The physical incarnations of an urban century can be problematic. While social inequality, environmental pollution and political free speech continue to be issues raised about China, one can observe that there is an underlying recognition within China that China must change’ (Charlton 2011: 22). The most recent 12th Five Year Plan delivered by past-Premier Wen Jiabao to the National People’s Congress in March 2011 is a case in point (The Wall Street Journal 2011: n.p.n.). The plan, while attempting to address urban problems in practical ways by economic reforms such as lifting wages in the manufacturing sector, shifting workers to higher paid service industries and refocusing the economy on domestic rather than export markets, acknowledges also that there is a change in understanding of urban consciousness. China is not new to mind-shifts moving from dynastic to republican to communist states and now moving to what the past-Premier Wen Jiabao described as socialism with Chinese characteristics’ (Wen 2011) or, as it is often referred to, as capitalism with Chinese characteristics.
The Mid-Ground: A process in progress
Contemporary China sits on the brink of another change of mind-set, shaped in part by a global re-imagining of the urban self on the mid-ground’ (Hou 2002), as we move beyond the old order of nation states and the separation between the East and the West’ (Hou 1991: 191). Hou Hanru says of himself I am not a Chinese curator’ (Hou 2007: 85) despite the fact that he was born in China. In saying this he reflects his own position on the urban mid-ground’, moving first to Europe and then to the United States of America as well as curating exhibitions across the world. This experience of transient urban encounter frames his consciousness and sense of identity that is in transition within a steadily-increasing urban process. The UN Habitat State of the World Cities’ report (UN Habitat n.d.) has identified that a century ago only 10 per cent of the world’s population lived in cities. By 2030 it is predicted that some five billion of the estimated eight billion worldwide will be urban dwellers. 2008 was a tipping point when the world’s urban population moved to over 50 per cent. A space of flows’ (Castells 1996) across urban space has been identified as ethnoscapes, technoscapes’, mediascapes’, finanscapes’ and ideascapes’ (Appadurai 1996). Many of these social-, economic- and political-flow communities serve to solidify national, ethnic or religious identity manifesting itself at the worst end of the spectrum as extremism and terrorism. On the other hand, many paradigms founded on concepts of belonging to one city, nation or ethnicity, are being eroded by cities themselves. New concepts of the urban that can be described as a mindscape’ connect cities more strongly to each other than to the physical territories they inhabit. In these liquid times’ (Bauman 2007) a sense of disorder may be a destabilizing process that creates an ideological vacuum’ in the short term. It is also recognized that what has been called the Urban Revolution’ (Brugmann 2009), that is the process of organization of the planet itself into a City: into a single, complex, connected, and still very unstable urban system’ (Brugmann 2009: ix), is a time rich with possibilities for creating new human values’ (Wu 1999: 128). This is a revolution of thought and of how we conceptualize the city and self.
ALONG THE YELLOW RIVER From Yinchuan I backtracked to the small Jingzhou Subway Map town of Zhong Wei, still in Ningxia and on the Yellow River, where I hoped Jingzhou Subway Map for a chance to use my canoe. Zhong Wei is more isolated than Yinchuan, and I could tell how seldom individual travellers come here because of the way the local people grunted sharply with surprise and alarm at first seeing me. The town is small and pleasant with an old and shabbily beautiful drum tower at the meeting point of its four axial roads. As I wandered around, a Chinese man came over to introduce himself, and began a conversation. Misunderstanding one of his questions about my profession, I discovered that I’d inadvertently said I am a teacher. He said he was also a teacher and asked me politely if I would agree to give a lecture in simple English at the local school, though he apologised that the pupils were mostly peasant children.