Blockchain Chicken Farm
And Other Stories of Tech in China's Countryside
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice. Selected for the 2023 National Book Foundation's Science + Literature Program.
"A brilliant and empathetic guide to the far corners of global capitalism." --Jenny Odell, author of How to Do Nothing
From FSGO x Logic: stories about rural China, food, and tech that reveal new truths about the globalized world
In Blockchain Chicken Farm, the technologist and writer Xiaowei Wang explores the political and social entanglements of technology in rural China. Their discoveries force them to challenge the standard idea that rural culture and people are backward, conservative, and intolerant. Instead, they find that rural China has not only adapted to rapid globalization but has actually innovated the technology we all use today.
From pork farmers using AI to produce the perfect pig, to disruptive luxury counterfeits and the political intersections of e-commerce villages, Wang unravels the ties between globalization, technology, agriculture, and commerce in unprecedented fashion. Accompanied by humorous “Sinofuturist” recipes that frame meals as they transform under new technology, Blockchain Chicken Farm is an original and probing look into innovation, connectivity, and collaboration in the digitized rural world.
FSG Originals × Logic dissects the way technology functions in everyday lives. The titans of Silicon Valley, for all their utopian imaginings, never really had our best interests at heart: recent threats to democracy, truth, privacy, and safety, as a result of tech’s reckless pursuit of progress, have shown as much. We present an alternate story, one that delights in capturing technology in all its contradictions and innovation, across borders and socioeconomic divisions, from history through the future, beyond platitudes and PR hype, and past doom and gloom. Our collaboration features four brief but provocative forays into the tech industry’s many worlds, and aspires to incite fresh conversations about technology focused on nuanced and accessible explorations of the emerging tools that reorganize and redefine life today.
Wang, Logic magazine's creative director, debuts with a thought-provoking if inconclusive inquiry into how technology is transforming rural China. Investigating "Rural Revitalization" initiatives aimed at alleviating poverty, improving food security, and solving the social problems associated with rural migrants who leave the countryside to find work in cities, Wang travels to remote parts of China to interview costume manufacturers and agricultural drone operators. They detail how blockchain technology, which uses cryptography to stop records from being falsified, bolsters consumer confidence in the accuracy of the "free-range" poultry label, yet argues that such fixes also create a new, technical elite and an overreliance on inaccessible systems. In one of the book's strongest chapters, Wang offers an illustrative and clear-eyed assessment of Dinglou, a rural village made wealthier yet more chaotic and dystopian through infrastructure investment by the e-commerce giant Alibaba, comparing the venture to Amazon assisting an Appalachian coal-mining town by "helping its citizens start candy businesses." But without a clear central argument, the narrative occasionally drags, and speculative interludes (including a recipe for making mooncakes with maize grown on the moon) are equal parts intriguing and confusing. Still, this is a unique and detailed survey of an underexplored aspect of Chinese innovation. Correction: An earlier version of this review used an incorrect pronoun in reference to the book's author.