Meeting of Ming and Qing with a CCCP skyline

Been in Foshan for a couple of weeks now. I have moved in with a bunch of cats and a local girl in the more suburbian parts of Foshan, which happens to be about 30 kilometers removed from the city center. In my home country that would constitute a different province, not a subdivision of an urban area. That alone demonstrates the horizon of the Chinese in comparison with the one of my fellow ‘country’men. In any case, I have been rather far removed from the metropolitan hussle and bussle which energizes me and which was in such close proximity to me in Shanghai. Yet, I cannot say it has been uninteresting to be away from the downtown areas.
The place I’m at is called Shunde and could be best described as a more gentrified part of the Pearl River Delta. It didn’t come to being ex nihilo. Shunde has a history. For one, it is renowned for its chefs who are in high demand still. Also, you find some Ming/Qing dynasty remnants here and there, among which the fantastic Qinghui gardens. This forgotten outskirt, where administrators retired after their duty to the Confucian order, is now the daily starting point of the commute of many of the new middle class and, even, elite of China. And as with all nouveaux riches, there comes a rather tacky and clumsy aesthetic. I am reminded of all the images one sees of the lavish lifestyle of the Gulf nobles. The underground lagoons of oil they pump and sell to the West have allowed them to become preposterously rich. Yet all that wealth can’t buy a refined taste that is carefully curated over the generations. The more grand and shiny, all molded into a kitsch baroque, the better. Here I see very similar looking monstrosities which aim to impress the eye, but leave little else but a sore upon it. And the Western influences are repulsively obvious. Ionian pillars, Greek statues, pantheon-like domes and a legion of other references to the West’s puissance contrast in a hilariously agonizing manner with the Chinese characters that surround them. I get the sense some seapunk disk jockey ended up as an architect for these “Fu Er Dai”.

This is to be seen all over China. I saw it in uptown Shanghai as much as I see it in the uptown parts of Guangdong now. A historian like Spengler would call this a clear case of pseudomorphosis, where the alien civilization weighs so heavily on the land of another that the latter cannot but express or embellish itself through this alien form culture. The longer I am in China, the more apparant the pseudomorphosis, this thesis, becomes.

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