One Thousand Years
Xiong’an New District is an area in Hebei Province that has been designated as a zone of development, part of a program called JingJinJi– the consolidation of Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei into a city of one hundred and fifty million people. Like the story of the Shenzhen miracle, Xiong’an will be a city “built from nothing.” Here nothing is the demolition and transformation of three villages, Xin’an, Xiongxian and Rongcheng. The one thousand year plan for Xiong’an is part of Xi Jinping’s call to build an ecological civilization. As the government wrote it, Xiong’an is to be the “smart city,” the “eco-city;” the plans dictate that eighty percent of the area is green space. So Xiong’an is part of a project that responds to the world we live in and its current and imminent climate catastrophe – the age of the anthropocene.
Hebei Xiong'an Xinqu Jihua Gangyao: Hebei Xiong'an New District Plan Outline
We are here in the catastrophic. How can it be “good” in spite of things? What are the aesthetics of a good anthropocene? The good anthropocene is the feminist anthropocene, aesthetically, and in function. For the whole planet. Xiong’an, at least in name– xiong and an– suggests the possibility for an equality between the male and the female, although perhaps An’xiong (female first) would better suit.
This work documents the so-called “nothing” from which Xiong’an-the-city will arise–what is currently three villages. This is a representation of the landscape of promises produced by the state. This document is based on fieldwork in Xiong’an in Spring 2019. I took the photographs presented here with a film camera from the nineteen nineties which I bought at Spring Cameras, in one of Beijing’s hutongs, which are five to seven hundred years old. Like Xiong’an is in some way, the camera is already obsolete. Photos not pictured here were taken on an iPhone 7, made in Shenzhen: pictures of wheat fields and their neighboring propaganda announcing the “One Thousand Year Plan, the Big National Event” to make this handful of villages into the next Shenzhen.
Xiong’an New District is eighty miles from Beijing. There’s no train to Xiong’an yet. The fast train to Baiyangdian is ninety minutes. I take the fast train to Baiyangdian.
Out the window I see people growing crops. “Do you know what they’re growing?” I ask the man in front of me, who has also taken a video of our arrival in Baigou Station, the one before Baiyangdian. “This... I’m also not clear!” I’ve always loved this way of answering questions: “I also don’t know.” A question, unless ingenuine, is always a statement about ignorance. In the also, the answerer aligns themselves with the askee in a common ignorance. “But, that, look, what is that?” I push my fellow passenger. “Oh that, that’s wheat,” he replies. And then a few moments later, “it’s all wheat.”
I see out the window:
One person in pink working a field.
One person cycling past a field with something silver covering it.
One person in the middle of the water pulling things out.
On waiting for the realization of the New District: In the age of the anthropocene, we are no strangers to anticipation as a ruling condition. We wait, predict.
Train to Baiyangdian
It is one hundred degrees. In the taxi ride to the Xiongxian Antiques Market, the driver greets me “Welcome to Xiong’an New District! It’s going to be the world’s best city!” This after I got in the car, having negotiated the price from eighty to seventy-five RMB. “It’s just five RMB difference!” he exclaims. “I know, but now you know I’m not that kind of flimsy bitch,” I reply.
I ask about his reaction to the announcement of the one thousand year plan. “At first I was very happy... but now the laobaixing (“common people”) aren’t so happy, because the policy has yet to be implemented.” For implementation, he uses the word chutai, “appear on the stage;” the dream is waiting in the wings. I’ve long thought of the drama of the state’s urbanization projects, dam projects, and China Dreams as large scale installation drag shows. Revealing through performance that anything we’ve made we can unmake and remake, high camp, kitsch, improvisation, splendor, now-ness.
Excerpts from a conversation on a blog about Xiong’an reads,
Topic: Honestly Speaking, what are the important changes to your life after the announcement of the xinqu (new area)?
I feel like (I’m) being cheated, not really happy or sad.
Nothing changed, but I feel worried.
I lost my job.
Biggest change is that I’m unemployed. No more income and that affected life.
“...But I’m still excited, because in the future it’ll be really good,” the driver continues. As we drive towards the market, he says, “now this area is countryside, but it will be the first district of the city.” It’s more wheat fields, a few free-standing structures, a big hot sky.
We stop to pick up someone who has a bandage on his wrist. The driver turns to me and says, “Chinese language is really full of vitality isn’t it?” “Yes,” I reply. “See those trees?” The driver says. I look. “That’s qiannian xiulin” the driver and the bandage man say in unison: The Thousand Year Forest, the forest twin to the Thousand Year Plan. The driver explains that the roads have been newly fixed, that the road we’re flying down at sixty miles an hour was paved just last year.
The bandage man gets out as soon as we enter Xiongxian. Closer to the center of the city the driver lets me out, telling me the antiques market is across the street. It’s like any place in China, phone stores, banks, wide sidewalks. It smells like bacon, then bathroom. I eat a bowl of rice, drink a Pepsi and charge my phone at a hot pot restaurant. I’m early; three women are preparing the food for lunch. I ask them about the New District plan. “There are no changes yet but in the future, it will be developed,” one says. I ask them what they’re making and they say, “What? We’re not making any cai (food) just kuaican (fast food).” Making implies making something from scratch; this is mere assembly.
Xiongxian Antiques Market
Xiongxian Antiques Market
The antiques market is every Monday morning. It has objects from the Ming years, objects from the Mao years, cricket cages, sports clothes, and a stand for getting your phone fixed.
A man in a black and white shirt tells me the economy in the area is bad because the Chinese economy is generally bad, but that one step at a time Xiong’an New District will be the new Shenzhen. There is this constant optimism, recognition of the shortcomings of the present combined with confidence in the future.
Two older men sell me my treasures, two large tin plates, each with an enamel print, one a bird and one a flower. The men tell me the plates are from the Cultural Revolution era. One is tucking into a muffin from a messy plastic bag of treats. They tell me they are from the area, and that, “yes, this is a new area and the plan will help us, we just don’t know how yet.” I’m struck by the irony. They’re hawking the latest promise from the state as they sell me the tin wares, remnants of Mao’s China, one of the recent past’s many unfulfilled promises.
At a new park near the Daqing River, I see large circular wire metal nests holding characters for the twelve values of socialism. It looks like it’s the first thing that’s been created for the new area. Green space, yes, but first, the twelve values.
The twelve Core Socialist Values in China, a set of new interpretations of Chinese socialism promoted at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012, are displayed in spinning obular cages. Prosperity, Democracy, Civility, Harmony, Freedom, Equality, Justice, Rule of Law, Patriotism, Dedication, Integrity, and Friendship.
In the amusement park there are rides for kids. One has characters from a cartoon called Boonie Bears, two bears and a bald guy, Vick the logger. The show is a silly celebration of the natural environment. Vick wants to destroy the forest and the bears attack him to prevent him from doing so. Parents are up in arms about the violent content in this children’s program. It strikes me that it’s the violence the bears do to the man, not the violence that the man wants to do to the planet, that they find inappropriate.
The Dirt Road Along The Train Tracks
We take a taxi to the Xiong’an fast train construction headquarters.
The road to the future train station is not named yet, the driver tells us. It is narrow and lined with trees and sites and sights of demolition– more demolition than construction.
The government plans to build new housing, but for now people have been moved out with the promise that when the construction is done they’ll come back to new housing. “They will let the people stay in the original village eventually. And universities will move here. A lot of teachers will move here. But the universities haven’t been built yet. All the elementary schools are making contracts with Beijing schools so they’ll share teachers and resources,” our driver explains. He’s learned all this from demolition work sites; he drives for extra cash.
“First we have to demolish,” the driver says, “and then take steps according to the plan. Eventually they’ll all be torn down because this is an essential part,” the driver says, referring to the part of the path where the trains will split to go north, south, in different directions around China– a kind of juncture; “...and the village and railroad can’t coexist.” Demolition is to take place by the end of the month. It’s the 20th.
When the construction of the train’s tracks are complete, they will be laid across these concrete columns.
Villages slated for demolition in the foreground. Beyond them, the cranes for the train and station construction.
Xiong’an construction workers come from outside the region. “The entrepreneurs who came two years ago have already left because the process was too slow. So far the only parts of the plan that have been realized are the service center in Rongcheng and the fast train station.” When I visited Rongcheng I saw no sign of the Big Event.
The fast train construction project as we saw it consisted of: piles of train track pieces, the columns above which the tracks will be laid, and store houses of iron made of iron. This all on the border of villages. For example, I see a woman sitting on a beat-up couch on the side of the dirt road about twenty feet from one of the massive columnar track stands.
About the author
Annie Malcolm is an anthropologist, writer, educator and curator working on contemporary Chinese art worlds. A Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, Malcolm conducted ethnographic research, supported by a Fulbright fellowship, in art villages in China with a focus on Shenzhen. She has curated an exhibition of media art by Chinese and Chinese-American artists at Minnesota Street Project in San Francisco in affiliation with the Global Climate Action Summit.
She has published her writing in Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, Quartz, Shanghai Literary Review, Room One Thousand, SFMOMA’s The Stacks, and Expose Art Magazine.
This publication was made possible by participation in the research project Beijing22 initiated by I: project space and support from the Goethe-Institut China. Malcolm was assisted by two students from the University of California, Berkeley: Xun Wang, and one student who wishes to remain anonymous.
Xiongxian Antiques Market