Manufacturing in China | Edward Burtynsky revisiting Huxley


Some weeks ago we talked about the photographic work of Edward Burtynsky researching the oil companies from Azerbaijan Republic. This time, we want to remark another interesting photoset: Manufacturing in China. Always interested in industry and how it affects landscapes and society, in this serie of images Burtynsky takes us to some kind of Huxley’s Brave New World society, where the dialogue between attraction and repulsion of reproductive technology is a common presence in everyday life. He quotes:

In the southern province of Guangdong, one can drive for hours along numerous highways that reveal a virtually unbroken landscape of factories and workers’ dormitories. These new ‘manufacturing landscapes’ in the southern and eastern parts of China produce more and more of the world’s goods and have become the habitat for a diverse group of companies and millions of busy workers.



As Huxley focused his book in the particularly fear of losing individual identity in the fast-paced world of the future, we can see that his “future” is now our present and it’s lack of identity. Written in 1931, the future predicted in Brave New World is represented in the actual manufacturing industry in China, looking for being the most efficient in it’s field. As we can read in Huxley’s book: “Ninety-six identical twins working ninety-six identical machines!” The voice was almost tremulous with enthusiasm. “You really know where you are. For the first time in history.” He quoted the planetary motto. “Community, Identity, Stability.” Grand words.”

Looking at these images from 2005, we can have the feeling that Huxley was some kind of “prophet” that was talking 80 years ago about these manufacturing communities.

Edward Burtynsky descibes what he found in Guangdong Province with these words:

Located in China’s poorest province, Guiyang is more noted for its poverty than for making state-of-the-art one-inch hard drives. Working the assembly lines, China’s youthful peasant population is quickly abandoning traditional extended-family village life, leaving the monotony of agricultural work and subsistence income behind for a chance at independence.



Now, China is also playing a central role in the field of outsourcing. As Joseph Grima points in his article Did you Mean: Outsourcing, “Some economists have argued that outsourcing is a form of technological innovation analogous to machines on a car assembly line.”

Manufacturing workers described as technological machines? Huxley quotes: “When the individual feels, the community reels.”

“Slowly, very slowly, like two unhurried compass needles, the feet turned towards the right; north, north-east, east, south-east, south, south-south-west; then paused, and, after a few seconds, turned as unhurriedly back towards the left. South-south-west, south, south-east, east.”
– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Ch. 19

According to Huxley’s book, murder kills only the individual-and, after all, what is an individual? and Grima points again “Outsourcing is often identified with exploitation by its critics, but the practice is perhaps at its most unethical when it is a condition of defenseless ignorance that is sought” and finally, we can point and make the reflection about what is more unethical that deny the sense of individuality in human beings?


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