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Allegorising the Local on the Borderland: Ai Wu's Nanxingji and National Subjectivity

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image of Inner Asia

This paper offers a reading of Ai Wu's Nanxingji series (Trilogy of Travel Through the South) depicting the author's journey from Yunnan to Burma in the May Fourth era and his subsequent returns to the border regions of Yunnan in the socialist period. It explores the ways in which allegorical dimensions of ‘the local’ shift at different social-historical junctures: ‘the local’ as a site in need of reforms in the 1920s, in socialist reality in the early 1960s, and in traumatic memories of the Cultural Revolution in the early 1980s. In extrapolating these ‘local’ dimensions embedded in the Nanxingji series, this paper suggests a contingent rather than a causal relationship between national incorporation and ‘the local’ formations. Additionally, this paper highlights how travel operates as an allegorical device, linking ‘the personal’ to the interplay of local specificities and the national imaginary, and how travel styles themselves change over time.


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