e-flux excerpt: Information Fantasies


Information Fantasies (Xiao Liu)A cosmological view that was formed and developed around the last three centuries BC, when a unified and centralized political order arose for the first time in the history of China, “resonance between heaven and mankind” provided legitimacy and guidance to the imperial power and its rulership. In this cosmic world, the macrocosm of the heaven and the microcosms of the state and the body became a single manifold set of resonant systems.1Yet this view of resonance between cosmos and body gained new meaning in this contemporary context, not only because the cosmological view was now transformed for new “worlding” practices, but because the resonance, considered as revealing of an ideal “human and heaven” relationship (tianren guan 天人观), was also embraced by Chinese scientists and intellectuals as the philosophical foundation for a more holistic understanding of the human body. The keyword that bound both top-level scientists and ordinary people, official concerns and popular appeal around qigong, was “information.” Qian Xuesen, for example, was enthusiastically promoting the study of qigong as a shortcut to find out a secret mechanism of more direct and immediate communication between the human body and the information environment. The CCP and the government, having recently officially announced the end of the Cultural Revolution and reorganized themselves around Deng Xiaoping’s economic development plans, were eager to catch up with the Western developed countries and ride on the wave of the “information revolution.” In 1978, Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s post-Mao reforms, called for the rapid development in electronic computing, cybernetics, and automation technology at the National Conference of Science. Various predictions of an incoming “information society” gained wide circulation and attention in China, especially with the translation of Alvin Toffler’s book The Third Wave into Chinese and his visits to China in person in 1983 and 1988. (The Chinese translation of The Third Wave first appeared in Hong Kong in 1981, and a full translation of the book in mainland China was published in 1983.) In both official and intellectual discourses and in the scientific and popular imagination, “information” was fantasized as the magic force that would bring post-Mao China into a new era. Tied to what I call “information fantasies” in the post-Mao late 1970s and ’80s, the scenario in the photo crystallizes the anxieties and aspirations, as well as the confluences and contradictions, of various social forces and ideologies in a drastically changing society.


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