Seeing Sansha: The political aesthetics of a south China sea settlement

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On 24 July 2012, the Sansha People’s Government was established on an anthropogenic island in the South China Sea, more than 350 kilometers from the southernmost point of Hainan Province. Sansha is the PRC’s smallest city, occupying roughly ten square kilometers on Woody Island and housing a population of just over a thousand; at the same time, it is also the PRC’s largest city, symbolically laying claim to thousands of kilometers of space in the South China Sea. Alongside the ambitious logistical and military projects to build Sansha into part of China, highlighting an official shift from temporal to territorial nationalism, a corresponding state aesthetic project has consolidated in citizens’ minds a distant island that most will never see. The resulting cultural products portray a new addition of territory as an eternal part of China, while a remote island is constructed as an integral yet also mystical part of the nation-state. Examining artistic portrayals of the island across mediums including film, poetry, and painting, this article critically analyzes newly emerging trends in state and popular nationalism in China today.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)647-664
Number of pages19
JournalCritical Inquiry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020

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