In the run-up to 2016s US presidential election, I suffered from anxiety and insomnia; I live and work in Shanghai, and US politicians have started talking about China in ways that make me concerned about my livelihood.
Theres a YouTube video that strings together Trump uttering the word China in various speeches; three minutes long, he utters the word sometimes angrily, sometimes with excitement, and sometimes with a puzzled, lost tone of voice. After watching, Id go to sleep easily; there was no way this loser would become president.
Our culture has a long and knotty engagement with China, mostly based on fantasies and projections that dont correspond to any reality. From Macartneys ill-fated visit in 1793 to Coleridges opium dreams, China has been a synonym for mystery, cruelty, revolution: whatever our obsessions of the moment, we managed to discover them in China often without even needing to go to China or to speak with Chinese people about it.
As China has experienced meteoric economic growth that increasingly manifests in investments around the world, from London to Ethiopia, the question of what China actually is, and what it means, has ceased to be some sort of fun trivia for poets. For the sake of our economy, our environment, and our cultural heritage, we really need to understand what Chinas society is. Otherwise, we run the risk of projecting paranoiac visions onto the nation that is the only real alternative to western capitalist society and whose economic relationship with Britain grows every day.
Artists working in a vein called sino-futurism have started to explore the Chinese city as a generic future landscape. Still, one cant help feeling that our understanding of what China is, and the ways that our imaginary visions have shaped Chinese realities, remains limited.
When Shanghais new district, Pudong, was being built, there were no tenants in the high-rises; the illusion of a growth spurt became a reality. The ghost cities such as Ordos that weve heard about recently, the empty British-themed suburb of Thames Town, new cities such as Xiongan which seem to materialise overnight In many ways, Chinas economy is driven by real estate, built on powerful fantasies and projections of the future. So is Londons.
Weve come a long way from Coleridges Xanadu. The last few decades have seen a flood of representations of Asian cities as futuristic, cruel, and mysterious; where once we had Fritz Langs Metropolis, now we have Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell. British artists like Lawrence Lek and academics like the mildly demented Nick Land have made the Chinese cityscape into the site of very British worries and aspirations.
But the same could be said of Boris Johnson, who airily dismisses worries about Brexit with allusions to India and China as some sort of cure-all. If we cant build a new tube line, we reflect on the fact that China can; if London suffers from air pollution, we observe with horror that its worse than Beijing; Iain Sinclair, visiting the Shangri-La in the City, finds the sinister forces of global capital embodied in Fu Manchu-style Chinamen.
Sadly, these representations dont have much to do with reality. We need to get the facts straight; China and Chinese people are a fact of life in British universities, cities, architectural practices, arts institutions, and pretty much everything else, and our future depends on the ways that British society can engage with China. No more #fakenews, please.
Near that inscrutable and wicked Shangri-La is the DLR station for Limehouse, the former Chinese slum. China might be our future, but its also our past; and China is a place, but its also a population.
So far, when we represent China, we typically do so in terms of the built environment; its easier to describe what we can see with our own eyes than to understand the humans who live in China.
However, as the debacle surrounding Scarlett Johanssens casting in Ghost in the Shell illustrates, theres a problem with representing China as a generic space evacuated by humanity. Its not; China is crowded, weird, and very human. Chinas population is diverse, the cities in China are filled with oddities, and within the vast terrain of Chineseness there are endless variations; we dont grasp any of that when we represent a China as a set of buildings, with people scuttling around them like insects transfixed by neon lights.
China the place, with its cities, ghost or otherwise, is a place that many British entrepreneurs, artists, politicians etc will visit; you should go too. But China as a population impacts Britain in a more direct way. When Steve Bannon tells us about an inevitable war with China; when Brexiteers suggest Singapore be a model for a British future; when we hear what China has done in terms of investments, pollution, human rights violations, and so on we betray a naivet that is positively dangerous. Would we talk about what France has done? Or would we talk about what specific French persons have done, within a context of understanding that probably other French people may disagree?
From education to architects to financial services, Britains role in a new Chinese economy is defined by our cultural heritage and the mixed successes of articulating a shared humanity and common set of rights. Wed better start understanding that a Chinese future isnt just a set of buildings or mirage-like skylines; it is you, and me, and that man in the off license, and were all in this together.
Shanghai was partly built by British architects; and London, by Chinese laborers. These are two cities in which we can hopefully get together and start understanding each other better.
Jacob Dreyer is a Shanghai based writer and editor.
- SpaceX Is Delivering Cannabis to the Space Station - Futurism - December 13th, 2019
- Elon Musk Is Talking About Powering All of America with Solar - Futurism - December 13th, 2019
- Middle Eastern Nation First to Buy Drone Armed With Machine Gun - Futurism - December 13th, 2019
- Virgil Abloh Merges Fashion and Futurism with the Louis Vuitton Men's 2054 Collection - Ocean Drive Magazine - December 13th, 2019
- Watch Terrifying Creeps Hack Ring Cameras and Spy on Families - Futurism - December 13th, 2019
- Study: Many Extreme Weather Events Were Caused by Climate Change - Futurism - December 13th, 2019
- End of the world: This futurist has some grim news for the middle class - MarketWatch - December 9th, 2019
- Futurist Predicts "The End of the World as We Know It" - Futurism - December 9th, 2019
- Avoiding the 'Robocalypse' - CFO Magazine - December 9th, 2019
- Blockland Solutions Conference is underway at the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland - Crain's Cleveland Business - December 9th, 2019
- Its 2071, and We Have Bioengineered Our Own Extinction - The New York Times - December 9th, 2019
- Young Bomberg and the Old Masters at the National Gallery: the Renaissance influences on an East End radical - inews - December 9th, 2019
- Futurist, Cathy Hackl, Named Top Voice in Tech by LinkedIn for 2nd Year in a Row - PRNewswire - December 6th, 2019
- Futurist sees the end of the world as we know it for average person - Haaretz - December 6th, 2019
- SpaceX Is Sending Super-Muscular Mice to the Space Station - Futurism - December 6th, 2019
- 19 Newly Discovered Galaxies Appear to Be Missing Dark Matter - Futurism - December 6th, 2019
- Interview: Shaping the future - The Actuary - December 6th, 2019
- 'The Future of X' Turns to Collaboration in the Workplace. Tune In - OZY - December 6th, 2019
- The inspirations of Shafi Ahmed surgeon, teacher and futurist - Director magazine - November 30th, 2019
- New Zealand Opens World's First HIV-Positive Sperm Bank - Futurism - November 30th, 2019
- Dubai is Adding Tesla Cybertrucks to its Police Car Fleet - Futurism - November 30th, 2019
- New Calculations: Black Holes Could Have Thousands of Planets - Futurism - November 30th, 2019
- Web Inventor Unveils Plan to Save the Web - Futurism - November 30th, 2019
- Can a computer have intuition? - Verizon Communications - November 30th, 2019
- Things to Do in DC This Weekend: A Jane Goodall Exhibit, Holiday Markets, and a Massive Maze at Nats Park - Washingtonian - November 23rd, 2019
- Futurist: Channel Has To Remove Friction To Cloud 2.0 Adoption - CRN: The Biggest Tech News For Partners And The IT Channel - October 28th, 2019
- MSPs Will Help Enable The 'Virtualization Of The World,' Says Futurist - CRN: The Biggest Tech News For Partners And The IT Channel - October 28th, 2019
- Tech and futurism drive iconic car event's appeal - The Japan Times - October 28th, 2019
- This Electric Toothbrush Uses AI Because Nothing is Sacred Anymore - Futurism - October 28th, 2019
- This Rocky World With Three Suns May Have an Atmosphere - Futurism - October 28th, 2019
- This Creepy Life-Sized Doll Is a Warning About What Office Life Is Doing to Us - ScienceAlert - October 28th, 2019
- Scientists Say They Finally Figured Out How to Spot Wormholes - Futurism - October 28th, 2019
- Good News: The Ozone Hole Is Smaller Than Weve Ever Seen It - Futurism - October 28th, 2019
- The US Army Is Spending $750K to Partner With UFO Research Group - Futurism - October 28th, 2019
- Amazon Is Writing Its Own Facial Recognition Bills - Futurism - September 27th, 2019
- Yes, There's a "Pee Tape" and It's Unclear If It's a Deepfake - Futurism - September 27th, 2019
- Heres How We Could Feed a Million People on Mars - Futurism - September 27th, 2019
- Gasoline Fiends Blocked Every Single Tesla Charger in This Town - Futurism - September 27th, 2019
- Harvard Prof: The Moon Could Have Caught Alien Organisms, Tech - Futurism - September 27th, 2019
- Scarborough's South Bay observation wheel set to stay until November - The Scarborough News - September 27th, 2019
- Dozens of Countries Are Deploying Propaganda on Social Media - Futurism - September 27th, 2019
- Visual Effects Society Names Acclaimed Visual Futurist Syd Mead A Keynote Speaker at 2017 VES Summit - SHOOT Online - August 25th, 2017
- Residents 'Happy' With Futurist Development - Yorkshire Coast Radio - August 25th, 2017
- THE FUTURIST: Economic and existential concerns cloud the future - Sarasota Herald-Tribune - August 22nd, 2017
- New series of The Futurist Report explains effects of AI - IT News Africa - IT News Africa - August 22nd, 2017
- What is the Future of the Human Resource Function ... - August 20th, 2017
- Utah Futurist Rebrands NewVistas Effort - Valley News - August 20th, 2017
- AT&T Foundry, RocketSpace and Ericsson Release a New Series of ... - Al-Bawaba - August 20th, 2017
- Universal Basic Income Examined by Futurism Blog - Basic Income News - August 20th, 2017
- Renowned futurist to speak at SA top 100 event - InDaily - August 18th, 2017
- Acclaimed Visual Futurist Syd Mead to Deliver Keynote Address at 2017 VES Summit - Animation World Network (press release) (registration) (blog) - August 18th, 2017
- The CIO's broadening role: Business strategist, futurist, change agent - CIO New Zealand - August 16th, 2017
- Popular Futurist to Discuss the Future of the Hospitality Industry - Digital Journal - August 15th, 2017
- The Futurist: Technology as the key to HR - Human Resources Online - August 14th, 2017
- Yorkshire Coast Radio - News - Next Step In Futurist Demolition - Yorkshire Coast Radio - August 14th, 2017
- Transportation Futurist Simon J. Anderson to Speak Today on the Future of Trucking - Digital Journal - August 14th, 2017
- Cliff-top Scarborough residents say theatre demolition could destroy their homes - ITV News - August 11th, 2017
- The Futurist: Creating a positive candidate experience is fundamental - Human Resources Online - August 9th, 2017
- Israel and Kazakhstan's futurist vision for Eurasia - The Jerusalem Post mobile website - August 8th, 2017
- The Futurist: Fishing for the right talent - Human Resources Online - August 3rd, 2017
- Anders Srman-Nilsson (LLB/EMBA), global futurist, speaker and author - InvestorDaily - August 3rd, 2017
- 4 Big Trends That Will Shape CRE: A Futurist's Guide - Commercial Property Executive - August 3rd, 2017
- Futurist | Definition of Futurist by Merriam-Webster - August 1st, 2017
- FutureWorld - Is your business FUTUREPROOF - July 31st, 2017
- The Futurist: Why human resources is a people's job - Human Resources Online - July 31st, 2017
- Marty Sklar, Disney Legend And Futurist, Dies At 83 | Gizmodo ... - Gizmodo Australia - July 31st, 2017
- Professional futurists converge on Seattle to pick up hints about what lies ahead - GeekWire - July 29th, 2017
- Geek of the Week: Futurist author Richard Yonck helps us better prepare for a rapidly changing world - GeekWire - July 29th, 2017
- A futurist tells us what life will probably look like in 2040 - New York Post - July 29th, 2017
- Marty Sklar, Disney Legend and Futurist, Dies at 83 - Gizmodo - July 28th, 2017
- How Clothing Made From Milk Became the Height of Fashion in Mussolini's Italy - Atlas Obscura - July 28th, 2017
- Mark Zuckerberg Is A Bad Futurist - HuffPost - July 27th, 2017
- Here's what the Lime Street facade will look like - including Futurist memories - Liverpool Echo - July 26th, 2017
- Neo-Futurists' new show serves up plenty of 'Food' for thought - Chicago Sun-Times - July 26th, 2017
- The Futurist: Future by design - Human Resources Online - July 26th, 2017
- New 'Star Trek: Discovery' Clips Show Off Beautiful, Retro-Futurist Tech (Including a New Phaser) - Outer Places - July 22nd, 2017
- New York Neo-Futurists to Offer 'Fundamentals' Workshop This Summer - Broadway World - July 22nd, 2017
- Paramount Pictures Just Hired a Futurist in Residence to Guide the Future of Film - Futurism - July 18th, 2017
- Futurist: 'I Am Concerned for My Two Young Daughters' - Inverse - July 14th, 2017
- Ted Schilowitz Named First 'Futurist In Residence At Paramount Pictures - Deadline - July 14th, 2017