25 Years

The Foreign and the Familiar: Tracing the Cultural Lives of the China Bag in South Africa

Fri, 02/10/2017 - 12:00pm
Event Location: 
537 Heller Hall

Presented by  Mingwei Huang                                                                                             

2016-17 Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellow, Doctoral Candidate, Department of American Studies


The China Bag, the visually iconic red-white-blue plaid bag is universally recognizable as a result of its mass production and global circulation, its distinct pattern flexibly traversing high and street fashion, art, and popular culture. The preferred vessel of migrants and informal traders worldwide, it is the “suitcase of the 21st century.” Reflecting dominant xenophobic discourses, in South Africa these bags are called “Zimbabwe bags.” Drawing on affect theory and new materialism, I consider how the bag’s circulation in South Africa’s urban informal economy produces notions of foreignness and marks some raced bodies as foreign while absenting others. I also examine the work of two Zimbabwean artists in South Africa - Dan Halter’s Space Invaders (2009) and Ronald Muchatuta’s The African Immigration Series (2015) – to illustrate how contemporary visual artists and cultural producers redeploy the bag’s meaning of foreignness to critique xenophobic violence and imagine cosmopolitan city life.