China is urbanizing at breathtaking speed and Shanghai is booming. Dutch writer Harry den Hartog, the man behind this collection of essays and photographs, knows the city well. The result is a densely populated book, bilingual English and Chinese, with a huge quantity of information and images.
Everything is logically organized, the texts on greyish paper, English on the left, Chinese on the right. Explanatory illustrations are here grouped sometimes in close clusters of sixteen on bled-off spreads, sometimes three to five at a time set spaciously in a sea of white space, or together with the notes in the margin. All the small-format images are still perfectly ‘legible’. Chinese takes up quite a lot less space than English, which leaves extra pages for images, maps and infographics.
The city’s new districts and the life that the prosperous middle classes lead there are presented on thick, smooth, highly glossy paper which did not go down well with all panel members: ‘Awful. Like having laminate flooring in a stately home.’
Obviously this heightened contrast between the two paper stocks is there for a purpose. It is a matter of districts that have barely got past the drawing board, places that have yet to be shaped by life being lived there – districts, moreover, for which semi-rurality has been coldly bulldozed out of the way. And, finally, districts in which every now and then older European building styles are simply reinvented. Suddenly you find yourself standing eye to eye with Constantijn Huygens’s country mansion at Voorburg – in Shanghai! Look at it this way and you begin to understand the choice of a spooky kind of paper.