Sustaining Cities: Urban Policies, Practices, and Perceptions

By Linda Krause | Go to book overview

CHINESE CITIES
DESIGN AND DISAPPEARANCE

Ackbar Abbas


THE CHINESE CITY

As a way of “envisioning the urban,” let us, first, list six characteristics of the Chinese city today found almost everywhere. The first characteristic is a certain operatic quality. In the Chinese Sichuan Opera, there is a secret technique known as “changing face,” or bian lian, where the actor changes one painted face for another with a quick turn of the head. There is something of this “changing face” effect when we look at the changing space of the Chinese city. We see the transformations, but we cannot believe our eyes or our ears when we hear the famous formulation, usually attributed to Deng, “to get rich is glorious.” The formulation sounds more like a magic formula than a political party slogan; it sounds more operatic than pragmatic. To see the Chinese city, then, as operatic, rather than as the result of solely pragmatic decisions, opens up the analysis and allows us to give some weight to factors other than the economic.

The operatic city is also an anticipatory city: this is a second characteristic of the Chinese city. We see the anticipatory in phenomena of empty residential and commercial buildings in Shanghai (or in the destruction of the hutongs in Beijing, its traditional narrowlaned neighborhoods) that make way for the construction of miles

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