Delaying Necrosis: Slowed Decay in China’s Capital of Dying

Authors: Jerry Zee*, UC Santa Cruz
Topics: China, Environment, Geographic Thought
Keywords: China, environment, dying, materiality
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Galerie 1, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores architectural fantasies of ‘demineralization’ of bodies and airspaces as a way of creating pockets of livability in a China whose contemporary, I argue, is experienced as an existential condition of slow vital decay. In 2017, the Chinese government and Italian architectural firm Boeri Studios announced the construction of a pilot ‘Forest City’ in Liuzhou, a city in southwestern China famed for the quality of its coffins. While new buildings would be built in Liuzhou as ‘vertical forests,’ encased in a living shell of air-clearing trees, for centuries, the city’s identity was closely linked to coffins made of fragrant tropical hardwoods said to delay the onset of necrosis. Across this arboreal link the delay of bodily decay with the engineering of vital protection, I argue that there can be discerned an anti-necrotic thread, describing a political tableau of the eroded Chinese body and decay-slowing woods, fully geared to a conception of life and death not as opposite conditions, but as tangled processes arranged on a practical gradient where living is a deathly speed, and death can be managed as a delayed decay. In doing so, I suggest that the peculiar substantial continuities between air, body, and wood become key sites for a necrotic politics, in a condition of contemporary Chinese life that can only be registered as protracted decay.

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