Chinese Man Pulling Cart

Chinese Man Pulling Cart309
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5 Essays

  1. David S. Gochman, Professor Emeritus, University of Louisville | Director, Health Behavior Systems says:

    The photographs of persons using "animate" as opposed to "mechanical" power and energy are striking. Examples are the images of the French bicycle cart in “modern” France, a developed country; and the African boatman; the clothes lines in Venice – again in "modern "Italy; the Guatemalan communal laundry and clothesline images; the Chinese man pulling a cart; the Chinese woman carrying water buckets; the Guatemalan child carrying goods on her head; the Cuban man plowing.

    Persons living in the “developed”/ industrialized world are so often caught up in Western / Eurocentric culture and technology that they take for granted that machines will take care of most of their tasks; they need to be reminded that so much of the world uses human or other animate sources of power to accomplish the tasks of everyday living.

    Ms. Tanur's poignant images convey this message most strongly.

  2. Eileen Otis | Sociologist, Stony Brook University says:

    These traditional pull-carts are seen throughout urban China, carrying everything from vegetables to sell at the market, to furniture, appliances, and all manner of industrial supplies. One often sees such carts piled impossibly high with goods moving next to cars and traffic on the streets. They are pulled at a snail’s pace by migrant workers who are populating China’s urban centers and make their livelihood providing such services. Hence, the pull-cart can be an important source of capital for migrant workers in cities.

  3. Guo Liang | Philosopher, Deputy Director, Center for Social Development, The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences says:

    In stores all over the world, we see items labeled “made in China.” Yet compared with its large population, China’s resources cannot even support its own people. One solution is “changing waste into treasure.” Nothing is useless in China. Facing into the sun in the afternoon, a man is pulling a cart of collected waste, worth about 10-20 US dollars. He must be satisfied with the achievement today. There are two ways to collect waste. One is to wander around and pick it up, another is to buy it at a low price and sell it at a higher price. Most likely this man bought waste from residents. Usually, the buying price is half the selling price; 1 US dollar for 10kg of newspaper or paper boxes, or 1 US dollar for 80 Coca-Cola cans, etc. There’s a chain of markets for this. In the end the waste will be classified and sent to different factories to recycle.

  4. Prof. Dr. Li Hanlin, Vice Director | Institute of Sociology, The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing China says:

    This man uses an old-technology cart to retrieve modern packaging. In China the means of transportation are changing from pulled carts to motorcycles. Some people may see the pulled cart in a museum.

  5. Nandita says:

    This photograph poetically encapsulates a series of contrasts that more or less map on to each other: tradition versus modernity, poverty versus wealth, slowness versus speed, and even man versus machine. In my reading, I will focus on the regimes of energy use and access that underlie these contrasts in the image, and by doing so, consider the socialities that result from the availability of cheap fossil fuels in our contemporary lives.

    At the center of the frame we see a man dressed in a blue jacket pulling miscellaneous items on a cart. He is captured mid-step, as he walks he passes a motorcycle parked to his right. The contrast between these two technologies of mobility produces meaning in this image. Even to those of us unfamiliar with the specificities of the cultural context, the man, who appears to be wearing traditional clothes, is marked as poor because of the contrast between his mode of transport and the motorbike.

    While rickshaws (carts with human beings as passengers) are culturally coded as a symbol of feudalism in China, and were banned by Mao during the revolution, carts with goods on them did not have the same negative charge. It is in this context that it is important to note that while the cart appears to be heavily laden with objects, the image does not pathologize the man’s poverty. He does not appear to be struggling with the weight – his shoulders and back are straight, his clothes are not too shabby, and his facial expression does not betray exhaustion or weariness as he walks straight ahead, squinting slightly in the sunlight.

    Despite this, our first instinct is to sympathize with him: he is seen to be performing a kind of labor that makes us morally uncomfortable in a world where certain kinds of non-artistic human labor are marked as drudgery if they could be performed more quickly and efficiently by machines. Building on the insight of cultural theorists Salminen and Vadén (2015) who exhort us to consider what fossil fuels make possible to think, we can say that it is the cheap and easy availability of fossil fuels that produces the context in which such morality is produced and makes logical sense. It is the presence and availability of fossil fueled mobility in this picture that makes the condition of cart-pulling seem morally problematic.

    However, to point to the structures of morality that are informed by our easy access to fossil fuels is not to make the argument that such morality is misplaced. Rather, it is to be aware of how fossil-fueled energy systems have played a role in the social construction of what are morally desirable forms of human labour. The image therefore opens up questions of whether our contemporary moralities normalize patterns of excess consumption of energy; or at the very least allows us to think of how our codes for what is morally acceptable might get restructured as we move towards lower carbon modernities.