Material Life Noisy II: Monetarized Ethics


by Paul van der Stap and Elisa Veini, Titojoe Documentaries

Chengdu, 2011

2012, the Year of the Dragon, started in China with a clear message from the state: Chinese people should consume more. In the coming year, they should buy more luxury consumer goods in order to help boost the Chinese economy. The Year of the Dragon is said to bring happiness for a long period of time.

Chongqing, 2011

The more urbanised China becomes, the stronger the desire is for rediscovering traditional Chinese values. Yet a framework for living that remains untouched is Confucianism, a philosophy that puts emphasis on harmony and stability.

Chongqing, 2011

In daily life, the methods of rediscovering traditional values are often surprising, such as the re-introduction of calligraphy lessons at schools, or painting slogans on fences – even in English – like ‘Together we build a lawful Chengdu’. Upholding the law is one of the main aspects of Confucianism. Quite possibly, the slogan also has a wishful dimension: “What is lawful, is legal, is not corrupt.”

Lianjiang, 2010

The Chinese authorities’ preference for Confucianism is all but new, but belief in social hierarchy, abstaining from personal profit and the ethics of striving for improvement have been prevalent for many years. Now in contemporary society, the old values are viewed in a new way. Striving for improvement is re-interpreted as good in the context of material success. This focus on profit that is assumed to help the country’s economic development is remarkable, because it is directly opposed to to the moderation and harmony for which other popular Chinese philosophies – Buddhism and Taoism – stand for.

Kunming, 2010

The newly forced traditionalism proves no problem for the Chinese. There is a strong sense of pragmatic thinking and adapting oneself to changing circumstances. Pragmatism is the philosophy of everyone who wishes to have more and get further in life. It is a handy approach for fitting in and re-interpreting what needs to be adjusted, in one sense or another.

Read Material Life Noisy I: Do Women Count?

About the Authors:

Documentary photographer Paul van der Stap and cultural anthropologist, writer and editor Elisa Veini make slow documentaries in photography, text and film. Among their projects are Carnival days, a book and an exhibition about the Dutch and Flemish carnival as a cultural, emotional and social event (2009-2012, ISBN 978 90 78909 11 8), and Dalit lives, a book and an exhibition about the insurgent Dalit rights’ movement in India (2005, ISBN 90 809375 1 7). Their work has been published in various magazines, among which ei8ht photojournalism and Third Text. Paul and Elisa are based in the Netherlands. See their website and blog