Architecture & Spectacle in (post)Socialist China

上一篇 / 下一篇  2010-08-30 10:30:11 / 个人分类:存档

An interdisciplinary workshop
on the political economy of
architecture and urbanism in
contemporary China
November 20, 21, 2009

Munk Centre for International Studies
University of Toronto

1 Devonshire Place,
Toronto, Ontario


Ackbar ABBAS
, University of California, Irvine
Ruoyun BAI, University of Toronto
Adrian BLACKWELL, University of Toronto
Anne-Marie BROUDEHOUX, Université du Québec à Montréal
Tong LAM, University of Toronto
MENG Yue, University of Toronto
Xuefei REN, Michigan State University
WANG Ban, Stanford University
Jianfei ZHU, University of Melbourne

Eric CAZDYN,University of Toronto
Rodolphe EL-KHOURY,
University of Toronto
Kajri JAIN,
University of Toronto
University of Toronto
Mary Louise LOBSINGER,
University of Toronto
Andrew PAYNE,
University of Toronto

The Asian Institute
Cities Centre
John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design
Vice-Principal Research University of Toronto Mississauga
Richard Charles Lee Canada-Hong Kong Library
Department of History
Department of East Asian Studies

Adrian Blackwell
Tong Lam
University of Toronto

Papers and Abstracts:


Ackbar ABBAS
Professor and Chair
Department of Comparative Literature, University of California, Irvine

Title:Poor Theory and New Chinese Cinema:  Jia Zhangke’s ‘Still Life’



Ruoyun BAI
Assistant Professor
Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Toronto

Title:Staging CCTV – Spectacles, Scandals, and New Media in China


Since the advent of television as a mass medium in China in the early 1980s, China Central Television (hereafter, “CCTV”) has been the most potent generator of televisual spectacles staged to celebrate the Party leadership, national unity, market economy, and the growing power and status of China in the world. On top of the deluge of visual images it imposes on its nationwide audience, it has sought to incarnate its pride in its new headquarters, the CCTV-TVCC complex. Choosing Rem Koolhaas, an avant-garde Dutch architect, as the chief designer, CCTV has hoped that the new complex will become a global and national spectacle accentuating its self-donned image as China’s beacon of modernity in the age of globalization. At the same time, these spectacles of CCTV are appropriated and their meanings severely challenged. Photographs and videos telling “unofficial” stories about CCTV, primarily circulated on the Internet, have triggered responses of various forms ranging from animated discussions and blog essays to creative re-mixes and parodies. I argue that the Internet has become a key site for cultural and political contestations by decentralizing the production and consumption of spectacles, in a socio-cultural context specific to China’s post-socialist condition. I will focus on a series of scandals and controversies surrounding CCTV and its new complex, hoping to shed light on the possibilities, locations, and ambiguous nature of resistance in contemporary China.



Assistant Professor
John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, University of Toronto

Title:China’s Urban Unconscious


The spectacular development of Chinese cities over the past 30 years has hidden the most substantive processes of urbanization from view. The contemporary movement of people from the Chinese countryside into the cities has been mirrored by a corresponding move of cities into the countryside. Beijing’s New Development Zones, the networked industrial/agricultural fabric of the Yangzi delta and the factory villages of the Pearl River Delta, are three specific illustrations of the ways in which cities are currently decentralizing.  This paper compares the urban forms of these three conurbations, in order to locate this decentralization in relation to coincident dispersion of governance and production: the devolution of the central government’s authority, and the breaking apart of state owned industries. This generalized situation of dispersion, characteristic of neoliberalism around the world, brings with it a specific set of contradictions in China where it confronts the forces of an authoritarian and still Keynesian state, processes of primitive accumulation, and strategies of ideological interpellation.



Associate Professor
School of Design,Université du Québec à Montréal

Title:Landscapes of Power: Architecture and Spectacle in Post-Olympic Beijing


This paper examines Beijing’s post-Olympic architectural landscape as the embodiment of a shift in China’s power structure. The global proliferation of iconic architecture can be linked to a general mutation in the expression of power under late capitalism, characterized by a passage from hard to soft power where raw, authoritarian power is transformed into a more intangible and latent form. of power. This new form. of power, less visible but all the more potent, is linked to the new form. of the state that characterizes late capitalist society, with the growing integration of state and economy, to the point that the logic of capitalist development now determines the state.

With the changing nature of the state and the rising sovereignty of economic power holders, architectures and spaces of spectacle have become essential mechanisms to conceal this shift in the balance of power. If authoritarian power operated mostly through violence, it is through seduction that its more diffuse form. generally performs. As an instrument of representation for governments and enterprises on the world stage, iconic architecture represents a renewed form. of architecture of power, with its capacity to integrate a complex and ambiguous symbolism into an inclusive and non-authoritarian vision of the world. The seductive urbanism that is transforming cities around the world acts as a smokescreen to conceal the fantastic growth of autocratic corporate power. The power of this architecture rests upon its elusive character, which makes it more difficult to recognize and more difficult to subvert.

As the embodiment of the recent reconfiguration of the Chinese state, marked by the rising sovereignty of economic power holders, Beijing’s new Olympic image has played a central part in the consolidation and reproduction of autocratic power, both political and financial. This paper investigates how Beijing’s post-Olympic image operates and has been received locally. It examines diverse forms of resistance to this architecture of power and details some of the weapons of the weak used to usurp its meaning and produce new, alternate readings.


Professor and Head
Department of Architectural Design, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Title:Design: a Conspiracy Theory


She Jiis the phrase in Chinese that represents, more or less, the meaning of the word “design” in English. Today, if you useShe Jito translate design or vice versa, not much misunderstanding is likely created. It seems that these two Chinese characters approximate well the six English alphabets. Or are they really?



Associate Professor,
School of Design, Hong Kong Polytechnic University
MAP Office

Title:Bloody Haze: Urban Spectacle in Post (socialist) China and Other Illuminations (By Gutierrez + Portefaix)


I felt the city was drawing away from me, like a ghost [so much so that] for the first few days I was lost… I was continually and vainly looking for something to catch my attention for a moment – a detail, a square, perhaps, or a public building.[1]

This essay draws on phenomena of visibility, hyper-visibility and invisibility: three characteristics that we use to approach China’s current development. Celebrating constant illumination, the Chinese city is vanishing under the production of its own spectacle by the creation of an atmospheric condition. Foreseeing the future from past experience, we have used a set of strategies to perforate the haze surrounding the glossy picture. Therefore, our investigation proposes the production and use of optical instruments to reveal new perspectives and reify the characteristics of China’s urban spectacle.

These optical instruments support three paradigmatic strategies. They are derived from our fictional interpretation of critical tropes such as Marcel Duchamp’s dust [2], Walter Benjamin’s telescope [3] and finally Fernand Braudel’s wheel of capitalism [4].

Dust Breeding, a reference to a fictional dialogue between Le Corbusier and Marcel Duchamp, has allowed us to construct an informal planning tool, interpreted asLean Planning[5]. The forms of life and the informal economy createdUnderneath[6] an elevated highway are illuminated to reveal the experience of Chinese migrant worker communities. In this case, the fleeting city escapes what is visible through Google Earth. Subsequently, we interpret Walter Benjamin’s telescope to constitute a hyper-visibility condition from which we propose a new set of fictional situations.Unreal Estates of China[7] became the domain of a small particle namePIXELtraveling in a hyper real China. To conclude the trilogy, the reference to Braudel’s analysis of capitalist civilization - the wheels of commerce - reveals a new approach to economy, away from the market and its goddess Fortuna.  Another fictional dialogue between Fernand Braudel and Felix Guattari’s concept ofEcosophyserves as an ideological transposition towards the construction of a Socialist Domestic Economy and its possible level of invisibility. Guattari’s bookTheThree Ecologies[8] of the mind, society and environment could serve the goal proposed by current Chinese leaders and could eventually lead to the achievement of a harmonious society.

With the specific intention of enabling the illumination of China’s present and future urban context, the logic of this essay is to see through theBloody Haze[9]. From an optimistic perspective, China’s urban spectacle can be seen as a mock-up for new forms of life and their creations, which may emerge as the model for a future civilization. 

[1] Jean Paul Sartre, quoted in Annie Cohen-Solal, Sartre: A Life, New York, Pantheon, 1987, p.226
[2] Marcel Duchamp, Dust Breeding, 1933
[3] Walter Benjamin, letter to Werner Karft dated from October the 28th 1935, in The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin, 1910-1940, University of Chicago Press, 1994
[4] Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism 15th-18th Century 1: The Structures of Everyday Life, 2: The Wheels of Commerce, 3: The Perspective of the World, Harper and Row, New York, 1985
[5] Gutierrez + Portefaix, “PRD: Lean Planning, Thin Pattern” in Mobility, Luisa Calabrese, Francine Houben (eds.), Rotterdam: NAi, 2003.
[6] Underneath is an art project by Gutierrez + Portefaix presented at the occasion of the exhibition the Future of Cities, 2005
[7] Gutierrez + Portefaix, Unreal Estates of China, Map Book, Hong Kong, 2007
[8] Félix Guattari, The three ecologies, The Athlone Press, London, 2000
[9] Walter Benjamin, op. cit.



Tong LAM
Assistant Professor
Department of History, University of Toronto

Title:China's Second Cultural Revolution: The Spectacularization of Life and the Pavilionization of the Nation


Culture has always been a pivotal component of twentieth-century Chinese society and politics. From the watershed New Culture Movement (1915-1925) to the so-called “High Culture Fever” of the 1980s, culture always occupied a central place in Chinese political discourse, playing a pivotal role in shaping and critiquing the Chinese project of modernity. Since the 1990s, however, the Chinese discourses on culture have increasingly regarded cultures as commodities and timeless heritage. Under this new context, culture has ceased to be a vehicle for political reform, social movement, and ideological reconstruction. Rather, as commodities and heritage, cultures are objects of desires and are to be managed by experts and technocrats. Meanwhile, political leaders, corporations, the media, and the public relentlessly articulate their aspirations to turn China into a so-called “cultural heritage powerhouse.” Significantly, this new “culture fever” involves not just the kind of cultural heritage sites actively promoted by the United Nation Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), but also simulated and fabricated historical spaces as living space and everyday entertainment.

This paper will use public historical architectural spaces such as the colonial buildings in the Shanghai Bund, as well as fabricated historic buildings in private real estate projects such as the Victorian Thames Town and Ming Dynasty Theme Town in the suburbs of Shanghai to examine this new “cultural revolution.” The paper will particularly analyze how spectacular architecture with historical references are being used for producing patriotic citizens on the one hand, and demarcating new symbolic social space for the middle class to articulate a sense of social exclusion and entitlement on the other. I argue that these various historical architectural spectacles are instruments for forging narratives as well as practices of national pride, civic order, and cosmopolitanism for the nation’s neoliberal projects. 


Associate Professor
Departments of East Asian Studies and of Comparative Literature, University of Toronto

Title:Multi-level Overpass: “An Ambiguous Question Mark Sleeping in the Midst of Epoch”1  


What happens when the street in front your door become a spectacle of traffic jam? Multi-level overpass, one of the most formidable structures emerged everywhere in Chinese cities during the past decades, dramatically redefines the urban life and space with a deep conflict.  It brings together high-rise and underground, near and far, urban and anti-urbanism, order and chaos.  By the time of 2008 Olympic, Beijing had turned 178 overpasses decorated with flowers and lights into most amazing urban spectacles of transportation.  Yet the downside or interior of the overpass, being the natural cradle of illegal peddlers, jobless and homeless, showcases the void, the unrest even crisis that are only visible in the flux of everyday life.

This paper seeks to explore the cultural and political conflict the multi-level overpasses manifest in the pre-and post Olympic urban experiences. During the past decades, multi-level overpass has been an object of photograph as well as peculiar site of writing in internet poems and popular high school literary textbooks.  Beside tracing the historical development of multi-overpass, the paper seeks to address the issue of political crisis through analysing the photographic and literary representations of the overpasses.  My proposed argument is this:  Overpasses are constructed with the official determinism of serving the flow of capital, technology and cars at the prices of the benefits of less prestige people. In both individual photograph and internet literature one finds attempts to reserve room for them by expanding dimensions that obscure, surpass, and challenge that determination.  

1 Chunjiang Qingwei: “Gankai, Yiluo zai Lijiao Qiao xia” (Feelings: Dropped Off from the Overpass). Internet poem from http://article.hongxiu.com/a/2008-8-26/2820194.shtml



Matthias PAUWELS

Title:Fear and Loathing in China: Architecture, Politics and Ethics in the Age of Globalized Architecture

It is no longer a shocking insight that with the onslaught of globalization, also architects are uninhibitedly tapping into the unlimited opportunities of the global market-place. The current operations of foreign architects in China are exemplary in this regard. Today, for instance, Western architects are not at all secretive about the fact that the negative impact of the economic downturn in their own countries is the main impetus for their efforts to enter the booming Chinese architecture market. More interesting is the way foreign architects, such as Rem Koolhaas or Herzog & de Meuron, motivate their work in China in more politically engaged terms such as helping to effect democratic change in China, as well as the way in which they say to achieve this through their architecture. The latter is usually done by having buildings embody radical ideas (such as freedom) by, for instance, making them non-hierarchical, with attention to the human-scale and public space, etc. At the same time, however, the power of architecture to effect change is seriously downplayed by expressing the latter in such weak terms of hope and belief, or by calling its effects marginal or ‘not to be overestimated’. Also the iconic, spectacle value of the ‘radical’ buildings, makes it easy for their social effect to be contained to the merely cultural and therefore limit their effect to accommodating the cultural recognition of a ‘wrong’ regime. Hence the calls in the architectural profession for a renunciatory ethical stance towards China such as was done recently by Daniel Libeskind with his implicit suggestion of a boycott for building in China.
In this lecture, we will focus not so much on the actual building production of Western architects in China, but rather look closer into some of the different presuppositions, motivations, justifications, intentions, doubts and fears that are involved. We will connect these analyses of the subjective economy of global architects operating in China to some key political economic issues at play in China as well as globally, and extrapolate some politico-ideological features and underpinnings of today’s global architectural community.



Xuefei REN
Assistant Professor
Department of Sociology, Michigan State University

Title:Beijing after 2008: From “Spectacular City” to “Ordinary City”


Building on the recent scholarship on ?ordinary cities? (Robinson, 2006; Davis, 2005), this talk will discuss the urban legacies of the Olympics in post-2008 Beijing. Specifically I will examine the widening inequality in urban China that is further exacerbated by urban renewal, displacement, and the staging of various spectacles, with my empirical fieldwork on historical preservation, state-sponsored mega-projects, and private residential developments. I argue for the necessary shift of attention (academic, media, and policy-oriented) from 'spectacular city' to 'ordinary city,' and examine the implications of this shift on critical urban theory, public policy, and architectural practices.



William Haas Professor in Chinese Studies
Department of Comparative Literature, Stanford University

Title:Photography, Cityscape, and Traces of History


The surge of interest in photography in contemporary China goes hand in hand with the decline of historical consciousness.  The consumerist and spectacular notion of photograph underlies the theoretical notion of willfully innovative change and fashion, as embodied in the idea “all reality is representation. I will first critique this notion by reconnecting visual representation to historical exigencies rather than the consumerist logic. I will then place memory photography, a booming industry in China, in the tension between spectacle and history.  By looking at Wang Anyi’s comments on a collection of photos of Shanghai, I analyze how the photographical image is appropriated for a sense of history and local memory deeply embedded in everyday practice and the socialist period.  Instead of being the inauthentic mirror of consumer culture, the photographical image may be part of historical imagination, narratives of everyday practice, and cultural memory. This conclusion challenges the view “all reality is representation.”



Jianfei ZHU
Associate Professor
Faculty of Architecture Building and Planning, University of Melbourne

Title:Global Interactions and Issues of Criticality: Notes on China and its Recent Architecture


Whether a Marxist or politico-economic critique can properly encompass issues of architecture that often imply a neutral or non-political dimension remains a central problem in architectural debate. How to comprehend contemporary Chinese architecture in relation to its domestic history and global-western architectural discourse at a time of radical and structural change is another major problem we have to deal with. This paper provides a few observations on China’s contemporary architecture in order to respond to these two questions. The focus is on contemporary China as a ‘global building site’. The paper identifies three groups of designs; proposes a ‘Marxist’ critique of them; then questions this critique in order to open up a spectrum for other observations. The paper then considers a ‘tectonic’ juncture between Chinese and western architectural thinking at this moment. The paper also identifies a ‘symmetrical’ exchange between these two worlds where pragmatism from China and criticality from the west are transferred in opposite directions. A certain material dynamism from the first and a formal and sociopolitical criticality from the second are identified as enduring conditions for global interactions today. The (post-) criticality debate in the west is then raised in this context. It is argued that although China (and the developing countries) may be related to a ‘post-critical’ or a pragmatic thrust, it is in fact, in a long run, and given China’s organic approach to politics and ethics, an origin of a new criticality. This paper identifies a relational ethics that may be supplementary to a dualistic criticality developed in the west.


TAG: Architecture Spectacle





:loveliness: :handshake :victory: :funk: :time: :kiss: :call: :hug: :lol :'( :Q :L ;P :$ :P :o :@ :D :( :)


« 2021-06-18  


  • 访问量: 111980
  • 日志数: 80
  • 图片数: 11
  • 文件数: 10
  • 建立时间: 2009-03-19
  • 更新时间: 2014-08-01


Open Toolbar