Abstract

In His Science-Fiction Novel The Diamond Age (1995), Neal Stephenson envisions a post—nation-state world of the future, where countless fragmentations of cultural identity differentiate humanity into spatially discrete tribal zones. Identity has become entirely spatialized, rendering its historical basis—that is, the experiences that generate a “collective memory” for a community—into a decontextualized montage of nostalgia. Stephenson writes a world where modernist notions of progress and development through linear time have been replaced by cultural differentiation across space: history has been conquered by geography. History has become little more than a resource for borrowed cultural traits that are mapped onto discrete territories, and identity is self-consciously constructed by adopting the ready-made form of a particular cultural group. As Stephenson allows us to observe the excesses of this kind of postmodern tribalism, China comes to represent the ultimate form of spatialized cultural identity. In The Diamond Age, China is represented more as an organic cultural system than a historically progressing nation. But it is only China's interior that is represented as such. The People's Republic has been splintered into an extremely wealthy coastal strip—essentially one big export processing zone—and an increasingly impoverished interior, which, in a self-orientalizing twist, now calls itself the “Celestial Kingdom,” and is ruled not by a Communist Party leader (Marxism having long since been denounced as a Western plot to undermine Chinese values) but by a self-proclaimed “Chamberlain to the Throneless King,” that is, a minister representing Confucius himself. Whereas the coast has rich and cosmopolitan cities that are among the finest in the world, the interior claims a moral superiority that comes only from its assertion of cultural purity; the interior is the “true” organic China.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.