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Fantasy Islands: Chinese Dreams and Ecological Fears in an Age of Climate Crisis

By: Julie Sze(Author)

248 pages, 11 b/w illustrations, 2 maps

University of California Press

Paperback | Dec 2014 | #221990 | ISBN-13: 9780520284487
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £23.99 $31/€27 approx
Hardback | Dec 2014 | #221989 | ISBN-13: 9780520262485
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About this book

The rise of China and its status as a leading global factory are altering the way people live and consume. At the same time, the world appears wary of the real costs involved. Fantasy Islands probes Chinese, European, and American eco-desire and eco-technological dreams, and examines the solutions they offer to environmental degradation in this age of global economic change.

Uncovering the stories of sites in China, including the plan for a new eco-city called Dongtan on the island of Chongming, mega-suburbs, and the Shanghai World Expo, Julie Sze explores the flows, fears, and fantasies of Pacific Rim politics that shaped them. She charts how climate change discussions align with US fears of China's ascendancy and the related demise of the American Century, and she considers the motives of financial and political capital for eco-city and ecological development supported by elite power structures in the UK and China. Fantasy Islands shows how ineffectual these efforts are while challenging us to see what a true eco-city would be.

"Julie Sze has written a perceptive and engaging account of the hopes and dreams embodied in Dongtan and why the project was such an abysmal failure. A mix of critique and reportage, the weaving of a theoretical approach with that of a traveler whose father coincidentally grew up on Chongming, Sze masterfully unpicks the strands of what was intended as the world's largest new environmental city [...] An impressive achievement in looking through new eyes at China's efforts to deal with its environmental challenges."
– Mark L. Clifford, Asian Review of Books

"Sze's exploration of the official self-delusion and public eco-desires that sustain fantasies such as Dongtan is compelling [...] What Sze's exploration of the narratives of eco-modernism shows well is how flexible the creed of environmentalism can be – and how that quality can be manipulated."
– Fred Pearce, New Scientist

"Recommended reading for both those trying to get to grips with green purchasing in developing countries, as well as those interested in what the people on the street think of planning green and thinking huge. It is also a refreshing read compared to media coverage on the issue, which tends to label developments as 'hilarous' or 'bizarre', or just interview the big names involved, without providing much on-the-ground insight."
– Michael Veale, LSE Review of Books

"Carbon-neutral, zero-waste and home to 500 000 people: the Chinese eco-city of Dongtan seemed a radical urban dream. But the city, to be sited near Shanghai on Chongming – the world's biggest alluvial island – remains a blueprint. As Julie Sze argues in this thoughtful [...] analysis of Chinese "eco-desire", the culprit could be irreconcilable beliefs in harmony with nature, and the ability of autocratic political structures to enact radical change."
– Barbara Kiser, Nature

"Sze's trenchant analysis of Shanghai's eco-city projects bulges with insights about the perilous outcomes of China's breakneck modernization. Required reading for all urbanists, China-watchers, and ecologically-minded futurists."
– Andrew Ross, author of Fast Boat to China: Lessons from Shanghai

"In this multi-sited exploration of how eco-desire and eco-cities are imagined and produced, Julie Sze makes critical contributions to the timely topics of sustainability, urbanization, and global cities. There is no book that I am aware of that accomplishes what this book does. Fantasy Islands will be read and cited widely." 
– David Pellow, author of Resisting Global Toxics: Transnational Movements for Environmental Justice

"This book is a brilliant and rare combination of ecocritical cultural studies, critical urban planning theory, and environmental justice analysis. Examining several examples in China, including the lesser-known imagined eco-city of Dongtan, Sze interrogates Chinese eco-desire and the eco-technological fantasies that underlie the contemporary development of world cities and mega-suburbs globally. In doing so, she challenges us to rethink how cities must be changed to truly become eco-cities. An important intervention in urban planning globally."
– Noël Sturgeon, author of Environmentalism in Popular Culture: Gender, Sexuality, Race, and the Politics of the Natural



1. Fear, Loathing, Eco-Desire: Chinese Pollution in a Transnational World
2. Changing Chongming
3. Dreaming Green: Engineering the Eco-City
4. It’s a Green World After All? Marketing Nature and Nation in Suburban Shanghai
5. Imagining Ecological Urbanism at the World Expo

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Julie Sze is Associate Professor of American Studies at UC Davis and founding director of the Environmental Justice Project for the John Muir Institute for the Environment at UC Davis. Her first book, Noxious New York (MIT Press), won the 2008 John Hope Franklin Award for the best book published in American Studies.

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