Here Be Dragons: Surveying the Sacred, Shanzhai, and Simulated Spaces of Chinese Burning Man

Ian Rowen

Venue: Room 101, 1555 Century Avenue, NYU Shanghai
Date: Tuesday, October 29, 2019
Time: 17:30 - 19:00 CST

This talk examines the interpretation and appropriation of Burning Man, a transformational event culture and globalizing social movement, from its American origins to its hybridizing expressions in China. Based on years of action research within Burning Man’s global network—including in Black Rock City (Burning Man’s annual week-long urban agglomeration in the Nevada desert, with 80,000 participants) and Dragon Burn (China’s official regional event in Zhejiang Province, with 800 participants), as well as accounts of several ambitious recent ‘shanzhai’ (copycat) efforts in Inner Mongolia, the talk will trace the role of capital—financial, social, symbolic, and otherwise—in mediating Burning Man’s discursive and material circulations in China.

This account of Burning Man’s Chinese articulation by grassroots Chinese and international participants, authorized by the San Francisco-based non-profit organization Burning Man Project, as well as attempts at appropriation by China’s state-backed culture industry, including for-profit businesses supported by the Ministry of Culture, China Merchants Group, and China Capital Group, provides a colorful counterpoint to popular narratives of the US-China trade war and debates about the propriety, provenance, and influence of Chinese industry.

The talk will further consider the cultural economy of China’s industrial sectors in light of Burning Man’s purported function, per Stanford scholar Fred Turner, as ‘cultural infrastructure for Silicon Valley’, following its initial years as an outsider counter-cultural ritual. China, despite its increasingly powerful art and technology industries, has no autochthonous event culture with similar functional role or iconic status, allowing a strategic opening for a variety of actors with contending agendas. This demonstrates not only the increasingly uneasy imbrication of Chinese and American industry and cultural economy, but the diversity, tension, and creativity of contemporary Chinese society.

Ian Rowen is Assistant Professor of Sociology, Geography and Urban Planning in the School of Social Sciences at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, where he holds cross-appointments in the School of Art, Design, and Media, and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. His work on culture, politics, and place-making has appeared in The Journal of Asian Studies, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, Annals of Tourism Research, Asian Anthropology, the BBC Chinese, and The Guardian, among other outlets. Complementing his academic endeavors, Ian currently serves as International Meta-Regional Representative for the Burning Man Project. In these capacities, he has designed interactive art pieces, founded events, connected communities, and continues to serve in an advisory role to Project founders, directors and staff.

Introduction and moderation of the Q&A by Christina Jenq, Assistant Professor of Practice in Economics, NYU Shanghai.

This event is cosponsored by the Center for Global Asia and the Global China Studies Program, NYU Shanghai.

To schedule a meeting with the speaker, please email CGA (
Time available (First come first serve):
Oct 29 2pm-4pm
Oct 30 10am-12pm (noon)



Location & Details

To our visitors:
• RSVP may be required for this event. Please check event details
• Visitors will need to present a photo ID at the entrance
• There is no public parking on campus
• Entrance only through the South Lobby (1555 Century Avenue) 
• Taxi card 
• Metro: Century Avenue Station, Metro Lines 2/4/6/9 Exit 6 in location B 
• Bus: Century Avenue at Pudian Road, Bus Lines 169/987

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