On October 12, the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley and the Curatorial Practice at the California College of the Arts are partnering to host a live-streaming of the Creative Time Summit, an annual conference in New York that brings together cultural producers–including artists, critics, writers, and curators–to discuss how their work engages pressing issues affecting our world. To jump-start the conversation in advance of the event, attendees have been asked to submit a paragraph on a keyword associated with one of the summit themes: Inequities, Occupations, Making, or Tactics. This posting is by Samuel Jiang, American Cyberculture student at UC Berkeley.
Over the past summer, I went to China to visit my relatives. My mother’s side of the family lives in Nanjing, and my father’s family in Shandong. The most striking aspect of the entire trip was the wealth disparity; my mother’s parents came from better conditions and lived in a wealthier city, and while visiting her family, the general abundance seemed to permeate every aspect of the time I spent there. Friends and other family members would invite us to dinner every night at some fancy restaurant. On almost every street there were fancy stores with fancy brand names filled with well-dressed people. At Shandong, however, the environment was noticeably different. The streets were littered with trash, and strange odors often arose, mixing with the heat and humidity. We went out to a restaurant to eat only once, as my family generally ate what my grandparents cooked. There were no large shopping centers nearby, and many people wore dirtied shirts with ruined collars and torn sleeves. The central questions that stuck with me the entire trip were, “How did the rich become richer and the poor become poorer? Why did this happen and how can we as a society break out of this trend—or, in a more extreme direction, is that even necessary?” What I saw these scenes as was a reminder to work harder. At the time, I saw these financial gaps as clear indicators of the winners and losers of the past generation, and I saw the best and worst of each city. Yet in retrospect and more contemplation about what makes the poor poor, I realized that much of wealth was not determined by “hard work,” but perhaps circumstances that people were born into or financial tragedy, events that individuals had no control over. The government is responsible, in part, for the conditions that the people live in. The growing financial gap between the rich and the poor is gradually undermining democracy – the rich will always be in power and always make decisions to maintain that wealth, or even expand it. These actions will only continue to hurt the poor—but how does the poor influence the rich when the poor’s opinion does not matter? These are the issues of today and of the next generation—can capitalism help fix the gap, or must another method of economy be adopted to ameliorate the situation?