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Prototype NationChina and the Contested Promise of Innovation$
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Silvia M. Lindtner

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780691207674

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691207674.001.0001

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Inventing Shenzhen

Inventing Shenzhen

How the Copy Became the Prototype, or: How China-Out-Wested the West and Saved Modernity

(p.74) 3 Inventing Shenzhen
Prototype Nation

Silvia M. Lindtner

Princeton University Press

This chapter details the making of a “new” China. It demonstrates how a growing distrust of modernist ideals of progress in the broader tech and design imagination following the financial crisis of 2007–2008 found expression in shifting engagements with China. Specifically, the chapter focuses on how a series of influential actors, entangled with Western networks of investment, open source hardware, the arts, and design, turned to Shenzhen to make sense of technology's broken promises and partially redeem them. They portrayed China through colonial tropes of othering, framing its alleged backwardness, its associations with fake and copycat, as an opportunity space, to be celebrated for its difference. As technology was increasingly disassociated from its promise of modern progress, a new concern arose — that of the ethics and morality of the designer and engineer. Ultimately, Shenzhen was framed as a laboratory of exuberant scale that enabled the prototyping of a moral designer and engineer self who could claim to recuperate technological promise.

Keywords:   China, 2008 financial crisis, open source hardware, Shenzhen, othering, technology, modern progress, moral designer, moral engineer, technological promise

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