Testing Uncertainty: Chance, Play, and Humour as Pandemic Response

This essay explores different responses to experiences of uncertainty about PCR testing in China during the Covid-19 pandemic. We examine creative responses that were developed to manage unknown testing outcomes, durations, and environments. As a contribution to empirical work on experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic, our work centres on the management of uncertainty through chance, play, and humour.

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The Poison Kings: Markers of Mobility and Morality

This essay looks at the so-called poison kings—people who, knowingly or otherwise, became transmission vectors of Covid-19. We explore the history of the term and its relationship to the corona-shaped virus. The examples we bring demonstrate how the label was deployed mostly as a moral category during the Covid-19 pandemic, even though sometimes there were […]

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Red, Yellow, Green: Test, Test, Test

Shenzhen, the home city of Tencent and a global technology hub, has long been one step ahead of the rest of China in digital governance and control. In October 2022, the city’s Bao’an District—where one of the authors of this paper, Hailing, was living—witnessed a small-scale outbreak of Covid-19. In response, the district government announced […]

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‘They Want the Horse to Run but Without Providing Feed’

Labour Exploitation of Healthcare Workers in China

On 13 December 2022, the hashtag ‘Sudden Death of a First-Year Graduate Student on Duty at the West China Hospital of the Sichuan University’ (#华西研一学生在岗猝死#) on Sina Weibo triggered heated discussions about the welfare of healthcare workers in China. Chat logs and medical records circulating online indicated that 23-year-old student Chen Jiahui had tested positive […]

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Urban Villages, Grid Management, and the Contradictions of Capital

In November 2022, migrant labourers in Guangzhou’s urban villages protested en masse the lockdowns associated with China’s zero-Covid policy. While some critics in China and abroad described the mechanisms of population control in the zero-Covid policy as the ‘return’ of an all-encompassing state control akin to that of the Maoist period, this essay argues, rather, that the episode laid bare the social inequalities between migrant labourers and village landlords on which the global supply chains for the low-cost manufacturing of fast fashion depend.

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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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