Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Spectacle and the City

Spectacle and the City: Chinese Urbanities in Art and Popular Culture

Jeroen de Kloet
Lena Scheen
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Spectacle and the City
    Book Description:

    As China becomes increasingly modern and urban, artists have responded by imagining the Chinese city at the intersections of the social, material, and political realities of modern life. This volume explores how the city-as-spectacle has been visualized and contested in art and popular culture. Featuring essays by an interdisciplinary team of scholars,Spectacle and the Cityis as broad as the terrain it covers: with essays by an interdisciplinary team of experts on Chinese cities, as well as leading cultural critics, it goes beyond mainland China to include cities with cultural significance, such as Singapore and Hong Kong.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-1702-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: Imagining Chinese Cities
    (pp. 11-20)
    Jeroen de Kloet and Lena Scheen

    An old man dressed in a Mao suit walks slowly into The Village, a new shopping area in the diplomatic and rich part of Beijing. He enters an Apple Store and anxiously looks around with bewildered eyes: the man remembers the old neighbourhood that has now vanished completely to be replaced by these icons of global capitalism. Utterly puzzled, he continues wandering, feeling forever lost in the city that used to be so familiar to him.

    In his fictional documentaryBeijing is Coming(2008), the Hong Kong filmmaker Bono Lee tells the story of an old man who returns to...

  2. 1. Speed and Spectacle in Chinese Cities
    (pp. 21-26)
    Ackbar Abbas

    When we think of Chinese cities today, nothing comes more obviously to mind than ‘speed’ and ‘spectacle’: the speed at which urban construction takes place, giving rise to hyperbolic terms like ‘urban frenzy’ or ‘Shenzhen speed’; and the way speed conjures into being, as if by magic, spectacular skylines – the Pudong area in Shanghai being the most often cited example. However, what is most obvious can also be most elusive. Rem Koolhaas has speculated amusingly that it might be the ‘mutant figure’ of Chinese architecture (‘one-tenth as many architects have to build ten times as much for a tenth...

  3. 2. Planned Demi-monde and its Aestheticisation in Singapore
    (pp. 27-42)
    Chua Beng Huat

    From the point of arrival at Changi Airport, Singapore impresses the visitor: it is, possibly, the easiest and fastest clearance through immigration and customs a visitor has to face at any international airport. A queue of taxis awaits to ferry the visitor through wide highways, gaily planted with lush green trees and colourful – orange, purple, fuchsia, white – tropical bougainvilleas, passing an endless parade of high-rise housing estates, the clean pastel walls signifying a high level of maintenance, into the city in less than half an hour. This city is served by an efficient infrastructure of highways, roads and...

  4. 3. Coming of Age in RMB City
    (pp. 43-60)
    Robin Visser

    As Cang Lang’s fury mounts, he creates a spectacle. Readers cannot but be entertained by the critic’s breathless litany of the titillating events he lambasts in Yu Hua’s bestselling novel,Brothers(兄弟, 2005a: 2005b). Funnier still is his frustrated attempt to extricate himself from the voyeuristic practices of spectacular society. As Guy Debord remarked in 1988, reflecting back on his 1967 opus,The Society of the Spectacle, ‘That modern society is a society of spectacle now goes without saying […] What is so droll, however, is that all the books which do analyze this phenomenon, usually to deplore it, must...

  5. 4. The Architecture of Utopia: From Rem Koolhaasʹ Scale Models to RMB City
    (pp. 61-76)
    Yomi Braester

    Scale models are the architectural equivalent of science fiction: they seem to relocate the viewer immediately into a better future. Their utopian claims are compounded by the fact that Plexiglas-and-Styrene models are giving way to computer-generated 3D simulations, and the digital image is fashioned as a vehicle of social transformation. Lev Manovich writes: ‘new media technology acts as the most perfect realisation of the utopia of an ideal society composed from unique individuals’ (2001: 61).¹ In the face of such hyperbole it is worth exploring how architectural practices, and digital technology in particular, can facilitate the representation of utopia or,...

  6. 5. Imagining a Disappearing and Reappearing Chinese City
    (pp. 77-96)
    Jeroen de Kloet

    Since the closing of theYuanmingyuanart village in the mid-1990s, a quite basic discourse has haunted the appearance and disappearance of art villages in Beijing: they are zones of freedom and creativity, usually located on the outskirts of the city, and always under the threat of demolition by an authoritarian state that cannot and will not accept artistic voices of discontent. This discourse of appearance and subsequent disappearance resurfaced in 2010 when the authorities announced the planned destruction of theCaochangdiart village, the village with Ai Weiwei as its unofficial yet highly prolific mayor. Huang Rui, artist and...

  7. 6. Tuning Urban China
    (pp. 97-120)
    Jeroen Groenewegen-Lau

    Sound art emerged in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) around 2003. A substantial part of the scene makes abundant use of street sounds and other field recordings. These soundscape projects experiment not only with sound, but also with social engagement and critiques of urban transformation. I argue that Guy Debord’s concept of the spectacle helps us to understand this under-researched scene, because Debord puts forward a question that also lies at the heart of sound art in China: is critique of the political system possible in contemporary societies?

    The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of...

  8. 7. The Cityʹs (Dis)appearance in Propaganda
    (pp. 121-134)
    Stefan Landsberger

    Even before the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, posters formed a major component of the communication and propaganda strategy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). After emerging from the remote rural strongholds where it had gained strength over more than 15 years, it stands to reason that the CCP would devote considerable effort to swaying the population of the urban areas where it still had to establish its control. Paradoxically, this was not the case: while Party policy after 1949 drifted away from its previous fixation on rural China and focused on the urban, propaganda...

  9. 8. Claiming the Past, Presenting the Present, Selling the Future: Imagining a New Beijing, Great Olympics
    (pp. 135-156)
    Gladys Pak Lei Chong

    The city of Beijing features significantly in promotional materials for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. A telling example is the Beijing Olympics emblem, ‘Chinese Seal, Dancing Beijing’. Its wide circulation during the Olympics has left an imprint on people’s minds: whenever one sees the symbol, one is reminded of the Olympic City, Beijing. Beijing was not only a host city, it was also a symbol assigned with national significance.TheBeijing that was connected to the Olympic moment intended to be a city that conjured up positive memories for Beijing residents and Chinese citizens, as well as the diaspora and...

  10. 9. Shanghai in Film and Literature: The Danger of Nostalgia
    (pp. 157-170)
    Gregory Bracken

    Nostalgia is dangerous. While it may be important to know what has happened in the past, too fond a reading of it may well blind the viewer to possibilities for the future. Shanghai’s history is justifiably famous, some would even say infamous; the city is very well-known, yet many people only experience it vicariously, either through watching a film or reading a book. How the city is portrayed tells us a lot about how people perceive it, whether it is the inaccurately slapdash imagery ofMission: Impossible III(J.J. Abrams) or the lavishly recreated street scenes ofLust, Caution(Ang...

  11. 10. Nostalgia, Place, and Making Peace with Modernity in East Asia
    (pp. 171-190)
    Margaret Hillenbrand

    Nostalgia is a notoriously slippery concept, and this, of course, is why people try so hard to theorise it in ways that hold fast. For Dai Jinhua, it is the ascendant fashion of thefin-de-siècle(1997: 8); whereas for Hao Zaijin it is a ‘movement that dare not speak its name’ (1996: 23). Svetlana Boym’s seminal study makes the sentiment Janus-faced, sometimes ‘restorative’ and sometimes ‘reflective’ (2001), while in Fredric Jameson’s rather more indignant schema, it is just corrupted memory (1991: 20-1). Alternately good, bad, modern, postmodern, an amnesiac, or anaide-mémoire, nostalgia is malleable in different hands; but in...

  12. 11. Femme Fatales and Male Narcissists: Shanghai Spectacle Narrated, Packaged and Sold
    (pp. 191-210)
    Lena Scheen

    Although we are taught not to judge a book by its cover, the covers ofShanghai Baby(1999) by Wei Hui (b. 1970) andSandbed(2003) by Ge Hongbing (b. 1968) might move one to agree with cultural critic Zhu Dake’s qualification of Ge Hongbing as ‘a male Wei Hui’. The first thing that catches the eye is the women, with their similarly shaped eyes and mouths, slim faces, and half-naked bodies. Besides the suggestive titles (‘sandbed’ (沙床) seems to be a homophonic pun for ‘go to bed’ (上床)), the covers also seduce the reader with catchy sentences on love,...

  13. 12. City Regeneration and Its Opposition
    (pp. 211-226)
    Ou Ning

    Everyone dies, but everyone believes that his/her city never perishes. For thousands of years, if they are not destroyed by wars, natural disasters or other irresistible impact, cities live forever in people’s minds; by accumulating materials and inheriting spirit, they are historical carriers that extend production and the lives of human beings. But, in contradistinction to people’s wishes, a city is also an organism that has a cycle of life and death, though it lasts longer, is more complicated, transcends humans span of short life and, therefore, is more than they could envision.

    A city is not just a physical...

  14. 13. Law, Embodiment, and the Case of ʹHarbourcideʹ
    (pp. 227-242)
    John Nguyet Erni

    Hong Kong’s ever-worsening air pollution is now on everyone’s lips, and the general talk, once again, is about a threat to economic livelihood. For policymakers, the threat reveals the conflict between economics (specifically, an economic engine fueled by the transportation sector and the multi-billion real estate industry) and public health interests (which too have direct bearing on the economy and on Hong Kong’s overall strategic position in the region). For the environmentally minded, the threat is the high toll on our prime natural resource: the quality of air that we breathe in every day. As for the Hong Kong residents,...