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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Buying Culture

The immense access and availability of information is a key component of modern globalization that fuels the growth of the middle class and as a byproduct, creates the enticement to go out and experience cultures other than their own. Today, there is a great demand for an authentic experience abroad, and in a country like China, this demand is met at a crossroads between the vast ancient culture that is offered, and the manufactured culture that results from the thousands of outsiders that have a collective influence on it.

The ancient Chinese civilization was one of the first developed civilizations in human history, and its long timeline holds a richness that makes the Chinese culture one of the most sought-after in the world. From the natural landmarks of the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers, to the 13,000+ miles of the man-made Great Wall, China is home to cultural treasures and is itself a wonder of the world today. The Chinese culture sells itself. In fact, it is prototypical of how culture has become one of the biggest commodities of the 21st century. However, the large influx of foreigners wanting to tour this place has had a deep, fundamental impact on this civilization and everyone’s “authentic” experience of it. The more people come to experience the Chinese culture, the more processed and “inauthentic” it becomes. This alteration most easily occurs when there is a large inflow of outsiders to a particular place over time. If just one person, per say, were to travel to a village wanting to experience its authenticity, that one person would most likely not have an impact on the cultural whole and still be able to take it in at its originally state. However, if one hundred people were to continually do this week after week, they would undoubtedly have a collective impact on the culture. It is an inevitable paradox.

Once the society is altered, it becomes subject to the supply and demand brought on by the tourism that flourishes here. The social, political, and most importantly, economical forces that result are the strongest influencers of a new manufactured culture, a culture that caters to the tourists’ demands and is rendered to an exoskeleton of the rich Chinese culture that once was. This is cultural production. It is an illusion of a culture that exists independently and on its own accord.

Furthermore, the idea of the real fake entails an acceptance of this manufactured culture as authentic. To draw a parallel, the typical Chinese red braided bracelets- believed to keep evil spirits away- have long been hand-crafted by a woodworking artisan. Today, they are mass produced by factory workers using molds to cast the material out of plastic. The production process is a mere ghost of the original, and yet tourists buy these real fake commodities with just as much eagerness. What’s more, there seems to be a consensus about their authenticity, so much so that the real fake satisfies as the real thing.

Javier

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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Director:
Andrew Liang
Instructors:
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Students:
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu

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