Concrete Sublime and Somatic Intensity

Visualising Water Engineering in Socialist China

During the 1950s, the construction of large-scale water engineering infrastructure emerged as a crucial undertaking for the socialist state. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of engineers, Party cadres, and workers, this monumental task brought about revolutionary transformations to the landscape of China. Concurrently, a multitude of artists were commissioned to visit these projects and capture their essence. By closely examining and analysing some of these works of art, this essay aims to highlight the profound technological grandeur and immense labour intensity expressed in them, while also shedding light on some of the aspects that remained invisible within the state-sanctioned visual representations of these projects.

A Conversation about Futurity, Critique, and Political Imagination

This discussion is a dialogue about changes in how we, and others, have approached China and futurity. It has two movements: 1) A Conversation about Futures Past, and 2) Five Propositions on the Future Perfect. We begin with a conversation about some of the scholarly and popular discourses that framed our understandings of China and […]

Lest We Forget: The Disappeared Women of 2023

为什么我们会被定罪…如果仅仅是因为我们出于同情到了纪念现场,那么这个社会还有多少可以容纳我们情绪的空间。 If attending a mourning event out of sympathy is a crime, how much room is left in this society for sharing our feelings? —Cao Zhixin, referring to the demonstrations in the wake of a fire in Ürümqi that killed at least 10 people in November 2022   Following almost three years of increasingly stringent […]

Setting Knowledge Free: Towards an Ethical Open Access

There is widespread agreement that academia has a publishing problem. After decades of large commercial publishers like Springer Nature and Elsevier extracting higher profits than the major tech companies while simultaneously keeping publicly financed research behind expensive paywalls (Buranyi 2017), in recent years universities and funders have attempted to renegotiate publishing agreements to ensure that […]

Foreign Banks and Global Finance in Modern China A Conversation with Ghassan Moazzin

Ghassan Moazzin’s Foreign Banks and Global Finance in Modern China: Banking on the Chinese Frontier, 1870–1919 (Cambridge University Press, 2022) is a scrupulously researched and riveting story about the Deutsch-Asiatische Bank (DAB), a German bank that was active in China between 1890 and World War I. The DAB rose to become the peer of the […]

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The Promethean Ant Forest

Alibaba’s App as a Financialising Environmental Tool

Ant Forest is a Chinese app developed by Alibaba that claims to leverage its technology to solve environmental problems within and beyond China. By financialising and gamifying individuals’ carbon footprints with scores and rewards, it allows users to participate in tree planting as they consume online. Through the frame of ‘environmentality’, this essay discusses how […]

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Geoengineering the Sublime

China and the Aesthetic State

Geoengineering for aesthetic and utilitarian ends, this essay argues, is part and parcel of the banal operation of state power in contemporary China. In contrast with Kantian articulations of the sublime, turn-of-the-century thinkers like Zhang Jingsheng and contemporary Chinese politicians and scientists espouse an ecological sublime undergirded by mechanistic and utilitarian logics expressed through techniques […]

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Situating the ‘Science’ Craze in China

The Stillbirth of Simulated ‘Villas’ in Ordos 100

This essay focuses on the widespread techno-science craze in contemporary China, examining its complex and often misguided role in the country’s pursuit of ‘urbanism’ as a benchmark of modernisation. Drawing on Chinese scholar Tian Song’s invitation to be vigilant against an unreflective faith in science, the article looks critically at the technicist mindset of many […]

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Manipulating Water in China

Chinese academics and officials argue that the country must store water to overcome seasonal fluctuations and move water to rebalance regional differences in supply and demand. As well as supplying water, however, such projects protect the political and economic status of powerful municipalities, stimulate Chinese economic growth, and proclaim the power and administrative capacity of […]

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Rise into Dust: Governing Land and Weather Systems in Contemporary China

Since a season of successive massive dust storms in Beijing in the early 2000s, broad political experiments in mitigating dust events have, across the capital’s airshed, reconfigured the problem of land degradation as one of large-scale weather intervention. Dust storms revealed the potential of large tracts of the continental interior to become airborne. Downwind of […]

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