The Circulation of Bodies
in Migratory Spaces
All Chinese contemplate returning … They must be buried in celestial soil. Their superstition and their religion is that there is no approach to the heavenly and celestial realm except from the Celestial kingdom. The spirits of those who are buried here wander in darkness throughout the ages, separated from their ancestors, which is a serious bereaval [sic] to them. Therefore, when they come to this country they intend to return … they enter into a contract that if they die pending their contract their bodies shall be returned to China.
— Elizabeth Sinn, ‘Pacific Crossing: California Gold, Chinese Migration, and the Making of Hong Kong’, 2013
Ai Weiwei – Remains, 2015 (Courtesy Neugerriemschneider and the artist)
Shocking images of migrant bodies washed ashore, epitomized in Ai Wei Wei’s re-enactment of Nilüfer Demir’s photograph of the Syrian infant Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body on a beach in Bodrum, Turkey, have almost become a macabre shorthand for migrant deaths on foreign shores as more and more refugees undertake perilous sea crossings and other hazardous inland journeys, in search of a better life. We may wonder what happens to these bodies, what happens to these bones; are they repatriated back to the homeland? If not, are they in a cruel twist of fate, simply buried in mass graves on the foreign shores they tragically failed to reach while alive? How are the victims memorialized, if at all? This also raises related questions about the immigrant’s desire for a home burial. How is the longing for home manifested as a longing to die in the homeland? What about those who are criminalized and refused a burial? How is the right to die linked to citizenship and human rights in the context of migration and diaspora?
“Thanatic Ethics: The Circulation of Bodies in Migratory Spaces” seeks to explore these questions as they are articulated in literary and visual culture, and across disciplines.