Joss paper (金紙) are sheets of paper and various crafts burnt as offerings in Chinese traditional religious practices. Burning the paper items sends them off to the deceased, ancestors and spirits. The most popular offering is the so called hell money, but all kinds of paper objects (紙紮) have developed around the theme. The whole spectrum of modern life is available as the objects ranging from luxury handbags and clothes to microwaves and washing machines, from air conditioning and smartphones to sports cars, from security guards and servants to food, whiskey and cigarettes. Local sellers of paper offerings on the streets of Hong Kong for instance, bulk order their stock from manufacturers in mainland China. What is especially interesting to me, is that their physical appearance and selection somehow reflects the current fashions and popular taste: everything that you might want, you want to give to your ancestors. Thus, to put it lightly, these paper objects are capturing the material and visual appreciations of the changing Chinese society.
If you Google the term, you will probably find a lot of visual oddities related to these items, as well as beautiful creative projects spun around the odd dollhouse-like aesthetics (See for instance Anna Gleeson’s series for pinholet magazine or a HongWrong blog post about the perceived “weirdness” of many such objects).
But what is also interesting to me is how the popular taste and design of such objects is determined, as they ultimately appear similar to the trade catalogs of the 1950s-60s modernizing West. The objects as a whole reflect a shifting tendency from everyday traditional Chinese wares and visualizations of dreams towards real prosperity and wealth, luxury labels, gated communities, white modern homes, design objects, SUVs, swimming pools and condominiums. In terms of architecture and design, there seems to be a real niche of objects aiming for contemporary expression and towards the lifestyle of China’s new middle class, albeit most of the offerings really go for the more general public and thus appear more flashy, reminiscent of the modern generic China suburbia. Here, however is a small selection of architectural items related to the such niche observations picked from various joss paper manufacturers’ online catalogs, echoing the architecture and interiors often seen in glossy magazines.
Some of the Google Earth imagery seems eerily high-res these days. Almere, Netherlands.
The latest in city iconography as luxury objects. Louis Vuitton city guides 2014.
Research and Practice in the Urbanity.
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