Suffering, Punishment and Significance: Two Recent Books on China
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The nearly parallel publication of Death By A Thousand Cuts, by Timothy Brook and Jérôme Bourgon (Harvard University Press, 2008) and The Hypothetical Mandarin: Sympathy, China, and the Fate of the Modern Human by Eric Hayot (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2009), invites reflection on the ways that the human body and its suffering is inscribed in systems of meaning. No pain is more obviously overwritten with significance than punishment exercised by the state, as we learn from Bourgon and Brooks’s history of the all-too-famous “lingering death,” a mode of execution reserved for those whose crimes attacked the bases of the social order (the family and the empire). But no pain is entirely outside the power of culture to appropriate, as we learn from Hayot’s study of the ways in which pain, variously alleviated, augmented or ignored, has been a constant element of the dialogue between the United States and China since its beginnings in the early nineteenth century.
Professors Bourgon and Hayot will each briefly present the main arguments of their books, followed by a response by Professor Ruskola and a member of the Yale faculty and an open discussion.