Subtexts in Utopia
Utsa Hazarika

Filmed in China’s Yunnan province, this project addresses the production of knowledge in anthropology and ethnographic fieldwork. Its video and text components are woven together with an audio recording of an interview with a Chinese anthropologist who addresses many of the epistemological concerns with gathering information about a chosen site of research, as well as the specific concerns of state and self-censorship in the Chinese context.

Located along China’s southwest borders, Yunnan shares cultural similarities with southeast Asia, with many of its communities spread across its borders to neighbouring countries, including Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Northeast India. My research looked at how China’s state mechanisms incorporate this diversity into their ideas of nationhood, and how these cross-border communities negotiate these mechanisms.

Part of the video was filmed in Shangri-la, a city on the Tibetan plateau. In 2001, the Chinese government re-named Zhongdian to Shangri-La. Widely interpreted as a move to attract tourists to the area, the re-naming was also followed by large-scale construction, expanding the city as well as creating an “old town” — built with traditional materials to look like historical buildings. Under the surface of this manufactured utopia, this project also addresses the undercurrents of historical and contemporary relations between minority communities and the state.

Research supported by the Student Fellowship at the India-China Institute at The New School.