International Workshop: Ruinscapes in Urban China / 中國城市廢墟空間

International Workshop

Ruinscapes in Urban China


Friday 21 December 2018



The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Yasumoto International Academic Park, Centre for China Studies, CCS Resources Room (YIA 1118-1119)

Lecture Theatre 1, Esther Lee Building


Ruins, abandoned buildings, decaying places, derelict architecture, produce a diversity of forms, meanings and practices, as well as very specific configurations of Chinese urbanities. While Chinese ruins and decaying processes have been greatly studied in urban studies, this workshop aim at discussing ruinscapes in China from ethnographic perspectives, crisscrossing anthropology, sociology, and visual studies. Residual parts of natural disasters, their preserved or left abandoned ruins, will be the entry point of this reflection, as we commemorate this year the ten-year anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake (12 May 2008, Sichuan). Papers will show how they easily enter into enriching dialogue with other Chinese ruinscapes outcome of various events and crises such as housing demolition, economic shrinkage, and failed architecture. The workshop will question categories of ruins and raise the complexity of their underlying representations and uses in China. The workshop is conceived in three parts: “traumatic” ruinscape, “ordinary” ruinscape, and visual representations of urban ruins. By discussing from contrasting angles and different academic disciplines, this workshop introduces new insights on the texture, the spatiality, as well as the discourses and social practices of ruinscapes in urban China.



9.30 Opening of the room/morning coffee CCS Resources Room (YIA1118-1119)

9.45 Introduction by Judith Audin (CEFC researcher, Hong Kong/CECMC) & Katiana Le Mentec (CNRS researcher, CECMC, EHESS)

10.00 Part 1: “Traumatic” ruinscapes

The first part of the workshop reflects upon the social impacts of three kinds of ruins, remaining destroyed urban landscape after the Wenchuan earthquake, temporary demolition spaces on the Yangze banks before their submersion by the Three Gorges Dam Reservoir, and the ruins of urban demolition in Shanghai’s lilong.

10.00 Timmy Chih-Ting Chen (Assistant Researcher, HKBU): Remembering Ruins of the Wenchuan Earthquake

10.30 Katiana LE MENTEC (CNRS researcher, CECMC, EHESS): People’s Contrasting Interactions with Urban Ruins: A Selection of Ethnographical Cases from Yunyang (Three Gorges Area) and Beichuan (Sichuan)

11.00 Jérémy CHEVAL (Postdoctoral Fellow, École Urbaine, Lyon): Practices around Shanghai lilong’s Material Demolition

11.30 Part 1 discussion

12.00 Lunch for guest speakers

13.30 Part 2: “Ordinary” Ruinscapes – CCS Resources Room (YIA1118-1119)

The second part of the workshop explores the “ordinary” dimensions of urban ruins in China and the theme of marginality through the case study of how marginal groups (migrant workers) appropriate theses liminal spaces, between wastescapes, and demolished spaces. The strangeness of abandoned buildings will also be examined through the practice of urban exploration. The liminality of ruins and of the way they are “lived in” is a way to rethink the dynamics of economic, social, and ecological crises and to provide another understanding on Chinese urbanities.

13.45 WU Kaming (Associate Professor, Centre for Cultural Studies, CUHK): Living with Waste

14.15 LING Minhua (Assistant Professor, Centre for China Studies, CUHK): Container Housing: Living with Demolition in Shanghai

14.45 Éric FLORENCE (CEFC researcher, Hong Kong): Writing and Drawing Destruction/Eviction: An Exploratory Look at a Children Magazine

15.15 Tong LAM (Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Toronto): Because There is No Room for Fiction in China’s (Extra)ordinary Ruins

15.45 Part 2 discussion

16.15 Break

16.45 Part 3: Envisioning Ruinscapes: Approaches in Visual Arts (Lecture Theatre 1, Esther Lee Building)

The last part of the workshop is dedicated to film screenings on the topic of disaster and destruction work ruins. Screenings will be followed by a collective discussion on the way Chinese ruinscapes are envisioned. How visual arts seize such spaces and landscapes? What kind of messages can they convey that other forms of communication can’t? How visual arts and social sciences can collaborate to better understand issues related to urban ruins in contemporary China?

16.45 Presentation of film directors: Chen Qiulin 陈秋林,  Gu Tao 古濤, and Xu Ruotao 徐若涛

16.50Film screenings

  • Screening of « On the Way to the Sea”, directed by Gu Tao 古濤, 2010, Canada/China, GreenGround Productions, 20’

Filmmaker returns to Wenchuan where he was born and which was hit by the most devastating earthquake in Chinese history with 70,000 deaths, 375,000 seriously injured and over 17,000 people missing. His parents survived, but lost everything. How does an artist deal with this much suffering?

  • Screening of « 别赋Farewell Poem« , directed by Chen Qiulin 陈秋林, 2002, 9’9 min 9 sec

Filmmaker returns home, to the Three Gorges Area, at the time the Yangtze river bank cities are on the process to be deconstructed to make place for the Three Gorges Dam Reservoir. Farewell Poem is the first work of a long series of visual art works Chen Qiulin dedicated to the changes of urban landscape, of time and of people.

  • Screening of « 江河水 /RiverRiver« , directed by Chen Qiulin 陈秋林, 2005, 16’
  • Screening of “Yumen”, directed by JP SniadeckiXu Ruotao 徐若 et al. 65’

Set in a quasi-ghost town that once thrived with oil in China’s arid northwest, Yumen is a haunting, fragmented tale of hungry souls, restless youth, a wandering artist and a lonely woman, all searching for human connection among the town’s crumbling landscape. One part “ruin porn”, one part “ghost story”, and entirely shot on 16mm, the film brings together performance art, narrative gesture, and social realism not only to play with convention and defy genre, but also to pay homage to a disappearing life-world and a fading medium

18.50: Discussion with the filmmakers, the audience, and researchers Timmy Chih-Ting Chen (Assistant Researcher, HKBU), Judith Pernin (CEFC researcher, Hong Kong), and Kristof Van Den Troost (Assistant Professor, Centre for China Studies, CUHK).

19.30 End of the workshop.

2 thoughts on “International Workshop: Ruinscapes in Urban China / 中國城市廢墟空間

  1. Hello,

    I can’t come to this workshop but I m really interested to have a restitution. Do you know when it will be published ?

    Thank you very much,

    French architect working about « Ubiquitous China »

    1. Dear Jérôme,

      I’ll write a summary about the workshop in the following month! Thank you for your interest!


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