“what does it mean to live, to be human right now? Looking at tech in rural China forced me to examine the ideologies that drive the engineers and companies to build everything from AI farming systems and blockchain food projects to shopping sites and payment platforms.”
right on the nose. Very interesting one here, with a thoroughly dynamic remit applicable to both tech dystopia, modern China, cultural permutation, consumption & market malaise, & the futility of capitalism, all pressed into a quirky pancake of pastoral reporting from China’s revolving rural regions.
The Asian American author, Xiaowei Wang, brings a valuable balance & pairing between Eastern fidelity, knowledge & sensitivity with a west coast American parallel, delivering a striking equipoise that is willing to disclose fault in either corner & just follow the phenomena without bias.
Modern China seems adamant on emulating the errors of American industrial ignorance, crisis capitalism & pretty much every occidental failure, often with even greater extremes, expedition & authoritarianism. In short, it is a house of horrors on top of a house of horrors – committed to the same catastrophe & cancer under a different doctrine with a separate set of circumstances…it didn’t have to be like this.
Xiaowei covers the predicaments & precariousness resulting from the combination of China’s gigantic “break neck” internal exodus (sometimes forced, with shocking & even lethal state violence ensuring national land evictions) which saw huge sections of the agrestic population forced into China’s cities as their land was re-appropriated by the state. Adversity, inadequacy & all the trappings of mass exploitation were waiting for many of the waves of domestic refugees – hugely exacerbated by China’s now completely inappropriate & unforgivable hukou system that sees the entitlements of citizens drastically curtailed if they leave their registered region. As she elaborates, sensing considerable discontent, & therefore threat, the Chinese regime has devised a “Rural Revitalization” effort to try & repatriate rural citizens back to the countryside. But what will they do? Why e-commerce of course.
“I definitely wouldn’t want to be in power right now. There’s so many cascading problems, it’s not a fun position to be in. And the people in power are very aware of these problems.” – Chinese government policy advisor
as Wang observes – “China has one of the largest rates of income inequality in the world, due to the rural-urban income gap.”
tech & commerce are the answer – & of course, they are actually part of the problem, & a dangerous panacea laced with false returns & folly. The West’s badly rotting cadaver, maggot blooms & fatal trail of critical mistakes seem to have escaped the CCP’s understanding, as they rush to replicate ruin. With more & more people excluded from the new prosperity, spewing from all media hubs with triumphant hubris, plastic & glam; growing resentment is ballooning as another country comes to recognize that “the economy” only benefits & “enriches” a small group of thieves & slavers with no intentions of sharing. Xiaowei writes of the “shehui ren”, a growing group cynical & angry rejectionists, excluded & marginalized from the wealth fountain, now simmering with social invective & nihilism at the self-congratulating mirage of shared prosperity & participatory opportunity.
Chapter three was extracted & printed in the Guardian’s long read & has caused considerable agitation. “When AI Farms Pigs” is as dystopic as it sounds. The sheer horror of U$ industrial food production, with it’s shockingly piss-poor food safety standards, low quality, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, ubiquitous & sparsely regulated genetic modification regulation, abysmal animal & labourer welfare protections & barely substantiated environmental & pollution protections – seem to have been usurped by an uncaring & unhinged China, who appear determined to amplify the current monstrosity model to a new nightmare climax. The “Chinese Pork Miracle”, because every one in China needs to be able to eat cheap pork daily – the ultimate pinnacle of progress – just like the obese, cancer riddled, disease wallowers in the U$ – & China must have its “Duplin County” disaster zone – but bigger & worse. This chapter contains very valuable reporting from Wang, detailing a perverse new realm of technologically augmented inhumanity which includes, literally, facial recognition for pigs! We will soon be the pigs.
If you are interested in modern China, read this book.
If you are concerned about modern, industrialized & “smart” agriculture, read this book.
If you are disturbed/intrigued by tech/commerce/consumption/the internet/ & it’s implications for humanity, read this book.
As Xiaowei puts it “What does it mean to live, to be human right now?”
fuck the apocalyptic failures of the U$ & China, as neither candidate has the answers, just the afflictions. A superior, self-sourced solution is required – & no AI, algorithms, machine mind, or lazy technological substitution will be playing a role in the emancipating equation. Disconnect to discover. Revert & replenish.
Xiaowei Wang, 2020, FSG Originals/Logic, 240 pages