We’re living in a digital age and we’re as connected as can be – we get it. But do we? I spent a whole semester studying the impacts of technology on the socioeconomic development of China. I took a shot at making my 10+ page paper a little more digest-able. Here it goes!
The speed at which global connectivity has developed is interesting to research because it has created a contemporary globalization unlike preceding historical examples. Contemporary globalization has allowed for rapid transportation of ideas and news, creating a new relationship between the global and the local.
Globalization is defined as “the acceleration and intensification of interaction and integration among the people, companies, and governments of different nations,” with effects on “human well-being, on the environment, on culture, and on economic development and prosperity of societies across the world” (Rothenberg 2).
It has a rich history, dating back to the Han dynasty in 206 BC (UNESCO). Let’s take a look at the Silk Road. A cluster of Eurasian trade routes for silk and spice trade, it also served as an important vessel for cross-cultural exchange and communication. Without it, the prevalence of fine china in European culture wouldn’t have been possible, and Dutch painter Vermeer’s paintings would never have featured white and blue Chinese porcelain. From the 1650s onward, Chinese porcelain became extremely popular in Dutch culture because of their fascination with its uncommon design and structure, and transformed the standards for “china” and ceramic production on a worldwide scale.
More modern examples of globalization can be seen in the documentary Mardi Gras: Made in China. When asked where their beads were from, American party-goers were shocked to see and learn of the conditions of the youth working in Chinese bead factories. But that’s old news today, because let’s face it, isn’t everything made in China?
“As a cornerstone of contemporary globalization, modern information and communications technology has enabled transnational corporations to coordinate spatially scattered production, thereby allowing them to take advantage of low production costs in other parts of the world” (Yu Hong 459).
What if we switch gears a bit, and take a look at something that is less noticeably “made in China”? Let’s talk about waste management.
Wang Jiuliang makes documentaries focusing on the effect of rapid urbanization and globalization on waste accumulation in the outskirts of China’s coastal cities.His documentary Plastic China tells the story of the US-China waste connection through individuals who work in rudimentary plastic processing plants.
Our recyclables from America and Europe are sent overseas to China’s landfills and processing plants where they are burned and sorted (by smell) into appropriate piles. Might as well start breathing in secondhand smoke and microwaving our plastic and Styrofoam take out boxes to up the toxic intake.
Sarcasm aside, this is just one of many examples highlighting an alternate narrative of global interconnectedness and its regional impacts. Clearly, there’s more to the story than we’ve been told.
Photo by Mason Chan. Part 2 to come.