Mass Dictatorship and Modernity

Part of the series Mass Dictatorship in the Twentieth Century pp 53-70

Nebulous Nexus: Modernity and Perlustration in Maoist China

  • Michael Schoenhals


In the minds of a likely majority of non-native speakers of the English language(s), I believe the word ‘nexus’ carried until fairly recently no particular significance. When Anton Kaes wrote in an essay on modernity in 1993 that the film M ‘narrativises the nexus between warlike mobilisation, surveillance, and social control’, his use of it is unlikely to have triggered any particular shared associations, one way or the other, with his readers in Sweden, Korea, or Germany.1 Alas, what a difference a few years can make! After Colin Powell in his speech to the United Nations Security Council on 6 February 2003 had lectured the world on what he insisted on calling a lethal combination of a ‘nexus of Iraq and terror’ and a ‘nexus of poisons and terror’, a whole cluster of new associations came to surround the word here, there, and everywhere.2 Rereading Kaes today (or discovering his claim quoted verbatim and in full in a footnote in Peter Holquist’s 1997 seminal article ‘Bolshevik Surveillance in Its Pan-European Context’),3 it is impossible to break completely the hold since laid upon the imagination by the language of the ‘terror nexus’, ‘deadly nexus’, ‘nexus of rogue states’, ‘nexus of global politics’, ‘fascist-Islamist nexus’, ‘empire-terrorism-human rights nexus’, ‘nexus of religion and nationalism’, and so on and so forth.