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CCCI: TV Tears Made of Fear: Anatomy of the Spectacle of Power on Display in China's Forced Confessions

The Cornell Contemporary China Initiative Lecture Series, featuring interdisciplinary talks by scholars on issues in China today, runs every Monday this semester. This talk will be presented by Professor Magnus Fiskesjö, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Cornell University.

November 14, 2016 4:30pm to 6:00pm

After years of building a new system of courts of law, and after many solemn declarations to prohibit police torture and forced confessions (which both have been longstanding, publicly acknowledged problems in China), the Chinese authorities have recently reverted to extrajudicial show "trials" reminiscent of Maoist times. Select victims are detained and in due course forced to go on state TV and perform statements of self-incrimination which clearly have been rehearsed under duress. These choreographed spectacles of public confession are widely regarded as fake -- not least because several new witness accounts from former detainees emerged during 2016, which have revealed the current techniques used in some detail, and which unavoidably evoke Kafka's masterful allegory in The Trial on how self-incrimination is induced from the innocent, by the powerful. However, the question remains what is the purpose of this, and how we should interpret the case of contemporary China. This presentation will address the tragedy of historical antecedents as one part of the explanation, but also focus on sketching what power structures are built through these spectacles of forced confessions.

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