Keywords of the Greater Bay Area





Prior to the emergence of germ theory in the late nineteenth century, legends of miasma were popular in both East and West. People believed that, when air flow slowed, the deadly miasma could breed. Miasma was seen as a product of the air and the environment. Water, soil, and organisms could all carry the imperceptible miasma. Compared to the “backward” Asians, Europeans believed themselves to be more evolutionarily advanced, which made them more distant from the primitive nature and more vulnerable to miasma. The goal of acclimatization was to control the environment through modernization, Western thought, and civilized behaviors, as well as the administration of public health and hygiene. Of course, controlling the environment was more about protecting Europeans who were more vulnerable to the climate.

In the steep terrain of Hong Kong Island, the Europeans established their settlements halfway up the hill, away from the harbor, for better sunlight and ventilation. The most powerful Europeans occupied the top of the hill. The crowded, chaotic and unplanned area of the harbor at the foot of the hill was left to the Chinese, who were "used to crowded spaces" and "immune to plague." In the 1860s, the large-scale afforestation of Hong Kong Island marked the beginning of the taming of the environment by the colonizers. At first, numerous trees were planted at the mid-levels, and then new parks were included in the planning. In 1871, the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens opened to the public. This was a public recreation area where Hong Kong residents could walk and attend summer concerts, but it was only open to Europeans.

The fear of miasma reached a crescendo during the bubonic plague of 1894. In line with the practice in the UK mainland, a Hong Kong-wide prevention ordinance was enacted, which until then did not include the Chinese community. When the British colonizers discovered that the plague was worsening, they sent police officers and soldiers to forcibly put plague patients in quarantine and cleanse the houses of infected residents. These actions met with opposition from the Chinese community. The plague was so rampant around Taipingshan Street in Sheung Wan that an emergency land resumption ordinance was passed by the government to demolish the houses in the neighborhood. Consequently, 7,000 inhabitants were relocated, which caused increasing grudges toward the colonial governance among Chinese residents. At the same time, the "backward" living habits of the Chinese, rather than the more complex network of epidemic transmission, were considered the greatest cause of the outbreak. The process from outbreak to quelling of the plague eventually established the absolute authority of Western medicine in Hong Kong.

Excerpted from “Miasma, Plants, Export Paintings: Space and Nature in the Colonial History of Guangdong and Hong Kong” with amendments.

About Keywords of the Greater Bay Area

The "Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area" is a new construction envisioned from a top-down perspective and territorial integration. It is a blueprint for a future urban development based on efficiency, speed, and mobility. What if we conceive the Greater Bay Area as an experiment, an imaginary experiment? On the one hand, there is the question of 'diversity'. When we talk about smart cities, artificial intelligence, automation, ecological crisis, information security, the future of virtual reality, global trade, etc., where does this view of the future come from, and what determines it? On the other hand, a profound political, spatial, historical, and geographical significance is present in the Greater Bay Area. Is it possible to develop a different imagination based on the history and culture of the "Pearl River Delta-Greater Bay Area;" meaning, to consider a development departing from local knowledge production, negotiating with accelerating technologies, facilitating collaborations between art and other disciplines, and reshaping the vision of institutions of art and technology? By exploring the diversity of technologies, human and non-human ecologies, and reproduction of social relations, might it be possible to reposition the "Greater Bay Area" as a pioneering experiment of southern China's technological and cultural imagination beyond a mere economic zone?

Editors: Jianru Wu, Guo Yun
English editor: Christy Lange