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Yang Xianhui’s Chronicles of Jiabiangou (2003) is a collection of stories detailing life and death
during the Anti-Rightist Movement (1957-59) in the homonymous laogai camp located in the
middle of the Gobi Desert, in the Chinese north-western province of Gansu. Based on the author’s
extensive research, fieldwork and interviews with Jiabiangou survivors, in many instances the text
dwells on particularly foul descriptions, mostly related to the harsh living conditions of prisoners
undergoing reform, further exacerbated by the hostile geographical setting and by a famine that had
struck the whole country. Physically and morally offensive descriptions of bodily expulsions and
incorporations are portrayed with straightforward yet evocative accuracy, revealing very appalling
aspects of the laogai experience.
Building on psychological analyses and phenomenological interpretations of disgust, this paper
interrogates some key passages in the text where the literary iconography is built through the use of this
aesthetic technique, with a special attention to the representation of carceral bodies - often construed as
the true repugnant objects. Through the analysis of this symbolic bodily iconography, this paper
addresses the text’s contribution to the construction of alternative narratives of incarceration and
political persecution that have the potential to challenge Chinese orthodox historiography.
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