Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Continental Drift

Flag image from the "Camouflage" series by Liu Bolin

Brian Holmes – March 2008

As early as 2007, the slogan of the Olympic Games was everywhere,
on brochures, magazines, billboards, light boxes, LED tickers, neon
signs, and of course, on the omnipresent urban video screens: One
World, One Dream. With all the resources of state-controlled media,
Beijing was preparing to claim its place in the pantheon of global
cities. This time there would be no denial, no memory of the failed
1993 Olympics bid under the shadow of the "Tiananmen incident."
Already, the hallucinatory congestion of the skyscape makes the
prophecy come true. There is only one possible world, only one
possible dream: continuous buildings, endless highways, infinite
urbanization, a city beyond the limits of the imagination. Huge urban
blocks, surging arteries, expanding ring roads, metros, airports,
refineries, power plants, bullet trains, a city that devours the
countryside, scraping the mountains and the sky. A world city.

How does a society remake itself in a global image? The answer lies
in a process of internalization, at once psychological and material.
Around the world over the last two decades, since the fateful year of
1989, formerly underdeveloped countries have embarked on an
accelerated course of self-makeover, absorbing and adapting
industrial techniques, institutional forms, aesthetic styles, mental
frameworks. Such transformations have happened before; but
unprecedented increases in productive capacity and intensified
transnational exchanges make this process different, even compared to
the great wave of change that followed World War II. The
gravitational shift of wealth accumulation to new centers in East
Asia may well bring a metamorphosis of capitalism itself, as the
historian Giovanni Arrighi has suggested.1 But in the meantime the
transition is disconcerting, tumultuous, violent, marked not only by
its tremendous acceleration ("Shenzhen speed"), but also by the
particular forms of social control that characterize the present.
China's transformation is becoming the central phenomenon in the
emergence of a new, complex and disorienting world society.

Global Individuals

To see the process of makeover in its early stages you can travel by
taxi back in time, fifteen years ago, to Beijing World Park on the
southwest edges of the capital city. This classic piece of Chinese
spectacle culture was opened in the early 1990s, and more recently
became the subject of Jia Zhangke's great film, The World (2005).
What's offered to the gaze is a collection of miniature monuments:
the Eiffel tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Great Pyramids, the Taj
Mahal, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. In an age when travel outside the
country was virtually impossible, tourists would come by train to
take their weekend tour, and brides would pose for a photo, as they
still do today, in front of the gleaming white Sydney Opera. As Jia
insists, this is where you can "see the world without ever leaving
Beijing." What's not mentioned in the film, however, is in many
ways the punctum of the whole affair: the identity of the aging and
decrepit airliner where Jia's heroine, Tao, dressed as a stewardess,
repels yet more advances from her erstwhile boyfriend Taisheng. This
was Deng Xiaoping's official plane, the one used for his state
visits and excursions. So the casual tourist on a weekend in Beijing
could experience the fantasy of flying in the personal airplane of
the man who literally brought the world to China, in the form of
foreign direct investment, the magic key that opened the forbidden

Fifteen years is an eternity at Chinese speeds. Today the Beijing
World Park is a sad place left behind by progress, like a bad joke
gone stale and flat with age. Rather than rushing here, a visitor
from the interior would head in the opposite direction, toward the
future that Deng made possible, in the northeast corner of the
capital. There you find Beijing's own full-sized World Trade Center
in the brand-new Central Business District, not far from Koolhaas's
CCTV building, rising up like an ideogram of power. The city itself
is now the world park, glittering with the stardust of transnational
architecture. The current phase of internalization is no longer
psychological, but material. Beijing, in many different ways, has
become the world.

The experience of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen confirms two
things. The first is that the global extension of the Anglo-American
technological and organizational toolkit has given rise to a world
civilization, what Félix Guattari called "integrated world
capitalism."2 The second is that this overall pattern of world
civilization can only be governed and normed at a regional or
continental scale, using cultural and political resources that are
specific to that scale. The continental scale – whether a nation-
state like India or China, or a regional bloc like the Russian
Federation or the EU – has become decisive in the world today,
because only that scale can fully internalize, but also resist global
forces. Resistance, this context, means the attempt to impose
different societal norms at the specifically continental level,
according to whatever social or political power imperatives have
taken hold there. What confronts us then are intersecting realities:
something like "transnational capitalism with Chinese
characteristics." An entire political economy lodges in the tension
of these intersections. The unanswered question is how those tensions
are expressed and elaborated by individuals and smaller groups: how
the emergence of a world society is tangled up with the production of
new subjectivities.

The word individual signals the micropolitical dimension, where
cultural commentary is now typically confined as a celebration of
subjective choice. Yet individualism is no way the opposite of
globalism. Following sociologists like Ulrich Beck, I'll be arguing
that globalism is inseparable from a process of intensive
individualization which is its other face, the flip side of the same
basic currency.3 This is the symbolic meaning of the slogan, "One
World, One Dream." When we look at the highly original and highly
commodified practices of the creative industries, it is globalism
that we are really seeing, in the expression of each singular dream.
Global individualism results from the monetization and
contractualization of social relations, which is an essential part of
the neoliberal economic order. And it is a very exciting thing,
involving a break from traditional patterns, new possibilities of
thought and sensation, even the literal experience of flying through
the air – deterritorialization, in a word. That's first of all a
liberating experience. What you feel in urban China today is an
extraordinary productive energy, coursing through the architecture
and the bodies of the people. The feeling corresponds to a tremendous
achievement: an exit from hunger, stagnation and poverty for hundreds
of millions of people, and the invention of a new development path
promising equality with the Western nations. But the same social
reality has a much crueler side, which few of its proponents care to

This darker side is revealed in Jia Zhangke's film, when the
migrant worker known only as "Little Sister" is fatally wounded by
a falling crane at the construction site where he worked at night for
higher pay. Dying in the hospital, he can offer nothing more in his
last words to Taisheng than a list of the minor debts he incurred in
his short life in the capital. The same theme reappears when Taisheng
counts the insurance money in front of the grieving relatives, even
as the nephew (the only one in the family who can read) signs a
waiver of any future claims. Why the insistence on monetization and
contractualization? With his depiction of migrant laborers in the
world city, Jia tries to break through the generalized ignorance that
surrounds the division of labor, to the point where it renders
invisible the very relation that builds the city. This
unconsciousness, sustained by global individualism, now constitutes a
fundamental risk for society at all levels, as the political and
environmental contradictions of integrated world capitalism
accumulate at an alarming rate. World society develops at the risk of
new subjectivities.

The increasingly authoritarian forms of governance that are emerging
all over the globe can be conceived as techniques for managing that
risk, each time in a specific fashion that is inextricable from a
particular social and cultural history. Driven by its quest to hang
on to power, and perhaps even more, by its ambition to provide
development for the people, the Chinese communist party is at the
forefront of this neo-authoritarian governance, offering a
specifically continental solution to the problems of insertion into
global neoliberalism. It has developed a balance between a strongly
normative political system and a wildly expansive economy, with the
paradoxical sense of openness that such expansion brings. It is now
attempting to deploy the concept of the creative industries, as part
of a bid to increase its international and domestic legitimacy, to
overcome a longstanding deficit in product innovation and to build a
much-needed internal market for the consumption of sophisticated
goods and services. According to that concept, the kind of human
energy and aspiration that was formerly invested in the transcendent
values of the traditional artistic genres, or in the revolutionary
experimentation of the avant-gardes, should now be seamlessly merged
with audiovisual production, advertising, design, entertainment
events, software and video games – in other words, with everything
that creates the aesthetic experience of the hyper-mediated city.
These are the forms on which the Western consumer paradise is
founded. Do they render other realities invisible? By examining the
social, economic and monetary underpinnings of the push for a
creative China, I want to suggest some of the contradictions that are
at work in the country, and some of the ways that the rest of us are
implicated in them.

Just a warning before beginning: I'm no Sinologist, and I have no
particular authority to pronounce on all these things. What I'm
going to offer are some observations and questions for research into
a situation that concerns us all: the development of a global
division of labor, and indeed, of a global society, which is now
coming concretely into being. In any case, the point of cultural
critique is never to supply unequivocal answers. Rather it is to
spark off a dialogue that can help crack open the one-world dream.

Urban Divide

Clearly there are artists who might be interested in such a dialogue.
For a 1996 performance entitled Half White Collar, Half Peasant, Luo
Zidan confectioned a double or split exterior, wearing a tattered Mao
suit on the right of his body and an impeccable shirt, tie and slacks
on the left. He used cosmetics and hairstyling to distinguish a
smoothed, whitened face from the pockmarked bronze skin of a country-
dweller. This is how he appeared on the city streets of Chengdu in
Sichuan province, holding a crisp hundred-yuan note in one hand and
what appeared to be a crumpled rag in the other.

As Chen Hongjie has written:

Walking through the area around Chunxi Road in Chengdu, the performer
appears both real and illusory in his actions. At the Holiday Inn he
uses the peasant's sleeve to clean the marble at the entrance… In
a watch store, the white-collar worker tries on a 2,300,000 RMB
diamond studded watch, admiring his reflection. At a KFC restaurant,
he happily eats a meal, while the peasant, left with the fries and
salad, is confused as to how they should be devoured. The concept of
this work expressed the issues of class, and on a deeper level,
social roles common to all human society and the roots of the
contradictions that inhibit human desire.4

Luo provides a brilliant metaphor of the split personality of
contemporary China, with its sparkling new cities and its 800 million
impoverished peasants who aspire to live in them. In this way, he
points at one of the fundamental traits of what I called
"transnational capitalism with Chinese characteristics." Everybody
knows that since the establishment of the Special Economic Zones in
the Pearl River Delta area in the early 1980s, China has become the
factory of the world. It owes that status to the "China price,"
i.e. the lowest asking price on the entire planet for any given
category of basic manufactured goods. But the availability of the
China price depends in its turn on the capacity of the urban white-
collar worker to extract tremendous amounts of underpaid labor from
his other half, the peasant arriving to toil in the factories. How do
the two figures co-exist within the same city, and perhaps, as Luo
suggests, within the same skin?

Their relation has been formalized, since 1949, in the communist
version of the hukou or household registration system, which served
to immobilize people in their locality of origin. In the
revolutionary era, development priorities were focused on the city:
social guarantees and advantages were reserved for the urban
proletariat, and rural-urban migration was strictly controlled, with
occasional tumultuous exceptions during periods of rapid industrial
expansion, often followed by forced transfer back to the countryside.
5 What's surprising is the continuity of this policy since the
1980s. Throughout the period of reform, amidst massive and relatively
uncontrolled influx to the city, urban hukou remained almost
impossible for country-dwellers to obtain. It barred migrants from
access to social services and education for their children, and left
them subject to arrest and deportation to their residence of origin
at the whim of the police, according to the so-called "custody and
repatriation" regulations. The paradox is that the very system that
denies peasant populations their full urban citizenship is also at
the basis of the incredible engine of wealth-production that attracts
them to the city in the first place. This paradox has set an entire
continent in motion. The 120 million migrants who make up China's so-
called "floating population" are in between the country and the
city, crowding at the gates of modern urban life and yet partially
excluded from it.

According to statistics whose accuracy is always difficult to
verify, in 2008 there were some 30 million migrant workers in the
major industrial cities, while the remainder of the floating
population wandered between rural provinces. All such mobile
individuals are considered displaced, they are not where they should
be. The hukou system allows rural labor to play the same role in
China that transnational migrant labor does in the European or North
American economies, furnishing human fuel to sweatshops and low-end
service industries while exerting downward pressure on the wages of
more established workers. Recently there has also been a lot of
pressure on the state to transform this system, particularly after
public outcry in 2003 when a man named Sun Zhigang died inside a
Guangzhou police station under the custody and repatriation procedure.
6 Meanwhile the government, faced with growing unemployment in the
countryside and an inability of smaller towns to generate industry,
is projecting the transfer of hundreds of millions of people to the
urbanized areas. The stated concern of the officials, however, is
that complete abolition of the limits on mobility would result in a
chaotic shift of population toward the coastal cities. In fact, the
digitalization of up to 80% of the country's household registration
records has made the system into a powerful tool of social control,
which is unlikely to be abandoned in the near future.7 The urban/
rural divide will not just disappear. To the extent that this
particular social relation is implicated in the production of so many
of the clothes we wear and the goods we consume, could it be worth
knowing about? Are we as foreign to China as we seem? The evolution
of the hukou system over the the next ten years may be the most
precise barometer for registering the inevitable changes in the class
structure, not just of China, but of the world.

It's intriguing to learn that Luo Zidan did his performance in
1996, just a few years after Deng's "Southern Excursion" had
opened up new development zones, stock markets and the possibility of
real-estate speculation, thus creating "the policy basis and market
conditions enabling the emergence in China of a class of the newly
rich," as the New Left critic Wang Hui has written.8 While state-
owned enterprises were dismembered, giving rise to massive
unemployment, Chinese intellectuals engaged in debates over the
capacity of civil society to bring about democratic transformation.
This was supposed to happen, not through radical change of the
system, but instead "through reliance on marketization, the
formation of local and intragovernmental interest groups, and the
unlocking of traditional resources embedded in such things as clan
structures." What that meant in practice was the proliferation of
more-or-less shady business deals at the local level, based on
contracts and land-use rights accorded by the government.

However, Wang continues, "the 'civil society' that was
imagined [by the intellectuals] completely left out the huge working
class and rural society, thus not only according perfectly with state
policies that had the effect of drastically increasing the
polarization between rich and poor, but also cutting off in principle
the links between the ongoing progress of democracy and its true
social foundations." The result is that Chinese levels of inequality
have dramatically risen, to the point where they now match the
highest levels in the developed world: those of the United States.9
Luo dramatized this situation perfectly with a 1997 performance
entitled White-Collar Exemplar, which stages a businessman in
shirtsleeves and tie, standing at attention on a city street somewhat
like an army security guard, but inside a transparent plastic box
attached to an oxygen tank so as to hermetically seal him off from
any contact with the crowd milling all around.10

When social divides are created with such suddenness, against a
backdrop of official egalitarianism and communist rhetoric, then the
disconnect between "class issues" and "the contradictions that
inhibit human desire" reaches an extreme. Dialogue is only present
in its absence, as a gaping psychosocial divide that affects the
individual no less than the group. The question asked by Luo's two
performances might finally be this: Does the air conditioning make it
impossible for you to feel your other half sweating inside the same

Coastal Networks

Let's travel from provincial Chengdu to the great industrial center
of Chongqing, then through the Three Gorges Dam and down the Yangtze
to Shanghai – one of the most exuberant cities in the world.
Shanghai was granted the status of Special Economic Zone in 1992.
With the growth of its heavy industry, the attraction of its high-
tech research centers and the prestige of its brand-new stock
exchange, it has outstripped Shenzen to become China's most
productive megalopolis. In 2002 it won the competition to host the
2010 World Expo. As a Canadian consultant explains, "Shanghai wants
to be a 'world class city,' comparable to New York in finance,
London in trade, and Paris in culture. Make no bones about it –
Shanghai will achieve its vision by 2025, and is using World Expo
2010 as a stepping stone."11

Once again, this is a city that wants to remake itself in a global
image. But on what basis? Here I want to step back for a moment, and
look at some of the infrastructure that underlies China's status as
the world factory. Historically, the city of Shanghai owes its wealth
to its position as a port on the Yangtze river, making it an
interface between the maritime routes of global trade and the
manufacturing capacities of the interior. The port is still
tremendously important, as you can see by taking a trip beneath the
Huangpu bridge and out to the mouth of the Yangtze. Container
transshipment, bulk raw materials, steel, shipbuilding,
petrochemicals and navy installations are the most visible. There's
a lot of heavy equipment out there, with an aesthetics of rust
that's fascinating for people from the deindustrializing countries.
But more importantly, by venturing out into the Shanghai harbor you
begin to grasp the operations of the East Asian network.

What's going on are intensive exchanges between a series of
interlocking seas: the Sea of Okhostk, the Sea of Japan, the Yellow
Sea, the East China Sea, the South China Sea, then onward to India
and Australia. These are the historical circuits of China's ancient
tributary system – but also the foundations of a more recent
regional economy.12 It was Japan that laid the basis of that economy
in the years after World War II, after its industrial sector had been
built up again by American investment for the production of Korean
war supplies. Drawing on Australian coal and iron ore, Japan was
gradually able to increase its steel output until it rivaled that of
the USA. In the process it generated a new pattern of coastal
production, dependent on shipping rather than on rail or road; and it
extended this productive system to the rest of the region, through
all kinds of joint-ventures and informal cooperation arrangements.13
This maritime trading pattern ultimately gave rise to what analysts
have called the "network power" of East Asia, which has not
managed to constitute a formal economic bloc or currency zone like
NAFTA and the EU – but which has managed to constitute the new
growth center of the world economy.14 In the boom years of the
1970s-80s, Japanese investments and technology helped China to
develop new steel-making facilities, including the Baoshan complex in
the port of Shanghai. Today that complex has become the largest steel
producer on earth.

Again it's a matter of internalization, this time of fixed capital.
Foreign direct investment figures tell the story: Japan and the
"Four Tigers" of South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong
poured $34 billion into China in the year 2005, dwarfing the Western
total of $17 billion.15 Of course the figures are difficult to
interpret: Hong Kong is the single largest source of FDI ($17.95
billion), but it also serves as an intermediary for others; and most
of the money goes into simple manufacturing for export, with no long-
term value on the ground. But in domains such as steel-making and
ship-building, and more recently in high-end sectors like finance or
research and development, China has been using foreign direct
investment to build the infrastructure that will eventually allow it
to supplant Japan as the major node in the East Asian network. With
the support of a vast diaspora, China is regaining its historical
place at the center of the East Asian trading system. And it's doing
so along the coastline, in the zones of exchange constituted by an
interlocking series of seas.

The distance between the interior and the coast is the distance
between a continental system of social control and a maritime network
of high-tech production. It's the distance between the fixity of the
land and the fluidity of the sea – the geography of a class divide
which has become so great that it threatens to rip China apart. Here
we rediscover the scalar tensions that constitute "transnational
capitalism with Chinese characteristics." The geographical divide is
now one of the main preoccupations of the Communist party. That's
why they launched the "Go West" campaign in 1999, a drive to
attract foreign investment to the interior. The centerpiece of that
campaign is the completion of the Three Gorges Dam, and with it, the
projected transformation of Chongqing into an industrial colossus
that's supposed to rival Shanghai. This can be seen as a literal
attempt to extend the coastal mode of production into the depths of
the continental landmass, via the Yangtze river and the hyper-
electrified inland sea that is being created by the dam. In that
process, anything stable or traditional – any popular identity or
"still life," as Jia Zhangke puts it in his award-winning film –
tends to disappear into the flux of the productive network.

What's presented in Still Life (2007) is the desolation of a
landscape that has become purely economic. The transformation is
symbolized when the main character, Sanming, has to look at the
sketch of the Three Gorges on a ten-yuan note to confirm the beauty,
or even the reality, of the mountains in the distance. It's a
classic case of life collapsing into art. What you mostly see in the
film, however, is not artistic beauty or its monetary sign, but
instead, the ceaseless round of construction, destruction and
reconstruction that underlies them, resulting in the devastation of
the landscape and those who inhabit it. At the end, after demolishing
countless houses whose ruins will be covered by the rising waters of
the dam, Sanming leaves to the interior, to work in a coal mine for
money to buy back his bride of sixteen years ago who has been
indentured into service on the river. But the other women of the
story all escape in the opposite direction: Shen Hong, the estranged
wife of Sanming's violent boss; the neighbor woman, who tries to
sell him the services of a prostitute; and finally his own elusive
daughter, who only appears in a photograph. They all take flight
toward the coast, to Guangzhou and Dongguan in the Pearl River Delta,
or down the Yangtze to Shanghai.

Jumping into the Sea

You have to wonder: what's it like to take part in the productive
network? How do people internalize all this infrastructure, to become
individuals in the contemporary sense – that is, participants in a
global process? To describe the experience of leaving socialized
security behind, the Chinese of the reform era used the expression
"jumping into the sea" (xiahai). After all the studies of
neoliberal governmentality, we know what this embrace of
entrepreneurial capitalism can mean. As Nikolas Rose explains, it
requires people "to conduct themselves with boldness and vigour, to
calculate for their own advantage, to drive themselves hard and to
accept risks."16 Similar things hold true in China – but the
academics leave out a basic dimension, the splash of the body in the
ocean, the shock and pleasure of the new, either because you arrive
as a peasant from the country or because the city where you live has
changed beyond all recognition. How that transformation feels is the
aesthetics of Chinese urbanism.

To get a first taste you can visit the Shanghai Urban Planning
Museum, an outlandish piece of architecture looking down on People's
Square. It's got a scale model of the metropolis in the year 2020,
with catwalks over the towers of the future. Even better are the
interactive exhibits, like a vehicle simulator that lets you drive
out the 32.5-kilometer Donghai bridge to the new deepwater port, then
turns into a boat when you arrive. The cartographic displays are
packed with information and at the same time strangely popular, as
though addressing two different publics. A museum like this can serve
as a 3-D negotiating table, where transnational elites debate each
other's proposals for urban development. For the VIPs, it's about
calculating the city's risks and chances, it's about making the
most profitable bid for world-class status in the decade to come. But
it's even more interesting to consider how the museum addresses
itself to the newcomers, to the people who will actually have to live
and work here. How are they supposed to make the leap to the
endlessly transforming universe of Shanghai?

A panoramic video display entitled "Virtual World" invites you to
ride and above all to fly through the city, giving you an almost
instantaneous introduction to its attractions and facilities,
orienting you in a space that is beyond the grasp of ordinary
perception, and above all, bringing you up to speed. There is a
biopolitical function to this kind of exhibit, and indeed, to all the
accelerated, syncopated video displays and computer graphics that one
constantly encounters in East Asia. It's a matter of inserting the
body in the new urban sensorium created by advanced production,
transportation and consumption technology – science-fiction
environments of superhuman scale, which could be totally overwhelming
if there were not ways to get used to them, to tame them, to let
yourself be energized by them. One recalls the role played by film
and photomontage in the process of imagining the mechanized European
metropolis, the Großstadt of the early twentieth century; but now
it's digital sense-surround in the Far Eastern megalopolis. And this
kind of experience is hardly restricted to museums. In cities where
the mirrored skins of skyscrapers morph into immense screens at
night, the pulse of neon, and increasingly, of video, becomes a
device for the mobilization of millions of people.

How is this mobilization effected? And what is its social
significance? Video is the medium used by Yang Zhenzhong, for an
ingenious piece called "Spring Story" (2003) carried out with the
Shanghai production unit of Siemens Mobile Communications.17 The work
is based on the speeches delivered by Deng Xiaoping during his
celebrated Southern Excursion in 1992, when the initiator of China's
capitalist turn redefined reform as "the emancipation of the
productive forces." Deng's verdict of success in the Special
Economic Zones of Guangdong province led to the almost immediate
opening of Shanghai and other northern cities, and consequently to
the installation of thousands of factories and businesses, the
employment of millions of people, and the emergence of a consumer
economy on the mainland. What Yang did to express this historical
transition is to break Deng's lengthy and complex speech into some
1,500 separate pieces, then film the entire workforce of the Siemens
plant as each recites a single phrase, or sometimes even a single
word. Each one in isolation from the others, and – by the artist's
own testimony – ignorant or oblivious of the significance of the
text, captivated instead by the prospect of appearing on camera, the
employees unwittingly collaborate on a supremely unself-conscious
portrait of the contemporary division of labor, inside a mobile phone
factory which at once symbolizes and effectuates the concrete
technological conditions of a flexible, hyperindividualized, "always-
on" workforce.

One of the things that this rigorously sustained blurring of faces
and subjectivities becomes is a long variation on the virtuoso theme
of the "Shanghai haircut," whose defining characteristic is to
never be the same. A distinct personal style now defines the
"average" individual, just as it formerly did the artist. But the
ultimate enigma for the stylized individual is the overarching power
that guides and integrates social cooperation. Through his access to
the corporate resources of the Siemens Art Program, Yang was able to
choreograph this unlikely performance of Deng's speech, using a
carefully annotated score designed to insure that proper rhythm and
intonation were maintained despite the fractional, atomized nature of
the actual delivery. One could hardly imagine a more precise metaphor
of the contemporary division of labor, in which massively
individualized mobility is channeled and orchestrated to fit the
needs of those with superior information gathering power and
organizational technique. The central question under such a social
system is: Who will supply the mobilizing energies to hundreds of
millions of free agents? Who will communicate to the communicators?

Outracing the Economy

Here is where the creative industries come in: not the traditional
fine arts, nor the modernist cultural industries like cinema and
radio, but instead the newly minted and digitized professions that
shape the lightweight, complex, ephemeral, ever-changing aesthetic
experiences of the hyper-mediated city.18 The professionals who
create the advertising, the color schemes, the lighting, the
ambiance, the interactive circuits, the interior design, but also the
artists and musicians and publics who soak up that light and make
those ambiances vibrant and interesting and valuable on the market.
Throughout China right now there is a rising buzz around the creative
industries, in Beijing as they work for the Games, in Shanghai as
they build toward the World Expo, in the Pearl River Delta as they
add entire new city centers and cultural facilities to urban
production zones trying to upgrade from their former status as the
world factory. The interest in this new "new economy" is sustained
at the governmental level by a small army of foreign consultants who
have come to sell their skills and reinvent themselves in Beijing,
and it's amplified back in the West by professional style magazines
like Fast Company, which ran a glitzy special on "China's New
Creative Class" in mid-2007.19 As the name of the magazine would
suggest, this kind of culture is produced at high speeds, usually by
very young people who can always accelerate to outrace the
competition. In that respect it's like the dot-com boom. As a twenty-
five year-old computer programmer confided to labor researcher Andrew
Ross: "China is a very crowded world and Shanghai is not a place you
can ever relax. Even when I try to relax, I can feel the economy
behind me, running up at my back."20 The art of outracing the
economy, of dancing and twirling and glittering just in advance of
its leading edges, is what defines the creative industries.

The creative industries discourse (CI) is brand new, since it was
only codified by the British cultural ministry's Creative Industries
Task Force in 1998. But it's also very old, if you date it back to
Ronald Reagan's "Creative Society" speech in the mid-1960s, one
of the foundation stones of neoliberal doctrine. During the
California state gubernatorial campaign of 1966, Reagan audaciously
proposed to replace president Lyndon Johnson's federal welfare
programs with a voluntary mobilization of California's talented
individuals, local governments and innovative businesses. As
Hollywood's Great Communicator explained to the masses: "That is
the basis of the Creative Society – government no longer
substituting for the people, but recognizing that it cannot possibly
match the great potential of the people, and thus, must coordinate
the creative energies of the people for the good of the whole."21
Thirty-two years after that Maoist pronouncement, British culture
minister Chris Smith and his functionaries would draw up their famous
Creative Industries Mapping Document.22 All they really did was to
package and re-export a set of practices that had long characterized
the productive hegemony of the USA. Yet they did it at the perfect
moment: exactly when digitalization was set to expand the knowledge-
based economy from a few advanced OECD countries to the entire world.

CI is both a policy discourse and a promotional rhetoric. It
flourishes in financialized economies, driven by speculation on
prosumer appetites for aesthetic goods and services. For governments,
the aim is to attain higher levels of employment and economic growth,
by commodifying and privatizing some of the cultural programs judged
necessary for social cohesion. For businesses, it's a matter of
competing in highly profitable sectors where new-style design
products, entertainment and IT meet the old-fashioned pay dirt of
real-estate. CI has exploded in East Asia since the turn of the
millennium. Michael Keane has shown how it emerged as a full-fledged
policy discourse in China over a mere two-year period (2004-06).
Updating their former emphasis on mass-media spectacles with
traditional content, officials now speak of "Cultural and Creative
Industries." The goal is a rise of Chinese products through the
global value-chain, from "Made in China" to "Created in
China."23 But the advertising and design professions are also
supposed to fuel a surge in the nation's consumption of its own
seemingly boundless productivity – an elusive goal which is
considered essential by both the Communist party and American trade
representatives.23b The concrete results of all this have been the
overnight bloom of "creative clusters" in China's coastal
cities: integrated districts where the multiple arts of human
creativity are brought into a theoretically ideal mix on the urban


For a compact example, consider the "1933" project now on the rise
in Shanghai: the ambitious remodel of a 31,000 sq. meter Art Deco
slaughterhouse, transformed into a creative industries center by a
private-public partnership between the Axons Concepts Company and the
Hongkou government. Architectural form was the key to this project,
whose organizational aim is to bring the creative capacities of the
human nervous system up to the scale of the megalopolis:

Inside, the neurological influences are apparent. The five-floor
concrete structure is supported by solid "flowering" pillars whose
stems open out like petals at the point of contact with the ceiling.
The funicular central building is linked to a square outer casing by
a striking series of sloping concrete pathways and staircases. "This
is the brain of the building," says [Axons manager Paul] Liu. "You
can see the inter-linking effect of these original walkways. We can
use that to help carry creative energies throughout the whole

Projects like this move fast in China. While still unfinished, the
building had already hosted the Shanghai Creative Industries Week,
November 15-21, 2007. To attract an elite roster of tenants, it's
advertised as a lifestyle paradise of "restaurants, bars, private
clubs and cigar lounges," with an upscale learning sector focused on
self-cultivation: "Bookstores and education spaces will include
elements such as drama, yoga, sculpture workshops, calligraphy and
painting classes, cooking school, tea ceremony courses and Beijing
opera appreciation… 1933 will redefine what it means to be a
'person in full' by having all the elements to inspire in one
location."25 But it also aims to be a productive facility, with
university partnerships and private corporations generating
intellectual property for profit – in short, a ready-made version of
the "creative city" condensed into a single urban block. The
classic question of whether creativity can be managed and produced
doesn't seem to bother the real-estate developers one whit. After
all, there is money to be made in this domain – as a reported $3.8
billion of deals at the 2007 Cultural and Creative Industries Expo in
Beijing has proven.26

No one can predict what future subjectivities will emerge from the
hothouse of China's new creativity boom. Access to culture is likely
to expand immensely, at least for the professionals and the business
elites; and the consequences of that expansion may surprise everyone.
Artistic invention has been given an operational role in economic
development, fulfilling one of the long-held ambitions of the
modernist vanguards. But the willingness of governments to use
aesthetics as a form of psycho-engineering – and the efforts that
corporations have expended, since the time of Freud's nephew Edward
Bernays, in the quest to manipulate their clients' dreams27 – make
the dangers all too obvious. Critical interpretations of the new
cultural forms, and of the social and political frames in which they
create their effects and meanings, will be crucial in opening the
imaginary space where people can gain some kind of relative autonomy,
some capacity to be their own steersman. But that critique must reach
all the way into the images themselves, it must be transformative.
The stakes of these new images are tremendous. When state-capitalist
power begins manufacturing your dreams, then art becomes the primary
process of politics.

The contemporary visual arts do give clues about ethical/political
positions in today's China. But critique and contradiction aren't
exactly the strong points of the creative economy. Amidst the
plethora of opening ceremonies and real-estate deals, the artists
themselves are outflanked by the functionaries, the galleries and the
museums. In the early 1990s, exiles from the Tiananmen movement began
exhibiting around the world, opening up the possibility of markets
beyond traditional or social-realist painting. A decade later, when
those artists had been taken up as a neutralized elder generation in
China itself via the explosion of Biennials and Triennials, the
critic and curator Gao Minglu diagnosed the entry into a "museum
age." In such an age, he says, the avant-garde way of making
meaning – which consisted in transgressively entering the
institutions that claimed to embody the highest values of society,
then violently breaking away to show their hollowness and
insufficiency – has become practically impossible. The
multiplication of spaces acts to blur the hierarchies of value,
rendering transgression insignificant. As Gao writes:

Today, Chinese avant-garde or experimental artists have gradually
lost the consciousness of space that once defined their identity.
Their creative spaces, studios, exhibition spaces, galleries and
museums have gradually been integrated into one. The art world in
China today can be described as a "triumph of systems." … The
external environment for an avant-garde artist no longer exists since
the "wall" between the avant-garde artist and the official system
is no longer there.28

The most disorienting confirmation of these ideas comes from a stroll
through the dream-like spaces of Factory 798 in Beijing's Dashanzi
District, or of its smaller and somewhat more recent clone, Moganshan
Lu in Shanghai – or tomorrow, of the thousand-and-one "art
factories" that will flower across China. The boom in these spaces
is clearly bound up with real-estate speculation, in markets like
Shanghai's where already-inflated properties are said to have
doubled in price over the course of 2006. The difference with San
Francisco or London is that it's less about gentrifying a run-down
neighborhood, and more about razing an area as soon as it appears
valuable, to put up a high-rise complex for gigantic payoffs. For the
time being, however, the state seems to have other plans for the art
districts, particularly after the meteoric career of Factory 798 and
the apparently successful negotiation by the artists, which saved the
area from the wrecking balls at the price of turning it into a
tourist attraction and upscale lifestyle destination. To judge from
that story – which involved evicting one of the earliest art spaces,
the Beijing Architecture Studio Enterprise, and opening a Nike-
sponsored "Mr. Shoe Museum" in its place – the Olympic state now
wants to use the art districts as vitrines for foreign visitors, in
order to dispel the idea that free expression is not tolerated in
China. And it undoubtedly wants to use them as laboratories as well,
in order to see whether design innovations and profitable new
consumer environments will really be invented by these Chinese
children of Warhol.


This is not to say that Factory 798 or Moganschan Lu are
uninteresting or merely "co-opted" places, far from it. They both
represent the kind of cultural infrastructure that makes an artistic
gesture or a literary conversation possible, and on that strength
they are worth defending. But like it or not, they also bear witness
to the capacity of an authoritarian government to control a
population by carefully sketching out the open pathways on which it
can evolve with apparent freedom. Of course those open pathways have
to include some modest critique – which is how the Chinese state is
internalizing what currently passes for democracy. When an artist
like Liu Bolin sculpts an immense iron fist pressing with all its
oppressive weight on the ground, he clearly enacts an anti-
authoritarian gesture.29 What's less clear is where that gesture
resonates, what kind of weight it has in the imagination. Fifteen or
twenty years ago, such things would not have been tolerated; but they
would have had immense symbolic significance. In today's context of
total economic pragmatism no one pays any them mind: the attention is
elsewhere, still looking for the perfect fit between the banknote in
hand and the beautiful landscape in the distance. What world society
cannot find the time or space or concentration to really discuss is
the ground we are creating beneath our feet.

Another artist, Liu Wei, has made this missing ground explicit. On
June 4, 2005, he took his video camera to Xinhua University in
Beijing and asked the passers-by what day it was.30 Most of them
simply reply, "June 4th." When they're pressed – "But what
day is it?" – they avert their gaze and walk swiftly away,
covering their faces, shielding themselves from the camera and its
questions. What the video shows with painful lucidity is a moment of
choked-off speech, so that you literally see the personality of the
non-respondent dissolving into the impossibility of saying publicly
what everyone knows as an intimate truth: June 4 is the anniversary
of the massacre on Tiananmen Square, the birthday of authoritarian
neoliberalism.31 After the sequence at the university, Liu Wei goes
out to film this ground, its calm, perfect order, without agitation.
The historical experience of repression has been internalized as the
everyday reality of self-censorship, which remains a palpable force
in the lives of an overwhelming majority of the population, including
the artists and intellectuals.


Ma Yansong - MAD 2050 Design, Project for Green Tiananmen

Here is where the ideologues of liberal democracy take up their
rhetorical positions, in defence of Western freedom. But I don't
propose to join them. A similar, if less dramatic, internalization of
repression occurred in the Western societies after 1968, and in the
former Soviet bloc in the course of the 1990s. Today it is the
economic imperative, not the state, that commands in detail what
should or should not be represented by the creative industries. The
result has been a gradual neutralization of ethical and political
speech. This gap at the heart of self-expression is now being
exported across the earth. What's missing in all our societies are
the psychic and social resources for resistance to the present.

Floating Cities

The journey ends, not in Shenzhen where the reforms began, but
somewhere else, in a floating city. Shiny gold letters flash up on
the screen and the music starts playing, repetitious and optimistic,
like a lilting Chinese lute plugged into a rhythm box. The first
thing you see against the brilliant red ground is a tiny drum kit
shrinking rapidly out of sight; but already the viewpoint has
receded, the ground becomes a bright red flag cradling a sharp-
pointed yellow star – and there's a panda hovering up in the sky,
a Mao-statue foundering out at sea and an over-sized plastic hardhat
set down on a bustling ring road. A bicycle wheel spins, a patterned
fish flops out of a techno-blue cascade, a city bus circles round in
the air and the iconic CCTV building dangles crazily from a crane,
high above a rotating mass of skyscrapers looking for all the world
like a virtual Hong Kong. A smokestack belches flame at the summit
until finally it explodes, billowing smoke and swirling ruins, while
the mountain of buildings goes on spinning round and round with the
music, and a shopping cart full of buildings and a leftover Buddha
never quite finishes sinking into the rippling ocean. The title of
this looping video is "RMB City: A Second Life City Planning by
Tracy China." It's a promotional clip for a 3-D fiction yet to

RMB is, of course, the abbreviation of the Chinese currency, the
people's money or renminbi; and Tracy China is the Second-Life
avatar of Cao Fei, busily rendering all enduring clichés of her
country into the synthetic landscapes of the latest global village.
The video captures the inexorable economic unreality of contemporary
China, in a satirical computer-graphics form that evokes both the
neon-drenched arcades of Shenzhen, and the endless streams of finance
transiting through Hong Kong to the mainland. What better symbol of
the future than the dreamland of Second Life, for a country that has
gone in a single generation from the extremes of popular socialism to
the extremes of popular capitalism?

The paradox of the Chinese development model is written in sheet
metal and electric pylons all across the Pearl River Delta. Debt-
financed spending by Western households has encouraged foreign
investors to build a sprawling factory landscape producing low-end
consumer goods that the mass of the local population can still barely
afford to purchase. The peasants who work at the plants are crying
for better pay, a decent meal on the table and maybe even the right
to go shopping – which would ultimately require a higher exchange
rate for the RMB and a chance to bring home some of the profit that
all this manufacturing has generated. But a rise in the standard of
living means the inflation of average wages and the end of the China
Price, choking off the export-driven mode of development that has
brought so many millions from the country to the city. How to shift
to another economy, where the fruits of labor are redistributed
internally? How to invent another industry, where the price of
progress is not deadly pollution? Here is the riddle that the
country's elites have tried so hard not to answer. The collapse of
home equity values and the consequent halt to the credit-card spree
in Anglo-Saxon lands has finally opened up the question of the Asian
transition, whose answer will give concrete forms to the twenty-first

Rem Koolhaas and his Harvard research team first brought news of the
Pearl River Delta to the creative classes of the West in the
mid-1990s, amid the early stirrings of the new economy. Pasted up on
the walls at Documenta X in 1997, texts and images from the PRD
promised a new mode of critical research into the transformations of
the world system.33 But the global technocracy just goes on recycling
the old love-hate relations of the bourgeoisie and its avant-gardes.
Today the radical Koolhaas is building not only the Beijing
headquarters of China's CCTV broadcasting conglomerate – the
central Communist party control institution – but also the Shenzhen
stock exchange, to inflame the investor appetites of the coastal
classes. Meanwhile his partner Bruce Mau promotes the spectacular
fiction of "massive change" by means of graphic design, without
any curb on the ecology of infinite competition.34 If you want to
understand the reality of the Pearl River Delta, the concise texts
and images of Adrian Blackwell and Xu Jian could be a lot more
useful. They diagram the structures of a camp-like "factory
territory" based on land leased by village collectives to
industrialists, and on dormitories built by individuals to extract
rent from migrant workers.35 Following their indications, I traveled
to the village of Houting in the Shajing District of Shenzhen. The
neoliberal formula of massive change by individual and small-group
initiative has functioned perfectly in Southern China. What results
is the banality of ordinary sprawl: modern apartments crowded tightly
around a decaying village core; austere collective blocks inside the
industrial perimeter; simpler factories with guards sleeping at the
gate; residual traces of an agricultural life that has vanished into
the concrete. As usual, the labor process itself remains completely
invisible. The walls that Gao Minglu no longer sees between the
artist and the system have sprung up everywhere.


In 1995, the Guangzhou artist Lin Yilin did a performance entitled
"Safely Maneuvering Across Lin He Road." The video shows him
sheltering from the onrushing traffic behind a temporary wall of
breeze blocks, which he displaces brick by brick to make the crossing.
36 The scene takes on an incredibly vivid meaning when you see the
tremendous sprawl of the southern cities, choked with traffic and
polluted, bordering on insanity, but at the same time, gleaming with
refinement and luxury. The work could be a metaphor of an entire
society moving ahead beneath a shield of overdevelopment that is
about to become life-threatening, but that remains the only game in
town – the one you've got to play to be part of anything. There is
a wild lucidity to the best of Chinese art, which asks for a
response, for a dialogue, for a critical engagement with the present.
As Lin writes on his website, "The rapidly popular art market also
brings the trial to the artists. Chinese contemporary artists take
the risk to change their isolated status, suddenly to become brand
name stars. If Chinese contemporary art cannot develop a particular
theory, then ultimately [it will] only be expensive craftwork for
this period of history."37 But Chinese artists are not alone in this
reluctance or refusal to develop a theory of their role in world

Cao Fei is also from the Pearl River Delta. "RMB City" bears
witness to the wild humor and deep disbelief of people who know how
easily the dream of contemporary China could disappear into the maw
of some unforeseen crisis. What you don't see in the virtual city is
what everyone who lives there knows: the wasted landscapes, the
choked horizons, the pollution lying black and sticky on the shore.
What you don't see are the labor revolts, the "mass incidents,"
the migrant workers billeted on the peripheries. What you don't see
are the wildly swinging real-estate prices, the continual financial
turmoil awaiting a full-fledged crash, or the dependent relations
with Americans as consumers of last resort, absorbing floods of
products that China itself now pays for by investments in Treasury
Bonds looking more worthless every minute. What you don't see is
what everybody knows, what everybody feels in the ground beneath
their feet, what nobody can put into an image. The incalculable risk
of the twenty-first century. The infinite uncertainty of global




Thanks to all the people who extended their hospitality, insight and
support, including Stephen Wright, Ned Rossiter, Gao Minglu, Adrian
Blackwell, the Urban China editors, the Walking Cities project, Yang
Zhenzhong, Howard Chan, the people at Vitamin Creative Space, Luca
Martinazzoli, Anselm Franke, so many others, your help was essential.

1 Giovanni Arrighi, Adam Smith in Beijing:Lineages of the Twenty-
First century (London: Verso, 2007).

2 For a definition of the term, as well as the remarkable premonition
of "a new type of authoritarian democracy" following dissolution
of the Cold War divides, see Félix Guattari, "Le Capitalisme
Mondial Intégré et la Révolution Moléculaire," unpublished paper
given at a 1980 CINEL seminar in Paris, online at http://www.revue-

3 See the Introduction to Ulrich Beck, What is Globalization?
(Cambridge: Polity, 2000).

4 Chen Hongjie, text on Luo Zidan's work in Reinterpetation: A
Decade of Chinese Experimental Art (1990-2000), catalogue of the
First Guangzhou Triennial, Nov. 18, 2002-January 19, 2003, Guangdong
Museum of Art, p. 226.

5 For the historical background, see Dorothy J. Solinger, Contesting
Citizenship in Urban China: Peasant Migrants, the State, and the
Logic of the Market (Berkeley: UC Press, 1999).

6 "Sun Zhigang's brutal killers sentenced," China Daily, June
10, 2003; online at www.chinadaily.com.cn/en/doc/2003-06/10/

7 See Fei-Ling Wang, "Reformed Migration Control and New Targeted
People: China's Hukou System in the 2000s," in The China Quarterly
177 (2004), pp. 115-32; and Fei-Ling Wang, Organizing Through
Division and Exclusion: China's Hukou System (Stanford UP, 2005).

8 Wang Hui, China's New Order (Harvard UP, 2003), p. 83; the
following quotes are from pp. 87-88.


10 For photographic documentation of the performance, see the
artist's file at ShangArt gallery: http://www.shanghartgallery.com/

11 Victor S. Deyglio, "Success, Opportunity, Change: Shanghai World
Expo HR Strategies," in Logisitcs Quarterly II/2 (May 2005), p. 26;
available as a PDF document, http://logisticsquarterly.com/issues/

12For the historical background, see Peter J. Katzenstein and Takashi
Shiraishi, Network Power: Japan and Asia (Cornell UP, 1997,
especially the articles by Takeshi Hamashita and Mark Selden.

13 On the role of steel production and maritime transportation in
China's development, Paul Ciccantell and Stephen Bunker, "The
Economic Ascent of China and the Potential for Restructuring the
Capitalist World-Economy," in the Journal of World-Systems Research,
X/3, Fall 2004, pp. 565-89.

14 For an extremely interesting account of Japan's motives in the
early constitution of this network, see Peter Gowan, Global Gamble
(London: Verso, 1999), esp. pp. 46-48.

15 The Western figure includes $9 billion from the fiscal paradise of
the Virgin Islands and another $3.3 billion from the Cayman Islands
and Western Somoa. Source: "Foreign Investment in China" (April
2006), published on the US-China Business Council Website, http://

16 Nikolas Rose, quoted in Gilles, Guiheux, "The Promotion of a New
Calculating Chinese Subject: the case of laid-off workers turning
into entrepreneurs," in Journal of Contemporary China, 16/50
(February 2007), pp. 149–71.

17 For documentation of the piece, see the Siemens Art Program
booklet, Yang Zhenzhong: "Spring Story" (Ostfildern: Cantz, 2003),
or the artist's website, www.yangzhenzhong.com.

18 For definitions and critiques of the creative industries, see
Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter, eds., My Creativity Reader (Amsterdam:
Insitute of Networked Cultures, 2007).

19Fast Company 116 (June 2007), online at www.fastcompany.com/

20 Andrew Ross, Fast Boat to China (New York: Pantheon, 2006), p. 59.

21 Ronald Reagan, "The Creative Society," speech delivered at the
University of Southern California, April 19, 1966,online at

22 www.culture.gov.uk/Reference_library/Publications/archive_1998/

23 See Micheal Keane, "Re-imagining Chinese creativity: the rise of
a supersign," in My Creativity Reader, op. cit.; and "From Made in
China to Created in China," in International Journal of Cultural
Studies 9/3 (2006), pp. 285-96.

23b For a history of the more-or-less failed attempts to enlarge the
internal market, see Elisabeth Croll, China's New Consumers: Social
development and domestic demand (London: Routledge, 2006).

24 "Back to the Future: 1933 Abattoir Becomes Shanghai's Hottest
New Venue," Scribes of the Orient webzine,

25 Quote from the project website, www.1933-shanghai.com.

26 "Beijing cultural industry expo ends with $3.8-bln deals,"
People's Daily Online, Nov. 12, 2007, http://english.people.com.cn/

27 For the latest on this front, see Clotaire Rapaille, The Culture
Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People around the World Buy
and Live as They Do (New York: Broadway Books, 2007).

28 Gao Minglu, The Wall: Reshaping Contemporary Chinese Art,
exhibition catalogue, Albright-Knox Art Gallery and University at
Buffalo Art Galleries, Buffalo, New York; Millennium Art Museum,
Beijing (2005), p. 81.

29 The sculpture is located in the Dashanzi complex, outside Hot Sun
Art Space. For Liu Bolin's work, see http://hotsunart.com.

30The work, entitled "A Day to Remember," has been shown
extensively in Europe (for example, in the exhibition "Thermocline
of Art: New Asian Waves," at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany, June 15-
Oct. 21, 2007). Liu lives in China. Not surprisingly, however, this
piece does not figure in the list of videos on his website,

31 As Wang Hui writes, "After 1989, the Chinese version of Scottish
liberalism or 'classical liberalism' was nothing more than a
Chinese version of neoconservatism. Its attack on the tactics,
timing, and moral character of the student movement was intent on
deconstructing the radicalism of the Chinese revolution and
critiquing the radicalism of the movement itself without any hint of
deep reflection on the social conditions and underlying causes that
had given rise to the events of 1989." In China's New Order, op.
cit., pp. 81-82.

32 The video is available online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=9MhfATPZA0g. It has been exhibited at many different venues,
including Vitamin Creative Space in Guangzhou where a book on the
project is underway. Also see the Tracy China blog, http://

33 See the book of Documenta X, Politics/Poetics (Ostfildern: Cantz,
1997), pp. 557-92. The research was finally published as a thick
volume by a four-person team of editors under the copyright of
Harvard University, with the title Great Leap Forward (Cologne:
Taschen, 2001).

34 See Bruce Mau et al. eds., Massive Change (London: Phaidon, 2004);
the book is a catalogue for a traveling exhibition.

35 Adrian Blackwell and Xu Jian, "New village = cellular structure
of the factory territory" in Urban China 12 (August 2006), pp.
88-93; Adrian Blackwell, "Territory = Factory," in Architecture
and Ideas VI/1-2 (2007), pp. 50-67.

36 See the artist's website for documentation, www.linyilin.com.

37 Interview with the artist by David Garcia, posted on Nov. 26,
2007, www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-0711/msg00085.html.

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10 Responses to "One World One Dream"

1. b Says:

January 11, 2008 at 5:32 pm

thanks for this, brian. fascinating

2. Michael Keane Says:

January 12, 2008 at 5:04 am

Brian: really enjoyed this piece of work; some great insights,
particularly, 'No one can predict what future subjectivities will
emerge from the hothouse of China's new creativity boom. Access to
culture is likely to expand immensely, at least for the professionals
and the business elites; and the consequences of that expansion may
surprise everyone'.

Michael: Thanks for your remarks and I'm glad you noticed
that bit, for me it's fundamental. From the period of my rural
grandparents to this day, the extension of access to culture for
Americans has been extraordinary. When I reflect on that and I look
at what's going on in China, of course I see productive regimes,
monetary interests, patterns of control and so forth - because those
things are real, just as they are in America - but I also see
fabulous chances for people to open up their imaginations and to
invent things of which we can't yet even dream….

3. Els Says:

January 23, 2008 at 11:35 am

Dear Brian - some very interesting insights here. I need a bit
of time to digest it all and think it through and will be happy to
continue the conversation over mail or who knows, sometime back in

4. ruediger Says:

February 12, 2008 at 5:55 pm

Hi Brian,

great piece - and I am particularly interested in the CI line
of thoughts. Working as an international consultant in publishing,
and returning from Beijing where I could meet a number of publishing
people, I wonder if you have thoughts on comparing your observations
in art and architecture with book publishing (or publishing in
general - including online).

Books are subject to more direct state control so far, but
does this make their sphere different from what you see in the arts?

==> You know, as I don't read Chinese I would rather ask for
your thoughts on the matter. There are serious limits to what I can
grasp.Can philosophy and literature be so deftly channeled and
commodified as visual art appears to be? How does self-censorship
play out there, and what are its limits? Is China a mirror for the
Western societies, revealing truths about contemporary forms of
developmet and control that also hold "for us"? Are there not
forms of ironic resistance and critical reserve that go far beyond
and even nullify everything I have said in this text? I wish I knew
the answers.

best, BH

5. 2007年度互联网调查·网络舆论 | Oh My Media | 媒介
与传播研究: 传播学/媒介研究/新媒体研究/传媒政策/
传媒产业/媒介文化... Says:

February 29, 2008 at 12:43 am

[...] One World, One Dream « Continental Drift [...]

6. encounters and leftovers Says:

April 2, 2008 at 1:44 am

[...] [Brian Holmes' "One World, One Dream"] This entry
was posted on Saturday, March 29th, 2008 at 9:37 am and is filed
under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry
through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from
your own site. Leave a Reply [...]

7. Zhongguoist Says:

April 2, 2008 at 2:06 pm

I found your article really interesting to read. I'm
currently in China(would be able to access your post without my
proxy) and I like that your brought together lots of strands about
China today.

==> Well, I am glad if it interests you! And pleased to say
that the text is now being translated in its entirety into Chinese,
after a partial publication in Urban China magazine. So I will be
very curious about the uses that can be made of it, once it
circulates in print and online in China. best, BH

8. derelictspaces » Blog Archive » Toff's, the fracturing of
the middle classes and shame Says:

May 11, 2008 at 9:38 pm

[...] prosperous (and validated) future than their parents).
But I think the results of the pressures of entrepreneurial
capitalism coupled with spiraling costs and a downward mobility that
is now substantially visible really does [...]

9. justreading Says:

May 30, 2008 at 11:05 am

| great chapter, i link to it from twitter | one spelling
mistake: Großstadt (not Großtadt) |

10. Brits in Hock « Continental Drift Says:

July 31, 2008 at 10:24 pm

[...] http://brianholmes.wordpress.com/2008/01/08/one-world-
one-dream [...]

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