"Mao’s Toilet: The Politics of Feeding the People in Socialist China (the 1950s-70s)" by Daren LEUNG (Lingnan University) (June 13th, 2023) [Sci-Tech Asia Virtual Seminar]

Bruna Coelho Discussion

We're happy to announce the last webinar of our Environmental Politics Webinar Series! All welcome!

Mao’s Toilet: The Politics of Feeding the People in Socialist China (the 1950s-70s)

Daren LEUNG (Lingnan University)
June 13th 2023, 1:00pm - 2:30pm (Lisbon time, WET, GMT+1, UTC+1)
Chair: Loretta Lou (Durham University)
Night soil, also known as humanure, is an ancient farming skill of recycling human waste and an evolving social practice in the Chinese context. I, as a dirty ethnographer, follow in my mother’s footsteps, who experienced the hard but vivid work on manure in Mao’s era, to explore the changes in science and technology related to humanure. I also question the other historical condition to rethink Marxian critiques of social metabolism. I will introduce the notion of the “socialist toilet system”, which emerged from the combination of two Maoist mobilisation efforts aimed at improving agricultural productivity and environmental hygiene. The system involved valuing all sorts of waste through the workpoint system, designing new hygienic toilets, and politically articulating the "old" within the Cultural Revolution to renew a circular form of rural-urban interdependence. As a result, a new set of science and technology related to humanure was developed during Mao's era. This system became the other politics of feeding people in the Cold War context, in contrast to the US's Green Revolution, which promoted modern agriculture in other Asian societies. Through this common but overlooked practice, I argue for a historically grounded relationship between humans and soils that cannot be simply flushed and forgotten.
About the Speaker
Dr Daren Leung is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University. He earned his PhD in Cultural Studies from the University of Sydney in 2021. His research explores the material politics of food and waste in relation to technology, history, and community in China and beyond. His publications have appeared in academic journals such as Cultural StudiesPeasant StudiesChina Perspectives and Lateral. He is currently working on a monograph based on his doctoral thesis, tentatively titled Excremental Modernity: Human Waste, Food and (Un-)Hygiene in China.

This webinar will take place online via Zoom.
Please register HERE.
After registering, a separate Zoom registration link will be emailed to you.

This webinar series is supported by the research cluster "Technoscience, Society, and Environment" of the Research Center for Anthropology and Health (CIAS) at the University of Coimbra.

Webinar Convenors: Gonçalo SANTOS (University of Coimbra), Loretta LOU (Durham University), Yichen RAO (University of Michigan), James WRIGHT (Alan Turing Institute) and Jun ZHANG (City University of Hong Kong).