Recreating a bygone China

Source: NYT (8/19/23)
Recreating a Bygone China, One Miniature Home at a Time
China’s rapid economic growth has meant the demolition of countless rural homes, and a burgeoning nostalgia. That’s where the miniaturists come in.
By  (Reporting from the studios of several miniaturists in Hebei and Shandong Provinces)

A wheelbarrow and icebox sit in front of a one-story house with peeling paint on the windows.

Shen Peng painstakingly crafted a miniature replica of his childhood home near Baoding, China. A hairstylist by trade, Mr. Shen taught himself to make the models as a surprise for his grandmother.

Not long after Shen Peng’s grandfather died, his grandmother visited the site of the house where she and her husband once lived. The government had demolished the house, in northern China, nearly 15 years before as part of a redevelopment project. The site still hadn’t been developed, and she could barely walk around the family’s old plot because the grass was so overgrown.

Mr. Shen wondered: Could he help her relive her memories another way?

For more than six months, he labored in secret after his day job as a hairdresser. Finally, Mr. Shen, now 31, presented his grandmother with a surprise — a handcrafted 1:20 scale replica of her old home.

There was the wire clothesline in the courtyard, draped with a blue blanket cut into the size of a postage stamp. There was the rickety bicycle, outside a shed constructed with foam boards and plaster. Mr. Shen had even traveled to the site of the old house to better recreate the fragment of brick wall that still remained.

The project led him into a small but growing community of artists in China filling an increasingly urgent demand: miniature replicas of homes that have been demolished, remodeled or otherwise swept away by China’s modernization. Continue reading

Picun Museum to be demolished

The Museum of Migrant Worker Culture and Art 打工文化艺术博物馆, in Picun, on the outskirts of Beijing, will be demolished in the very near future, to make way for urban development. The Migrant Workers Home 工友之家, of which the Museum is a part, is organizing a get-together on May 20th to bid the Museum farewell. Here’s an announcement from the community, with beautiful single-shot video and beautiful, carefully paced voice-over by someone who sounds like they are poet Xiao Hai 小海:

The Picun Museum of Migrant Worker Culture and Art. Source.

Founded in 2008, the Museum has been a unique monument to migrant worker culture, produced by migrant workers for migrant workers (while welcoming others as well) to document and reflect on the migrant worker experience. The announcement mentioned above says it has seen over 50.000 visitors over the years.

The Museum is a shining example of the cultural education 文化教育  that is a key element of the Home’s mission to advance migrant worker rights (other designations of this social group include “new workers” 新工人 and “battlers” 打工者). Alongside achievements in music, literature, theater, digital video, and so on, it embodies the rich and complex force field in which migrant worker culture emerges: socioeconomic insecurity, political constraints, class-based hierarchies of aesthetics, DIY infrastructure, media interest propelled by a mix of social concern and engagement with voyeurism and othering. Continue reading

China’s cities are buried in debt

Source: NYT (3/28/23)
China’s Cities Are Buried in Debt, but They Keep Shoveling It On
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
China has long pursued growth by public spending, even after the payoff has faded. Cities stuck with the bill are still spending — and cutting essential services.
By Li Yuan

Credit…Xinmei Liu

In 2015, when Shangqiu, a municipality in central China, laid out a plan for the next two decades, it positioned itself as a transportation hub with a sprawling network of railways, highways and river shipping routes.

By the end of 2020, Shangqiu had built 114 miles of high-speed rail, and today several national railways make stops in the city. By 2025, Shangqiu expects the coverage of its highway network to have increased by 87 percent. The city is building its first two airports, three new highways and enough parking space for 20,000 additional slots.

The infrastructure splurge is far from over. On Feb. 23, the Shangqiu Communist Party secretary reiterated the city’s vision as a logistics power when celebrating a new partnership with a state-owned investment firm, which could help Shangqiu borrow money for even more projects.

That morning, the city’s bus operator announced that it would have to suspend services because of financial difficulties. The pandemic had hit it hard, the company said, and the Shangqiu government hadn’t provided subsidies that it had promised. As a result, the company had not paid its employees for months — it couldn’t even afford to charge its electric buses. A few hours after posting its announcement, the company deleted it, after it had made national headlines and the Shangqiu government had intervened. Continue reading

PRISM 19.1

PRISM 19.1 (2022)

THEMED CLUSTER CHRONOTOPIA: Urban Space and Time in Twenty-First-Century Sinophone Film and Fiction

Introduction: Chronotopia: Urban Space and Time in Twenty-First-Century Sinophone Film and Fiction
By Astrid Møller-Olsen


Dialogical Representation of the Global City in Chinese New Urban and Rural-Migrant Films
By Jie Lu

Ghostly Chronotopes: Spectral Cityscapes in Post-2000 Chinese Literature
by Winnie L. M. Yee

Spatiotemporal Explorations: Narrating Social Inequalities in Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction
By Frederike Schneider-Vielsäcker

Reconfiguring the Chronotope: Spatiotemporal Representations and Cultural Imaginations of Beijing in Mr. Six
By Xuesong Shao and Sheldon Lu

Take the Elevator to Tomorrow: Mobile Space and Lingering Time in Contemporary Urban Fiction
By Astrid Møller-Olsen Continue reading

Fantasy and Global Cities seminar–cfp

Klaudia Lee (City University of Hong Kong) and I have proposed a seminar on the theme of “Fantasy and Global Cities, 1830–1930” for the forthcoming American Comparative Literature Association conference in Taipei from June 15–18, 2022 (with contingency plans for an online conference if needed). The deadline for paper submission is this Sunday, October 31: We very much hope you will consider submitting a paper. Here is the CFP:

If you have any questions, feel free to contact Klaudia Lee (, or me (

More information on the ACLA conference can be found here: As mentioned, at the moment, the meeting is planned to be held in person, but it may be moved online–that decision will be made in January. If you are interested in the conference but can only attend if it is in a particular format, please e-mail Klaudia and me with details when you submit your proposal. Thank you!

All best,

Sharin Schroeder

Ghost cities stirring to life

Source: Bloomberg (9/1/21)
China’s Ghost Cities Are Finally Stirring to Life After Years of Empty Streets
By Bloomberg News


On a bridge in Zhengdong New District, Zhengzhou.. PHOTOGRAPHER: YUFAN LU FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

Conjured out of nothing and lived in by seemingly no one, China’s so-called ghost cities became the subject of Western media fascination a decade ago. Photos of these huge urban developments went viral online, presenting scenes of compelling weirdness: empty apartment towers stranded in a sea of mud; broad boulevards devoid of cars or people; over-the-top architectural showpieces with no apparent function.

“In places called ghost cities you find massive, ambitious urbanizing projects that spark investment but don’t draw population all at once,” says Max Woodworth, an associate professor of geography at Ohio State University who’s written extensively on the topic. “The result is a landscape that appears very citylike but without much action in it.” China was underurbanized for many years, Woodworth says, and has raced to correct that. But the pace of building often outstrips the rate at which newcomers move in, even with investors snapping up apartments as Chinese home prices rise.

As the economy continues its long shift away from agriculture, urbanization and construction have become twin catalysts of China’s unparalleled growth. In 1978 just 18% of its population lived in cities; by last year that figure had reached 64%. The country now has at least 10 megacities with more than 10 million residents each, and more than one-tenth of the world’s population resides in Chinese cities. Continue reading

The Museum Victoria City brings colonial history to life

Source: SCMP (5/3/21)
Hong Kong’s colonial history brought to life at The Museum Victoria City with avid collector’s authentic and reimagined artefacts
Collector and founder of The Museum Victoria City, Bryan Ong has been interested in colonial memorabilia since he was 15 years old. His collection includes medals, military jackets, banknotes and hand-painted reproductions

Bryan Ong, founder of The Museum in Central, Hong Kong. Ong has amassed a collection of British colonial and military items. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Bryan Ong, founder of The Museum in Central, Hong Kong. Ong has amassed a collection of British colonial and military items. Photo: Jonathan Wong

The recently opened The Museum Victoria City in Central takes visitors down memory lane, with a mixture of authentic and re-interpreted nostalgic items from colonial Hong Kong.

There are red British military ceremonial jackets, embroidered badges with a lion and a dragon, a full body armour plate, the old “Murray Building” sign before it was turned into a hotel, and the old Urban Council logo.

There’s also a portrait of young Queen Elizabeth wearing a crown and yellow evening gown that looks like it could have hung in a government building up until June 30, 1997, except that it isn’t a British government-issued portrait – instead it’s one the Museum’s founder Bryan Ong Ye-hou had painted.

“The original portrait is in The Royal Gallery. The royal portraits that were in the [Hong Kong] government buildings were all copies,” he says. There are surviving old government copies but these have faded. So he and his team repainted the portrait, which required research into the garter and details of the jewellery she was wearing. Continue reading

The architects rescuing villages from oblivion

Source: The Guardian (3/24/21)
China’s rural revolution: the architects rescuing its villages from oblivion
By Oliver Wainwright

Mesmerising … the Caizhai tofu factory. Photograph: Wang Ziling

After 20 years of frantic city-building, rustic China is in a death spiral. Now architects are helping to reverse the exodus – with inspirational tofu factories, rice wine distilleries and lotus tea plants

In the remote Chinese village of Caizhai, a series of wooden pavilions step down a slope next to a babbling brook, their pitched tiled roofs echoing the rocky peaks of the mountains behind. Through big picture windows, day-trippers look inside, watching big barrels of soya make the journey from bean to tofu, passing through different rooms for soaking, grinding, pressing and frying, in a mesmerising parade of beancurd production.

Caizhai has always been known as a centre of tofu. But, before this facility was built in 2018, families would produce small batches in their home workshops. They struggled to make ends meet, as the conditions didn’t meet the food safety standards for the tofu to be sold in supermarkets, while the younger generation saw little incentive to stick around in the countryside and join ailing family businesses.

Now, however, with a newly formed village co-operative running this purpose-built factory, they are processing 100kg of soybeans a day, supplying nearby schools and workers’ canteens, and selling the improved product – for almost double the previous price – to retailers in the cities. Around 30 younger villagers, who had been lured away by metropolitan life, have returned to Caizhai to join the production team, and visitors have increased 20-fold. They are drawn by an increasingly widespread nostalgia for the countryside, to see traditional tofu-making in action and get a taste of village life, creating demand for further cafes, guesthouses and related businesses nearby. Continue reading

HK’s West Kowloon Cultural District

Source: SCMP (1/22/21)
What to know about the 4 venues defining Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District
Conceptualised as one of the world’s largest cultural hubs, the waterfront area comprises museums, performance stages and green space. Its new architectural landmarks have designs influenced by Chinese culture and distinctive features such as the huge LED screen atop M+ museum
By Morning Studio Editors

Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) occupies 40 hectares (99 acres) of land on the westernmost tip of the Kowloon peninsula. Fusing art, education and recreational activities amid a collection of impressively designed buildings, this new cultural hub aims to raise the bar for what the city can achieve in the world of modern and contemporary art.

Not only will the district help elevate regional talent to new heights, but it is also contributing to Hong Kong’s expanding portfolio of architectural landmarks. Here are some of the unique features that define the four spaces at WKCD. Continue reading

Serve the people, discipline the Party

Source: China Channel, LARB (2/19/21
Serve the People, Discipline the Party
By Jonathan Chatwin
Jonathan Chatwin visits a new museum dedicated to Party Discipline in Wuhan

A statue display of Chinese Communist Party founders at the Chinese Communist Party Discipline Building Exhibition Hall in Wuhan. All photos courtesy of the author.

“Do you know where Mao’s old house is?” the hotel receptionist asked his colleague. The screen of my phone was zoomed in on a small grey square, labelled ‘Comrade Mao Zedong’s Former Residence’. Neither of them had heard of it, so they called their manager over, and the four of us stood in the echoey, white-tiled reception of my cheap Wuhan hotel, reorienting my phone to try and figure out where I was going. Eventually, one of them spotted a nearby subway station they knew and told me the quickest way across town. “He came here in 1966,” the manager told me. “Did you know he swam in the Yangtze?”

A few hundred yards down the embankment from my hotel, I had already seen the enormous metal numerals which commemorate the date of the swim the hotel manager was referring to: 66.7.16. The hot morning of July 16 1966 was one of eighteen occasions when the Great Helmsman swam in China’s great river at Wuhan, and indisputably the most well-known. A showy demonstration of physical vigour, it prefigured his return to Beijing, where the next month he threw himself into promoting the Cultural Revolution. Continue reading

New future city to rise in Chengdu

Source: CNN (2/9/21)
New ‘future city’ to rise in southwest China
Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

OMA’s masterplan for the International Educational Park in the Chengdu Future Science and Technology City. Credit: Courtesy of OMA

Anew “future city” is set to spring up in southwest China, featuring an urban design intended to combine industry and technology with the pastoral beauty of the countryside.

The 4.6-square-kilometer (1.8-square-mile) site outside Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, will be home to multiple new universities, laboratories and offices, according to the architectural firms behind the project, Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) and Gerkan, Marg & Partners (GMP).

Known as Chengdu Future Science and Technology City, the project was unveiled last week via a series of digital renderings. The development is being built in a rural area close to the forthcoming Tianfu International Airport, which is set to open later this year and will make Chengdu only the third Chinese city, after Beijing and Shanghai, to be served by two international airports. Continue reading

Made in China 5.2: Spectral Revolutions

Dear Colleagues,

I am glad to announce the publication of the latest issue of the Made in China Journal. You can download it for free at this link:

Below you can find the editorial:

Spectral Revolutions: Occult Economies in Asia

The most Gothic description of Capital is also the most accurate. Capital is an abstract parasite, an insatiable vampire and zombie-maker; but the living flesh it converts into dead labor is ours, and the zombies it makes are us. There is a sense in which it simply is the case that the political elite are our servants; the miserable service they provide for us is to launder our libidos, to obligingly re-present for us our disavowed desires as if they had nothing to do with us.
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism (2009) Continue reading

Demolition drive

Source: NYT (8/7/20)
Beijing Launches Another Demolition Drive, This Time in Its Bucolic Suburbs
The authorities have moved to demolish hundreds of homes in the hills near the Great Wall that were once a sign of China’s rising prosperity.
By Steven Lee Myers and Keith Bradsher

Villas slated for demolition in Wayaocun, on the northwest fringe of Beijing, last week. Credit…Keith Bradsher/The New York Times

The people who would destroy the village came in the middle of the night last week. Hundreds of guards breached the wall surrounding the village and began banging on the doors of the 140 courtyard homes there, waking residents and handing them notices to get out.

Many tried to protest but were subdued by the guards, and by this week, the demolition was already in full swing. Backhoes moved house by house, laying waste to a community called Xitai that was built in a plush green valley on the northern edge of Beijing, only a short walk from the Great Wall of China.

“This was a sneak attack to move when we were unprepared,” said Sheng Hong, one of the residents.

The destruction of the village, one of several unfolding on the suburban edges of Beijing this summer, reflects the corruption at the murky intersection of politics and the economy in China. What is perfectly acceptable one year can suddenly be deemed illegal the next, leaving communities and families vulnerable to the vagaries of policy under the country’s leader, Xi Jinping. Continue reading

Urban Horror

Urban Horror Urban Horror: Neoliberal Post-Socialism and the Limits of Visibility
By Erin Huang
Duke University Press, 2020

In Urban Horror, Erin Y. Huang theorizes the economic, cultural, and political conditions of neoliberal post-socialist China. Drawing on Marxist phenomenology, geography, and aesthetics from Engels and Merleau-Ponty to Lefebvre and Rancière, Huang traces the emergence and mediation of what she calls urban horror—a sociopolitical public affect that exceeds comprehension and provides the grounds for possible future revolutionary dissent. She shows how documentaries, blockbuster feature films, and video art from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan made between the 1990s and the present rehearse and communicate urban horror. In these films urban horror circulates through myriad urban spaces characterized by the creation of speculative crises, shifting temporalities, and dystopic environments inhospitable to the human body. The cinematic image and the aesthetics of urban horror in neoliberal post-socialist China lay the groundwork for the future to such an extent, Huang contends, that the seeds of dissent at the heart of urban horror make it possible to imagine new forms of resistance. Continue reading

Critical Perspective on Chinese Infrastructures–cfp

Below is a brief CFP for a panel being organized by a colleague (Leif Johnson, University of Kentucky Dept. of Geography) and myself (Goeun Lee, University of Kentucky Dept. of Anthropology), for the upcoming Association for Asian Studies conference in Hong Kong, June 2020. We are looking for contributions from geographers and anthropologists doing research on or around topics including the construction, maintenance, planning, or discourse surrounding Chinese infrastructure, particularly within China.

Due to the structure of the AAS’ panel organization system, the deadline for panel proposals is quite soon, and we would hope to be able to have a clear idea of who will be participating by October 25th, which will give us time to submit requests for financial support for participants who need it, and draft a fleshed-out proposal to submit to AAS by the 30th of October. If you are interested, even with doubts about timing or funding, please get back to us as soon as possible! Continue reading