The heat of the East’s summer only hit me after I left the demographic digestive system underneath Shanghai’s surface. The metro tunnels have banned the undifferentiating darkness in favour of the light of digital advertisements, which remain fixed at the same speed as the train itself. A gimmick that did impress me and is clearly demonstrative of where this place is at, but in itself and towards the world it allows entry. Another light of reason, one might say. And light always follows primordial static darkness. It creates form, time and thus life. Light is indeed creation itself. And creation itself in modern China comes in the form of commerce. At least that is the modern viewpoint, which considers any cultural form derived from agriculture in the same way civilizations after Sumer conceived the hunting-gathering/horti past before the arrival of land owning elites as a faceless and nameless abyss. Only the civilizing heroes release us from this slumber, that primitive prehistoric lethargy, so that we may awaken to see the daylight of being. Or so we conceive this awareness.
My journey to Shanghai went, as most modern peregrinations do, from aerial dockyard to aerial dockyard. Airports are entry and exit points of nations. The people present hail from all walks of life and the most alien of places. The outward and inward look of them have a style that fits a cosmopolitan landscape. No clear and well-defined identity and everything reduced to a clinical glass steel concrete capsule to avoid offending its temporary denizens. The only life added to it comes again in the form of commerce. The market as the globe’s common denominator, its most prime meeting point, which does not seem to disturb in the slightest. Therefore they are never an introduction to the nation you find yourself in now. Or rather: what remains of that nation.
It is not hard to notice how that late 20th century Demiurge, Deng Xiaoping, transformed the ‘formless mass’ that was premodern and Maoist China into the creature it is today. His pragmatism brought about a technocratic approach it sorely needed and has not seen since the Hundred Days.
Now China grows metropolises fully equiped with all the modern means. Extraterrestrial-like skylines soar above the growth fumes.
I had not seen any of it yet. I couldn’t ignore that the ethnicity of most of the people around me had changed and did not belong to my own in-group. But I had not met China yet. I was still in motion. Airport or metro, they’re non-places. Designed for transcience. They want and desire you to move through them. It is no place where we are meant to linger. Think of the movie “The Terminal”, where one such unit cannot leave the airport. A most strange occurence and therefore a source of comedy. I had seen a few elements that differ from home. The way in which all of the former is advertised, mostly. Like how the grips in the train have been turned into ads. Or that digital projection. The marketing now mostly happens through simplified Chinese instead of English… or my own native tongue, Dutch ( paired with French, as Belgium’s own complex coexistence of peoples demands ). It also happens through an appealing to sentiments which are unfamiliar to me. Some models I see returning again and again, as the avatars of ideals that are unique to this place. A few Caucasian faces seep in, but they’re quickly overcrowded by the autochtonous.
I was getting closer to my resting place for the night. My jetlag was killing me and the humidity and the heat was unprecedented for me. Never had I felt a temperature like this hit me in such a way. And the people themselves seemed rather familiar with it.
I walked my way up from the underground and emerged like a scarab to see a new light, a new world.