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(Re)collecting Mao: Memory and fetish in contemporary China

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Abstract

In contemporary China, compulsive collecting has become a method of accumulating both fiscal reward and cultural capital. In this article, I consider how the collecting practices of Mao-badge aficionados provide insight into the debates over value and subjectivity in contemporary, late-socialist China. By viewing Mao badges as fetishes, I accentuate the uneasy tensions between various theories of the fetish and call into question the theoretical divide between the postulated ahistorical, “private” fetish and its “public” commodity counterpart, suggesting that private, psychological drama is intimately linked to public commodity exchange. My analysis reveals how objects mediate the conflicts of meaning between different historical eras and play a central role in negotiating identities and subjectivities.

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