“Theme Park” Architecture in China
One of my favourite blogs is BoingBoing, not the least because a lot of the posts tickle my anthropological funnybone. A good example is a recent post on new architectural trends in China, where the emergent middle-class is being tempted to live in simulacra of historical Western cityscapes.
In Nanjing, there are Balinese retreats and Italian villas. In the southeastern city of Hangzhou, there are Venice and Zurich. In downtown Beijing, everything is about Manhattan, with Soho, Central Park and Park Avenue.
Seems that there is quite a bit of interest in producing replica of iconic structures from a usually Western “elsewhere”. Another BoingBoing article reports about the Shijingshan Amusement Park in Beijing, described as “basically a weird, Chinese clone of Disneyland”.
Perhaps more interesting than the phenomenon itself is why stories like this are so ticklish for people like me. What should “we Westerners” have a monopoly on consuming the exotic other? Various kinds of exotica have long been decorating Western homes, both inside and out, for a long time now. An example that springs to mind is the not uncommon practice of a few decades hence of placing concrete Aborigines, like indigenous garden gnomes, in front gardens. Can’t do that anymore though; the consumption of exotica these days must be done with requisite postmodern irony. And maybe that’s what’s so strange about these Chinese consumption patterns: they’re just dripping with pomo simulation, but without the ironic self-parodic attitude you’d expect in the West. Or maybe it’s the strange thrill of seeing changing power relations at work. Maybe it’s not so much the weirdness of the copying, but the fact that it’s being done to “us”. “We Westerners”, not the least anthropologists, have been accustomed to representing the other. So its strange to find “our” forms as exotic consumer items.
I’m just guessing here, of course. Good ethnographic work would provide some sense of why the Chinese middle class seem to be enjoying these kinds of consumption. Perhaps our resident China expert, Third Tone Devil, has something to say about this?