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University of Westminster Contemporary China Centre
2015 Spring Semester Seminar Series

Speaker: Dr Sarah Dauncey  

Please note that non-University of Westminster attendees should register with Helena Scott.
Disabled people in China today are frequently referred to as living in a separate world to non-disabled people. Their perceived ‘difference’ sets them apart from ‘normal’ people, both physically and metaphorically. But this is not just a contemporary phenomenon. Throughout much of modern history, the marginalisation of disabled people in Chinese society has not just been reflected, but also reinforced through language and other forms of cultural representation. In order to illustrate the way this has worked in practice, this talk introduces the way in which language and imagery are known to contribute to what is known in Disability Studies as ‘disabling imagery’ and provides examples of how this works to reinforce predominantly negative stereotyping in the contemporary Chinese context. It then looks in particular at the way in which one example of recent realist fiction – the celebrated 2008 novel Tuina (Massage) by Bi Feiyu, which explores the world of blind and partially sighted massage therapists in Nanjing – has attempted to break away from the received way of presenting blindness and impairment more broadly to focus on the human experience of blindness from within the experience of disability. In doing so, it appears to have opened up new terrain for the re-evaluation of the role of disability and its representation in Chinese culture. How, then, might new forms of cultural production reimagine disabled identities and work to support, rather than hinder, the positive advances being made in terms of disability rights work? Is it perhaps time for ‘soft disabled power’ in China? 
Sarah Dauncey is an Associate Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. A cultural historian by training, she has a particular interest in the representation of disability in China, where she has been pioneering a new field of study, supported by grants from the British Academy and Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, among others. She is the author of numerous papers on disability culture and identity in China and her forthcoming book Disability in Contemporary China: Citizenship, Identity and Culture will be published by Cambridge University Press. In recent years, she has also been working in collaboration with key UK and China-based charities to help positively transform the cultural landscape of disability and the lives of disabled people in China.