Deng Xiaoping’s Unexpected Orientalist Iconography

The Orientalist Trope for Deng’s kaifang diplomacy.

Grand Public Entertainments where monarchs and courts preside have historically featured Dance + Food/flowers + Song as pivot-points of the Display, no where more so than when Guests from Afar (emissaries) are (amongst) the invitees. (I here enclose theater and athletic display within the concept of dance)

All, one notes, proffered by women, often the same ones in both jobs. Hardly strange since the two three (four) stimulated senses – gustatory, erotic, aromatic and aural – are so closely intertwined, reinforced by overlap. And conveyed by the same metaphor: an “embarrassment” of riches, a chain of availabilities pictured as endless and then some.

This almost Freudian convention becomes of course more problematic – politically awkward – in the age of Political Modernity, oversimply but usefully denominated (for monarchs and courts) by the French Revolution and the train of austerities (moral as well as consumptional) that it pushed on to the tracks. Jacobinism – on the other end- like Puritanism- is signified by David and Ingres as ever WITHOUT court and table, dance or cornucopiae.

All of which (the above) I think go a long way toward explaining the infatuation with Orientalist display one finds in the European dance-pageants of the latter 19th century: my sense is that the legacy of profligate food and dance show is thereby maintained, as the tables and stage-floors are reoccupied by distanced “US”s (WE), removed from Christianity and its sartorial conventions etc to distract, but at the same time to allow the “show” to go on, even more bloated.


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