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The systematic maladjustment generated by Chinese speed

You can always catch a sentence in Chinese newspapers that development is the first essential factor. The skyscraper built in a few months or the road paved in a few days is ubiquitous in my country. This high-speed efficiency is undeniably derived from the benefits of systematic design and management. The critical role of the system in China’s development is imponderable. According to Meadows’s theory, any force applied to the system has consequences. However, the mechanistic consequences brought by Chinese speed system is that cultural diversity is unavoidably eliminated. Recently, the distinctive signboards of each city have been removed and replaced by the board with the standardized size, color, material, and font. In order to provide an embellished and neat public amenity, the local government created a new signboard renovation system. Unfortunately, the system is flawed because it not only ignores the information that the sign itself can convey but also erases the personality of stores, which makes it difficult to arouse the interest and impression of tourists and consumers. This harmonized system can fundamentally reduce the government’s monitoring time on the safety and aesthetics of streetscapes, however, it is also accompanied by the combating with the rule of business development.

Figure 1. One of the new signboard system in China. From Soho.com

What’s worse, the urban planning of China’s major cities has also become increasingly uniform. The policy resistance mentioned in system trap by Meadows, can be reversed in Chinese speed into the government “would rather live with a flawed system that is familiar than to allow changes that might cause uncertainty and instability.” [1] When you raise your head in financial districts, the scene comes into one’s eyes must be the thriving concrete forest or the fake sunlight refracted between skyscrapers. When you stop at the tourist souvenir shop in different cities, the display counters are filled with all kinds of products from Yiwu that can be purchased on Alibaba, including pandas or clothing with characteristic patterns from national minorities, and even counterfeit antiques. Harmonization, but it is like a detached shell without a soul.

Figure 2. Shanghai & Beijing’s skyline. From quanjing.com

In the trend of globalization, China’s speed is also tearing people apart living in different contexts. Arjun Appadurai, the author of Modernity at Large[2], indicated that today’s so-called “globalization” is a complex phenomenon. He discussed the complexities of globalization from five different perspectives, one of which he named Mediascape. The context we live in modern society no longer refers to the traditional physical and geographical concept, which is an intricate system constituting the environment around us and affecting various peoples in equally diverse manners. In August of this year, the New Yorker wrote an article about questioning the credibility of information in one of the Chinese new media, College Daily, under the subject of “post-truth”. They tried to focus on the reaction of Chinese students and immigrants in western countries toward certain political issues. They are concerned about what kind of news these groups receive daily, and what kind of channels they obtain that news from. Instead of investigating the antagonism between western media and Chinese political stances, I hope by telling this case I can reflect the reality torn apart through globalization. Compared with traditional media, these new medias lack a clear editorial mission or a coherent set of editorial standards. It is true that for reaching the threshold of a hundred thousand clicks, an eye-catching title is the only thing that they want to pursue, which squeezes the authenticity to the bottom. “Xiao Qiang, who teaches at the U.C. Berkeley School of Information and runs a bilingual Web site called China Digital Times, said. Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are all blocked in China, so students in America largely rely on WeChat to stay in touch with family and friends back home and keep up with the news in China…… There isn’t any big difference before and after their move to America.”[3] Living in New York one can clearly observe that the Chinese immigrants or Chinese students who work, study and live abroad and they seem to be fully integrated into the oversea life, but, essentially, their spiritual life and the information they are able to access are still inseparable from their homeland. In other words, this criticized College Daily is a product of the system I described in this era.

Figure 3. The “Post-Truth” Publication Where Chinese Students in America Get Their News. From The New Yorker

Deterritorialization combined with the rise of Chinese speed composes a more entangled world with social class, race, nationality, and other issues. American Factory[4] recorded the transition from excitement and optimism to antagonism in US-China labor relations, not only in the way of thinking, the differences and misunderstandings in the management grid, but also in the struggle between the workers who tried to organize the union and their upper management. The final scene of this documentary is the jostling way to work of Chinese and American workers and then turns to their blurred backs, which implies us with workers’ bleak and murky future. It echoes the beginning of Chaplin’s movie modern times (1936) that opens with a montage method of sheep and bustling industrial workers, suggesting the same fate of being trampled upon. This documentary ends with the caption: “Up to 375 million people globally will need to find entirely new kinds of jobs by 2030 because of automation.” Perhaps, in the near future, the existing contradictions will be replaced by big data or updated algorithms. At the same time, I can’t imagine how many new conflicts will occur.

Figure 4. From American Factory

As a designer and an international student, I can’t find the answer about how to maintain the cultural balance for studying in the western world. I was confused about if thinking in the system truly provides an overarching explanation of everything around us. Maybe this is the reason why I couldn’t organize my logic or thoughts and reflect questions in class in time.

[1] Meadows, H. Donella. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. 2008.

[2] Arjun Appadurai. Modernity At Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. 1996.

[3] Han Zhang. The “Post-Truth” Publication Where Chinese Students in America Get Their News. August 19, 2019

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-post-truth-publication-where-chinese-students-in-america-get-their-news

[4] American Factory is a 2019 American documentary film directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, about Chinese company Fuyao’s factory in Moraine, a suburb of Dayton, Ohio, that occupies Moraine Assembly, a shuttered General Motors plant. The movie had its festival premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It is distributed by Netflix and is the first film distributed by Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground Productions. From Wikipedia.

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