co-opted by
the government to signal Chinas growing clout in global political economies,
and in order to legitimize Chinas particular neoliberal practices (Zhang 2014).
Lius case is not the only example of how race and gender are appropriated
by the Chinese state in the service of its politico-economic endeavors. On
November 12, 2010, US President Barrack Obama held a press conference to
summarize the 2010 G20 summit held in Seoul. As its theme Shared Growth
Beyond Crisis indicated, the goal of this event was to demonstrate a concerted
effort by the G20 countries seeking solutions to the persistent great recession.
As the United States is the main architect of neoliberalism and corporate globalization and plays no small role in creating the conditions that led to such
crises (Chomsky 1999; Dumnil 2011; Giroux 2004; Harvey 2007), Obamas
speech garnered much media attention. To acknowledge the importance of
the host country, he saved the last question for Korean journalists, but Rui
Chenggang, a male anchor of China Central Television (CCTV), sought to
take over the opportunity. Despite Obamas rejection, Rui insisted that as an
Asian he could represent the entirety of Asia (including South Korea) in asking
a question. His question was about the US governments lax monetary policy,
which might adversely affect other economies. His appropriation of the panAsian identity soon triggered heated debate both within and outside China,
and many media reports focused on one problematic: as a Chinese man, can
Rui genuinely represent the entirety of Asia?1 This framing unwittingly shifted
attention from the core of his questionthe interrogation of US practices that
are oblivious to other countries interests, especially in Asia. Moreover, this contentious encounter dismantled the summits pronounced cooperative theme
and unveiled the contestation and conflicts over global financial policies as its
undercurrents. If it is controversial whether Rui can represent Asia, as the above
contestation indicates, as a popular anchor and symbolic face of CCTVthe
major mouthpiece for the Chinese state2this public image and demeanor are
no doubt meticulously controlled and regulated by the government. Since the
primary function of CCTV is defined as propagating the Party line, as its
public speaker, Rui was framed in such a way that it sent a clear message about
Chinas challenge to US dominance in the global system via a racializing trope.
This contested episode is only one ripple of the US journey of returning
to Asia after its self-proclaimed victory of War on Terrorism, signified by the
epochal death of Osama bin Laden. On October 11, 2011, before Obama started
his trip to the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton published the article Americas Pacific Century
in Foreign Policy, the primary journal covering US foreign policy, announcing

Charlie Yi Zhang 169

the Obama administrations new foreign policy emphasis and paving the way
for his trip to Asia.3 Crisscrossing among Asia and its etymological variants
Asian and Asia-Pacific, the articles semantic focus shifts to articulate why
the future of [US] politics will be decided in Asia. As Clinton frames it,
the nebulous meanings around Asia would solidify as an extra-sovereignty
region stretching from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the
Americas, with the paramount geostrategic value (as the Asia-Pacific) and open
markets that will provide the United States with unprecedented opportunities
for investment, trade, and access to cutting-edge technology (as Asia), and
the vast and growing consumer base located there (as Asian). Consequently,
Clinton called for more actions by the United States to build a more trustworthy
relationship with the Asia-Pacific Rim.
However, as Ruis example shows, the actions of the United States in
Asia would probably not be smooth sailing. The contestation between the
Asian value and the Western modernity has been a frequent scenario in
the international geostrategic struggle. In the conditions of globalization, this
contestation has taken on a new face: the conflict between the Asian model
of marketization under the directive of state, and the Western market fundamentalism against any forms of statist intervention (Cheah 2006; Stiglitz 2003).
As China moved away from socialism in the late 1970s, it turned toward this
Asian model to implement the economic reform under the strictures of the
state (Goldman and Macfarquhar 1999). In this regard, Ruis case is not just
a rhetorical swordplay by the mass media, but needs to be further explicated
against the background of the global politico-economic struggles. As Chen
Kuan-Hsing (1998, 2) suggests, the entire Inter-Asia continent emerges [again]
as the forefront and site for political and economic struggles as the process of
globalization is intensified.
Lius and Ruis cases draw our attention to the intertwined relationships
among cultural identities like Asian, the geopolitical category Asia, and
global political economies. As indicated above, Asian and Asia are invoked
by state-controlled media to articulate Chinas rising status and to highlight
its rivalry with the United States. Likewise, in Clintons article, she draws on
Asia, Asian, and Asia-Pacific to demonstrate the new diplomatic focus of the
Obama administration. These convoluted though interesting phenomena beg
more attention in order to scrutinize their embedded meanings instead of taking
them at face value. However, the usual frameworks would probably fail in this
endeavor because typically they focus only on either economics or identities and
not the inter-relationship of the two.4 In Western academia and activist movements, particularly in the United States, there has been frequent contestation
between identity politics and economic justice (Ross 2010). As Lisa Duggan
(2003, xiv), points out, opposition to material inequalities is maligned as class
warfare, while race, gender or sexual inequalities are dismissed as merely cultural, private, or trivial. However, the separation of identities from economics

170Feminist Formations 26.3

will not only hinder our efforts for social justice and equality, but also reinforce
the current system by concealing the interconnection between identities and
economics in the neoliberal conditions. Chandra Talpade Mohantys (2003) perspicuous observation is instructive for us to understand this convoluted relationship. As she suggests, capital as it functions now depends on and exacerbates
racist, patriarchal, and heterosexist relations of rule (231). In this regard, as
many feminists contend (see, for example, Fraser 2009; Marchand and Runyan
2000), we need an integrative framework of cultural and materialist analyses to
better understand the essential mechanism of neoliberal globalization.
I argue that the biopolitical stratification of human beings through the
intersection of race, gender, and class provides a central mechanism to facilitate global division and the migration of labor. Meanwhile, the intersectional
cultural contours of these categories bear an important discursive repository
to normalize this process. As the fundamental parameters of the social system
and power, these categories are not only grounded in material relations, facts,
realities, peoples everyday activities, and corporeality, but are also modulated
by ideas, cultures, knowledge, discourses, and ideologies. By reconfiguring and
manipulating these categories, a multitude of discourses, policies, laws, administrative practices, and institutions are (re)produced to facilitate and legitimize
the globalizing process. On this account, identities are not simply the essential
conduits to enable neoliberal restructuring, but are also crucial to legitimize
this process as the interface that links neoliberal material practices with their
ideological underpinnings. Focusing on the Asia-Pacific Rim in general and
China in particular, I try to unpack the various values invested in the discourses
about Asia and Asian to illustrate how the intersection of race, gender, and
class is (re)calibrated to facilitate and legitimate the transnational movement
of capital and labor in this area.
Although neoliberalism has become the single rule to direct the globalizing
process (Hardt and Negri 2000), the concept of neoliberalism per se is still hotly
debated. In this article, rather than treating it as another stage or new form of
capitalism (Harvey 2007), I take the Foucauldian approach, which views neoliberalism as a type of governmentality (Foucault 2008). With the dictum to create
and sustain market competition in order to maximize benefits for individuals and
societies, neoliberal governmentality centers on the production and regulation
of self-serving and -reliant subjects for the market-oriented social relationship.
In this regard, as Foucault ([1976] 1990) suggests, the disciplines of human
bodies and regulations of population become central to the politico-economic
agenda of the neoliberal society in what he calls biopolitics. Building on this
framework, I hope to reveal the inherent relationship between identities and
neoliberal economic restructuring, and to untangle the interlocking connections among race, gender, and class that grounds the basic mechanism, which I
call intersectional biopolitics, to sustain the global dominion of neoliberalism.

Charlie Yi Zhang 171

This article proceeds as follows. First, I untangle the convoluted etymological triad of Asia, Asian, and Asia-Pacific and dismantle their colonialist, racist,
sexist, and/or neoliberal investment. Building on different scholars deconstructive readings of these terms, such as Edward W. Saids (1978) and Aihwa Ongs
(1999, 2003, 2006, 2010), I will interrogate their embedded meanings that
have been translated into new discourses and practices to sustain neoliberal
economies in the Asia-Pacific Rim. Second, I will demonstrate how populations
in the Asia-Pacific are disassembled and then reassembled to facilitate global
division and migration of labor through the intersectional biopolitics of race,
gender, and class. As shall be elucidated, along the intersectional contours of
these biopolitical governing parameters new controlling images are (re)created
to legitimize this process. Third, I will show how gender and class inequalities
are used intersectionally by the Chinese state to facilitate Chinas transition
from socialism to neoliberalism and its reintegration with the global economy.
Using China as a central site of inquiry, I will explicate how intersectional biopolitics is fundamental to neoliberal globalization. Finally, I will use Liu Xiang,
the state-sponsored, hyper-masculine icon as an example to show how gender is
co-opted by the party-state to construct a racialized discourse of an Asian model
to validate its alternative neoliberal practices, and to challenge US neoliberal
practices. This strategy, however, has reinforced neoliberal control by endorsing its racializing biopolitical script. This article therefore seeks to dislodge the
intricacy, ambiguity, and contingency of neoliberal practices and ideologies that
are anchored in the shifting contours of identities. As shall be demonstrated,
only a multi-axis, analytically diverse and flexible, and culturally and materially integrative framework can capture the essential feature of intersectional
biopolitics as the underlying mechanism that fuels neoliberal globalization and
leads us to newly imagined possibilities for changes. In the following section,
I will start by deconstructing the varying meanings of Asia, Asian, and AsiaPacific in different socio-historical backgrounds in order to better understand
how they have contributed to the current neoliberal conditions.
Untangling Asia, Asian, and the Asia-Pacific
In Clintons Foreign Policy article, the terms Asia, Asian, and Asia-Pacific are
used interchangeably to justify the US statist machinery that is ready to trump
over the Asia-Pacific Rim. Despite a common etymological root, these terms
are constructed in disparate socio-historical contexts and laden with different
values and even contradictory meanings that need to be qualified.
As Michel Foucault (1972) reminds us, cartography is never neutral, but
inflected by power. Asia is no exception. As a geographic construct, the concept of Asia was constituted out of complex, dynamic histories and processes
(Wilson 2006). As Said suggests in his groundbreaking Orientalism (1978), the
monolithic notion of Asia was first created as a barbaric Other to shore up the

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modern boundary of Europe and a unified trajectory of human societies. It was

embedded in the Eurocentric imaginary to classify and unify world civilizations
to the telos of modernity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when
the European Enlightenment and colonial expansion provided conditions for
the development of a new system of knowledge. ... The notions of Europe and
Asia were both products of this process of knowledge construction (Wang
2007, 4). Not only a geographic category but also a form of civilization, Asia is
constructed to represent an anachronistic Other to European capitalism and the
modern nation-state. In other words, it was produced to uphold the Eurocentric
unilinear narrative of human societies. As Kwai-Cheung Lo (2010, 7) observes,
the traditional notion of Asia is a Eurocentric fabrication that distinguishes
the advanced Western subject from despotic, backward, and non-Christian
civilizations, and that channels Western anxieties about insecurity and loss of
hegemony. On this account, the construct of Asia as a unified entity is steeply
inflected with colonialist meanings. In the twentieth century, variant versions
of pan-Asianism originated from Asian countries responses to the European
imperialist expansion; to name but a few, the Japanese pan-Asianism that Asia
should unite against European invaders, and Indonesian panSoutheast Asianism against Dutch colonialism. Initiated as counter-imperialist endeavors, some
of these constructions of pan-Asianism were also penetrated by imperialism and
colonialism. As Ara Wilson (2006) notes, during World WarII, the homogenizing notion of Asia was invoked by the Japanese to propel their colonialist and
militant juggernaut and legitimate their invasion of other countries in the area,
as indicated by the deceptive and coercive discourse of its Greater East Asia
Co-Prosperity Sphere. In this regard, the European colonialist conception of
Asia lays the discursive foundation of pan-Asianism, later invoked by Asian
countries like Singapore and Malaysia to legitimize their alternative neoliberal
practices to the Western, especially the US paradigm.
Although sharing the same etymological origin, in Western societies the
term Asian is not just an adjective designating a geographic region, but also
a racial category that can be traced back to the US socio-economic upheavals during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As defined by
Howard Winant (2004, 155), race is a concept that signifies and symbolizes
socio-political conflicts and interests in reference to different types of human
bodies. As he sees it, racial classification based on phenotypical and genotypical
differences is a social product of modernity in around the sixteenth century by
and for the burgeoning capitalist economy in North America. Also, racism is
an artifact to consolidate the racial hierarchy in the service of US slavery and
capitalism, which first took the form of black/white dichotomy. Building on
Winant, Sally Kitch (2009) further contends that there is a gendered foundation of racial formation in US history.
As a relatively newer racial category in the United States, Asian is also
founded on gender ideology. In the late nineteenth century, Chinese and

Charlie Yi Zhang 173

Japanese immigrants, as two of the earliest immigrant groups from Asia, were
considered two different ethnic groups rather than one race. As Catherine Lee
(2010) argues, gender played a fundamental role in the formation of Asian as a
homogenizing racial identity for Chinese and Japanese. As she shows, attracted
by the increasing demand of the construction and mining industries in the midnineteenth century, thousands of Chinese males came to the United States as
laborers. Compared with the large number of males, very few Chinese women
came to the United States during this time. To satisfy the sexual and affective needs of the male workers, some of these women took the role of partial
wife for multiple men. Although this alternative familial paradigm served
the interests of industrial capital by reducing the cost of labor reproduction,
Chinese women were nevertheless naturalized as inherently promiscuous and
sluttyan Orientalist imagination that fueled the denigrating conception
of the entire Chinese immigrant group. When recession hit the US economy
during the so-called long depression (187396), the gendered and sexualized
conception of Chinese immigrants was translated into discourse of the yellow
peril that legitimized the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. In contrast, as a newer
immigrant group, the Japanese came to work in the agricultural economy that
began to thrive in the West at the end of the nineteenth century. As farm
work is usually family-based, Japanese immigrants were more sexually balanced
compared with the Chinese, and Japanese women were thus considered familyoriented, differentiating them from the prurient Chinese women. However,
the newly claimed West territory soon gave rise to the crisis of a unified identity
of Americanness (Van Nuys 2002), and Japanese womens alleged high fertility
(although not statistically verified) was considered a threat to the racial purity
of the (white) American nation-state. The gendered and sexualized conception of the Japanese soon relegated them to an inferior position in the racial
hierarchy, with the Chinese. In this sense, as Lee (2010) contends, gender was
the key that first helped to ethnically differentiate the two groups, and then it
racially conflated them as one racial groupAsian.
Racial ideology reshapes the gender identity of Asian Americans as well.
In the popular imagination, Asian men are usually depicted as intelligent,
while Asian women are viewed as docile, submissive, and fragile. Attempts were
made to verify these perceptions with scientific methods (Rushton 1997). For
Asians, whose intelligence was presumed to be greater than that of whites, the
only reasonable solution was to keep them out entirely (Reddy 2003, 23). Racial
ideology depicts Asian men as less sexual and softer and weaker in physical
strength, placing them in a disadvantaged position as they deviated from the
norm of Anglo American masculinity (Yu 2001). In contrast to the constructed
image of the over-heterosexualized Black men, Asian men are considered not
heterosexual enough, thus posing a threat to heteronormative white masculinity (Collins 2004). The social consequence of the intersectional mechanism of
gender and race for Asian American men is termed racial castration by David

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L. Eng (2001). As we can see, the intersection of race and gender grounds the
socio-cultural basis of Asian identity in the United States, which later spread
to other parts of the world, such as the Asia-Pacific Rim, through the expansion
of US hegemony and politico-economic influence.
In the United States since the late 1970s, the meanings of Asian have
varied with shifting socio-economic conditions. Since immigration reform in
the 1960s, Asians and Latinos have become the major immigrant groups (Plaut
2010). In contrast to the poor/working-class immigrants during the nineteenth
century, many well-educated, middle-to-upper-class technological professionals, entrepreneurs, and students from Asia have been attracted by US policies
designed to boost the knowledge economya position that the United States
assigns to itself in the global industrial hierarchy. The economic successes
of these segments of new Asian immigrants are then over-generalized as the
model minority mytha success story of new immigrants through assimilation into American life and values (Maeda 2005). As will be shown below, this
racialized (and gendered) image has been fueling the perpetuation of neoliberal
global control.
The Asia-Pacific Rim was constructed in the service of US-led neoliberal
globalization in the late 1970s. As Ong (2006) points out, this extra-sovereign
territorial construct was constituted through the disassembling and then reassembling of state territories in order to create a latitudinal space for the crossPacific movement of capital and labor that spans from the West Coast of the
United States to East and Southeast Asia. The offshoring and outsourcing of
manufacturing jobs to Asian countries within this area effectively lowers the
labor costs and increases profit margins of US corporations. Also, because of
these market needs, laborers migrate to this territory for opportunities of economic survival and/or prosperity. Clintons presumptuous pronouncement of
the Pacific century, for instance, can be interpreted as a rhetorical attempt to
reassert US dominance in the area. Ongs discussion of the Asia-Pacific Rim is
based on the Foucauldian concept of neoliberal governmentality, which views
neoliberalism as a set of coherent governing practices. The following section,
centering on neoliberalism as governmentality, will illustrate how the hierarchization of labor across the area is enacted and justified by the intersection of race,
gender, class, and citizenship.
Neoliberalism as Governmentality
Although neoliberalism has become the single script of globalization (Hardt
2011), it is never without challenge. As Saskia Sassen (2007) notes, earlier feminist scholarship has documented various effects on women by, as well as their
resistance to, it. Recently, such scholarship has moved beyond the paradigm
that views neoliberal globalization as a homogenizing process and women as its
universal victims, and produced nuanced analyses of its contingent effects on

Charlie Yi Zhang 175

different groups of women.5 The Foucauldian (2008) concept of neoliberalism as

contingent and variable governing practices is of particular use to challenge the
reductive understanding of neoliberalism and corporate globalization. Harveys
(2003) theorizing of accumulation by dispossession also proves instrumental
to understanding how cultural identities can be invoked to create new operative space for over-accumulated capital.6 Moreover, feminist of color framings
of intersectionality help tease out the overlapping relationships among various
identity categories to deepen our knowledge of the central role of intersectional
biopolitics in neoliberal globalization.7
One underpinning of neoliberal globalization is the reproduction of human
beings as differential labor to engineer and accelerate transnational market competition. As Foucault (2008) contends, neoliberalism is a type of governmentality,
or an art of governance with a self-coherent agenda to organize, regulate, and
manage societies. As he sees it, governmentality is the reasoned way of governing best, the calculation of governing practices to maximize economic and
political profits for societies. Foucault (2011, 4) further clarifies governmentality as the techniques and procedures by which one sets about conducting the
conduct of others, or an action upon an action, on existing actions or on those
which may arise in the present or the future (1982, 789). In other words, to
govern is to structure the possible field of action of others (790). In this regard,
the administration of bodies and the calculated management of life become
the core of governmentality in what he calls biopolitics (2008). Scientific,
medical, legal, and cultural discourses, as well as institutionalized systems, were
created to study, differentiate, stratify, hierarchize, and engineer human beings
as a population in order to better govern society. In The History of Sexuality,
Foucault ([1976] 1990) demonstrates how the development of the burgeoning
capitalistic economy in Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was made possible through the regulation and adjustment of bodies and
the population by controlling and normalizing the spectrums of sexual possibilities. As he illustrates, all sexualities (particularly homosexuality) except
for those between heterosexual couples were delegitimized so as to normalize
heterosexuality as the only acceptable social norm in order to guarantee the
reproduction and sustained supply of capable subjects for the capitalist economy
and market competition. As a particular type of governmentality, the raison
dtre of neoliberalism is the creation and maintenance of market competition
to maximize the benefits of the entire society and the pivot is the production of
enterprising subjects (Homo economicus) for this relationship (Foucault 2008).
Foucaults conception of neoliberalism is particularly useful for the case of China
because, as Li Zhang and Ong (2008) note, without a political overhaul (like
the former Soviet Union), the creation of a new type of market subjectivity is
key to Chinas socio-economic transformation.
Although Foucault draws our attention back to real people with the
concept of neoliberal governmentality and his highlighting of biopolitics as

176Feminist Formations 26.3

its primary mechanism, except for sexuality, he leaves a theoretical lacuna by

under-discussing humankind as also gendered, racialized, and classed subjects
(Stoler 1995). As Margaret Somers (2008) argues, the essence of the market
is that unequal subjects transact equal exchange values in the market. Such
embodied attributes as gender, race, and class are the important biopolitical
parameters for the creation of diversified market subjects (Giroux 2008).
From a different perspective, David Harvey (1982) brings cultural identities
into the discussion of neoliberal globalization. As he sees it, the root of neoliberal globalization is the over-accumulation of capitalthe saturated market
and shrinking demand vis--vis over-produced commoditieswhich left little
space for capital reproduction in the industrialized countries in the late 1970s.
Besides over-consumption (see Baudrillard [1970] 1998; Jameson 1990), another
outlet to over-accumulated capital is what Harvey (2003, 149) calls accumulation by dispossession: to release a set of assets (including labor power) at very
low (and in some instances zero) cost, particularly in non-Western countries.
Over-accumulated capital can seize hold of such assets and turn them into
profitable use. Although accumulation by dispossession takes place in various
and contingent forms, such extra-market systems/cultures as kinship structures,
familial and household arrangements, gender and authority relations definitely
play an important role (146). As Maria Mies (1999) argues, the migrating capital
keeps looking for young and healthy women with the nimble and swift fingers
for low-paying manufacturing jobs around the globe. In Africa, the reconstitution of the gender relationship is said to be fundamental to this process: men
need to undertake more housework so that their wives can take on more jobs
outside the home (Marchand and Runyan 2000). As we can see, Harvey (2007)
contextualizes and historicizes the linkage between identity categories like
gender and neoliberal global restructuring. However, in his introductory work to
neoliberalism, which focuses on the negative effects of marketization on women
and people of color, he fails to illuminate the specific mechanism of how capital
is reproduced through these categories, leaving room for further discussion.
Scholarship by feminists of color on the topic of intersectionality has
contributed significantly to the discussion of biopolitics by revealing the overlapping relationships among identity categories. As Patricia Hill Collins (2000)
states, identity categories intersect with one another to create a structure of
inequalities and power that she calls the matrix of domination. This structure
grounds the basis for classifying, stratifying, and engineering human beings
in the service of the global division and movement of labor. For instance,
in special economic zones in southern China and Malaysia, while favorable
tax policies, the free use of land properties, and partial sovereign power are
provided to attract transnational capital, what interests multinationals most
is the cheap and subordinated labor (re)produced through the intersection
of race, gender, class, and citizenship. For poor, rural migrant women working there, despite their legal citizenship, they are denied basic social rights,

Charlie Yi Zhang 177

such as education, medical care, and legal protection (Ong 2010; Pun 2005).
As this strategy enormously reduces the welfare burden and increases the
efficiency of the state, it also attempts to discipline these women into docile
subjects subordinate to male supervisors and capital. In relatively developed
economies like Singapore and Hong Kong, immigrants of other ethno-racial
groups from the Philippines, Indonesia, and China are brought to work there
as guest workers. Denied basic social rights, many of them are exploited in
dehumanizing ways. On the other side of the Asia-Pacific Rim, the intersectional logic of biopolitics is facilitating the division and movement of labor as
well. Contrary to popular thinking that the industrialized worlds economies
are mostly knowledge-based, there is actually a proliferation of sweatshops
with declining working conditions in the United States itself (Collins 2003, 2).
For instance, in California, where numerous high-tech industries are located,
poor Asian women are trafficked by their male counterparts as cheap labor
for sweatshops of electronics manufacturing or apparel-making (Ong 2006).
In this regard, we can see that intersectional biopolitics is deployed by such
neoliberal entities as states to facilitate the division and migration of labor, as
well as for capital cruising in the Asia-Pacific Rim.
Intersectional biopolitics is also central to industrial upgrading on both
sides of the Asia-Pacific Rim. On the east side, it can be exemplified by Singapores self-repositioning as a financial broker for transnational capital after
losing its competitive edge of cheap labor in the mid-1980s (Pereira 2004), and
Hong Kongs endeavor to become a cyberport, or business/service/financial
hub, after the 1997 Asian financial crisis (Sum 2002). At the core of these
practices is the restructuring of populations by creating more technologically
savvy financial/management professionals to serve the cities new roles. Both
cities began to reconstitute higher education by proffering more programs in
technologies, finance, and management, and sending students to study abroad
(Ong 2006). Thus, we can see that many Asian businessmen/male professionals are spreading across the Pacific to seize opportunities opened up by capital
in quest of global profits. Meanwhile, native middle-class women are also the
target of biopolitics, which aims to transform them into professionals that are
equally capable as their male counterparts, if not more so. The promotion of
these men and women is done at the expense of the biopolitical Othersthe
poor, immigrant women of other ethno-racial groups who are either taking care
of their homes or manufacturing products for their businesses.
On the west side of the Asia-Pacific Rim, male technological professionals
from Asia now account for the majority of high-tech workers in Silicon Valley
(ibid.). Many sunset industries are outsourced or offshored to Asia where
labor is cheaperpreviously Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, but now
China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. Jobs that cannot be outsourced (for
example, domestic work) are transferred from African American women to less
valued biopolitical groupsnamely, immigrant women of color (Hong 2006).

178Feminist Formations 26.3

These examples bear evidence of how intersectional biopolitics is central to

the globalizing process on both sides of the Asia-Pacific Rim.
As Wendy Brown (2005) points out, neoliberal governing practices sometimes converge with, but more often than not diverge from, neoliberal ideologies that are not predetermined by material activities and often take various
forms. Moreover, as Foucault (2008) notes, just as neoliberal governing practice
is highly contingent, so also does neoliberal ideology take multiple forms; this
varies from location to location and is fittingly called scattered hegemonies
by Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan (1994). In the United States, the
political legacy of liberalism has been translated into an antibig government
discourse to legitimize the encroachment of the market into such public areas
as education and healthcare. By contrast, in Asian countries like Singapore,
Malaysia, and South Korea, neoliberal restructuring takes a different approach,
often led by an authoritarian state as a centrifugal entity to organize capital
accumulation, labor, and the market (Kang 2012). As the liberalist tradition is
less entrenched in these countries, neoliberal ideology takes different forms.
Pan-Asianism becomes an important resource of neoliberal ideology in some
Asian countries; for instance, Singapores former premier, Lee Kuan Yew, calls
Singapores state-controlled neoliberal governance a Pan-Asian humanitarian
model. As this discourse posits, Asians ... value the ability to study hard and
work hard to achieve a high level of saving and investment. They respect family
ties, demonstrate a strong sense of discipline, and have a tendency to obey wise,
strong leaders (Oakley 2002, 40). Lees Asian values are rooted in a Confucian
tradition that has demanded certain values, such as hard work, thrift, discipline,
loyalty, obedience, and social coherence (Li 1997, 259). This discourse of an
Asian model was later adopted by other (semi-)sovereignties, such as Malaysia,
Hong Kong, and China, to legitimize their government-controlled marketizing process (Stiglitz 2003). For instance, during the 1997 Asian financial crisis,
former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad invoked the discourse
of Asian value to reject the International Monetary Funds (IMF) imposition
of financial liberalization. This strategy proved effective because it later turned
out that the Malaysian economy recovered sooner than other Asian countries
subordinate to similar requirements, such as Thailand. However, this discourse
does not address other Confucian virtues, such as the obligation of the educated
to criticize officials or leaders who abuse power or engage in unfair treatment of
the population (Goldman and Macfarquhar 1999, 24). Moreover, it never covers
the humanity of poor, Asian (im)migrant women or cultures that geographically
belong to Asia though do not fit into the Confucian traditionsuch as India,
another development powerhouse in the region.
This appropriation of pan-Asianism by some Asian states for neoliberal
ideology resonates with and reinforces the myth of the model minority on the
other side of the Asia-Pacific Rim, creating a trans-Pacific, mutually constitutive
circuit to perpetuate the transnational ideology of neoliberalism. In addition

Charlie Yi Zhang 179

to the liberalist legacy, the alterable cultural contours of race, gender, and class
provide a convenient repository to justify US neoliberal practices. For instance,
the racial myth of the model minority is constructed through the disarticulation and rearticulation of the gender and class facades. As Mari Matsuda (1996)
indicates, the success of affluent Asian professionals is racialized as a story of
minorities assimilation into whiteness, concealing the reality that neoliberal
restructuring is unequally affecting Blacks and Hispanics. I would add that it
is also sexist, in that it marginalizes numerous poor, Asian immigrant women
because it ignores and silences their oppressed experiences.
Circulation of the pan-Asianist discourse of neoliberalism across the AsiaPacific Rim reinforces the racial ideology on both sides and naturalizes the
popular idea that Asian Americans success is rooted in their superior culture.
The migration and co-constitution of this neoliberal ideology thus reinforces
the neoliberal control on both sides of the rim: Confucian values (of Asia in its
entirety) are now depicted as the most recent incarnation of neoliberal enterprise values in the United States (Ong 2003, 14), and the Chinese party-state
also co-opts the authoritarian part of Confucianism to construct a discourse
of a harmonious society to legitimize its brutal suppression of marginalized
groups resistance to enforced capital accumulation by the state. In the United
States, this reified culturalist explanation of an otherwise heterogeneous group
reinvigorates what Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2009) calls color-blind racism,
which ascribes racial inequalities to cultural differences. Contrary to the stereotypical understanding of the hardworking, self-reliant, and family-oriented
Confucian (Asian) culture, through the alterable contours of race, gender, class,
and citizenship, other controlling images, such as (Black) welfare mothers
and (brown) undocumented immigrants, are produced as Asian Americans
lazy, system-milking, biopolitical Others, who deserve failure in the market
competition for their racialized inferior culture. Through these contradictory,
but co-constituting discourses of biopolitical antitheses, neoliberal ideology
and practices are seamlessly reproduced and perpetuated in the United States.
In China, the state is mobilizing and co-opting the pro-authority aspect
of Confucianism to construct the ethnic nationalist allegiance to address the
social antagonism and splintering as a result of its neoliberal practices. As the
most important neoliberal antithesis to the United States in the Asia-Pacific
Rim, more attention should be paid to examining how Chinas intersectional
biopolitics plays a central role in its neoliberal transition. Although Zhang and
Ong (2008) astutely point out that the production of new subjectivities for the
market relationship is fundamental to Chinas economic reform, they do not
illuminate the specific mechanism of the subjection and subject-making. As will
be demonstrated below, under directive by the party-state, the intersection of
gender and class has been informing and enabling new policies, practices, and
discourses for the manipulation and regulation of the Chinese population to
sustain Chinas neoliberal transition.

180Feminist Formations 26.3

Chinas Neoliberal Transition through Intersectional Biopolitics

Contrary to the idea that socialist China was an egalitarian (at least economically) society, class hierarchy was actually imposed by the state for social control
and regulation. In this section, I wish to elucidate how the intersection of class
and gender inequalities was used by the party-state to facilitate Chinas transition from socialism to neoliberalism and to boost its industrial upgrading in
the global hierarchy.8
During the Mao era, class hierarchy was recreated and imposed by the state
for the socialist economy and ideology. Building on a Stalinist model, socialist Chinas economic system prioritized industry over agriculture, as the state
believed that industrialization was the sine quo non of communism. Through
control by the central government, since 1949, Chinas industrialization became
highly conflated with urbanization (Zhang 2004), supported by the supply of
subsistence and raw materials from rural areas. Then, the state redistributed
the generated profits to rural areas in a process of what Dorothy Solinger (1999)
calls the circular resource allocation system. However, as opposed to the former
Soviet Union, Chinas major problem was its oversupply of laborers. To maintain
social stability, the state created a registration system, called Hukou, in the 1950s
to prevent migration into urban areas. In this system, people are dichotomized
into urban or rural residents based on their place of birth. Through such policies
as food rationing, allocated housing for urbanities, and surveillance systems, it
was almost impossible for rural people to migrate into urban areas during the
Mao era (Wang 2010).
Hukou generated a huge class gap between urbanites and rural residents:
the former enjoyed a plethora of welfare benefits, such as free housing, medical
care, and education, while the latter had almost nothing (Solinger 1995). It
also created large internal inequalities within the working class between urban
state-employed and collective and rural temporary workers (Whyte 1999). Moreover, to facilitate collectivization and shore up the revolutionary promise, all
Chinese families were classified in the early 1950s into class-origin categories
based on their economic standing, property, participation in labor, and other
characteristics before 1949 (Whyte 2010, 6). On this account, as Solinger (1995,
126) argues, the class order in China ... is clearly a function of governmental
policy for the Socialist economy and ideology. As I see it, the manipulation of
the Chinese population through the state-imposed identity of social class was
at the core of social regulation and administration in socialist China.
Gender was another governing technology by the party-state to implement
the socialist construction. Informed by Friedrich Engelss claim ([1884] 2010) that
the gender relationship is the first manifestation of class division, the Chinese
state integrated women into public labor en mass for the building of the socialist
economy. Meanwhile, the male-dominated state crafted such masculinized images
as iron girls to valorize and concretize a discourse of gender equality to mark its

Charlie Yi Zhang 181

distinction from capitalist societies (Yan 2008). However, the patriarchal relation
was never undermined during Maos reign (Andors 1983; Stacey 1983; Wolf 1985)
and was primarily maintained through the unequal sexual division of domestic
work within the family. Compared with men, women generally took the double
burden of working outside of and inside the home (Honig and Hershatter 1988).
As Tani Barlow (1994) argues, even the rubric women was a Maoist product to
mobilize females for the socialist construction, which also laid the foundation for
a more demarcated gender system than that of the Confucian tradition. Moreover,
the patriarchal control over women also survived through the patrilocal tradition
that was kept intact by the socialist state in which women would relocate to their
husbands kinship and clan group after marriage (Yan 2008). In its intersection
with class inequalities, the gender hierarchy was later translated into massive
infanticide of female babies in rural areas in Chinas transition to neoliberalism
(Perry and Selden 2000; Zhan and Montgomery 2003).
Class and gender also intersected with each other for the control and regulation of population in socialist China. On the one hand, class stratification was
perpetuated through the demarcated gender system: while the state-assigned
class status was primarily inherited through the male line, the resident status
would pass from a rural mother to her children (Whyte 2010). Meanwhile, the
residence-based class hierarchy, when inflected by gender, created disparate
effects on men and women. In urban state-owned enterprises with the most
welfare benefits, men greatly outnumbered women; in contrast, the gender
ratio was more balanced in collective enterprises that provided less benefits.
Later, these inequalities were mobilized to disarticulate then rearticulate the
Chinese population to create different market subjects; for instance, during the
privatization of state-owned enterprises in the late 1990s, most laid-off workers
were women because as the gender ideology posits, women without jobs could
rely upon their husbands for support (Davin 2004).
In 1978, the party-state adopted and adapted neoliberalism as exigent
practices to address the politico-economic crisis entailed by Maos class-struggle
policy (Ong 2006; Rofel 2007; Wang 2003, 2009). This contingent strategy
secured Chinas transition to a market economy without political overhaul.
Thereafter, as China moved away from socialism, it turned to the East Asian
example to further the economic reform (Goldman and Macfarquhar 1999, 5).
Inspired by the Singaporean experience, Premier Deng posited that the partystate would function as a rational subject of capital accumulation to neutralize
the randomness of the market and potential social tumult (Li 1997). Meanwhile,
the party-states ideological system, Marxism/Leninism/Maoism, was bankrupt
because of this new embracing of market logic. In this regard, Premier Jiang
Zemin, the successor of Deng, called for a revival of Chinas great Confucian
tradition, and like Singapores Lee Kuan Yew, hailed the authoritarian aspects
of Confucianism to justify Chinas sui generis neoliberal practice under the
directive by the state as the Asian model (Goldman and Macfarquhar 1999, 24).

182Feminist Formations 26.3

Despite the control by the party-state, Chinas neoliberal transition has

been gradual and experimental in nature, with no real blueprint for guidance
(Huang 2008). It first started in rural areas in 1978, where peasants were allowed
to sell extra agricultural produce in the market after turning in the required
tax grain. Although this effectively narrowed the income gap between urban
and rural residents, it also increased living expenses for urbanities. Therefore,
the party-state started urban reform in 1984 to appease its disgruntled urban
citizens. Meanwhile, special economic zones were established in the south to
allow foreign direct investment and to experiment with market mechanisms
in foreign corporations and joint ventures. After three years of suspension as a
consequence of the Tiananmen Square social movement, Dengs 1992 southern tour resumed the transition, announcing Chinas unreserved embrace of
the market economy. In this process, the intersectional biopolitics of class and
gender has been deployed as the most important governing technology.
Through the manipulation of the Hukou system, a segment of secondary
citizens that Solinger (1995) calls the floating population was disarticulated
from the Chinese people. After 1984, the party-state lifted the restriction of,
and even encouraged migration into urban areas to supply labor for the growing demand of (trans)national capital. Meanwhile, it also retained and even
strengthened other discriminative policies against rural migrants through
Hukou. For instance, rural migrants in cities have no access to state-sponsored
medical care and pensions; they are also subject to manipulative policies, such
as the irregular raiding by the police (Li 1997). Despite their legal citizenship they are disenfranchised, becoming what Giorgio Agamben (2000) calls
bare lifethat is, deprived of sovereign protection against ruthless capital.
As Barry Naughton (1999, 43) indicates, it is this segment of the population
that fundamentally helps China cope with the dramatic social and economic
changes occurring in neoliberal globalization. With a huge pool of flexible
and subjugated laborers disenfranchised by classed biopolitical manipulation,
China achieves the dominant role in the lower niche of the global division of
industries. With a nearly double-digit GDP growth for over thirty years, China
bypassed Japan to become the worlds second largest economy by the end of
2010, and, in 2012, overtook the United States as the country with the largest
volume of international trade.
In contradistinction to this economic prosperity, in 2011, Chinese media
revealed a different vision: the ratio of income between urban and rural areas
had grown from 2.5 in 1980 to 3.28, one of the highest figures in the world.
According to the International Labor Organization, only in three countries
did this number exceed 2 as of 2005.9 World Bank data (2005) revealed that
55.6 percent of the 1 billion rural Chinese inhabitants live on less than two
dollars per daya condition of extreme poverty.10 Moreover, 41.4 percent of the
national wealth is now owned by 1 percent of Chinese families.11 As Harvey
(2007) observes, neoliberalism has restored class inequalities in China.

Charlie Yi Zhang 183

Actually, the intersection of class and gender has helped reproduce cheap
and subjugated laborers to stabilize Chinas transition into neoliberalism and
integration with the world economy. For instance, the intersection of the
Hukou-based class inequalities and gender ideology makes marrying within the
group often the only choice for rural migrants, with differential effects on men
and women workers. Although they are the major source of revenues for the
sending provinces,12 migrant workers have to move back from where they came
when their use value has been depleted in the hosting areas. Rural women, who
have no access to state-provided medical care, often choose to move back home
to seek help from families when pregnant. Also, public education in urban areas
is restricted and costs more money for rural children without Hukou, so they
usually choose to return to their rural homes for school. As the gender ideology
posits, migrant women would usually quit their jobs in cities and move back
with their children to fulfill their roles as mother and housewife. Thus, a young,
docile [female] labor force that can be worked hard with minimal health problems is being (re)produced (Davin 2004, 78). On the other side of the gender
spectrum, male migrants, as bread-winners, usually continue to work in cities
and send the bulk of their earnings home to support their families. Rural areas
provide the laborers for the growing demands of Chinas urban industrialization.
With Chinas continuing neoliberal restructuring to streamline and
improve the efficiency of the state apparatus, the intersected effects of gender
and class inequalities also take a toll on the children of rural migrants. Since
the mid-1990s, the commercialization of education mandated by neoliberalism
has unequally affected rural schools, not only shutting down a large number
of them, but also noticeably reducing their quality of education (Goldman and
Macfarquhar 1999). Lagging behind their urban peers from the beginning,
many rural children will be forced to join the floating population in the
future. For those living with their parents in cities and even paying the higher
tuition, they still have restricted access to a good education.13 Moreover, they
need to compete with their urban peers on an unequal basis for college admission.14 Lacking educational resources to increase their biopolitical value, rural
children will probably be relegated, like their parents, to the lower niches of
the social hierarchy.
The award-winning documentary by director Lixin Fan, Last Train Home
(2009), captures the destiny of millions of migrant workers and their children
by the states intersectional, biopolitical governing techniques. To produce the
film, Fan followed a rural couple, Chen and his wife, in their journeys back and
forth between their home in an inland village and the coastal areas for three
years. The film documents the daily struggles of the migrant couples children
and aging parents left behind; in so doing, the director tries to flesh out the
elusive and undefined vectors of intersectional biopolitics by delving into the
daily lives of the migrant workers family members as its incarnated subjects. To
seek job opportunities in the coastal regions, like most Chinese migrant workers,

184Feminist Formations 26.3

the couple left their children behind in the care of their parents. Despite their
efforts to make enough money to provide a better education for their children,
the couple was distressed by their increasingly alienated relationship with their
teenage daughter, who had spent little time with her parents. Fed up with the
(uninteresting) education provided in the local school, the young woman chose
to join the population of migrant workers, despite being warned by her parents.
Worried that their son would do the same thing as his sister, the mother quit
her job in the city to return home to care for him, leaving her husband alone
to continue working and supporting the entire family.
Gender also intersects with class inequalities to further diversify market
subjects. In 1978, in tandem with the reforms, the party-state announced the
Planned Family as another fundamental national policya gendered, biopolitical technology not only aiming to control the population, but to regulate
its quality in accordance with the economy. As article 25 of the 1982 constitutional amendments stipulates, the state implements birth control to manage
the population in accordance with the economic development. In another
example, the 1980 marriage law, for the first time, mandated that people having
leprosy should not be eligible for marriage. However, with its intersection with
class inequalities, this gendered policy has entailed disparate effects on rural
and urban women (Wong 1997). In rural areas, within the sedimented patrilocal
system, sons were considered the only legitimate providers of support for aging
parents, who have almost no state-provided welfare. Additionally, the restored
family-farming system also increased the value of men, who are deemed more
capable for farm work, their physical advantage over women naturalized by the
gender ideology. The compounded effects of gender and class fostered massive
female infanticide in rural areas so that couples could legally have a son without violating the heavy-handed one-child policy. For rural families choosing to
keep their infant daughter(s), to avoid punishment by the local government, it
was common for pregnant women to escape into urban areas to give birth (Perry
and Selden 2000). Many of these women would then join the urban floating
population. With low biopolitical value, these women comprise another ideal
group for low-paying jobs in cities.
The dehumanizing treatment of rural women further legitimizes women
in general as inferior and exploitable subjects, and reinforces the gender ideology that, in turn, strengthens the unequal sexual division of labor among
migrants. For instance, rural women account for about 80 percent of workers
in export-processing enterprises in southern China (Davin 2004), and over 80
percent of domestic workers in Shanghai are women from rural Anhui province
(Yan 2008). By contrast, male migrants are usually concentrated in the higherpaying construction industries (Li 1997). Different subjects for the market are
thus (re)produced for capital. Moreover, the process of proletarianization for
Chinas export-oriented economy is fueled by an engendering technology. Different from their (grand)mothers who were masculinized by the state to shore

Charlie Yi Zhang 185

up the proletarian ideology of gender equality, rural women workers are now
exhorted to be real women who need to be subordinated to their male supervisors, otherwise they would never be qualified for a conjugal relationship (Pun
2005). On this account, as Pun Ngai suggests, [t]he biopower of the factory
machine is not only interested in molding a general [proletarian] body but also
a particular sexed body, a feminine body to fit the factory discipline (136). In
other words, the subordinated and flexible women workers are actually made
and remade through gender.
Like other Asian economies, China also strives for improving its standing
in the global industrial hierarchy with the development of its economy. This
endeavor is encapsulated in the promotion of Shanghai as a state project (Wu,
Xu, and Yeh 2007, 195) to develop it into a new hub city in the Asia-Pacific
area (Sassen 2009). Since then, [c]ompetition among the most powerful Asian
world cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong, fueled by and in response to
Shanghais rise, has become increasingly fierce (Chen 2009, xxiv). Like its
metropolitan competitors in the area, at the core of Shanghais upgrading initiative is the (re)stratification of population through the intersectional biopolitics
of gender and class. For instance, while increasingly more urban talents are
trained and attracted for financial and research and development centers that
have recently been relocated to Shanghai, rural migrants undertake most of
the less valued dirty, dangerous and heavy jobs in the area (Li 1997, 121). This
inter-city competition is not just about which metropolis will be the new center
of the urban constellation in the Asia-Pacific Rim, but also whether China (
la Shanghai) can best index the essence of the Asian model of neoliberalism,
especially if we take into account Shanghais paramount symbolic significance
in Chinese modern history and Chinas neoliberal transition (Chen 2009). In
the following section, I will use state-sponsored Shanghai native and athletic
icon Liu Xiang as an example to illustrate how the intersection of race and
gender is co-opted by the Chinese state to construct a racialized pan-Asianist
discourse to legitimize its particular neoliberal practices.
Chinas Racialized and Gendered Discourse on the
Pan-Asianist Model of Neoliberalism
At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Liu Xiang, a Shanghai-born Chinese male athlete, won the gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles. Thereafter, Liu was embraced
by the party-state as a sacrosanct nationalistic symbol. His withdrawal from the
2008 Beijing Olympics, as The Times (London) reported, meant the failure of the
games.15 Moreover, as the first Asian-male gold medalist in Olympic sprinting, he
was widely celebrated by the Chinese media as a pan-Asian hero, epitomized by
his state-media-sanctioned moniker: the Asian flying man.16 On this account,
Lius hyper-masculinity qua super athleticism was appropriated by the state to
legitimize Chinas contingent and exigent adoption and adaptation of neoliberal

186 Feminist Formations 26.3

Figure 1. Liu Xiang winning the gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles race final at
2004 Athens Olympics. (Photo: Li Yue, copyright Xinhua News Agency, 2004.)

governmentality, and to construct the countrys neoliberal practices as the sui

generis Asian model (Zhang 2014). In so doing, multiple discursive and visual
tropes were deployed to reinforce this gendered and racialized emblematic figure
of Chinese neoliberalism. Figure 1, taken by the Xinhua News Agency (another
primary mouthpiece of the party-state) at the 2004 Olympics, is a case in point.
At the center of the picture Liu is shown, rigid and confident, his severe look
juxtaposed with the blurred expressions of his rivals. Having taken the lead, his
competitors from other racial groups are struggling behind, appearing anxious,
stressed, and somewhat pained. With a nimble and adroit leap he is clearing
another hurdle, and one of his arms is extending like the wing of a flying eagle,
subtly suggesting his given nameXiang (which, in Chinese, means flying).
By contrast, none of his competitors is even crossing the hurdle; they are either
striving to catch up or stumbling. In the background is a blurred pentacyclic
symbol of the Olympic games, whose colors are on these athletes clothes: white,
yellow, black, green, red. These colors not only stand for geographic locations,
as suggested by Olympic rhetoric, but also for their racialized meanings: yellow
for Asia, black for Africa.
Since all images intentionally convey ideological messages (Berger 1972),
this widely circulated picture requires a deconstructive reading of its message.
Semiotics/semiology, the knowledge of the sign system, would well serve this
purpose. In Peircian semiotics, the sign system is divided into three distinct
though interrelated levels: icon, index, and symbol. Icon calls for the lowest level
of intersubjectivity because it signifies through resemblance; symbol requires
the highest level of cultural consensus, which signifies its object by means of
arbitrary associations or habitual connections; index is intermediate and builds
on causal connections for signification (Merrell 1995, 82). In the creation of Liu
as a national hero the usual mix of symbols were used to reach a target audience with a high level of intersubjectivitythe Chinese people (Zhang 2014).
However, in this image of him reproduced here, a wide range of icons are used.
To identify but a few: Lius leading position in the race; the bulging muscularity

Charlie Yi Zhang 187

on arms and legs; the yellow versus white/black skin; the vivified facial expressions and gestures. Building on semiotic codifications with icons for a wider
range of audiences, this visualized trope symbolizing Lius superior strength
and speed over his competitors from other racial groups means to traverse the
geographic and cultural boundaries of perceptions. Composed of photographic
codes that require the least cultural consensus, this picture can be read as a
symbolic attempt aiming to shatter the notion of Asian mens presumed fragile
and less macho bodies to transnational and cross-cultural audiences, which
is often pit against that of other racial groups, particularly Blacksthe racial
ideology that has spread across the Asia-Pacific Rim with the expansion of US
hegemony. The counter-racist meaning of this picture was further conveyed by
major Chinese national medias highlighting Lius epochal Olympic victory in
an event long-dominated by non-Asians.17 As Lius official website asserts, he
is the first Chinese man to win a gold medal in Olympic track and field, first
Asian man to win an Olympic sprint competition, and first athlete not from
North America or Europe to win an Olympic medal in the hurdles.18
However, this visualized celebration of Asian mens racial pride reproduces racism on another symbolic level, thus reinforcing the racial biopolitical
underpinning of neoliberal governance. To better clarify how this functions,
the signifying economy used in the image needs to be further deconstructed
within the larger socio-historical and -cultural contexts. Different from Charles
Sanders Peirce, Roland Barthes ([1957] 1972) posits that the signifying process
works on two levelsnamely, denotative and connotative. As Stuart Hall (2001)
suggests, compared with the arbitrary and unstable connotative signifying level,
the denotative domain is usually naturalized as fixed and stable. According to
Eileen J. Surez Findlay (1999), we can see that in human histories, to concretize the otherwise ambiguous connotative constructions in such domains as the
politico-economic struggle, categories like race, gender, and sexuality, due to
their relation to the human body and corporeality, are often mobilized as the
naturalized and perpetuated parameters to make authenticated claims.19
In this image of Liu, the construction of the pan-Asianist model of neoliberal governing practices is enabled by a racializing discourse grounded in the
masculinity competition on the interconnected signifying levels of denotation
and connotation. On the former level, the visualized tropes of comparing, contrasting, and stratifying the phallocentric physicality among five male athletic
bodies are informed and signified by a mix of icons to solicit the cross-cultural
understanding of its intended meanings on a wider scale, including the muscularity, skin colors, and differential positionings and gestures. In this regard,
taking into account the gendered foundation of racial formation for Asian in
general (Kitch 2009) and racial castration for Asian men in particular (Eng
2001), we can see that a relatively stabilized denotative meaning of racial superiority is projected onto Lius body via his perceived victory in this competition
by the invocation of multiple icons. Moreover, stabilized through this racializing

188Feminist Formations 26.3

denotative plateau is Lius other cultural identity in the connotative sense: a panAsian hero whose victory not only represents all Asian men, but entire Asia. For
instance, in 2010, after Liu won his third gold medal in the Asian Games, the
portal website of the Shanghai government ( published an article
extolling the victory of the Shanghai-born athlete as the glory of the whole of
Asia. This triumphant discourse clearly resonates with Shanghais determination to win the competition against other successful Asian economies, such as
Singapores and Hong Kongs, to represent the Asian model of neoliberalism as
an alternative to US dominance of the global order. Also, as a masculinized and
racialized symbol of pan-Asianism, Lius meticulously framed figure in the photo
reverberates with Ruis (the anchorman of CCTV) presumptuous appropriation
of Asian identity to manifest Chinas neoliberal ontology, as well as its challenge
to US hegemony, as suggested at the beginning of this article.
However, this counter-racist signifying endeavor also endorses the racial
logic that views Blacks and Hispanics as Asians biopolitical Others and reiterates the notion of the model minority in the service of global neoliberal
restructuring. As Umberto Eco (1979) contends, as a reified category, an icons
naturalness is founded on its socio-cultural contexts of construction, which he
calls iconicity. As the previous discussion suggests, the racist, sexist, colonialist, and neoliberal investments in Asia, Asian, and Asia-Pacific ground the intersecting, co-constituting, and sometimes contradicting ideological conditions of
signification for this symbolic figure (Kristeva 1986). Taking up these ideologically charged and overlapped categories uncritically, progressive attempts on
one level would entail oppression on another (Puar 2007). In this case, it can be
seen that Asian mens re-masculinization is achieved by Othering other racial
groups, particularly Blacks, which would nonetheless reinforce the hierarchized
racial system that has been promoting intersectional biopolitics to disarticulate
and rearticulate human beings for the perpetuation of neoliberal dominance.
Lius example also drives home how Chinas self-promotion and gentrification in
the neoliberal global competition are fostered by marginalizing and silencing his
biopolitical Otherspoor, rural migrants to cities, particularly women workers.
Extolling this racialized hyper-masculine figure as the new epitome of China,
the state is redefining what it means to be Chinese by excluding marginalized
groups from its profile, who, in actuality, are the foundation of China being the
worlds factory in the neoliberal global order.
The ongoing economic recession has not only debunked the legitimacy of neoliberalism as the only basis of globalization, but it has also given rise to massive
protests across the worldin southern China, Europe, the UK, and United
States. As Michael Hardt (2011) argues, neoliberal globalization has informed

Charlie Yi Zhang 189

a universal resisting force on which a transnational civil society could be built

that would lead us to emancipation from neoliberal control. However, as Harvey
(2003, 147) reminds us, no matter how universal the process of proletarianization [of neoliberal globalization], the result is not the creation of a homogenous
proletariat. Without understanding how the intersectional biopolitics of race,
gender, and class has undergirded neoliberal governmentality, this universal
resisting force would remain a precarious utopia; as the worlds first massive
protest against neoliberalism, the Tiananmen movement is a good example
(Wang 2003). In addition to its bloody suppression by the state, the internal
conflicts and contradictions among the various social groups in the movement,
who had been galvanized by Chinas neoliberal practices (for example, students,
workers, and urban civilians), are another important reason for the failure of this
social resistance to neoliberal governance (Perry 1995). In this article, I have
tried to illustrate how neoliberal globalization is proceeding by and through
the intersected bioplotics of race, gender, and class that has continuously
helped (re)produce new subjects for the market relationship and normalized
the dominance of human societies by neoliberal logic. As I suggest, attempts
to challenge one form of oppression without a comprehensive understanding
of the overarching structure of intersectional biopolitics would probably reproduce other forms of domination and reinforce the identity-based foundation of
neoliberal global control. In this regard, only with a thorough understanding of
the fundamental role of intersectional biopolitics can we untangle the intricate
and complicated nature of neoliberal material and discursive practices. Hopefully, this new knowledge of neoliberalism would prove conducive to progressive
scholars and activists to make substantive social changes by building a more
solid ground for solidarity.
I want to express my sincere gratitude to H.L.T. Quan and Karen Leong at Arizona State University for the feedback and help they provided me in finishing
this article. My thanks and appreciation also go to the anonymous reviewers
and the editorial board of Feminist Formations for their invaluable suggestions
and support.
Charlie Yi Zhang is an assistant professor in global studies at South Dakota State
University. Using feminism, critical race theory, queer theory, and political economy
as primary frameworks, his research focuses on how global neoliberal restructuring is
proceeding and perpetuated through the categories of race, gender, class, and sexuality. Building on these categories as critical heuristics, he is also interested in how
marginalized groups are creating alternative dimensions of living and survival outside
the dominant neoliberal economy. He can be reached at

190Feminist Formations 26.3

1. See, for instance, the online discussion run by one of Chinas portal websites,
November 14, 2001 (in Chinese).
2. CCTV is one of the three major mouthpieces of the Chinese party-state. The
other two are Peoples Daily and the Xinhua News Agency.
3. See Hillary Clinton, Americas Pacific Century. Foreign Policy, October 11, 2011.
4. See Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2000); see also David Harveys critique
in A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2007).
5. See Tine Davids and Francien van Driel (2005), Marianne Marchand and Anne
Sisson Runyan (2000), Jennifer Bickham Mendez (2005), and Aihwa Ong (1999, 2003,
2006, 2010).
6. As Harvey (2003) says, this form of accumulation is not exclusive to capitalist
states. Socialist/communist states also used it to fulfill the equivalent of primitive
accumulation [of capitalism] in order to implement programs of modernization (165)
(which I will discuss in the following section).
7. See Linda Alcoff (2005), Patricia Hill Collins (2000, 2004), Kimberle Crenshaw
(1989), Glenn (2002), Leslie McCall (2005), Jennifer Nash (2008, 2010), and Adair
Vivyan (2002).
8. As many people suggest, ethnicity is also an important identity category in
China. According to Emily Honig (1992), ethnicity is not only different from race, but
it is also different from ethnicity in Western contexts, such as in the United States.
In China, it has disparate meanings: it could mean the cultural ethnic identity, such
as Han and Manchurian, or it could define an identity based on ones origin of birth.
As Honig shows, the origin of birth always intersects with ones class status in certain
socio-economic contexts, hence creating different ethnic meanings for the Chinese.
Also, it could designate phenotypical differences, such as Uyghur or Russian ethnicity.
It is, therefore, a highly complex system. Due to the limited space available I will not
address this topic here, but shall do so in the future.
9. See China Has Become One of the Countries with the Largest Rural and Urban
Gap, China Economic Weekly, September 20, 2011.
10. See the World Banks Poverty: People Living on Less than $2 a Day, April
11. See Wealth Accumulated in Small Group of People, 1% Families Owning
Nearly Half of the National Wealth, (in Chinese), June 8, 2010. http://news
12. For instance, in Anhui Province, the income that migrant workers received
in 1992 was 7.5 billion Yuan2 billion Yuan higher than the total revenue of the
province (Li 1997, 145).
13. Although there are a few private schools in cities for the children of migrant
workers, their educational quality is low, and the schools themselves are often subject to
the danger of being demolished by local governments. See the report of Outlook Weekly,
Three Difficulties of Migrant Workers Children, June 2009,

Charlie Yi Zhang 191

14. Recently, hundreds of parents protested in front of the Chinese Ministry of
Education and petitioned that the children of 12 million migrant workers in Beijing
should have the right to stay in Beijing to take the college entrance exam. Moreover,
they insisted that recruitment criteria for students from different areas should be the
same. See, Issues of College Entrance Exam for Children of Non-Beijing
Registered Familiesa Massive Protest in Front the Ministry of Education, February
23, 2012.
15. See Rick Broadbent, Will Pavia, and Hannah Fletcher, China Mourns as Liu
Xiang Pulls Out of Hurdles, The Times (London), August 18, 2008. http://www.thetimes
16. See Dong Rong, Flying man Liu Xiang Shows the Great Power of Asia,, November 26, 2010.
17. See, for instance, Liu Xiang Securing a Landslide Victory in Athens and
Making History for Asians, Peoples Daily Online, August 18, 2008. http://2008.people
18. The Official Website of Liu Xiang, accessed November 25, 2014, http://liuxiang
19. Scholars have documented the relationship between politico-economic struggles
like nation-state building and gender, race and/or sexuality in various socio-cultural
contexts. For the United States, see Gail Berderman (1995); for South Africa, Anne
McClintock (1991); for Puerto Rico, Eileen J. Surez Findlay (1999); for Japan, Jason
G. Karlin (2002).

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