Original Copies: Deconstructing the Authentic

In this short piece Ziwei Cheng explores authenticity and originality in Chinese urban development. Ziwei is a current Master of Research in Architecture student at the Royal College of Art.

Ziwei Cheng, ‘FAKE REAL’, dual colour letterpress, 2022

Questioning Copies

Collective memories and mass entertainment have been translated into a landscape of power in post-colonial China. In cities across China, new urban developments take on the visual facade of cities, towns, urban plans, and even architectures from other parts of the world. Termed in the pejorative way ‘duplitecture’ by various critics and scholars, these spaces are much more complex than at first glance. Various research has been conducted to explore the philosophical and cultural relationships behind this phenomenon; however, this urban transformation in China is very unlike the transformation of life seen in the United States of America and many other Western countries. I am left with a series of questions guiding my work.

What are the differences in the description of authenticity between Chinese literature and western literature?

How do we understand an authentic urban space in China during the late 19th century?

Why is the duplitecture in China a significant concern for contemporary Chinese urbanism when copying and borrowing have occurred throughout history?

Is the Chinese ‘duplitecture’ distinct from the urbanism in other theme-park-like environments?

How do simulacra cities in China respond to the context of Chinese tradition?

How is the social experience affected by the notion of authenticity and simulacrum in contemporary Chinese urbanism?

To what extent does it create social consumption?

How does this emerging phenomenon shape the future of Chinese urbanism?

What will become of these cities over time? Are they sustainable or merely additional supply for a market hungry to make a quick profit on the property?

‘Fake Real’

Why is copying and referencing significantly important and overly concerned in our world? How do we understand originality in various contexts? What social impact can be made by the notion of authenticity and reproduction? What will become of these emerging phenomena over time? What is claimed as real and what is claimed as fake? Part of my research focuses on the production of the visual treatment for duplitecture in contemporary Chinese urbanism, which is a form of copying and replicating. I intended to experiment with repetitive text-based graphics through printing and risograph that mediate the idea of reproduction and duplication.

Emerging myself in the process of graphic reproduction such as letterpress, my research was conveyed into practice which allowed me to study the context and history of natural wood types that dated back to the Yuan dynasty. It is found during my research that the industry of letterpress was originally generated and invented in the Song dynasty, 1,000 years ago. The invention of movable type printing was a great technological revolution in the history of printing and bookmaking. The clay types have been invented by Bi Sheng (970–1051) of China during the period of the Northern Song dynasty (1041–1048) marking the origin of movable-type printing. In the Yuan dynasty, Wang Zhen successfully created wood types and invented the letterpress with the cylinder wheel. By making copies by hand and machines, the original is no longer original. Through repetitive reproduction, I aimed to communicate the idea of reframing the way we understand authenticity and duplication.

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