In his 1996 lecture entitled “The Smallness of the Earth and the Largeness of the Earth”, Yu Guangyuan, a philosopher and close adviser to Deng Xiaoping, pointed out the potential of Marxist scientism in forward-looking planning. Yu’s writing depicts a dialectical image of the Earth as a precondition for human existence and a body entrenched within a “technosphere”. Its complexity lies in the hypothesis that preservation and development of the earth could and should go hand in hand. To depart from such philosophy-abetted techno-optimism, Long March Project is taking up this provocative and controversial hypothesis to host a year-long research-based program titled Planet Marx, consisting of an open reader platform and a reading club with a series of curated seminars.
Planet Marx intends to search for historical texts that respond to our current crises in cultural imagination. Our assumption is: each time the world goes through change on a planetary scale, thinkers from all fields, whether they be Sci-Fi writers, ethnographers, or Marxist literary critics, will search for understandings of a new relationship between nature, ecology indigeneity, and technology as active adaptation to the environmental crises.
We invite ongoing exhibition/research projects to share their reading materials at the intersection between technology, nature, indigeneity, and ethnicity. These texts will be collected and compiled to form a series of cross-exhibition readers, which function as tissues and neurons between different exhibitions, aiming for an organic discursive framework.
Zhang Guangyu, Journey to the West in Cartoons, 1945 (detail)
Scan the QR code to subscribe to 行星 PLANET MARX 马克思 on Facebook Group. Reading materials will be available in “Files” section, whereas you can read information about contributors and references in “Discussion” section. Feel free to upload your own research references with information for related events, preferably with short introduction.
On 21st March, Long March Project (LMP) hosted the first of a series of Planet Marx Reading Club meetings at Long March Space. The session was titled “How Does Planet Earth Become a Sensor”, and artist Zhao Yao, Tsinghua Tongheng Urban Planning and Design Institute researcher Wang Yijia, and LMP researcher Zian Chen introduced selected texts.
Planet Marx Reading Club is particularly concerned with the intersections of disparate fields and subjects where complex issues often arise. In this discussion, we talked about the coalescence of politics and technology, the convergence of biology and technology. The author out of our selected texts that spurred the most debate and discussion was Benjamin Bratton whose text looks at science fiction, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence in an uninhibited and imaginative manner that is inspirational. What we aspire to do is compare and explore these interconnections between different subjects and disciplines that we feel are relevant to contemporary culture: we shall read from celestial phenomena to geological change, from urban landscape to digital space. At every one of these confluences where one subject meets another, links as well as contradictions surface, impelling us to reflect upon our own temporality.
On 21th April, Planet Marx landed in the house of Matsutake. For the reading club’s second meeting, we collaborated with the curatorial team at Taikang Space that created the exhibition “Tracing the Mushroom at the End of the World”, who also generously hosted the session.
The three texts we jointly selected stemmed from different roots, grown from a wilderness, a minority, or an exotic land. All the discoveries therein, however, instructed how we could narrate and reinvent the imaginary of Genesis, Apocalypse, and Anthropocene – criticizing the hypocrisy inherent in the “universality” endowed in these terms. Scholar Xiang Zairong and artist Mao Chenyu respectively gave us introductions of their own works, branching towards, enclosing around, sometimes intertwining with the exhibition. In line with Anna Tsing’s concern of narrative politics, the exhibition encouraged its viewers to wander, traverse and forage in the perplexingly wondrous landscape of the show. As your sight was drawn to what was above and below, your feet on the ground but your body airy, your sense acute and your mind boggled — which was also how we encouraged you to read these texts.
On 18th May, Planet Marx rotated its orbit towards the sign of Center for Visual Studies of Peking University, where we read and talked about cultural and social implication of scientific practices. Pioneering in this field is Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar’s groundbreaking research-turn-publication Laboratory Life: the Process of Constructing Scientific Facts, putting science and culture on the same plane for observation. The renowned sci-fi writer Wu Ming-Yi instead chose to relocate the teleology of laboratories into the realm of fiction. In it, his recurrent arguments in his ecological theses would transform themselves into various imageries. Jussi Parikka dives into the deep of fiction, and then reemerges with something geological. He proposes that in late Sir Conan Doyle’s novel “When the World Screamed” crouches an unprecedented imagery of the Earth’s geological consciousness.
The session invited curator Jo Wei and artist Zhangbolong Liu, together with Wen Xinyi of the Center for Visual Studies and Zian Chen of Long March Project to introduce the selected texts, unpacking the connections linking these three articles, attempting to answer many questions that might be raised, starting with, “In what format does chemical dirt live with us?”
On 22nd June, Planet Marx arrived at its fifth station, KWM artcenter, where we launched an in-depth discussion on the production mode of Chinese contemporary art. We heard artist Liu Wei, curator Song Yi, and the Long March Project researcher Zian Chen describe and debate on the condition of art production in Beijing and elsewhere in China that has changed and is still changing. How would the art community react to an environment of production that is shifting rapidly from low-cost to costly?
At the beginning of the session, we focused on the article Metabolism of Political Economy (2017) by Kohei Saito, one of the scholars who have re-examined the Marxist theories on metabolical rift in recent years. His article led us to re-read Pauline Yao’s In Production Mode: Contemporary Art in China (2008). This book does not only serve as a window to the condition of art-making around the time of Beijing Olympics, but also as a stark reminder of what was at the center of this “production mode” merely ten years ago — cheap and spacious studio and labor cost in close proximity to small factories that could function as artwork fabricators. To provide a visual reference point, we screened a video made by British artist and curator Tim Crowley and art history researcher Zhang Yuling profiling on artist Liu Wei’s studio.
On 3rd August, Planet Marx held its 6th reading club meeting at 706 Youth Space, Wudaokou, Beijing. We invited architect Jia Weng to introduce her ongoing research on climate control. Although air is invisible, the fact that we are able to control and design it reminds us that the sphere we live in is a collection of multiple physical substances, whose components are pulled together by chemical bonding. We tried to outline some complex relationships in this invisible material: For example, while the human species is often described as animal laborans, our labour and production is often largely affected by the climate that can be either natural or artificial. To modify environment, in turn, would reshape the society’s perception of the normal and the pathological.
During the meeting, Jia Weng first focused on the article Air/Condition by the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk. She also presented her recent research on weather control techniques of different scales, including how early air-conditioning and cloud-seeding spread across borders, the relationship between technology and architectural space, as well as the intersection among weather, commerce and politics.
What is Planet Marx made of?
Planet Marx is composed of two parts: an online reader platform hosted on a Facebook Group and a curated series of seminars for an offline reading club based in Beijing. The online reader platform aims to collect materials, and could be used as a shared common reader, whereas the offline reading club draws selected texts from the online reader and aims to compare, analyze and generate new discourses, which will then be fed back into the online reader platform. We welcome all forms of ongoing research programs about technology, nature, indigeneity, and ethnicity to put forward relevant texts concerning their research. Knowledge from these multiple projects will be assembled into a common reader for further dissemination.
From which texts does Planet Marx draw inspiration?
Peter Kropotkin (Russia, 1842–1921)
Introduction to Mutual Aid: A factor of Evolution (1902)
From: Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A factor of Evolution, Beijing: The Commercial Press, 1963.
The Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin was a geographer, cartographer, and also an enthusiast of gardening. In an era when the Darwinist idea of competition and natural selection as key factors in evolution dominated Europe, Kropotkin’s early experience of exploring Siberia and Manchuria led to a different conclusion, in which species can never evolve in an environment of meager resources and fierce competition. For Kropotkin, in such freezing surroundings species could only adapt to their environment through mutual aid. This excerpt provides us with insight on how environment plays an important role in shaping Leftist discourse. If Darwinist natural selection is still popular within the cultural sphere under the updated rhetoric of Liu Cixin’s “Dark Forest Theory” in his novel The Three-Body Problem, then this text will be helpful to imagine an entirely different ontological framework.
Yu Guangyuan (China, 1915–2013)
The Smallness of the Earth and the Largeness of the Earth—A Grand Idea on 21st Century Construction (1996)
From: Yu Guangyuan, A Philosophical School is Rising in China, Nanchang: Jiangxi Science and Technology Press, 1996.
As part of a think tank initiated by Deng Xiaoping, the philosopher of technology Yu Guangyuan came up with the concept of “the Smallness of the Earth and the Largeness of the Earth”, giving a concrete image to the notion of a “technosphere” while indicating the ecological views of the Marxist political party. From our point of view today, talking about “the humanization of nature”, and thinking of humans and nature as mere resources, is indeed an anthropocentric position to be further decolonized. But such characterization of nature and the relationship with extraction remains nevertheless complex and shows Chinese Marxists’ attempt to revise Marxist discourse from the theory of class struggle to that of control, which has rarely been discussed.
Li Zehou and Liu Zaifu (China, 1930–; 1941–)
About Material Monism and Spiritual Pluralism (1995)
From: Li Zehou and Liu Zaifu, Farewell to Revolution: Looking Back on Twentieth-Century China,
Hong Kong: Cosmos Books, 1995.
The most influential argument that Li Zehou raised in the 1990s was about the entangled relationship between two modes of Chinese modernization: Enlightenment and revolution. The epistemological legacy of Enlightenment from May Fourth Movement and the legacy of Lu Xun was revived in China during the 80s; while practices debating revolution could be easily found in the artistic debate of “ethnic forms” in the 40s, the Mass Art of the 60s, and even in contemporary Sci-Fi nationalism. Yet there is a less often touched upon topic: the advocacy for “spiritual ecology” and “multiple symbiosis” aiming to find an evolutionary, reformist trajectory from a Marxist perspective.
Tong Enzheng (China, 1935–1997)
Human Culture and Ecological Environment (1989)
From: Tong Enzheng, Cultural Anthropology, Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1989.
As a pioneer who had been writing science fiction since the 1950s, Tong Enzheng led the popularity of Sci-Fi during the early stages of Chinese economic reform. Tong believed that science fictions should have their distinctive ethnic features. Therefore, in his novels, what is to come may often have its referential roots in the distant past. Tong is also an important figure in the field of anthropology. In the work Cultural Anthropology, he investigates the relationship between technology and nature (through the lens of anthropology), and concludes that, in order to solve the dilemma that we are facing, mankind “should not rely on the development of science and technology alone” but needs to consider “the adaptive relationship between man and nature”. Perhaps, to measure the value of science fiction is to judge how well it asks practical questions, such as how people can adapt to nature and how nations can adjust to science.
Amitav Ghosh (India, 1956–)
Climate and Science Fiction (2016)
From: Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Berlin: Berlin Family Lectures, 2016
In his non-fiction work The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Amitav Ghosh points out that the crisis of climate, by essence, is the challenge that (our) culture and imaginations face. Climate conditions have always been in the background of every literary works and the point is to re-imagine how these backdrops in literature formed the direction of our desire. In the selected piece, Ghosh investigates the effect that rainy and freezing days, a result of the explosion of the world’s largest volcano in 1815, had on Mary Shelley’s creation of Frankenstein.
Nalo Hopkinson (Jamaica, 1960–)
Massa’s Tools (2004)
From: Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan eds, So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy, Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2004
In the anthology of postcolonial Sci-Fi literature she co-edited, Nalo Hopkinson wrote a preface revealing the ‘double helix structure’ of Sci-Fi as a literary genre. Sci-Fi, serving as ‘a master’s instrument’, always comes with the risk of having internalised the coloniser’s ideology. For example, one may realise the rationality of colonisation in many classic science fiction stories, as they often include depictions of human beings expanding settlements on another planet, which in reality was experienced as an undisputed historical fact by many marginalised groups. Her further argument is that a good Sci-Fi writer should dedicate themselves to struggling against such toxic unconsciousness, and try to adopt non-Western literary devices to endorse alternative possibilities of technological evolution.