A portrait of pain : Cold War prosthetic memory and family histories

Activity: Talks or PresentationsOther Invited Talks or Presentations


In this talk, I discuss Chinese writer Wang Anyi’s Sadness for the Pacific (1993) and Taiwan-based Malaysian director Lau Kek Huat’s documentary Absent without Leave (2016). As descendants of Southeast Asian Chinese families that were embroiled in Cold War cultural and revolutionary politics, I argue that the works of Wang and Lau are driven by a similar impulse of making sense of a nation’s buried past through their family histories. By piecing together fragments of family testimonies, photographs, and historical records, both narratives revisit the thorny history of transnational Chinese mobilities during the twentieth century and reveal the leftist legacies that have largely remained suppressed in Southeast Asia. While Wang’s Sadness reveals a melancholic awareness that this search for one’s roots is an inherently futile attempt, Lau’s Absent offers a resolution to Wang’s melancholy through a strategy of prosthetic memory and demonstrates a profound concern with the human condition of being displaced both geographically, textually, and ideologically.
Period30 Nov 2021
Degree of RecognitionInstitutional