Date of Award

August 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

First Advisor

Kennan Ferguson

Committee Members

Kennan Ferguson, Ivan Ascher, Robert Beck, Shale Horowitz, Douglas Howland


This dissertation examines body politics in the People’s Republic of China. It first closely looks at Zhuangzi’s idea of xu by analyzing the major aspects of the term—blandness, lack of substance, spontaneity, dispossession, incompleteness, and absurdity. It then argues that the concept of xu generates profound implication for politics by bringing up a particular mode of politics—politics of indeterminacy. In this mode of politics, power relation and power structure are never settled. Instead, they morph without being actualized. Examined in this context, the body for Zhuangzi is understood as an indeterminate entity whose political agency is attributed to its capacity in re-articulating power relation by constantly receiving and transforming a manifold of forces. That the body can be alternatively construed this way is crucial for our re-examination of the shaping of reshaping of identity in the contemporary Chinese society. In this light, the work investigates two cases—the Cultural Revolution and the state capitalism to find out in what specific ways the body, identity and politics are intertwined in manifesting the story of changing political relations in the everyday life of the ordinary Chinese people. The work contends that the making of the subjectivity is an indeterminate process in which one’s identity is impossible to be fixed. It can never be composed with certainty. The construction of identity is a process of detachment by which one experiences the unexperienced without being settled around a center. The making of the political, to Zhuangzi, is thus founded on this indeterminacy to create new self and dissident political subject.