Blockchain Chicken Farm: And Other Stories of Tech in China’s Countryside
magazine’s creative director, debuts with a thought-provoking if inconclusive inquiry into how technology is transforming rural China. Investigating “Rural Revitalization” initiatives aimed at alleviating poverty, improving food security, and solving the social problems associated with rural migrants who leave the countryside to find work in cities, Wang travels to remote parts of China to interview costume manufacturers and agricultural drone operators. They detail how blockchain technology, which uses cryptography to stop records from being falsified, bolsters consumer confidence in the accuracy of the “free-range” poultry label, yet argues that such fixes also create a new, technical elite and an overreliance on inaccessible systems. In one of the book’s strongest chapters, Wang offers an illustrative and clear-eyed assessment of Dinglou, a rural village made wealthier yet more chaotic and dystopian through infrastructure investment by the e-commerce giant Alibaba, comparing the venture to Amazon assisting an Appalachian coal-mining town by “helping its citizens start candy businesses.” But without a clear central argument, the narrative occasionally drags, and speculative interludes (including a recipe for making mooncakes with maize grown on the moon) are equal parts intriguing and confusing. Still, this is a unique and detailed survey of an underexplored aspect of Chinese innovation. (Oct.)
Correction: An earlier version of this review used an incorrect pronoun in reference to the book's author.