Past perfect in China's (former) porcelain capital
Maris Boyd Gillette
Paper short abstract:
In this paper I investigate efforts to perfect the past in a postindustrial city known as China's porcelain capital, and how relationships with ceramics and former factories produce constructions of history that have significant social and economic ramifications for local presents and futures.
Paper long abstract:
Jingdezhen, known to many as China's porcelain capital, experienced mass unemployment and the sudden obsolescence of its ceramics manufacturing industry when China's central government marketized the state and collective sector in the late 1990s. Many municipal areas across China share with Jingdezhen a host of social, economic, and environmental problems associated with abandoned factories, derelict machinery, and unwanted memories of failed state and collective sector industries. While real estate demands in megacities like Beijing and Shanghai have meant that dozens of former industrial campuses have been adapted for reuse or demolished for new build, municipalities like Jingdezhen that are less attractive to transnational capital find managing socialist waste more challenging. Dominating the city's 21st century have been official and commercial efforts to reinvent the city's present and reinvigorate its future through the production of ceramics heritage. Through their relationships with material objects and the built environment, particularly ceramics and former manufacturing sites, entrepreneurs and city officials have attempted to perfect the city's past for tourist and retail consumption. Their efforts to reconstruct the past, literally and figuratively, in order to shape an appealing present and bright future in a postindustrial city are the subject of this paper. I explore how people's relationships with material objects and the built environment - namely ceramics and postindustrial settings - manifest and produce constructions of time and history that have significant social and economic ramifications for their presents and futures.
Materializing the past and imagining the future