Manufacturing Landscapes

Edward Burtynksy is a fine art photographer who explores how industrial action has transformed the landscape and this is one of his photos of an old factory in China. In a documentary, “Manufactured Landscapes”, one gets to hear about him talk about his works and his idea of showing people environments that seem shocking and at the same time man-made seems interesting.

On the issue of manufactured, I made two really curious observations the other day. I was at a McDonald’s and it struck me that the whole row of counter staff were non-Chinese but were all wearing a Chinese caps (those bowl-shape ones that you expect man to wear in China a long time ago). It was a Chinese New Year accessory to add to the “festivity” in the restaurant but strangely the Chinese manager was not wearing one.

A day later, I was out visiting and I saw a Lion Dance troupe and all the performers were Malays. What has been traditionally a Chinese cultural activity has curiously become a non-Chinese one.

In both observations, they were essentially manufactured Chinese symbols and it seemed quite hollow to me. On the exterior (for the Lion Dance troupe especially), it seemed like the continuing of some grand Chinese tradition, but inside, they were being performed by non-Chinese. I suppose I’m wondering how does it come across as meaningful and not simply a manufactured product? It feels like surrounding us with things that remind us of the past when inside it has already changed to something else.

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