In this article, I explore the significance of Chan Koonchung’s recent dystopia, The Fat Years, in the context of contemporary Chinese capitalism. In the first section of the article, I outline the plot of Chan’s novel before situating it in relation to classic Western dystopias such as Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, George Orwell’s 1984, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Here, I compare and contrast notions of narcotization, state control, and freedom across Chan’s work and the Western dystopias, noting key cultural differences in the process. Beyond this work, I move on to place Chan’s novel in the context of contemporary Chinese communism, and in particular the utopian dimensions of Hu Jintao’s concept of the Harmonious Society and Xi Jinping’s idea of the Chinese Dream. My objective in this section of the article is to show that Chan’s novel may be understood as a dystopian representation of contemporary Chinese utopianism organized and disseminated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the name of national security. Finally, and in order to extend this discussion of Chan’s representation of actual Chinese dystopianism, in the final section of the article I take up the metaphor of the capitalist body that eats too much. Here, I read the English translation of Chan’s title, “The Fat Years,” through the lens of Chinese body thought and, more centrally, what I call the Chinese “eating-being” or “being-eating,” in order to develop a theory of excess, lack, and a dysfunctional economic body that suggests an older tradition of Chinese utopianism linked to wilderness poetry and natural order.
Chinese Bulimia: Utopia, Dystopia, and The Fat Years
Mark Featherstone is senior lecturer in sociology at Keele University. He is the author of Tocqueville’s Virus: Utopia and Dystopia in Western Social and Political Thought (2007) and the forthcoming Planet Utopia: Utopia, Dystopia, Globalisation (2014). He is also working on a third volume on contemporary utopias titled “Banal Utopias” and a monograph focused on the culture of cruelty under conditions of global capitalism.