From kang (炕) to kongtiao (空调): China’s Twentieth Century Cooling

in Journal of Chinese Humanities
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.

Help

 

Have Institutional Access?

Login with your institution. Any other coaching guidance?

Connect

Abstract

This essay suggests an alternative strategy for thinking about changes in Chinese society in recent decades, using not economic data or theories of development, but the metaphor of temperature. It argues that the cultural imperative in China has, in recent decades, switched from that of keeping warm to that of keeping cool. This change is made tangible through two key objects: the kang (炕), the northern Chinese heated bed, and the kongtiao (空调), the air conditioner. The antiquity of the kang is explored as an object that is key to the development of Chinese civilization in the inhospitable northern climes. Moving between physical and metaphorical ideas of heat, the essay argues that throughout much of the twentieth-century, heating remained the main focus. Twentieth-century revolutions and mass campaigns under Mao Zedong were undeniably ‘hot,’ aiming to stoke the fire of revolution and radical social change. Under the reforms following Mao’s death, however, politics ‘cooled off:’ the political system crystalized and the frenzy of mass campaigns cooled down. This was accompanied by social changes, including what can be called the rise of individual cool, defined by ironic detachment, hedonism and narcissism. The new cool society and cool persona find their architectural accompaniment in the kongtiao, the air conditioner, which has become a must for urban living, even in north China. The kongtiao is presented as an ultimately unsocial device, a machine with intensive energy requirements that dumps heat into communal spaces in the effort to preserve individual comfort.

  • ArendtHannah On Violence 1970 San Diego & New York Harcourt Brace & Company

  • BaileyPaul China in the Twentieth Century 2001 2nd edition Oxford Blackwell Publishers

  • BartholetJeffrey ‘Aflame: Letter from Dharamsala’ The New Yorker 2013 07 08 Accessed 26 Nov 2013 http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/07/08/130708fa_fact_bartholet.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • BerryChris ‘CinemaTalk: Chris Berry on Cultural Revolution Cinema’ Degenerate Films 2011 24 08 Accessed 26 Nov 2013 http://dgeneratefilms.com/cinematalk/cinematalk-chris-berry-on-cultural-revolution-cinema/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • BittmanMark KaplanGiselda T.KesslerClive S. ‘Totalitarianism: the career of a concept’ Hannah Arendt: Thinking Judging Freedom 1989 Sydney Allen & Unwin 56 70

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Communist Party of China ‘Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of the People’s Republic’ Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China 1981 27 06 Accessed 26 Nov 2013 http://www.people.com.cn/GB/shizheng/252/5089/5103/20010428/454968.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • DahlRichard ‘Cooling Concepts: Alternatives to Air Conditioning for a Warm World’ Environmental Health Perspectives 2013 Vol. 121 No. 1 19 25

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • DuttonMichael Beijing Time 2008 Cambridge, MA Harvard University Press

  • The Economist ‘Invisible and Heavy Shackles’ The Economist 2010 06 05 Accessed 26 Nov 2013 http://www.economist.com/node/16058750.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • The Economist ‘No sweat: Artificial cooling makes hot places bearable—but at a worringly high cost’ The Economist 2013 05 01 Accessed 26 Nov 2013 http://www.economist.com/news/international/21569017-artificial-cooling-makes-hot-places-bearablebut-worryingly-high-cost-no-sweat.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • GuoQinghua ‘The Chinese Domestic Architectural Heating System [Kang]: Origins, Applications and Techniques’ Architectural History 2002 45 32 48

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • HarrisPaul ‘Environmental Perspectives and Behavior in China’ Environment and Behavior 2006 Vol. 38 No. 1 5 21

  • HeschongLisa Thermal Delights in Architecture 1979 Cambridge, MA & London MIT Press

  • HutersTheodore HutersTheodore ‘Introduction’ The Politics of Imagining Asia 2011 Cambridge MA & London Harvard University Press 1 9

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • JiangLan FumingChen Disappearing Architecture of China 2009 Singapore Marshall Cavendish Editions

  • JonesDavid Martin The Image of China in Western Social and Political Thought 2001 Basingstoke Palgrave

  • KnappRonald China’s Old Dwellings 2000 Honolulu University of Hawai’i Press

  • LangfittFrank ‘Desperate Chinese Villagers Turn to Self-Immolation’ NPR 2013 23 10 Accessed 26 Nov 2013 http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2013/10/23/239270737/desperate-chinese-villagers-turn-to-self-immolation.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • LehnerPeter ‘In China, Air Conditioning Is Efficient Because of How It’s Used, Not Just How It’s Built’ Switchboard Blog 2010 17 10 Accessed 26 Nov 2013 http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/plehner/in_china_air_conditioning_is_e.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • LiuJianguoDiamondJared ‘Revolutionizing China’s environmental protection’ Science 2008 319 no. 5859 37 38

  • MarxKarlFriedrichEngels Manifesto of the Communist Party 1848 New York Comiso Classics 2009

  • McGrathJason Postsocialist Modernity: Chinese Cinema Literature and Criticism in the Market Age 2008 Stanford Stanford University Press

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • McNeilMichael A.LetschertVirginie E. ‘Future Air Conditioning Energy Consumption in Developing Countries and What Can Be Done about It: The Potential of Efficiency in the Residential Sector’ Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory 2008 Accessed 26 Nov 2013 escholarship.org/uc/item/64f9r6wr.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • NeedhamJoseph Science and Civilisation in China Volume 4: Physics and Physical Technology Part 2 Mechanical Engineering 1965 Cambridge, UK Cambridge University Press

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • PountainDickRobinsDavid Cool Rules: Anatomy of an Attitude 2000 London Reaktion Books

  • RozelleScottHuangJikunZhangLinxiu ‘Poverty, population and environmental degradation’ Food Policy 1997 Vol. 22 Issue 3 229 251

  • SerresMichel Hermès IV: La distribution 1977 Paris Editions de Minuit

  • ShanDeqi WangDehua Chinese Vernacular Dwelling 2003 Beijing China Intercontinental Press

  • ShapiroJudith Mao’s War Against Nature: Politics and the Environment in Revolutionary China 2001 Cambridge Cambridge University Press

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SloterdijkPeter WenningMario Rage and Time: A Psychopolitical Investigation 2006 New York Columbia University Press

  • ThomsonElsbeth ‘Power Shortages in China: Why?’ China: An International Journal 2005 Vol. 3 No. 1 155 171

  • WangHui TheodoreHuters TheodoreHuters ‘Weber and the Question of Chinese Modernity’ The Politics of Imagining Asia 2011 Cambridge MA & London Harvard University Press 264 306

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • WangHui TheodoreHuters TheodoreHuters ‘The 1989 Social Movement and the Historical Roots of China’s Neoliberalism’ China’s New Order: Society Politics and Economy in Transition 2003 Cambridge MA & London Harvard University Press 41 137

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • WuXuefu LiuJun Chinese House 2009 Beijing China Intercontinental Press

  • 1

    David Martin JonesThe Image of China in Western Social and Political Thought (Basingstoke: Palgrave2001) 30 119-121.

  • 2

    Jason McGrathPostsocialist Modernity: Chinese Cinema Literature and Criticism in the Market Age (Stanford: Stanford University Press2008) 21; Michael Dutton et al. Beijing Time (Cambridge ma: Harvard University Press 2008) 10.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 4

    Karl Marx and Friedrich EngelsManifesto of the Communist Party (New York: Comiso Classics2009) 45.

  • 5

    Elspeth Thomson‘Power Shortages in China: Why?’ China: An International JournalVol. 3 No. 1 (2005): 155.

  • 7

    Wang Hui‘Weber and the Question of Chinese Modernity’ in The Politics of Imagining Asiaed. Theodore Huters trans. Theodore Huters (Cambridge ma & London: Harvard University Press 2011) 306.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 10

    Ronald KnappChina’s Old Dwellings (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press2000) 224.

  • 14

    Qinghua Guo‘The Chinese Domestic Architectural Heating System [kang]: Origins, Applications and Techniques’Architectural History45 (2000) 32.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 16

    Guo‘The Chinese Domestic Architectural Heating System’35.

  • 17

    Ibid.36.

  • 21

    Michel SerresHermès IV: La distribution (Paris: Editions de Minuit1977) 264 n. 1.

  • 23

    Ibid.137.

  • 24

    Ibid.168-9.

  • 25

    Ibid.169.

  • 26

    Ibid.172.

  • 27

    Hannah ArendtOn Violence (San Diego & New York: Harcourt Brace & Company1970) 56; Mark Bittman ‘Totalitarianism: the career of a concept’ in Hannah Arendt: Thinking Judging Freedom eds. Gisela T. Kaplan & Clive S. Kessler (Sydney: Allen & Unwin 1989) 62.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 34

    Ibid.23.

  • 35

    Dick Pountain and David RobinsCool Rules: Anatomy of an Attitude (London: Reaktion Books2000) 26.

  • 36

    The Economist‘Invisible and Heavy Shackles’The Economist(06/05/2010) Online: <http://www.economist.com/node/16058750> (accessed 26/11/2013).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 40

    Wang Hui‘The 1989 Social Movement and the Historical Roots of China’s Neoliberalism’ in China’s New Order: Society Politics and Economy in Transitioned. Theodore Huters trans. Theodore Huters (Cambridge ma & London: Harvard University Press 2003) 118.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 43

    Ibid.151404.

  • 45

    Richard Dahl‘Cooling Concepts: Alternatives to Air Conditioning for a Warm World’Environmental Health Perspectives Vol. 121 No. 1 (2013): 21.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 47

    Peter Lehner‘In China, Air Conditioning Is Efficient Because of How It’s Used, Not Just How It’s Built’Switchboard Blog(17/10/2010) Online: <http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/plehner/in_china_air_conditioning_is_e.html> (accessed 26/11/2013).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 48

    The Economist‘No sweat: Artificial cooling makes hot places bearable—but at a worringly high cost’The Economist(05/01/2013) Online: <http://www.economist.com/news/international/21569017-artificial-cooling-makes-hot-places-bearablebut-worryingly-high-cost-no-sweat> (accessed 26/11/2013).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 50

    Jianguo Liu and Jared Diamond‘Revolutionizing China’s environmental protection,’ Science319 no. 5859 (2008): 37; Scott Rozelle Jikun Huang Linxiu Zhang ‘Povery population and environmental degradation’ Food Policy Vol. 22 Issue 3 (1997); Paul Harris ‘Environmental Perspectives and Behavior in China Environment and Behavior Vol. 38 No. 1 (2006); Judith Shapiro Mao’s War Against Nature: Politics and the Environment in Revolutionary China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2001).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 51

    Wang‘The 1989 Social Movement’117 119.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 155 68 3
Full Text Views 155 155 0
PDF Downloads 14 14 0
EPUB Downloads 1 1 0