“I hate cheap knock-offs!”: Transforming Chinese identity and the ‘culture of the copy’ through Morphogenesis /// Un-Making Waste conference Adelaide

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Over the past twenty years, The People’s Republic of China has actively solicited Western architectural practices to design many of their iconic and internationally recognizable cultural icons, such as the stadia of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics,

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  Unmaking Waste 2015 Conference Proceedings 22  –  24 May 2015 Adelaide, South Australia “I hate cheap knock - offs!”: Morphogenetic transformations of the ‘culture of the copy’  and Chinese Identity Christopher BRISBIN University of South Australia, Australia Over the past twenty years, The People’s Republic of China has actively solicited Western architectural practices to design many of their iconic and internationally recognizable cultural icons, such as the stadia of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the Beijing National Aquatics Center (2003   – 8), designed by Australian architects PTW Architects, and the Beijing National Stadium (2003-8), designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. In such prominent cultural projects, Western architectural practices were partnered with local Chinese practices in order to catalyze cultural and knowledge exchange and, more pragmatically, to document and administer day-to-day building construction. This paper explores the philosophical implications that arise when this cross-cultural partnership leads to the illicit copying of Western-designed buildings in China, such as the Meiquan 22nd Century building’s (2012–  ) re-presentation of Zaha Hadid  Architects’ SOHO shopping complex in Beijing (2011– 14). When Western architectural practices collaborate with Chinese partners on projects in China, many fundamental assumptions about Western Copyright Law, and the philosophical structures that underpin it, such as authorship, ownership, and srcinality, are fundamentally brought into question. Contemporary philosophical discourse concerning the postmodern relationship between a copy and its srcinal is instrumentalized in the paper to the contemporary Chinese context through the application of Morphogenesis. The paper concludes that, rather than re-assembling the creative cultural capital of the West as re-assembled Sino-Frankenstein ‘knock  -  offs’, China should embrace alternative philosophical and biological processes though which to generate new forms of ‘deviant srcinality  ’  . Keywords: Copyright, Copying, Originality, China, Morphogenesis, Identity  2 Introduction Transformers: Age of Extinction   (2014), presents an action-packed thrill ride of robot-induced mayhem that has come to define the blockbuster Hollywood franchise. As the film progresses, its setting shifts from the United States of America to the People’s Republic of China; providing a sweeping panorama of Hong Kong. The scene foregrounds the penultimate battle between the protagonist Autobots and their human-fabricated robotic clones, brought into ‘ being ’ via the re -programming of Transformium — the base element upon which the Transformers are composed. Modern China, the mythologized land of the copy, is staged as a battleground between the authenti c ‘srcinal’  (Bumblebee) and its ‘copy’  (Stinger). In ultimate victory, Bumblebee raises aloft the head of one of his defeated doppelgangers exclaiming, “I hate cheap knock offs!” Bumblebee’s exclamation itself is ironically composed from re-assembled audio samples of Western popular culture. The scene simultaneously presents the West’s acceptance of selective forms of copying, whilst denigrating others. Whilst the West may have come to scorn cheap Chinese ‘knock offs’ (Burry 2005), the Chinese themselves have no ideological problems with counterfeit goods: they love them! The continuing production and consumption of ‘knock - offs’ in China has led recently to the appropriation of Western architectural styles, and in many cases, the wholesale reproduction of contemporary architectural icons of modernity, such as Zaha Hadid  Architects’ Wangjing SOHO shopping complex in Beijing (2011– ) copied by the Meiquan 22nd Century (2012  – ) building in Chongqing. When contemporary Western architectural brands operate in China, many fundamental assumptions about Western Copyright Law, and the philosophical structures that underpin it, such as authorship, ownership, and srcinality, are brought into question. The paper therefore considers the impact of Chinese copying on Chinese consumption and identity, however it does so from a unique and srcinal perspective. Other analyses have studied the cultural anthropology of Chinese consumption and Western aesthetics, or have analyzed Chinese copying from the perspective of International Copyright and Intellectual Property Law, whilst others have interrogated various Western philosophical concepts underpinning copying and the copy. These critiques generally assume a singular disciplinary position. In contrast, this paper attempts to adopt an interdisciplinary approach, drawing concepts from the Cultural and Architectural History of China and the West, Western Aesthetic Theory and Popular Culture, International Copyright Law, Biology, and empirical studies of Chinese consumption in Cultural Anthropology. The paper therefore aims to contribute srcinally to the productive critique of Chinese copying through the application of the biological process of morphogenesis. In so doing, the paper firstly aims to better understand how Chinese Communism can culturally intersect with Western Capitalism to shape an evolving form of Chinese cultural identity and, secondly, consider how the culture of copying and consumption of copies themselves might be understood in less pejorative terms. Morphogenesis offers a unique theoretical scaffold that explains the process through which form is generated in organisms. It provides an account of the parameters or ingredients that influence the development of an organism’s form/shape, but does not pre -determine the specific idiosyncrasies that make every organism unique. As such, morphogenesis is akin to the process of semiotic deferral in which a known formal or logocentric end-point is never present. The act of copying and re-assembling of disparate Western architectural styles and their associated aesthetic structures — through the systematic corrosion of embedded cultural signifiers — is a poststructuralist method of semiotic deferral in which meaning and identity is never wholly present. The paper therefore argues that, rather than continuing the postmodern copying and re-assembling of the aesthetics of  3 Western luxury as a form of artistic ‘ready - made’ , China should strategically embrace alternative philosophical perspectives in order to generate new forms of ‘deviant srcinality’  through which to undermine the manufactured exclusivity and perceived srcinality of Capitalist luxury brands. As such, morphogenesis is presented as a means through which to rethink how the copy can be understood as emblematic of a new form of identity construction that fuses Western and Chinese aesthetics into a new form of Chinese cultural identity. The Transformers example also highlights the end of Walter Benjamin’s romanticism and yearning for the ‘aura’ and experiential presence of an ‘authentic’ srcinal  (Benjamin 1968; Goldstein and Hugenholtz 2012). The proliferation of computers in all aspects of contemporary Western culture has resulted in the removal of the physical trace or ‘facture’ of the craftsman fashioning their artwork (Bryson 1983), as rapid prototyping and computer-numerical-control fabrication systems reproduce physical works with ever-higher degrees of verisimilitude: “With the e lectronic and digital ... the very notion of srcinal [is] obsolete. Everything is a copy.” (Bosker 2013, 23) The ontological status of the ‘ srcinal ’  is no longer relevant in a society saturated with an ever-increasing volume of media content and designers fluent in its appropriation and re-assemblage. As Jean-Francois Lyotard observes: “Eclecticism is the degree zero of contemporary general culture: one listens to reggae, watches a western, eats McDonald’s food for lunch and local cuisine for dinner, wears Paris perfume in T okyo and “retro” clothes in Hong Kong; knowledge is a matter for TV games.”  (Lyotard 1984, 76) Every aspect of our consumer life is infused with contradictions of cultural authenticity, reconstructed as a complex lattice of simulacra of exotic places, experiences, and identities. This is perhaps nowhere more prevalent than in China today where the design, architecture, and aesthetic language of Western luxury is copied and consumed by an increasing Chinese middle-class with little compunction about the moral, ethical, or environmental implications of their consumption. Chinese middle-class ‘ status ’  consumption According to Julie Juan Li and Chenting Su, the influence of the Chinese concept of ‘face’ is a primary driver of the consumption of goods fueling China’s GDP  (Li and Su 2007, 241-43) . ‘Face’ is intrinsic to all collectivist cultures, which make up 1/3 of the world’s popul ation, but is especially important in understanding the buying habits of the Chinese middle-class (Ting-Toomey 1988). In the West, we might account for ‘face’ as consumptive practices that aspirationally project oneself as part of a desired social group that reinforces culturally accepted norms of behavior within that group, and to differentiate oneself from others external to it (Ang et al. 2001, 222-23). This is further complicated by the ‘interdependent’ social structuring  of families and communities : “to the interdependent Chinese, class reflects not only one’s achievement, but also one’s group, usually one’s family, relatives, and kinship clan.”  (Wong and Ahuvia 1998, 3) It is through this very need to “enhance, maintain, or save face” that  Chinese consumers find themselves more likely to purchase luxury goods to advance their social standing than other cultures (Li and Su 2007, 237). The Chinese display of luxury thus denotes economic, social, and familial success (Wong and Ahuvia 1998, 8). However, the Chinese are more susceptible to the social pressures that arise in maintaining their social status than their Western counterparts, expressing a “need to identify wit h or enhance [their] image in the opinion of significant others through the acquisition and use of products and brands [and] the willingness to conform to the expectations of others regarding purchase decisions.”  (Bearden, Netemeyer, and Teel 1989, 474)   4 The growing Chinese middle-class desire to own similar status-based commodities as their counterparts in the West. The consumptive desire for, and display of, Western aesthetic styles, brands, and architecture aims to deliberately promote the social status of the middle-class, and demonstrate their judgment and understanding of ‘good   taste’. Thus, as Immanuel Kant observed of the emerging middle-class of Europe in the eighteenth-century, a citizen is able to denote their social standing to others by demonstrating their knowledge of the limits and boundaries of acceptable ‘taste’ and, as such, be assimilated within a desired socio-economic grouping (Kant and Meredith 1952). The effects of this overt need to display their luxury possessions is a growing legal, moral, and philosophical concern in China, as the goods consumed are not always legally produced. Super-charged consumption breeds piracy of all forms of consumable goods, not least of all C hina’s recent widespread copying of Western architecture. Copying and Copyright Law in China Copyright Law post China’s acceptance into the World Trade Organization in 2001, explicitly acknowledges the protection of ‘construction works’, such as architectu ral buildings, as ‘forms of expression’ that are protected from unauthorized reproduction  (Hu Jintao February 26, 2010). This c opyright is deemed valid when the ‘construction works’ can be demonstrated to be ‘ srcinal ’  and specifically applied in a ‘ built form ’ . Copyright only applies to built ‘expressions’, not to ideas, and lasts for the author’s life, plus fifty years. The c opyright is deemed to have been infringed when the ‘construction works’ are used without the permission of the autho r, or copyright holder. Whilst the copying of Classical Western architectural styles is common in China, as it is throughout much of the Western world, it is not an infringement of legal copyright. Whilst the copying of Western Classical architectural styles is common in China, as it is throughout much of the Western world, it is certainly not considered copyright infringement, however the copying of the built ‘expression’ of the Wangjing SOHO shopping complex raises challenges for Chinese Copyright Law (Chen 2012). In contrast to architectural copying, Wang et al observe that approximately 98% of Chinese engage in computer software piracy (Wang et al. 2005, 341). In addition, up to 90% of daily-use goods available in urban areas are counterfeit (Ang et al. 2001, 221). Whilst Chinese Copyright Law protects against unauthorized reproduction, it is not as clear-cut about the legality of consuming counterfeit goods in China. Whether through the illegal downloads of copyrighted music, movies or computer software, or through the consumption of counterfeit luxury goods, the Chinese make decisions about the consumption of illegal goods through the weighing up of the potential social, legal, and financial impacts each time they consider copying. In other words, their decisions are culturally determined by a simple analysis of the ‘cost versus the benefit’ . The Chinese do not take all laws as seriously as their Western counterparts, for example in the USA, who are universal in their adherence to the rule-of-law. As Swinyard et al note,  Americans are ‘rule - orientated’, whilst the Chinese are ‘circumstance - orientated’  (Swinyard, Rinne, and Kau 1990, 657). But how does this newfound cultural understanding affect the question of architectural re-production in China? What meaning can we garner from China’s ongoing cultural appropriations of high-status goods and architecture from the West? What affect does it have on achieving a better understanding of what Chinese copying says about Chinese aesthetic sensibilities and their cultural identity today? What do Copies say?  5 Medieval European society believed fervently in the apotropaic power of representations of Christ to ward off and protect from perceived evil spirits or forces; such as the use of medicinal bandages (copies) torn in proportion to images of Christ (the srcinal) (Kitzinger 1954, 105), to medieval churches (copies) designed loosely upon proportional relations to the Holy Sepulchre (the srcinal) (Krautheimer 1942, 28), to written documents that sighted the power of Christ’s name in warding off disease and violence (Kitzinger 1954, 103). In medieval European society, the value of the copy was not based in its verisimilitude, but in its like-ness and relational meaning. Inversely, the Chinese subscribe to a philosophical position in which the ‘ like-ness ’  of the copy is a form of ‘ cultural flattery ’  (Ang et al. 2001, 221), but absent of the power structures present in its srcinal artifact and cultural setting. The Chinese are thus more able to disassociate the semiotic meaning that oscillates between its sign and signifier then their Western counterparts who rely upon this binary association to infuse meaning in pre-modern, Western Visual Culture. For the Chinese, the authentic ‘ like-ness ’ of a n aesthetic style is more important than its culturally specific meaning. This cultural indifference towards the integrity or sanctity of the ‘ srcinal ’  is further demonstrated in the Chinese appropriation of the architecture of the West at the height of the Qing Empire (late-eighteenth century). As a result of the increasing trade and cultural exchange between China and Europe, Western-style pavilions became very popular. Whilst designs were based upon authentic Baroque and Rococo styles (appropriated from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe), they were structurally and aesthetically tra nsformed into ‘proximate imitations’, due to the limited experience or understanding of how to construct buildings in such architectural styles (Zhu 2009, 27  – 32). In contrast, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Chinese public architecture was contrived by the State as symbols of Nationalism: expressing “grand narratives of the nation, its grand tradition, its heroic revolution and its glorious future” (Zhu 2009, 110). More recently, China has witnessed a dramatic opening-up to the West and its social autonomy, and a shying away from the austere and in-humane environments typified by Maoist China (1949-1976) and the grand narratives of Socialism present in the Beaux-Arts traditions it applied (Xue 2006, 16; Zhu 2005, 487). It is no surprise then that the contemporary Chinese, when left to freely appropriate aesthetic styles from the West, have embraced a pluralist postmodern assemblage of aesthetic styles in order to distance themselves from their most recent Maoist past (Bosker 2013, 81). The widespread copying of Western styles in China can therefore be understood as a combination of ‘fantasy dreamscapes  and simulscrapes ’  (Bosker 2013) , ‘theme -park simulacra’ (Baudrillard 1994) , and ‘hyper  - realities’ (Eco 1986, 26), that have resulted in an interesting cultural collision of aesthetic form and cultural pragmatism. For example, many new Western-styled buildings are being refurbished after very short periods of use in order to accommodate the specific cultural rituals of everyday Chinese life (Bosker 2013, 51-55) . Here Henri Lefebvre’s conception of ‘conceived’ versus ‘lived’ space is instrumentally useful through the acknowledgement of the contradictions inherent between an idealized space, represented by an aesthetic style, and its actual culturally-specific inhabitation (Lefebvre 1991, 38-9). The Chinese actively live in a pluralist postmodern milieu of hyper-real surfaces, images, and simulated environments: The Chinese dwell in the age of the simulacra (Baudrillard 1994). Deviant srcinality through morphogenesis In returning to the Transformer’s anecdote, the relationship shared between Bumblebee (srcinal) and Stinger (copy) demonstrates Greg Lynn’s notion of the ‘primitive’  
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