The Park Pass: Peopling and Civilizing a New Old Beijing
Many mundane practices of city life in public in Beijing converge on public parks. Focusing on the uses, significance, and powers of the annual park pass, an inexpensive identity card that gives residents free access to the city's well-known and historic parks, I demonstrate some ways in which the “routines and rituals” of state articulate in practice with both a spatial and a nationalist politics of the people. This is not a politics of rebellion or resistance; rather, it advances a compliant civilizational nationalism with deep roots in China's revolutionary twentieth century. It displays a particular sensitivity to the history of spaces in the city and to the forms of ownership and control to which such spaces can be subjected. To understand the daily enjoyments of ordinary city residents as a continuation of China's revolutionary century is to acknowledge the voices and the public activism of many whose forms of political communication are usually ignored, or even denounced as passive. But a more generous definition of the political, one that does not presume liberal democracy as its natural setting or emancipation as its aim, can show how even compliance and personal pleasures work on the dispositions of power in public.