Travel vs. Travail: the Tourism Fetish Unmasked…. …..
Jia Zhangke “World”. (2004, ) is set in an imagined (though never magical) theme park in Beijing, called “World”, but one quite real in “real” life . In the realm of the actual, the storied theme park is to be found in the Las Vegas or Disney style eponymous “Windows of the World” theme park in Shenzhen, which is the set and site one sees in the film. Itself a second (capital) city of symbolic eminence, since it was (along with Pudong, Shanghai) the model of the EDZ “open” trade city understood as the engine of a/the a new generation of export-led expansion based on a new and not-very-livable model (for its staffers): subcontracting of reexports “manufactured” (assembled, finished) by unskilled (mainly female) migrant labor squeezed into company town dormitories.
Fig. 1: Entrance Advart for 1993 Shenzhen “Windows of the World” Theme Park, 1993
The “citation” for its part is not arbitrary, but painfully real: the idea and many of twists in the plot come from director Zhang’s “significant other” actress-diva Zhao Tao , 赵涛, who casually and apparently without bitterness or regret told Zhang in some detail of her backstage experiences as a “Show” danceuse in Shenzhen’s first-of-its kind (in China) World Travel theme park, “Window(s) on the World” (“give us a day and we bring you the world”). A story told with the kind of tamped down matter-of-fact darkness that is one of Zhang’s and his co-generationals’ trademarks – in its own way much in half-century-belated resonance with the travelling-troupe backstagerie of Lili, Carousel, perhaps La Strada, a sequence if not a movement that delivered a long overdue nihilist or “street-realist” solar plexus blow to the glamorized bromides of “circus” life that were stock in trade in the 30s, while still holding out hope made genuine by the director’s refusal to supply any whiff of a happy ending.
The “Local History” Re-enactment and Theme Park: Inflation for Tourists…..but
(see May 24 2013 post Enter the Bandits of the Hills: Mao in Jiangxi, 1927-34 for background)
“Officially” organized Re-enactment/Theme Park on Jinggangshan (center of the 1927-34 Jiang-
Mo Yan’s disgust with the re-enactment theme park (Life and Death are Wearing me Out, transl Goldblatt, pps 440 ff) is probably more than deserved. Few local histories deploy enough re-enactable history and (more important) song and opera performance material to resonate or dignify. With one interesting exception, whose origins go back to the “onsite re-enactment” fad’s first product, Zhang Yioou’s feckless “Impression: Liu Sanjie” (Guilin, Guangxi, 2003), now remembered for its Zhuang diva’s nudity. For tourists…
But at least two such Onsite Re-enactment/Theme Park complexes have managed to achieve a stature equal to or higher than historical museums, in spite of the Big Tent atmosphere, nighttime hyperlighting, and parades on a scale perhaps larger than the real thing.
Of these, the first and more in need of interpretation is the (clumsily entitled) Grand-scale Revolutionary Sacred Ground Onsite (re)-Enactment “Jinggangshan”, whose first performance took place in mid-2008, on the top of the Jinggangshan escarpment in W. Central Jiangxi (Kiangsi), near or at Maoping zhen. The attached clip is a recent, Min. of Propaganda et al., sponsored “trailer” (12 mins) of a much longer nightly performance, well over an hour’s length, and engaging the acting and singing of some 800 “people from the locale”, principally women. (Logically so, since the working age male population would even now – and certainly was back then (ca 1929-30)- off on the road pursuing seasonal “migrant-worker” or army pay (as enlistees).
“When I was studying/working abroad, I went out of my way to avoid getting involved in exhibits planned by “China savants” – in general they had no more to offer than their ability to use “China” as a crutch. When they had spent their time learning Chinese they used up at least half of their lifetime quota of patience/endurance; the remainder got used up when they (had) worked at the history of China’s (visual) arts. The result: they hadn’t a clue about contemporary “Western” aesthetics or culture in general. Whenever it falls to them to introduce (“merchandise”) Chinese cultural (artifacts) to Western (audiences), they compress us into a one-dimensionality: they seem to want to peddle (us) Chinese as objects exotiques; so with the passage of time, since quite a while ago, (we) Chinese have become a tribe symbolizing Asian étrangerie”.
—- Cai Guoqiang, July, 2008*
Here is a well-known video-essay (1998) showing his solution to Chinoisirizing: the symbolic reduction by flame of the enclosures of museums devoted to amassing randomly selected bits and pieces from “the past”.
source: July 30 2008, 中国新闻周刊 interview, http://news.artxun.com/xifangxiandaiyishu-1432-7157307.shtml
Reflections on “Western” opaqueness regarding China’s (cultural) history. 蔡国强 Cai Guoqiang, b. 1957, was a Member of 6-man Core Design Team for 2008 Beijing OOC: his better known contribution to that event was the now infamous “29 giant steps”, a kind of son-et-lumiere show meant to illuminate the geomantic center of late-dynastic Beijing from the sky, then to anti-kowtow to the Imperial era cliche having the Ruler face South as a metaphor of authority properly exercised)
Because I am out of the loop, or maybe because I don’t know the right folks, I was utterly flabbergasted (but happily so…) by the Youtube gallery of clips that went up this past week documenting the Dec 31 2011 … Continue reading →