Introduction: Counter-Mapping Creative Industries in Beijing

By Ned Rossiter

In the past few years China has joined the international rush to creative industries. While the policy discourse on creative industries in China is similar to that in other countries in East Asia, Australia-Pacific and Europe, it would be incorrect to assume that China’s engagement with the creative industries is simply a case of derivative behaviour. The special qualities of creative industries in China are not, however, to be found in policy discourse, which tends to reproduce the international hype around spectacular growth rates associated with digital ICTs and the ‘new economy’. For example, the institutional and regulatory environment surrounding the media and cultural industries, advertising, music, and urban development – some of the key sectors of the creative industries in China – does not correspond with the conditions that lead to such boosterism in the case of the UK and US in the late nineties.

With a prehistory in Australia during the early nineties and the ‘Creative Nation’ policy agenda of the Paul Keating led Labor government, the creative industries formalized as a policy discourse in the UK during the early years of the Blair government. Between 2001-2005 governments around the world became excited by the creative industries as a solution for post-industrial unemployment, most notably in Australia, New Zealand, East Asia, western Europe and Brazil. The United States had its own policy variations, but maintained the essential elements of ‘creative classes’, cluster developments, urban gentrification and intellectual property generation underscored by service industries and ‘free labour’. The creative industries obtained formal status in China in 2005 with documents from the 11th Five-Year plan outlining models of development.

This migration of governmental reason from the periphery to the centre which then became repackaged for global consumption resembles the colonial-era cartographies of resource extraction and transformation. Unlike the economic logic of depletion that underscores the ravaging of material resources, the creative industries policy was born in the time of mania and the informatization of social relations. To this day, the creative industries policy largely remains a discourse of hype disconnected from material conditions. Of course, this is far from the reality.

Some Maps Make Money, But Not for the Masses
Broadly understood as a ‘value-adding’ process generated through the economisation of culture and its attendant costs of labour, much emphasis has been placed by governments on ‘mapping’ the creative industries. International ‘scholar-consultants’ along with government departments and think-tanks have been responsible for much of this mapping work in an effort to capture the elusiveness of creativity. More often than not, these maps hold little resemblance to the idea of a visual registration of geographically situated relations (which in itself functions as a geopolitical, imperial technology). Nonetheless, the imperial logic of control and containment figures largely in what are better understood as lists of statistics whose econometrics operate as persuasion devices for government, potential investors and insecure populations.

This issue of Urban China is framed around an experimental research platform that set out to conduct a counter-mapping of Beijing’s creative industries in the summer of 2007. Based on preliminary fieldwork in Beijing in 2005 and 2006 and follow-up discussions at the MyCreativity convention of international creative industries researchers held in Amsterdam, 2006, the project adopted the model of a mobile research laboratory as a framework for collaborative research on the creative industries in Beijing.

The project finds inspiration in a range of cartographic experiments and organizational forms. Makrolab – one of the most renowned temporary sustainable laboratories mobilized around the world – brings small groups of scientists and artists together for up to 120 days to research aesthetic, scientific and technological dimensions of local environments. Another key point of reference and inspiration is the work of Dehli-based media lab Sarai, who have long engaged the relations between urban change, social-aesthetic experience, inter-cultural teaching and research platforms and media-cultures. And as for amazing counter-cartographies that register the political economy of the global war machine, the collaborative maps produced by Bureau d-Études are singular in their incredible design of detail and relations.

Counter-Cartographies and Collaborative Constitution
This issue of Urban China sets out to critique and redefine the idea and practice of ‘mapping’ the creative industries. Foregrounding the experimental process of collaborative constitution, we are interested in the multiple idioms of expression that make creative industries intelligible beyond the blandness of policy discourse. Activist researchers, artists and writers in Europe, Brazil and India have been particularly inventive in combining collaborative techniques of production with social-political critique via media of communication. We see this work as part of the prehistory and global dialogue around how to create new spaces and transdisciplinary knowledges able to negotiate the complexities and politics that attend the economization of culture.

In bringing the idea of counter-mapping to the creative industries in Beijing, the question and problematic of translation is quickly established. Understood as a social practice rather than search for linguistic equivalence, translation registers the conflictual dynamics of the encounter between different knowledge and social systems. Rather than adopting a defeatist logic, we instead see the conflictual processes of translation as constitutive of new social assemblages and knowledge systems.

As a method of collaborative research, translation inevitably questions the ‘cluster’ model that has come to define government policy and infrastructural development within the creative industries. Rather than focusing on concentrations of creative sectors – high-tech parks, cultural precincts, film and new media production centres, etc. – and their spin-off benefits for property developers, this issue of Urban China investigates what might be understood as the ‘constitutive outside’ of creative industries in Beijing. We identify six key thematics or vectors of inquiry that, in our minds, make visible and bring into relation that which has become ‘partitioned’ from discourses on creativity (e.g. experiences of creative labour, service workers, information geographies of open source networks, etc.). Unlike the usual mapping documents on the creative industries, which are typically derived from compilations of statistics on economic growth in the sector, this issue of Urban China sets out to produce an alternative map of the creative industries in Beijing.

Transdisciplinary Urban-Media Research and Organized Networks
The project thus undertakes an anthropology of creative industries from the perspective of creative producers and those displaced by urban developments. By undertaking a collaborative anthropology of new institutional forms – what we term ‘organized networks’ – this project identifies the transdisciplinary dimension of creative industries in Beijing. Transdisciplinarity can be understood as an experimental research methodology and pedagogy that emerges within the logic of networks as they traverse diverse institutional forms. To this end, transdisciplinarity is a practice interested in the educational capacities of network cultures. This project investigates how the formation of organized networks illuminates some of the material qualities and tensions of creative industries in Beijing and China more broadly.

Urban China is a magazine interested in testing the relation between Chinese government policy initiatives and their impact on the urban condition and architectural design. It considers this tension as key to the production of new proposals that open initial policy perspectives to the complexity of contemporary urban, social and economic transformation in China. How do counter-cartographies of the creative industries influence our idea and experience of what a city is? It’s clear that property developers benefit from the creative industries meme, and there’s no question that speculative capital has impacted in massive ways on the social-urban transformation of Beijing and other Chinese cities. Districts are re-arranged, populations mobilized, programs are implemented in specially demarcated zones. But how does this stealth-like approach to urban change conflict with the more volatile, elusive, fleeting forms of creativity? What are the cartographic dimensions of this ‘urban sensorium’ and how is its conflictual constitution shaping understandings of creative industries in China? These are some of the questions this issue of Urban China sets out to address.

Special thanks to all contributors to this issue: authors, image-makers, designers, Urban China production staff, and especially the translators – without whom there would be no issue. Jiang Jun deserves a special mention – he supported the idea of this issue from the start, and has been an ongoing source of inspiration.

Ned Rossiter is Associate Professor of Network Cultures, Division of International CommunicationsDivision of International Communications, University of Nottingham, Ningbo and an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney. He is author of Organized Networks: Media Theory, Creative Labour, New Institutions (NAi, 2006; Manifestolibri, 2009) and recently co-edited (with Geert Lovink) MyCreativity Reader: A Critique of Creative Industries (Institute of Network Cultures, 2007).