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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Speculative Landscapes, Promethean Mirages, and Eco-Poiesis

In recent years, familiar or seemingly ‘traditional’ landscape forms have provided artists working in China with legible ecocritical modes. This essay expands on an earlier account of what the author describes as documentary and illusionistic ‘Chinese landscapes of desolation’ by outlining an additional mode: the speculative. Speculative landscapes look forward to a time (fast approaching […]

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Prometheus Brings Water: Development and Fix-Fixing in China

Nowhere is the Chinese Party-State’s Promethean thinking more vividly apparent than in its continuous proclivity to build more and bigger water projects. And where these projects create problems, the solution is not to remove the projects but to build further projects, to construct ‘fixes to fix the fixes’. From Yellow River conservancy in the first […]

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Why China Cannot Decarbonise

This essay argues that regardless of President Xi Jinping’s stated intentions, China cannot meet its carbon-neutral pledge. First, there are insuperable technical barriers to decarbonising the ‘hard-to-abate’ industries that account for about half of China’s carbon dioxide emissions. Second, there are insuperable political barriers posed by Xi’s overriding concern to save the Chinese Communist Party from the fate of the Soviet Communist Party by winning the race to technical supremacy and overtaking the United States to become the world’s top superpower. To this end, he has no choice but to maximise the growth of the very industries that are driving China’s emissions off the charts.

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Sky River: Promethean Dreams of Optimising the Atmosphere

In the summer of 2022, China’s Yangtze River Basin suffered a record-breaking drought and heatwave caused by anthropogenic climate change, which damaged crops, caused electricity shortages and industrial shutdowns, and led to scarcity in drinking water supplies. Of course, water paucity is not new to China, given that the country has 18.5 per cent of […]

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Peasant Worker Communist Spy: A Chinese Intelligence Agent Looks Back at His Time in Cambodia

This essay examines the nostalgic reflections of Sino-Khmer journalist turned Chinese Communist Party (CCP) intelligence agent Vita Chieu (周德高, 1932–2020) on his time working for the CCP and the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh. The essay engages with Chieu’s memoir exegetically to underscore his activities as an intelligence agent and highlight how he reflected nostalgically about working for the CCP even decades after resigning from the party and renouncing communism.

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