By Ian Johnson, NY Review of Books Blog, June6,2013
One of the most striking features about daily life in China is how much of what one encounters has been appropriated from elsewhere. It’s not just the fake iPhones or luxury watches—pirated consumer goods are common in many developing countries. In many Chinese cities, foreign ideas and concepts are constantly being used to shape the external reality, from clothes and pop music to contemporary art and film. [....]
Above all are the physical spaces. All over China, planners are busy emptying the countryside of people, leveling villages, and replacing the small-plot agriculture that defined rural parts of the country for millennia with American-style industrial agriculture. Urban areas, meanwhile, have lost most of their distinctive characteristics. Even in cities known for their beauty, uniformity rules: in Hangzhou, the entire waterfront along the Grand Canal has been leveled except for one stone bridge. The rest is now apartment blocks and bars. Cities like Wuxi are even worse; the old city has been eradicated in favor of an industrial park aesthetic wedded to 1950s-style American automobile culture, with everything planned around highways, shopping malls, and subdivisions.
New architecture, when it is notable, is nearly always by foreigners or copying foreign styles, a tendency that has led Western architects to flood into China [....]