Beijing Besieged: Wang Jiuliang's Urban Ecology Unhinged

DATES: Photo Exhibit: March 10 - June 10, 2011, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm

  Symposium: April 11, 2011, 2:00 - 4:45 pm

  Film Screening: April 11, 2011, 5:00 - 7:00 pm

  Lecture: April 12, 2011, 4:00 - 6:00 pm

PLACE: IEAS Conference Room, 2223 Fulton Street, Berkeley

SPONSORS: Institute of East Asian Studies, Center for Chinese Studies, Townsend Center for the Humanities, Department of Geography, Center for Global Metropolitan Studies


Photo Exhibit: Beijing Besieged: Wang Jiuliang's Urban Ecology Unhinged
March 10 - June 10, 2011
IEAS Conference Room, 2223 Fulton Street, 6th Floor

While China's rise, and its immense challenges, commands world attention, less light has been shed upon the colossal problem of waste generated by a burgeoning population, expanding industry, and rapacious urban growth. Photographer Wang Jiuliang turns his lens upon the grim spectacle of garbage, excrement, refuse, and wreckage heaped upon the landscape that surrounds China's mega-metropolis, Beijing. Eking out a precarious and hazardous living within are the scavengers, mostly rural migrants, who struggle to maintain familial and cultural structures amid the bleakest of occupations. In this exhibit we see the desecration of once-vital farmlands and rivers in the shadow of the new China's gleaming cities and planes and super-trains; the unholy cycle of construction's consumption and waste, and poignant images of the daily lives of the scavengers who toil at their own peril.

Free and open to the public.


Symposium: The City Besieged by Garbage: Politics of Waste Production and Distribution in Beijing
Monday, April 11, 2011 2:00-4:45 pm
IEAS Conference Room, 2223 Fulton Street, 6th Floor

One of many of China's overwhelming challenges is that posed by waste management. The vast refuse deposits near Beijing will be discussed, including the dangers these pose, and the lives of people who have found an uncertain occupational niche therein.


Joshua Goldstein, History, University of Southern California, Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap: waste and recycling in Beijing, the Mao years (1949-1980)
Kao Shi-yang, PhD Candidate Geography, UC Berkeley, From "Old Building Materials" to "Building Garbage": The Wastification of Demolition Materials in Post-socialist Beijing
Mao Da, PhD Candidate Environmental History, Beijing Normal University, Waste and Civil Society: How has Garbage Transformed Chinese Environmental NGOs?
Moderator: You-tien Hsing, Geography, UC Berkeley


Joshua Goldstein, Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap: waste and recycling in Beijing, the Mao years (1949-1980)
Since victoriously entering Beijing in January 1949, the CCP has attempted in a wide variety of ways to manage and mobilize the collection and use of wastes for both sanitary and productive ends. Focusing primarily on the Maoist period from 1949-1980, this presentation describes and analyzes the processes by which the government tried to regulate and harness the potentials of waste materials. While certain long-term trends in recycling management are undeniable (a huge growth in volume; the replacement of handicraft processes of re-use with industrial recycling processes; and the overwhelming formalization of what had been a fundamentally informal sector) the overwhelming impression arrived at is one of intractable contradictions, made most evident in the status of waste and recycling workers themselves. Despite 3 decades of rhetoric celebrating the dedicated sacrifices of the city's recycling workers, in 1977 they still earned less per month than almost any other workers in Beijing, and the city recycling company was unable to recruit sufficient workers due to the lowly social status of the profession. By exploring this and several other structural contradictions in the recycling system of this time, it is argued that we can better understand some of the most vexing underlying contradictions of China's experiment with Socialism. Moreover, the experiences of 1949-1980 help put later urban environmental developments into clearer perspective.

Shih-yang Kao, From "Old Building Materials" to "Building Garbage": The Wastification of Demolition Materials in Post-socialist Beijing
In this presentation, I use the case of Beijing to examine the wastification of demolition materials in post-socialist China and discuss the impacts of this process on Chinese cities and towns. The term "demolition materials" refers to the group of objects produced through the demolition of buildings and urban infrastructures. Some examples of them are bricks, tiles, rebars, insulation boards and concrete. The term "wastification" refers to the rejection of use value of an object in language and in discourse. During the socialist period, demolition materials were considered as a resource. In official discourse, they are often called "old building materials." However, in the contemporary period, the name has been changed to "building garbage." In this presentation, I explain that the establishment of the urban land leasehold market in 1988 is the main cause of this discursive transformation. In addition, I argue that this changing social life of demolition materials has resulted in rising territorial violence in demolition sites and the stigmatization of the recycling labor.

Da Mao, Waste and Civil Society: How has Garbage Transformed Chinese Environmental NGOs? For a long time, environmental NGOs (ENGOs) have been the leading actor in the mobilization of environmental movements in China. However, since 2007, a series of disputes throughout the country concerning local governments' proposals for incineration plants has made ENGOs the main target of criticism. On the one hand, many grassroots activists lose confidence in ENGOs because of their inability to make a clear stance in the incinerator debate. On the other hand, ENGOs failed to formulate effective and convincing proposals for the practice of 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle), which is widely considered as the best strategy to solve China's waste problems. Under this embarrassing situation, ENGOs had to rethink their positions and to adjust themselves substantially in order to participate in the on-going debate over waste management.

The presentation examines this contemporary transformation of Chinese environmental activism by garbage through three unique angles. First, from a historical perspective, it shows that since the 1980s, despite good policy prepared by techno-bureaucrats, citizens' involvement has been the key force for the changing municipal waste management. Second, based on the presenter's long-time participation in China's ENGOs, it argues that the degree to which ENGOs can meet the expectation of the public largely relies on whether they have the courage and wise tactics to confront with the difficult issues of (1) scientific reasoning and (2) government and corporate responsibility. Third, from the perspective of environmental politics, it evaluates the roles of different actors within the civil society and their diverse interests. And thus, the "civil society" is not conceptualized as a homogeneous entity. The presentation concludes that ENGOs, grassroots activists and other parties should understand each other's situation and work together for a better management of waste in China.

Free and open to the public.


Film Screening: Beijing Besieged by Waste
Monday, April 11, 2011, 5:00 - 7:00 p.m.
IEAS Conference Room, 2223 Fulton Street, 6th Floor

In this documentary film, director Wang Jiuliang uses garbage dumps in Beijing as a critical lens to reflect upon the cost of economic development in contemporary China. It shows, on the one hand, how the city of Beijing has been "besieged" by the garbage that it produces. On the other hand, it offers a vivid illustration for the impacts of rapid urbanization on the environment.

Followed by discussion with the filmmaker.

Free and open to the public.


Lecture: The Artist as Environmental Activist
Tuesday, April 12, 2011, 4:00 - 6:00 p.m.
IEAS Conference Room, 2223 Fulton Street, 6th Floor

Photographer Wang Jiuliang, whose work is featured in the exhibit "Beijing Besieged: Wang Jiuliang's Urban Ecology Unhinged," will give a talk on his work capturing images of the overwhelming problems created by waste in China today, and on the role of the artist in environmental activism in China today.

Free and open to the public.



All events will be held at the Institute of East Asian Studies in the 6th floor conference room, at 2223 Fulton Street. You will find IEAS in section D1 of this campus map.

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