China Made Brief #3

Keywords for Infrastructure and Media: Social Lives and Material Effects” Workshop, Denver, March 24-5, 2019

Alessandro Rippa, April 2019

Download the English PDF version here (2MB); 点击下载电子中文版 (1.7MB)

As Wittgenstein once put it, “the meaning of a word is its use in the language” – that is, it emerges out of its particular social life. How to, then, capture the evolving meanings of a word and how to translate its manifold meanings and usages across different linguistic and cultural settings? And how to look through those words as lenses onto the societies in which they are used?

Questions such as these ones are at the core of theChinese-English Keywords Project(CEKP) led by Prof. Louisa Schein. The CEKP is a global network of scholars in different disciplines of the humanities and social sciences addressing the particular incommensurabilities that are generated as key words and concepts migrate between Chinese and English. The aim of the project is to “capture heterogeneity,” that is, to pay attention to the different usages of a word – official, academic, mass media and everyday vernacular, among others – and account for its evolving social life. The CEKP project was formed in 2016 and has since then held several meetings across different countries, centered around particular clusters of words.

The most recent CEKP-related event took place in conjunction with the Denver meetings of the Association for Asian Studies, March 24-25, and focused on keywords for infrastructureand media. The workshop was co-organized by the CEKP project, particularly by Louisa Schein(Rutgers University) and FanYang (UMBC), and by the China Made Project, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, led by Tim Oakes(CU Boulder) and with the help of Alessandro Rippa(CU Boulder). One of the overall aim of China Made is to develop a finer grained analysis of infrastructure projects themselves, and to address the cultural, social, and political relations that are formed around and through these infrastructures. A keywords approach proved itself, in the course of the workshop, extremely helpful in identifying how infrastructures are productive of social and cultural changes. Many of the keywords discussed in the course of the workshop, as will be briefly discussed below, speak to the socio-cultural and political dimensions of China’s infrastructural development, and are thus of core interest for the China Made project agenda.

Ten scholars convened in Denver for the workshop, discussing a wide range of words and two keywords (wenhua 文化, by Louisa Schein, and difang地方, by Tim Oakes) that will be included in the first themed volume that the CEKP will produce. Each participant brought 1-2 Chinese words relevant for their research and that they found hard to covey in or translate into English. In connection to each word, participants told a story or two encapsulating some of its different meanings and usages. Each word generated a lively discussion, spawning connections and particular constellations – or clusters – of words and stories.

Logistics center for agricultural products in Tengchong, Yunnan (Rippa 2016)

One such word was 通道 tongdao, which is generally translated as passage, passageway, or channel. The word is used in an academic context to refer to particular trade routes and channels of exchange. One frequently mentioned on the backdrop of China’s Belt and Road Initiative is the Silk Road – 丝绸之路 (sichouzhilu) – as an exchange (jiaoliu 交流) passage. Tim Oakes suggested another usage of the word in the context of Guizhou, that of 通道文化, or “tongdao culture.” As he elaborated, according to Guizhou scholars, the province has traditionally been characterized by multiple influences and by its particular role as transit for, and passage of, different cultural and political institutions. As such, “tongdao” has become a key part of Guizhou identity. In the context of the China-Myanmar borderlands, Alessandro Rippa pointed out, the word tongdao is used to identify non-official routes of exchange, through which smuggling occurs. Moving to another usage of the word, several participants pointed to the use of the word “tongdao” in places such as airports and train stations, to indicate fast routes through security. Rather than a passage of exchange, in this context tongdao identifies a smooth connection that avoids local frictions. Darren Byler, an expert on securitization and technology in Xinjiang, pointed to yet another usage of the word tongdao in the context of security checkpoints in Xinjiang. A Shenzhen-based company is even advertising a state-of-the-art security gate with the name “Xinjiang tongdao.”

Other clusters of words formed around the terms pingtai平台, platform, and sudu, 速度, speed. Both words lie at the intersection of infrastructure and media, pointing to new constellations of Chinese economic development and society centered around particular networks and distribution practices. In conjunction to both pingtai and sudu, for instance, participants discussed the ways in which the high-speed railway (gaotie 高铁) transformed urban landscapes in China, re-configuring the (dis)connections between the rural and the urban by juxtaposing a completely new transportation network to an existing system of railways and highways. Wangge 网格, grid, and wuliu 物流, logistics, also emerged as key components of a platform economy that involves a degree of data gathering, surveillance, and high-efficiency connections. The example of kuaidi 快递, or delivery services, and its pervasiveness across China today, anchored such discussions into several first-hand experiences that the participants relayed. 

As a last example of the workshop’s lively discussion, the commonly used word fangbian方便, convenient, was brought forward by Darren Byler in order to discuss the “convenience police station” that has become a ubiquitous sight across Xinjiang since 2016. In the course of the discussion, several examples emerged of usages of the word fangbian in semi-official contexts, particularly in the negative form “bu fangbian” – not convenient. This, some of the participants noted, was a standard justification that officials in different contexts would give in order to not answer a particular question, or to prevent access to a particular area. What is convenient, and for whom, seems to be a question central to the ways in which the word fangbian can be translated and understood across different linguistic and cultural settings. 

Surveillance cameras in Dali, Yunnan (Rippa 2015)

As an important follow-up to the workshop, some of the most relevant words that were discussed in Denver will appear on the ChinaMade websitein the form of short reviews discussing some of their meanings and usages. In particular: 通道 (tongdao); 区 (qu); 物流  (wuliu); 速度 (sudu); 安置 (anzhi); 方便 (fangbian); and 设计 (sheji).

Participants: Darren Byler (University of Washington), Carolyn Cartier (University of Technology Sydney), Silvia Lindtner (University of Michigan), Tim Oakes (University of Colorado Boulder), Lina Qu (Rutgers University), Alessandro Rippa (University of Colorado Boulder), Louisa Schein (Rutgers University), Tomonori Sugimoto (Stanford University), Fan Yang(University of Maryland Baltimore County) Lu Zhang(Temple University).

The event was funded with the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation.


Alessandro Rippa, 2019年4月

正如Wittgenstein所言,“一个词语的意义在于其在语言中的用法” —— 或者,它的意义植根于其特殊的社会生活中。那么,我们如何捕获其不断变换的含义?如何翻译其在不同语言和文化环境中的多重意义与用途?又如何借用这些词语来解析所使用他们的社会呢?

由Louisa Schein教授所领衔的中英文关键词项目(Chinese-English Keywords Project,CEKP)将此类问题看作其核心研究方向。中英文关键词项目是一个由人文学科与社会科学下不同学科学者所组成的全球性学者网络,着眼关键词和关键概念在中英文转换过程中产生的特殊的不可衡量性。该项目的目的是“捕捉多样性,”即关注一个词语在不同语境中的用途——包括官方的,学术的,大众传媒相关的以及日常白话文——以及记录其不断进化的社会历程。中英文关键词项目成立于2016年。至今为止,该项目已经在多个国家围绕不同的词语举办了多个探讨会。

借由在丹佛举办的亚洲研究协会2019年会契机,中英文关键词项目围绕“基础设施与媒体”开展了最近一次研讨会。该研讨会是由中英文关键词项目的Louisa Schein (罗格斯大学),Fan Yang (马里兰大学巴尔的摩分校)与由亨利卢斯基金会资助的中国制造项目领导人Tim Oakes (科罗拉多大学博尔德分校)联合举办的。其中Alessandro Rippa (科罗拉多大学博尔德分校)为此次研讨会提供帮助。中国制造项目的整体目标之一是提供更加细致入微的基础设施分析。同时该项目强调研究围绕且通过基础设施所形成的文化、社会及政治关系。该研讨会证实了一个基于关键词的基础设施研究方式能非常有效的帮助我们发现基础设施是如何引发社会与文化改变的。以下的内容将简略的涵盖一些在此次研讨会中出现的关键词。这些关键词将向我们展示中国基础设施发展的社会文化与政治层面。这些关注也同时是中国制造项目的核心兴趣。

围绕各种不同的词语与两个关键词(由Louisa Schein提出的wenhua 文化和由Tim Oakes 提出的difang 地方),十位学者在丹佛参与了该研讨会。基于此次讨论,中英文关键词项目将发表涵盖所讨论的内容的第一个主题报告。每一位学者都提供了一到两个与他们研究项目相关又同时难以用英文表达或翻译的中文词语。参会者也讲述能概括这些词语意思与用途的故事。每一个词语都引起了热烈生动的讨论、各式各样的联系与故事。

其中一个讨论的词是通道,通常被翻译为passage, passageway, or channel。 在学术背景下这个词语指的是特殊的贸易和交换渠道。在中国一带一路的大背景下这个词作为交流通道——丝绸之路——被反复提起。Tim Oakes 提出了这个词的另一个用途,即在贵州背景下的通道文化。正如他的阐释所言,贵州学者们认为贵州省历来以其多重影响及其特殊的作为多种文化与政治机构的交流通道为特征。因此,“通道”已经成为贵州省一个关键的特质。Alessandro Rippa指出,在中国缅甸边界,通道这个词被用来特指非官方的走私渠道。其余几位参会者提出“通道”在机场或者火车站环境下的另外用途,即快速安全通道。不同于交易渠道,“通道”在这个背景下意味着规避本地摩擦冲突、流畅的联系。一位精通新疆安全与科技发展的专家,Darren Byler提出“通道”在新疆安全检查点环境里的另外一种用法。一个总部位于深圳的公司甚至宣传推广一种名为“新疆通道”的最高科技的安全门。

其余讨论的词语包括pingtai 平台和sudu, 速度。这两个词都处于基础设施与媒体的交叉连接点并展现了各式各样的中国经济发展与一个围绕特殊网络与分配操作的中国社会。例如,在与平台与速度相关的讨论中,参会者讨论了高铁是如何影响改变中国的城市地区,又是如何通过将一个崭新的交通网络与现有的铁路、高速公路系统并列继而重整城市与农村的联系或断连。在一个含有一定程度数据收集,数据监视与高效连接的经济平台中,Wangge 网格与wuliu物流 也是其关键组成部分。kuaidi 快递以及其在当今中国的普及性作为一个例子将这些抽象的讨论通过参会者的亲身体验拉回地面。

最后一个关于此次研讨会生动讨论的例子是一个常用词,fangbian 方便。Darren Byler提出该词以便讨论新疆至2016年以来无处不在的“便利警察站。”在讨论过程中,fangbian 方便的其余几个用法出现在了半官方环境中,特别是其否定形式“不方便。”几位参会者表明,在不同的背景下,这是一种标准的官方拒绝理由以避免回答特定的问题或者阻断通往特殊地区的机会。想要在不同的语言与文化环境中精准的翻译、理解fangbian 方便的含义,最重要的是明白方便谁?什么方便?

为了跟进此次在丹佛举办的研讨会,一些高度相关的词语将以短评的方式出现在中国制造的官方网站上。其中包含的词语有:通道 (tongdao); 区 (qu); 物流  (wuliu); 速度 (sudu); 安置(anzhi); 方便 (fangbian); and 设计 (sheji)。

参会者:Darren Byler (华盛顿大学), Carolyn Cartier (悉尼科技大学), Silvia Lindtner (密歇根大学), Tim Oakes (科罗拉多大学博尔德分校), Lina Qu (罗格斯大学), Alessandro Rippa (科罗拉多大学博尔德分校), Louisa Schein (罗格斯大学), Tomonori Sugimoto (斯坦福大学), Fan Yang (马里兰大学巴尔的摩分校) Lu Zhang (天普大学


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