After our reading of Dream of Ding Village, it would seem only appropriate to change the “Tibet” and “Darfur” tags in the picture for “Ding Village” or “Henan Province”. As we’ve discussed in class, the novel alludes to the ethics of China’s rapid economic growth, posing questions about the urban-rural divide, the competence of state officials and the greed of local (and national) elites. However, we have also come to realize that Dream of Ding Village is also trying to spark a larger conversation about the consequences the commodification of life as a consequence of the new economic forces at play in the post-Cold War era.
In light of this new conversation, I thought it was relevant to post a set of questions that might inform our reading of the novel as well as enhance future discussions.
The first one speaks to the theme of community. David Graeber is an American anthropologist who has written extensively about direct-action and the myths surrounding capitalism. In one of his books, Debt, he explores (among many other things) the different moral rationales behind economic activity and proposes that all societies are communist at the core because communism relies on the assumption that, in eternity, accounts will even out and therefore it is only natural that we help those in need when we are able. This contradicts the logic of humans being self-interested and profit-seeking individuals. However, we have constantly seen how, in many contagion narratives, communities fall apart at the face of death. It would be interesting to think about how human beings are portrayed under pressure, do the assumptions of classical economics hold true? or does Graeber’s analysis makes more sense?
Another issue worth considering is the link existing between life, bodies and money. Dream of Ding Village maps this interaction through the idea of the Ding Dynasty, the village’s blood-boom and the different manifestations of consumerism. In a broader sense, it is forcing us to think about the tension between reproduction and accumulation. From one end, there is the idea of sharing one’s resources with the community be it through feasts, employment or gifts. On the other hand, there is the notion that one must save and try to lift oneself out of poverty. How does one reconcile this in a world where one’s culture may favor caring for other but the economic rationale prompts us to think only of ourselves?