Landscapes of Resentment

Recently, in re-reading Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, I came across this disturbing passage that succinctly sums up the current toxic political environment in a growing number of liberal democracies: “In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at

A Site of Struggles

Zhangjiakou (张家口) has always been a strategic military pass that separates the Mongolian Gobi Desert and the North China Plain. Not surprisingly, dynastic regimes in the past always paid special attention to the sections of the Great Wall passing through the region, rebuilding and upgrading them frequently. Then, during the Sino-Japanese War, the Civil War, and the Cold War, new fortresses and bunkers were added alongside with the ancient war

Dispatches from a Heterotopia

Cuba did not turn into a socialist utopia. But whatever it has become, it is certainly not a time capsule as it has often been suggested. Instead, the Caribbean nation represents an alternative reality, one that is surreally augmented by vivid color hues and the sound of crowing roosters. This is a place where humans can once again be in touch with their inner senses. In this place, the color

Eisenhüttenstadt’s Second Coming

Once the pride of the East German state, the steel plant in Eisenhüttenstadt has been downsized and privatized. The former East Germany city Eisenhüttenstadt (Ironworks City)–also known as Stalinstadt (Stalin City) prior to the de-Stalinization movement in the early 1960s–was designed to be one of the socialist model cities in the Eastern Bloc. The end of East Germany, however, has unexpectedly turned the city into another kind of model, one that could

Japan Lost and Found

We like to imagine Japan as a clean and technologically savvy society. Yet, little known to the outside world is a burgeoning subculture of visiting abandoned factories, mines, theme parks, and resorts that have been left behind by Japan’s bubble economy or the so-called “Lost Decade” of the 1990s. How do we make sense of this “haikyo mania” (ruin mania) practiced by Japanese ruins aficionados? My book chapter, “Japan Lost and

The Last Picture Show

History was made (and buried) here. Without this secret uranium mine in Hunan Province, China would not be able to develope its first atomic and hydrogen bombs in the 1960s. Unsurprisingly, hundreds of workers sacrificed their lives due to industrial accidents and radioactive illness over the decades. Yet, their stories were little known to the outside world. When I finally visited the site after months of delay and procrastination, construction

The Gods of Biotech

In Taiwan, the flourishing of community temples and gods since the 1980s has been inseparable from the island’s rapid economic growth and political transformation. Today, such diverse religious cultures continue to play a crucial role for Taiwanese to negotiate their ever-evolving landscapes of cultural anxieties, geopolitical tension, and economic precarity. Seen here is a temporary altar with mechanicalized gods in an annual temple fair next to a new biotech park