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Profit Above All Else?

By Esther Cha

Edward Denison defends the traditional and historical architecture of China in his article “Restoring History in China”. As China becomes more and more integrated into the global scheme of transnational enterprises, the price is the unfortunate destruction (well spun to the public as “urban makeover”) of vernacular buildings and the loss of cultural heritage. The “diverse and fascinating heritage forged by the agglomeration of countless cultural interventions” is today being razed down for the profit available in developing these historical sites. From my short time in China, I experienced first-hand the changes that are occurring from the disappearing vernacular culture and the reemergence of the “vernacular” re-tailored for profit.

From straight off the boat in Hong Kong to the Great Wall in Beijing, the on-going reconstructive efforts were at some times blatantly staring me in the face. Walking in the shadows of the cold giant skyscrapers in Hong Kong, I was able to catch glimpses of how Hong Kong itself was being reinvented moment by moment. By incorporating old traditions such as using bamboo shoots as scaffolding, to build these humongous giant edifices of capitalism, the ancient wisdom of China is today being utilized in the reinventing of the idea of China. In Beijing the Great Wall has been transformed into a tourists’ haven. Special railing and stands have been set up right outside the wall and await the pilgrims who venture to the very heights of the wall, vending cool drinks to quench the thirst from climbing the wall or selling pashmina scarves to ease the chill of the winds on top of the wall.

As China and the rest of the world becomes globalized, it seems as if “globalization” also means becoming a profit-driven society. But it’s hard to judge whether or not these modern transnational versions of the original vernacular things are any worse (or better). After all, what we hold as the standard “tradition” and vernacular only got to be that way through many transformations and alterations, similar to the way globalization is now affecting and changing modern society.

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