Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Art at Watson presents Jia-Ching Chen ─ Remaking the Rural: Beyond China’s Urbanization

Wednesday, March 23 –
Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Weekdays, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

Watson Institute, 3rd Floor

Rural China is being remade. In the context of the widely reported state planned national urbanization push, this process of remaking the rural is often portrayed as one of convergence and development, or alternatively as one of eclipse and disintegration. While ‘the rural’ must be understood in relationship to ‘the urban,’ these prevalent narratives fail to capture how processes of transformation yield vastly disparate conditions and an unpredictable future. In particular, rural transformation by state fiat gives the impression of a fait accompli, and the process of rural dispossession appears as one of total closure. This elides the longer processes and experiences of change. Although the eviction and resettlement of thousands of villages and construction of hundreds of new towns over the course of a decade is indeed an incredible pace of change, the experience of this tempo is highly variegated and deeply stratified. Arising from the inevitable shortcomings of what James Scott called “authoritarian high modernism,” the process is fraught with unevenness: in social, spatial and environmental outcomes. Roads are widened, eliminating a row of village homes. A collective irrigation system is cut off by a construction project, leaving fields accessible, but cracked beneath the sun. Families are evicted from homes, but permanent resettlement takes years.

These photographs examine how people and places are shaped beyond the usual narratives of urbanization; beyond the crystalline neatness of master plans, beyond the boundaries of model new towns, beyond the official ideology of national development. The series examines the tensions and contradictions of a master planned process of agrarian transition that is predicated on dispossession, and thereby posits the ongoing importance of the rural to China’s urban future.

Jia-Ching Chen is Assistant Professor of Environmental Governance and Urban Systems in the Department of Geography at Penn State University. Jia-Ching's research examines China’s emerging role in the global green economy, and its impact on the increasingly linked geographies of food and energy. His research uses multiple fieldwork methods to analyze the intersections of global markets in renewables commodities, China's national energy transitions, transnational planning expertise and processes of local development and change. In this exhibit, Jia-Ching draws on his training in documentary photography to highlight local experiences of social-environmental processes that extend far beyond the boundaries of a single place.

Art at Watson
China Initiative