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The Dossier: Archive and Ephemera in Maoist China

Thursday Lecture Series

dateOctober 25, 2018 timeThursday, 12:15pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
  • Audience open exclusively to Columbia faculty, students, and invited guests
  • All others interested in attending, please email SOF/Heyman at [email protected].
Worn documents with Chinese script

What would a living archive of a revolutionary society look like? In Maoist China, one of the primary responsibilities of the local bureaucracy was to compile detailed individualized dossiers on party members, cadres, workers and students under their jurisdiction. The dossier constituted a master record of a subject's social identity, probing issues of class status, personal background, family relationships, political activities and attitudes. A state project of immense ambition, the dossier system sought to facilitate governance of the population by archiving Chinese society in the Maoist image. This talk explores the history of the dossier to illuminate habits of paper, the neuroses of the socialist bureaucracy, and stories of individual lives subjected to file systems. Approaching the dossier as an everyday object of politics reveals the material limits of bureaucratic knowledge and what happens when revolution meets the archive.