Nebulous Nexus: Modernity and Perlustration in Maoist China

  • Michael Schoenhals
Part of the Mass Dictatorship in the Twentieth Century book series (MASSD)


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.


Chinese Communist Party Public Security United Nations Security Council Suspicious Sign Rogue State 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Mobilization and Modernity’, New German Critique, 59, special issue on Ernst Junger (Spring-Summer, 1993), 117.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Peter Holquist, ‘“Information Is the Alpha and Omega of Our Work”: Bolshevik Surveillance in Its Pan-European Context’, Journal of Modern History 69/3 (September 1997), 419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 4.
    Jean-Jacques Lecercle, The Violence of Language (London: Routledge, 1990), 224–64. ‘Nexus’ is both a negation, and in current usage the adopted rhetorical kin, of the footnote. Compare this description of the latter by a Berkeley linguist: ‘In intradisciplinary prose, the footnote is wielded as cavemen wielded clubs, a blunt but effective weapon. The footnote … says: I know everything about this topic. I could go on forever. Maybe I will. … This communication is not for entertainment. It is supposed to be obnoxious’.Google Scholar
  4. Robin Tolmach Lakoff, Talking Power: The Politics of Language (New York: Basic Books, 1990), pp. 148–49.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Mao Zedong, ‘Report to the Second Plenary Session of the Seventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China’, in Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung, vol. IV (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1961), pp. 363–64.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    See Song Guiwu, ‘“Mozhe shitou guohe” buneng luan “mo”’ (When ‘Crossing the River by Feeling the Stones’ One Must Not ‘Feel’ at Random), 17 February 2004, (accessed 29 May 2007).Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    ‘Liu Shaoqi’, in Zhonggong dangshi renwu yanjiuhui, ed., Zhonggong dangshi renwu zhuan (Biographies of Prominent Persons in CCP History) (Xi’an: Shaanxi Renmin chubanshe, 1991), 48, 3.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    Liu Shaoqi, ‘Tong Beijing ribao she bianji de tanhua’ (Conversation with the Beijing Daily’s Editors), in Renmin chubanshe ziliaoshi, ed., Pipan ziliao: Zhongguo Heluxiaofu Liu shaoqi fangeming xiuzhengzhuyi yanlun ji (Denunciation Materials: Counter-revolutionary Revisionist Utterances by China’s Khrushchev Liu Shaoqi), 3 vols (Beijing, 1968), 3, p. 17.Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    Zhonggong zhongyang wenxian yanjiushi, ed., ZhouEnlai nianpu 1949–1976 (Chronology of the Life of Zhou Enlai 1949–1976), 3 vols (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 1997), 1, p. 30.Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    Jacques Marcuse, The Peking Papers: Leaves from the Notebook of a China Correspondent (New York: Dutton, 1967), p. 33.Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    On the fashioning of ‘file-selves’ in the Soviet Union, see Sheila Fitzpatrick, Tear Off the Masks! Identity and Imposture in Twentieth-Century Russia (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), pp. 14–18. At the time, an absolute majority of Chinese provinces and cities were employing a statistical/analytical category known as ‘newborn counter-revolutionaries’ (xinsheng fangeming) or ‘newly-bred counter-revolutionaries’(xin zishengde fangeming). But ‘because Beijing is of the opinion’, the CMPS had explained in a top secret note in January 1960 ‘that it is impossible for the socialist system to give birth to new counter-revolutionaries, the municipality uses the expression “spontaneous counter-revolutionaries” to refer to new counter-revolutionaries’; see ‘Xinde fangeming dou shi shenme ren’ (What Kind of People are the New Counter-revolutionaries), Gongan gongzuo jianbao (Public Security Work Bulletin), 9, 27 January 1960, p. 9.Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    Quoted in Andrew G. Walder, ‘Tan Lifu: A ‘Reactionary’ Red Guard in Historial Perspective’, China Quarterly, 180 (December 2004), p. 978.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 23.
    Cf. Mao Zedong (May 1957), ‘Things Are Beginning to Change’, in Selected Works of Mao Tsetung, vol. V (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1977), pp. 440–46.Google Scholar
  14. 25.
    Mao Zedong, ‘Tong Wang Hongwen Zhang Chunqiao de tanhua jiyao’ (Minutes of Conversation with Wang Hongwen and Zhang Chunqiao) (4 July 1973), in ‘Wenge’ shinian ziliao xuanbian (Selected Materials from the Ten Years of the ‘Cultural Revolution’), 3 vols (Beijing: Zhonggong Zhongyang wenxian yanjiushi, 1981), 2, p. 201.Google Scholar
  15. 27.
    Jia Qiyun, ‘Dangqian tongji gongzuo gaige yundong zhong de jige wenti’ (Some Problems in the Present Statistical Reform Movement), reprinted in Zhonghua renmin gongheguo guojia tongjiju, ed., Tongji gongzuo zhongyao wenjian huibian (Collected Important Documents on Statistical Work), 3 vols (Beijing: Tongji chubanshe, 1959), 3, p. 187.Google Scholar
  16. 28.
    Zhonggong Beijing shiwei bangongting, ‘Lanfa “hei biaobao” xianxiang shifen yanzhong’ (The Indiscriminate Circulation of ‘Illegal Statistical Tables and Reports’ Is Extremely Serious), in Zhonggong Beijing shiwei bangongting, ed., Zhongguo gongchandang Beijing shi weiyuanhui zhongyao wenjian huibian [1964 nian] (Collected Important Documents of the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Chinese Communist Party [1964]) (Beijing, 1965), p. 411.Google Scholar
  17. 31.
    Frank J. Donner, The Age of Surveillance: The Aims and Methods of America’s Political Intelligence System (New York: Vintage, 1981), pp. 170–71.Google Scholar
  18. 32.
    Arif Dirlik, Marxism in the Chinese Revolution (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005), p. 216; here quoted from a review of the book in China Quarterly, no. 188 (December 2006), p. 1141.Google Scholar
  19. 33.
    John Ranleagh, The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1986), p. 556, 762. The Soviet Union was not to be outdone: according to a classified KGB report for the year 1970, in Leningrad and Leningrad Oblast alone, that year ‘the postal censorship service intercepted about 25,000 documents with “ideologically harmful contents”; a further 19,000 documents were confiscated at the frontier’.Google Scholar
  20. Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West (London: Penguin, 2000), p. 714.Google Scholar
  21. 37.
    See Michael Schoenhals, ed. & transl., ‘Mao Zedong: Speeches at the 1957 “Moscow Conference”’, Journal of Communist Studies 2/2 (June 1986), 121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 45.
    J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994), pp. 25–38.Google Scholar
  23. 48.
    See Michael Schoenhals, ‘Demonising Discourse in Mao Zedong’s China: People vs. Non-People’, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 8/3–4 (2007), 465–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 49.
    Mao Zedong, quoted in Minister of Public Security Xie Fuzhi’s talk at the 14th National Public Security Conference. See p. 188 of Michael Schoenhals, ‘The Global War on Terrorism as Meta-Narrative: An Alternative Reading of Recent Chinese History’, Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies 8/2 (October 2008), 179–201.Google Scholar
  25. 51.
    Gerald Clark, rmpatient Giant: Red China Today (New York: David McKay, 1959), p. 35.Google Scholar
  26. 52.
    Clifford Geertz, Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988), pp. 5–6.Google Scholar
  27. 53.
    Jon Rogers and Marie C. Nelson, ‘“Lapps, Finns, Gypsies, Jews, and Idiots”: Modernity and the Use of Statistical Categories in Sweden’, Annales de démographie historique, 105 (2003), 61–79, (accessed 29 May 2007).Google Scholar
  28. Luo Ruiqing, ‘Guanyu jiunian douzheng zongjie de jige wenti’ (Some Questions on How To Summarise Nine Years of Struggle), Renmin gongan (People’s Public Security), 15 (1958), 7.Google Scholar
  29. 54.
    Karl Marx, ‘Debatten über Preβfreiheit und Publikation der Landsständischen Verhandlungen’, erster Artikel, Rheinische Zeitung, 125 (5 May 1842), (accessed 29 May2007). ‘Backshadowing’ is described by Michael Andre Bernstein as ‘a kind of retroactive foreshadowing in which the shared knowledge of the outcome of a series of events by narrator and listener is used to judge the participants in those events as though they too should have known what was to come’. See Foregone Conclusions: Against Apocalyptic History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), p. 16.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Michael Kim, Michael Schoenhals and Yong-Woo Kim 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Schoenhals

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations