[Marxism] Social Contagion | Chuang

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Feb 28 11:31:57 MST 2020

Wuhan is known colloquially as one of the “four furnaces” (四大火炉) of 
China for its oppressively hot humid summer, shared with Chongqing, 
Nanjing and alternately Nanchang or Changsha, all bustling cities with 
long histories along or near the Yangtze river valley. Of the four, 
Wuhan, however, is also sprinkled with literal furnaces: the massive 
urban complex acts as a sort of nucleus for the steel, concrete and 
other construction-related industries of China, its landscape dotted 
with the slowly-cooling blast furnaces of the remnant state-owned iron 
and steel foundries, now plagued by overproduction and forced into a 
contentious new round of downsizing, privatization and general 
restructuring—itself resulting in several large strikes and protests in 
the last five years. The city is essentially the construction capital of 
China, which means it has played a particularly important role in the 
period after the global economic crisis, since these were the years in 
which Chinese growth was buoyed by the funneling of investment funds 
into infrastructure and real estate projects. Wuhan not only fed this 
bubble with its oversupply of building materials and civil engineers but 
also, in so doing, became a real estate boomtown of its own. According 
to our own calculations, in 2018-2019 the total area dedicated to 
construction sites in Wuhan was equivalent to the size of Hong Kong 
island as a whole.

But now this furnace driving the post-crisis Chinese economy seems, much 
like those found in its iron and steel foundries, to be cooling. Though 
this process was already well underway, the metaphor is now no longer 
simply economic, either, as the once-bustling city has been sealed off 
for over a month, its streets emptied by government mandate: “The 
greatest contribution you can make is: don’t gather together, don’t 
cause chaos,” read a headline in the Guangming Daily, run by the Chinese 
Communist Party’s propaganda department. Today the Wuhan’s broad new 
avenues and the glittering steel and glass buildings that crown them are 
all cold and hollow, as winter dwindles through the Lunar New Year and 
the city stagnates under the constriction of the wide-ranging 
quarantine. Isolating oneself is sound advice for anyone in China, where 
the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (recently renamed “SARS-CoV-2” and 
its disease “COVID-19”) has killed more than two thousand people—more 
than its predecessor, the SARS epidemic of 2003. The entire country is 
on lockdown, as it was during SARS. Schools are closed, and people are 
cooped up in their homes nationwide. Nearly all economic activity 
stopped for the Lunar New Year holiday on January 25th, but the pause 
was extended for a month to curb the spread of the epidemic. The 
furnaces of China seem to have stopped burning, or at least to have been 
reduced to gently glowing coals.  In a way, though, the city has become 
another type of furnace, as the coronavirus burns through its massive 
population like a fever writ large.

full: http://chuangcn.org/2020/02/social-contagion/

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