This post by justrecently captures a more in your face example of what I often lump under the more encompassing category of pedagogy of everyday life. My main purpose in focussing on the mundane rather than propaganda is to draw attention to aspects of education/learning that often go unnoticed as such. Note that one of the characteristics I dismiss in lumping these things (e.g., propaganda, planning, schooling, design) together is intent. Another is awareness. I’m not particularly concerned, in other words, what the intent of the author/creator is or whether or not the consumer of the message is conscious that any messaging is going on.

In the case of propaganda, of course, such questions become very important. This isn’t to say that the purveyors in this case see anything but truth in the examples raised here, or that they are particularly concerned with subtlety. Stories like these ought to be understood as both warning and dog whistling…though this particular whistling session is at a frequency that all can hear.

My recently completed dissertation offers my own take on the process of land conversion, and I plan to pen a series of posts on the process of urbanization more generally. What interests me, of course, is not only the conversion of rural to urban land, but also the conversion of “rural lands in the city” to properly urban neighbourhoods, not to mention (and here this sentence is really getting out of hand because this my actual primary concern) the conversion of “ruralites” of both kinds into urbanites.

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I’ve commented a bit on these processes in a couple previous posts (this one and that one), but haven’t yet pursued the topic at length in this venue. For some perspective on the activities of peasants opposed to the process of conversion as currently conceived, have a look at this piece on a pitchfork rebellion in Shijiazhuang, Hebei. I do have a book chapter coming out sometime this year, and I’ll be sure to talk more about that when it is released.

For now, have a look at the Wall Street Journal (Land Sales: The Ever-More Lucrative Habit China’s Officials Just Can’t Kick – China Real Time Report – WSJ.) for some bare stats on land conversion and the addictions of local officials to the money to be earned in the process.

A recent post on a blog I read is mostly intended for a crowd of academics, but I think the message is one that a general audience might also find thought provoking. There is a trend (or perhaps habit), more obvious in certain academic disciplines/fields than others, to see the fact of multiple perspectives (social, cultural, or theoretical in origin) as stripping us of our license to make moral claims about the behaviors or conditions we see in the world. Ponder for a moment the absurdity of looking at the picture linked here and and concluding, “Who am I to pass judgement on this situation? Perhaps this fellow is deeply attached to living on the streets.

This is something I struggle with not only in my work on China, but in my life in China and within a Chinese family. As a non-Chinese (i.e, culturally and in terms if citizenship), it is both the hardest and easiest thing of all to pass judgement on those things I find objectionable or even disgusting. It can be very difficult to avoid either a reflexive unreasonableness grounded in bigotry or ignorance or a total lapse into cultural/moral relativism.

The writer of this post insists that social scientists make themselves irrelevant if they refuse to take on the “messiness” they encounter by at least proposing that such messes are bad in some way or another and ought not to be allowed to persist. I would suggest that it is not just academics who face this problem. Don’t we all have an obligation to say no to (and do something about) those things we find repugnant? Of course the positions we take up will be disputable and will themselves be vigorously opposed in some quarters. But isn’t the initial step of proposing something opposable the most human and humanizing thing we can do?

I’m not sure how I feel about this development. If you’ve ever been to China, you’ll know that there are always more than enough police, security guards, and military personnel around that one never feels entirely unsafe. That sense of security is, of course, in many ways illusory, although it is a cliche to say that this is because the police themselves are the more worrisome threat. Indeed, police indifference seems to be the more serious problem, as was the case one day about ten years ago when I saw a man with a massive head injury ignored as he staggered down the road in front of the public security bureau (not their job!) and subsequently honked off of the road by a police cruiser.

No doubt this move has little significance for those already intent on thumbing their noses at the powers that be. These people are only too aware of the semi-concealed power and potential violence of state security forces. But if Chinese police are to become more armed, how will this change the way they are viewed by everyday folk? In my experience and that of most under most circumstances, Chinese police are not threatening at all, though they may be profoundly annoying in certain capacities.

I do realize that this is not the experience of every foreign resident and local. I don’t have dark skin. I don’t tend to wander the streets at night in a drunken state. And I haven’t been doing anything (intentionally) illegal or (obviously) politically threatening. Still, that police don’t carry weapons makes them seem less threatening than your average officer in any given Canadian city. If you’ve noticed as I have the increasingly robust, armoured look of police uniforms (not to mention weapons array and the physique and demeanour of officers themselves) in recent decades, you’ll know what I mean. A City of Edmonton police officer for good or bad just looks and often acts like someone not to be messed with. This isn’t to say that you’re more likely to run afoul of police in Edmonton than the average Chinese city. Of course that depends largely upon a combination of who you are*, what you’re doing**, and what officer you happen to cross paths with that day***. Still, I would much rather run afoul of an officer with no gun (and maybe a notepad) than one with a pistol, taser, club, bullet proof vest, and cruiser with 400 (?) horsepower under the hood.

All of which begs the question: is Edmonton really that much more dangerous than Shijiazhuang?


*     race, class, gender, age, homeless vs. not, etc.
**   protesting, stealing, j-walking, loitering outside the public library wearing dirty clothes, collecting bottles with a stolen shopping cart, stealing investors’ money
*** for example, if you are an average Edmonton semi-homeless person riding a bottle-collecting bicycle and your are trying to use a crosswalk blocked by a right turning police cruiser, you should not make the mistake of mentioning to the wrong officer on the wrong day that he is committing a traffic violation. Said officer might turn on his lights, drive down the wrong side of the road in order to apprehend you for…something or other. Like I said, wrong officer, wrong day.

China’s Police Will Carry Guns Unlike Any Others – China Real Time Report – WSJ.

via China’s Police Will Carry Guns Unlike Any Others – China Real Time Report – WSJ.

Re-reading a few pieces (like this one and especially this for a more nuanced take) on China’s “ghost cities” called to mind some things I’ve read over the last number of years and, consequently, a few questions. It’s no secret that there are concerns about bubbles in China’s commercial, residential, and state infrastructure sectors. Google “ghost cities,” “China hard landing,” “China economic crisis,” or any of a hundred other similar terms and you’ll find unlimited prognosticators (both informed and not) predicting ten of the last two crashes of the Chinese economy. The general concerns are valid, of course, but I’ve long wondered to what extent the visual spectacle (see photos below or click here) of urban construction affects everyday observers ability to predict the future prospects of current developments (new neighborhoods, districts, railway stations), not to mention analysts’ ability to objectively read the underlying indicators.


In my own experience of radical (re)construction and urbanization in Shijiazhuang (Hebei), what appears ghostly often becomes corporeal in short order. And to clarify that terrible metaphor, what were empty housing projects one year are sometimes filled to the brim the next. Of course my take on this is also tainted by another form of spectacle, so I’m not sure the fact of rapid occupation of neighborhoods I happen to come across indicates good anymore than the countries most famous ghost towns prove bad. If you have the time, Hessler’s Driving China is a compelling if impressionistic take on reading the spectacle of an earlier infrastructure boom.


Whatever the truth (and I will be sure to let you know what it is many years after it has become obvious), it will be interesting to see what consequences China’s bubble – should it prove to be real and eventually burst – has in terms of capital growth, accumulation, and distribution. I’m particularly interested in the fate of the rural population as it is dispossessed of a long cherished birth-rite – that small piece of land that has served as a place of refuge over the past thirty years as these people have slowly made their way into the new urban China. To be sure many are purchasing (i.e., leasing long term) a new, though much more limited birth-rite in the form of a much more limited and likely better appointed apartment in the city. But where will they go in the event that a burst bubble takes even that away?


Recently I was re-reading my uncle’s post(s) about a brief visit to China last year and it got me thinking about how laowai learn about China while in China. This has been a topic of some interest to me over the past twelve or so years, both in terms of self-analysis and observation of other people like me. Of course the blogosphere is full of the writings of people engaged in precisely this kind of reflection. Some are thoughtful and informative; others are rife with misunderstanding and plain old bigotry/racism. Few display the depth of experience and insight of this piece (en francais).

At any rate, no promises here of deep pronouncements on this topic, but I will state the obvious and leave you to think about it for yourself. What is clear from Harold’s posts is that no one arrives as a blank slate on new territory. I would suggest that the more strange the new place, the more reliant we are on past experience, cognitive frames, and habits of mind. Whether or not we are ever able to shed these inheritances of our earliest development and experience is an open question. I would hope so, but I have a vested interest in believing what may be a convenient fiction. After all, what good is it to be an authority in the field of education if much of what one claims to know turns out to be so much poppycock?

Good post by Mark developing a theme I’ve not paid careful attention to, although I’ve long been interested in Bourdieu’s conception of reflexivity. Have a read. There is a part 2 to go along with this post. Also, if you have time, watch all of the linked documentary.

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