Second China Made Workshop: China’s Domestic Infrastructures
Alessandro Rippa and Tim Oakes, March 2020
In the wake of the recent and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Wuhan authorities, at the centre of the outbreak, promised to build an ad-hoc hospital in six days. The move was intended as a (however late) attempt to cope with the growing threats of widespread contagion. To fulfil this task, a team of 7000 worked around the clock to complete the project in time. The structure, authorities promised, would be able to host and treat over a thousand patients. The news immediately made the rounds in the local, national, and international media. In China, millions of people followed the construction of the hospital via livestream platforms. Fellow migrant construction workers, temporarily unemployed due to chunjie celebrations and restriction to their mobility due to virus containment measures implemented throughout the country, cheered along the speedy delivery of the hospital. For central leaders in Beijing, and at least some observers around the world, this was an example of China’s efficiency and efforts in fighting the virus. For others, it was indicative of the state’s eagerness to showcase its tremendous mobilizing power in order to draw attention away from the ways the virus exposed key lapses in the Chinese model of governing.[i] But even for those who remained critical of Beijing’s handling of the situation, the successful construction of the hospital in “Chinese speed” was never questioned.[ii] If the Chinese political economic system has proven one thing, in recent decades, it is its ability to deliver stunning infrastructure against all the odds. From the railway to Tibet to the nation-wide high-speed railway network, to the Three Gorges Dam, examples abound.
Notably, the construction of the Wuhan hospital was not the first instance in which Chinese leaders responded to a crisis by turning to infrastructure. In 2003, during the SARS outbreak, Beijing authorities built a hospital in 7 days. In 2009, at the time of the global financial crisis, Chinese leaders injected into the economy a stimulus package of US$586 billion over two years, or the equivalent of 13.4% of GDP – specifically targeting infrastructure development. Following the dramatic train crash in Wenzhou in 2011, which sent shock waves through the Chinese internet in a rare moment of collective criticism of the Party-state, the Chinese government responded by investing more into China’s high-speed railway network, which is now globally celebrated as state-of-the-art and a source of national pride. Infrastructure, then, seems to speak to a very particular way in which state power is deployed, enacted, mediated, and experienced in China today.
In January, 2020, an interdisciplinary group of scholars from Australia, Hong Kong, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States met at the Hong Kong Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences to consider the following question: what can we achieve by thinking infrastructurally about China’s development over the past few decades? This question was addressed through a variety of case study accounts from around China, but the timing of the workshop brought into stark relief the ever-present salience of infrastructural issues in the recent crises that have roiled this part of the world. During the lead-up to the workshop protests in Hong Kong challenged the view that the city’s spectacular infrastructure could ever be seen as merely technical and apolitical. And the COVID-19 outbreak that came on the heels of the workshop in turn reminded us that China’s enhanced infrastructural connectivity not only brings with it a whole new level of unanticipated techo-political issues, but bio-political ones as well.
In academia, recent years have seen a proliferation of social science studies of infrastructure (cf. Larkin 2013; Anand, Gupta and Appel 2018; Harvey et al. 2017; Rippa, Murton and Rest 2020). What is notably marginal in this growing body of literature, is an analysis of “Chinese” infrastructure. Despite China’s leading role in the construction of actual, physical infrastructure over the past three decades, the most influential paradigms for the study of infrastructure in the social sciences originate from research conducted elsewhere. To be sure, important groundwork has been laid for critically engaging the ‘China model’ of development (Lee 2018; Driessen 2019), as well as for appreciating the socio-political dimensions of how people experience infrastructure provision and demolition in China (Chu 2014). But a more complete rendering of the ‘infrastructure turn’ in China studies is yet to be developed. For this reason, the China Made project, funded by The Henry Luce Foundation (2018-2021) organised a series of workshops to more thoroughly interrogate Chinese infrastructure and the so-called Chinese model of development, from within ongoing theoretical discussions occurring beyond the field of China Studies (for a summary of the first China Made workshop see the China Made Brief #1)
The second China Made workshop, in Hong Kong, aimed to develop a theoretical and methodological agenda for bringing infrastructure studies into conversation with China’s domestic infrastructures. In particular, the workshop traced infrastructure development within China by interrogating how it has become a key feature of China’s political economy. Some of the key questions that participants considered included: how does infrastructure development relate to (local) administration in China? How do infrastructure spaces in China (zones, industrial parks, cultural districts) blend state and capital in their own particular manner? In what ways is infrastructure development a process of state making, or a way of doing politics by other means? What does an infrastructure approach tell us about processes of state territorialisation and authoritarian statecraft? How do socialist legacies inform infrastructure development today? And in connection, how do we trace the trans-national origin of Chinese infrastructural expertise (Soviet, French, American, Japanese)? What is the role of infrastructure in China’s “ecological civilization” – and to what extend is nature thought of “infrastructurally” in this context? How are connectivity and convenience complicated by territoriality, control, and state paranoia?
As a whole, workshop participants considered a number of overarching themes and issues related to China’s domestic infrastructures. One of these is the apparent tension, or even contradiction, between the smooth connectivity promised by China’s transport and digital infrastructural investments on the one hand, and the state’s continuing commitment to controlling mobility, reinforcing borders, securing frontiers, and generally subjecting its population to enhanced surveillance and other technical infrastructures of control. The infrastructures at the heart of the ‘China model’ of development are not really about enhanced mobility and convenience, it turns out. At least not for certain segments of the population that have been deemed unfit for self-governance. Discussions also focused on the role of infrastructure within China’s state environment of ‘total planning’, given that infrastructures consistently produce unexpected uses and unplanned-for outcomes. This was a particular focus of cases in which urban planning and infrastructural urbanism – both of which figure as significant characteristics of China’s urban experience – were considered. An additional topic of emphasis was Hong Kong itself and the role that infrastructures have played in debates, contests, and negotiations over the city’s historical and contemporary relationships to mainland China. Water supply, artificial island building, and the construction of cultural facilities were all discussed in this context. Whether or not a ‘China model’ can even be identified given the vast range of variation in how infrastructure functions, how it gets built, and how it shapes social, cultural, and political patterns also became an increasingly apparent theme through the two days of the workshop. Overall, the workshop suggested a strong need for more qualitative and ethnographic studies of infrastructure developments, given the centrality of these in Chinese state-building, national identity, and governing practice and capacity.
A selection of workshop papers will be published in 2021 a special issue journal. Papers presented in Hong Kong included:
Other workshop participants included: Mia Bennett (University of Hong Kong), Cecilia Chu (University of Hong Kong), Andrew Kipnis (Chinese University of Hong Kong), and Alessandro Rippa (Tallinn University)
Alessandro Rippa 和 Tim Oakes, 2020 年 3 月
武汉市当局作为近期爆发的新冠疫情中心承诺在六天内修建一所临时医院。这个姗姗来迟的决定是为了应对疫情日渐蔓延的威胁。为了按时交工，由 7000 名工人组成的队伍加班加点完成该项目。权威人士承诺该医院的结构能够同时容纳并治疗超过 1000 名病人。这个消息迅速地被地级，国家级和国际媒体报道。在中国，成百上千万群众在直播平台上关注着该医院的修建过程。因为春节暂时失业和被全国各地实施的防疫措施限制了流动性的建筑农民工人们也为这迅速的建成而欢呼雀跃。对于北京中央领导和至少一些来自世界各地的观察者而言，该医院的迅速建成是中国抗疫有效性和努力的有力证明。但对于其他人而言，这表明中国政府渴望展示其巨大的动员力量，以引开人们对在疫情中暴露的中国执政模式关键失误的关注。但即使是对中国政府在疫情处理中持怀疑态度的人也从未对以“中国速度”成功修建的医院报有任何怀疑。如果中国的政治经济系统在近几十年证明了一件事，那一定是其在任何情况下都能修建出令人振奋的基础设施的能力。从青藏铁路到全国布局的高铁线路再到三峡大坝，案例数不胜数。
值得关注的是，武汉临时医院的修建并不是中国领导第一次用基础建设应对处理危机。2003 年的 SARS 疫情，北京当局在七天内修建了一所医院。全球金融危机当头的 2009 年，中国领导人在两年内注入了相当于中国GDP13.4％的 5860 亿美元来刺激经济复苏，特别是针对基础设施发展。为了回应因温州铁路事故在中国互联网上引起的大众对党和政府的罕见性集体批判，中国政府加强了对国内高铁网路的投资。现在的中国高铁在全球范围内被誉为最先进的，已经成为民族自豪的源泉。因此，基础设施似乎是当今中国政府部署，制定，调解和行使国家权力的一种非常特殊的方式。
2020 年 1 月，由澳大利亚，香港，瑞典，瑞士和美国学者组成的跨学科小组聚集在香港人文社会研究所讨论以下问题：从基础设施的角度来思考中国近几十年的发展，我们能获得什么？这个问题的讨论采用了中国各地不同基础设施的案例。此次研讨会的时间点让有关基础设施的问题在近期席卷香港的危机中日益凸显，也因此让研究基础设施的学者长舒一口气。在研讨会开始之前，香港的抗议活动对以下观点提出了质疑：香港引人注目的基础设施只能被视为技术性和非政治性的。
紧随研讨会之后的新冠疫情爆发反而惊醒我们，中国日益强健的基础设施连通性不仅带来了全新层面上不可预料的技术政治问题，同时也带来了生物政治问题。学术界有关基础设施的社会科学研究也在近几年激增（参考 Larkin 2013; Anand, Gupta andAppel 2018; Harvey et al. 2017; Rippa, Murton and Rest 2020）。然而在这不断增长的研究中，关于“中国”基础设施的研究却明显处于边缘。尽管中国在过去三十年间在修建看得见摸得着的
真实基础设施中扮演着领导者的角色，社会科学领域中最有影响力的基础设施范例却源于中国以。可以肯定的是，这些研究不仅为批判性地参与讨论“中国模式发展“（Lee 2018; Driessen 2019）奠定了基础，也为学者从社会政治层面上了解中国人民围绕基础设施共给与拆除的体验（Chu 2014）奠定了基础。但是中国研究中一个更加全面的“基础设施转向”还尚未开发。因此，由亨利卢斯基金会资助的中国制造 项目（2018-2021）组织了一系列研讨会，采用国研究领域以外的现有理论讨论中来更加深刻的探讨“中国”基础设施和所谓的中国模式发展。（第一次中国制造研讨会总结请参考中国制造简报 1。）
作为一个整体，会议参与者关注了一些和中国境内基础设施相关的主题和事件。其中一点是处于两者之间明显的紧张感，甚至是矛盾：一方面是中国交通和数字基础设施投资所承诺的顺畅连接性，一方面是政府长期以来不断控制人口流动，加固边境，保障边疆安全，并使人民群众服从于加强的监视与其他控制类的技术性基础设施。原来“中国模式”发展的核心并非与更好的流动性和便捷性相关，至少对于一些被认为不适合自治的特殊群体而言。基于基础设施总会有不可预料的用途和带来不可预算的结果的原因，研讨会也对基础设施在中国体制环境内“整体计划”中扮演的角色进行了探讨，特别是在考虑城市规划和基础设施城市化的案例中 – 两者都是中国城市化经验的重要特征。研讨会强调的另一主题是香港自身和基础设施在香港与中国大陆关于过去与现在关系的辩论，争执和商讨中所扮演的角色，其中包括水资源供给，人工岛和文化场所的修建。基于基础设施运作的多样性，无论“中国模式”是否最终能被识别，基础设施是如何被修建，又是如何塑造社会，文化和政治模式的问题也在为期两天研讨会中成为不断明晰的主题。总体而言，该研讨会建议对基础设施发展进行更多定性与民族志相关的研究，因为这些研究在中国国家建设，国家认同，治理实践和能力方面具有中心地位。处于“中国模式”发展核心的基础设施并不能真正提高某些被认为不适合自治人口的流动性和便利性。
研讨会精选论文将在一份 2021 年特殊期刊中发表。在香港研讨会分享的文章包括：
• “Infrastructures of Turkic Muslim internment: ‘reeducation’ through industrial parks in Northwest China” (Darren Byler, University of Colorado Boulder)
• “Cultural infrastructure and the post/socialist city: ‘cultural facilities’ and the palacemuseum at the West Kowloon Cultural District” (Carolyn Cartier, University ofTechnology Sydney)
• “Low carbon frontier: renewable energy and extractive infrastructure in western China” (Tyler Harlan, Loyola Marymount University)
• “Technical experts and the production of China’s airport infrastructure” (Max Hirsh, University of Hong Kong)
• “New roads, old stories: traveling through bureaucracy and time in northwest China” (Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi, University of Zurich)
• “The making and unmaking of Pukou: urban development, infrastructure changes, and mobility shifts from the early 20th Century to the present” (Elisabeth Köll, University of Notre Dame)
• “Infrastructure space in a Chinese register” (Tim Oakes, University of Colorado Boulder)
• “Storing data on the margins: making state and infrastructure in Southwest China” (Darcy Pan, Stockholm University)
• “The territory of water supply: landscape transformations and engineering water security in Hong Kong” (Dorothy Tang, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
• “Making the foreign domestic and the domestic foreign through the infrastructure of Hong Kong’s artificial island landscapes” (Andrew Toland, University of Technology Sydney)
• “Natural infrastructure in China’s era of ecological civilization” (Emily Yeh, University of Colorado Boulder)
其余研讨会参与者包括: Mia Bennett (University of Hong Kong), Cecilia Chu (University of Hong Kong), Andrew Kipnis (Chinese University of Hong Kong), 和 Alessandro Rippa (Tallinn University)。
Anand, Nikhil; Gupta, Akhil, and Appel, Hannah (eds.). 2018. The Promise of Infrastructure. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Chu, Julie. 2014. When infrastructures attack: the workings of disrepair in China. American Ethnologist, 41(2), 351-367.
Driessen, Miriam. 2019. Tales of Hope, Tastes of Bitterness: Chinese Road Builders in Ethiopia. Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press.
Harvey, Penny; Jensen, Caspar Bruun; and Morita, Atsuro (eds.). 2017. Infrastructure and Social Complexity: A Companion. London and New York: Routledge.
Larkin, Brian. 2013. “The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure.” Annual Review of Anthropology 42: 327- 343.
Lee, Ching Kwan. 2018. The Specter of Global China: Politics, Labor, and Foreign Investment in Africa. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press.
Rippa, Alessandro; Galen Murton; and Matthäus Rest. (2020) Building Highland Asia in the 21st Century. Verge: Studies in Global Asias (in production).