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Sea serpents. Photo credit: Karen Kao

Shanghai Noir

The Dancing Girl and the Turtle: publication date 01.04.2017

If you've ever seen me behind the wheel of a car, you'll know: maps are mysterious things to me. I cannot navigate my way out of a paper bag. This is quite a defect for someone who loves to travel as much as I do. Luckily, my husband has an unerring sense of direction. He took me to Cadzand last weekend, a seaside resort in the south of The Netherlands, where he and his family spent many a happy summer. I called this photo Sea Serpents on Instagram.

From the sea, I went to China, at least in my mind. Ruben Terlou is the maker of two highly successful Dutch documentaries on China: Along the Banks of the Yangtze and Through the Heart of China. Terlou spoke this week at the Annual Lecture of the International Institute of Asian Studies. Through still photography and documentary clips, he showed us the human face of a changing China.

He spoke of the popular Social Credit System, still in its pilot phase, which will be used to punish crimes small and large. Facial recognition technology will be used to apprehend these violators, for example, by snapping their photograph as they run a red light. Terlou claims to be a neutral observer but when he tries to explain China, he seems to judge, too. Just as a photographer frames the shot to take out distractions, the truth is always subjective.

A map is another kind of framing. It organizes the world as we know it so that we can navigate from A to B. Some maps are fantastical, bristling with sea serpents and ships sailing off the edge of the world. Others are plain wrong. Maps of China is this week’s blog post. It’s about how China has learned to weaponize maps to counter an unwelcome narrative or lay territorial claims. No navigation skills required.


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