吉田园:the spectre of modernized death


high density real estate

today, some notes on human death and the spirit of capitalism with chinese characteristics.

last week some shenzhen university architecture grad students and i visited 深圳市吉田永久墓园 (shenzhen lucky fields eternal cemetary) (official translation: jitian permanent cemetary shenzhen) the translation difference is instructive. eternal resonates with my sense of death, but permanent speaks to the anxieties of the living: will the graves be moved? in shenzhen, land appropriation for development has meant that village graves have been moved; many have been reinterred at lucky fields. moreover, razing extant sites for new and improved development is a skill shenzheners have cultivated. so it’s not completely for sure that lucky fields won’t become obsolete.

lucky fields is a large scale cemetary located in buji, about twenty minutes (depending on traffic) from dafen village. like all buji real estate it abuts factories, which for me intensified the feeling of being packaged and slotted. in class, we’re thinking about modernization and the reorganization of traditional spaces, with an eye toward contributing an installation to the shenzhen architectural biennial, which takes place at the end of this year. (i’m beginning to think a cultural career might be made out of these biennials!) so, in addition to reading and discussing related materials, we’ve been going on field trips. going through the lucky fields’ literature, i was struck by the rhetorical similarity to all land related projects in shenzhen, namely the emphasis on planning and management, but also the promise to develop lucky fields as a namebrand (品牌). excerpts:

the shenzhen lucky fields eternal cemetary was established in 1994. it was approved by the guangdong provincial goverment department of civil affairs, and managed by the shenzhen municipal government. lucky fields covers an area of 448 mu and currently employs 30 people. after ten years of effort [paper was written in 2004] lucky fields has gradually transformed from a cementary conceptualized on paper into a new form of cememtary which exhibits modern culture and boasts beautiful scenes. throughout the construction of the cemetary, we have paid attention to planning and management. experience has taught us that planning is the basis of a company’s development and management the key to success. neither can be lacking. accordingly, at lucky fields we ceaselessly work to keep these two…[魂 also “soul” in some translations], it is also a company’s spirit/soul. in the intense competition of today’s market, if a company has a brand, it has a market, which is to have a future. this brand will promote a company’s growth and development at every moment…

(5) branding strategy a brand is a product’s spirit

now what’s fascinating is that as part of the promotion of the lucky fields brand, the company has joined the (apparently) first virtual memorial webside, 无尽的爱纪念网. online, people can post pictures of departed loved ones, write messages, and send condolences. there are also sites for beloved teachers, famous people, blogs, dreams, tradition, and marriages and births.

eelove compliments online marriages and gaming as a way of connecting to the world through electronic webs. it also seems to be important among diasporic chinese, who are unable to visit graves on important days.

interestingly (but not unexpectedly in the era of branding) eelove holds (non-traditional) memorial events (some free, some having fees) to go along with other holidays. but, then again, holidays are when we remember those who have left us. many of us (not just diasporic communities) aren’t living in the neighborhoods where we were born because we pursue jobs and dreams in a global world. we not only live far away from family, but also die and are buried in places that relatives can’t visit regularly, if at all. how do we speak to that alienation?

personally, i have been more moved/disturbed/confounded by the capitalization of death rituals than life rituals (such as marriage or birthdays). at death, the fact that we’re making money off each other just sits there, uncovered by the hopes that accompany life rituals. even if in formal terms the commodification of marriage and death is the same, viscerally i feel that wedding planners aren’t the only ones benefitting from marriages; somehow an expenditure of capital at a wedding seems to thrust the couple into the future. but where do commodified burials–whether actual or virtual–launch us? sentimental values indeed.

take a virtual (!) walk through lucky fields.

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