Our journey begins in Shanghai and Beijing — chaotic places where millions of LBXes scurry about doing all sorts of maniacal activities that are impossible to compile into any coherent story. If this is your first time here, you’d do well by yourself to know what an LBX is.
The most important thing to do before taking on a task like this is to clearly define what we’re looking for. It can’t be just LBXes. Nor can it be just LBXes and the mess they’re in. Many of the LBXes in China’s cities are indeed in a big mess, but we’re not trying to describe how hard their lives are or what obstacles stand in the way to their happiness. There is a great volume of work available on this already, and it’s depressing. Our goal then is more positive and hopefully useful: to seek LBXes who have been able to create happiness and beauty despite it all.
So we start our journey from the big cities, the center of China’s development and the heart of the madness that spreads over the land more frantically and with more gusto each passing day. We’re not interested in capturing the essence of China as a whole because frankly the subject is too colossal to try to encapsulate in one fell swoop. And besides, enough ink has already been spilt on such endeavors. Likewise, we’re not out to report on the economy. Of course economics are important on a macro level, and clearly money affects the lives of every LBX. Nonetheless, they’re all affected at an individual level, and we’re only interested in the effects from the vantage point of the individual LBXes themselves.
We’re interested not in how wonderful is the world of the modern Chinese man or how his comforts are tripling or how his access to information is ever increasing. All of that too has been well documented, but more importantly implies movement by something greater than the man while the man passively receives from below. The essence of an animal is lost when it is described in terms of its ever bigger cage with air conditioning and more nutritious food – and harmony among its co-cage-dwellers. No, we’re searching for how the modern Chinese man flourishes in his own environment, where he feels relaxed and free. We’re out to tear down the walls of his cage to find signs that red blood still flows in his veins and that he has potency on his own.
Don’t get us wrong — this project is not meant to be destructive toward people or the systems in which they live, although God knows we’d love to have the magic button to destroy a system or two. We’re philosophers, and as philosophers, we’re out to seek inspiration in an old place full of secrets that can further our enlightenment, and hopefully at the same time further enlighten anybody who stumbles upon our work. A rather pertinent Chinese saying goes something like, “The essence of a mountain is not in its height; the presence of immortals there makes it celestial. The essence of a body of water is not in its depth; the presence of a dragon there makes it divine.” So we’re not looking for big mountains or deep waters; we’re looking for remaining traces of divinity and immortality embodied in humanity, which we value more highly than the physical observations that point thereto.
That we are carrying a camera is indicative of the fact that we are also searching for beauty, but we’re looking for beauty in the form of mastery of the art of human life. We want people who take life as an art form in itself and have achieved high levels of proficiency in mastering their own fates — truly a lost art in most places, let alone zombie-ridden China.
Aesthetics in the unchanging and permanent – the philosophical – sense runs much deeper than the surface. Beauty to us is thus something alive and thriving and creating its own rules. It’s a mastery of the game, an ability to seize and savor that which is necessary for both survival and happiness and to disregard the rest. We’re looking for the spirit of humanity in a place where the rush for development has made humanity more difficult to find with each passing day.
China is a world where the currents of reality run deep, and the waves come hard and fast. Many are either drowning or just barely staying afloat, but we’re not interested in them, pitiable though they may be. We’re looking for those who craft their own boats and sail atop the waves. That said, most of the characters we seek are hanging onto little bamboo rafts while huge tankers dominate the straights. We’re interested in getting to know these raft pilots, where they go, and why they go there.
The Chinese even have a phrase for what I’m describing that goes something like, “Even though the swallow is small, its five organs are all there.” Yes, it’s small, but it lives and thrives just as well as the big birds. Perhaps it even lives a more complete life for its being small.
So that’s the perspective we take at the outset of this project: to find dignity and humanity in a place that is perhaps most replete of both. Our challenge then is to render our discoveries into a transferable medium. We hope you’ll join us for the journey.