Exploration of the Outside

Mou Zongsan opens a gate into the Chinese cultural interior by unswervingly directing his work at its most radically indigenous characteristics, uncompromised by ulterior elements, and therefore undistracted by any seductions of otherness or exoticism that fall short of its inherent destination — connection with the absolute Outside. That alone is authentically Chinese, Mou insists, which originates and culminates in the Way (道), cultivating an unsegregated mutual involvement of thought and being which corresponds closely to the Occidental philosophical concept of intellectual intuition. Whether approached through the Daoist, Buddhist, or Confucian strains of the Chinese cultural complex, the consistent ethnic characteristic is an interior path to exterior reality, continuous with the way of ‘heaven’ (天), or cosmic necessity. The inner voyage is the way out, but more importantly — for the Confucian current at least — it is the way to let the Outside in, making culture a conduit for the cultivation of the world.

From Mou Zongsan’s summit of philosophical intensity, therefore, no true boundary can be drawn between a project marked by extreme cultural ‘nationalism’ and an ontologically-grounded cosmopolitanism, or between a diligent restoration of tradition and a venture beyond the horizon of time. The inward path reaches out (as it fuses with the tendrils of Outsideness, which reach in).

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Bitcoin on the Silk Road

A series of professional writing obligations have taken me to Xinjiang three times this year, and the single strongest impression from these trips has been the centrality of Silk Road heritage. Regardless of borders, ethnicities, and controversies, the Silk Road is the reason everyone is there, and the thing that has always come first. Derivatively, transport infrastructure connects settlements together, but primarily it is the great ancient thoroughfare that has deposited areas of habitation along its vast — and harsh — middle stretches, as if provisioning itself with the archaic equivalent of gas stations and traffic police outposts, distributed in whatever frequency necessary to hold open the road.

China is not very adept at international PR, and Xinjiang coverage in world media tends to be critical. This has resulted in a predictable touchiness, and even though the most cursory historical examination already shows that Han Chinese have a profound ancient presence in the area, no opportunity is missed to underscore this point still further. These efforts range from the genuinely illuminating to the comically incompetent. One especially interesting species of evidence, falling somewhere between these extremes — and passing between them at an odd angle — is coinage. Repeatedly I was told by museum curators and historical experts, always with the greatest earnestness, that the abundance of Imperial Chinese currency found in the area was an unambiguous indicator of demographic integrity and Han settlement. Certainly, Xinjiang is a numismatist’s paradise, even if these tangible commercial signs are dragged into stories they cannot confidently tell.

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Market Makers

When stripped-down to its economic and technological core, there are two things needed for a wave of industrial revolution — and ultimately both are part of a single thing. There has to be a fundamental innovation of sufficient generality and power to overhaul the technical apparatus of production (the steam engine, electricity, computers) and a complementary emergence of new consumer markets (factory items, electrical goods, domestic electronics). The reciprocal excitement of these twin factors contributes the basic economic gradient of the time (industrial manufacturing, network infrastructure, Cyberspace).

Additive manufacturing (or ‘3D-printing’) seems to be positioned to define a wave of industrial revolution that is today still in its very early stages. By making manufacturing fully programmable, it promises a comprehensive absorption of industrial capital into information technology, such that all mechanical production becomes an evolved kind of ‘printing’. Simultaneously, it compacts into a distinctively novel item of domestic consumption, still known as a ‘3D-printer’, but surely destined to acquire a more natural name as its model of utilization is honed by consumers and advertisers. Urban Future anticipates that within two decades a ‘fabricator’ (or ‘replicator‘) will be considered a normal household appliance.

Any such forecasts were left inexplicit at the second Hacked Matter workshop, organized by Silvia Lindtner, Anna Greenspan, and David Li, and held in conjunction with the Shanghai Maker Carnival, from October 18-21 at the Knowledge Innovation Community (Yangpu District). This event was dominated by insiders of the emerging ‘maker’ culture, and strongly oriented towards gizmos, collaborative networks, and the open source ethos promoted by its leading practitioners. The contextual carrying wave was not so much analyzed, as tapped, and assumed.

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