Digital Deities and Galactic Guardians – Why China is Invoking Ancient Gods in Cutting Edge Tech

In the recent past, China has been known to the West for its Great Wall and its Terracotta Warriors, a great ancient civilization that gifted the world with revolutionary inventions such as the compass, fireworks, and beautiful silks, that was subsequently torn apart in the early 20th century and closed off. Even when it re-emerged and became a global manufacturing powerhouse, by and large in the Western consciousness the country still remained a land enshrouded in legends and mystery, about which not much is known beyond the Cultural Revolution.

Now, in the 21st century, China is once more truly becoming the author of its own fate. A new technological golden age seems to be dawning, from innovations in AI and 3D printing, to developments in biomedicine and space exploration — both via private investment and state funding. With this new-found confidence, China has also begun to re-connect with its past and create a Chinese version of modernity that it didn’t have the chance to before. And it is doing so in in fascinating ways — sometimes this means reaching back thousands of years, to draw that connection.

In this article, I look at 13 (a lucky number to the Chinese) pieces of new technology that demonstrate in their conception and nomenclature how China is mapping out its gods and traditions in the cyberverse and the stars.


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Science Fiction!

I have always been a geek, and around 2014, thanks to Con or Bust, I began attending conventions that catered for wider interests than anime. This led to some new beginnings.


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The Culture Behind the Pantheon: Exclusive with RADII

Though often portrayed in Western media as a monolithic, atheistic monoculture, China has one of the most complex histories of religion and spirituality among the world’s civilizations. Understanding the histories, myths, and enduring spiritual and pop-cultural appeal of China’s long list of deities is essential to understanding the country as it exists today, says Xueting Christine Ni, who has a book on the subject out on Friday (June 1).

Ni, also somewhat of an authority on Chinese pop culture (she wrote about ghosts and ghouls for us around Halloween), has put together a “shortlist” of 60 beings — gods and goddesses, along with “spirits, immortals, heroes, elementals, sages, guardians and so forth” — showing the connective tissue of deep-seated spirituality connecting figures From Kuan Yin to Chairman Mao as the book’s title has it, to Chinese society and culture.

Ahead of the book’s release, RADII caught up with Ni for a dive into China’s complex canon of mytho-historical legends, and to hear why she thinks getting a handle on them can help anyone hoping to understand the country’s role in the world today.


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Sculpture Masterclass at Asia House 2014

In 2014, Singaporean artist Chua Boon Kee won the Chinatown Art Space Award (with the theme of “sustain”) with his gorgeous sculpture “FLOW”.


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China Underground 2014-15

A few years after my Peking into Punk talk, I was recommended by some musicians in Beijing to Chicago journalist John Yingling, who was about to embark on his mammoth project of documenting the world’s underground music scene. He decided to go in at the deep end, to China, for the first episode.


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Terracotta Distribution 2011-2014

It was a pleasure working with Joey and Claire at Terracotta Films.


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A Brief History of Dong Hua: Taster

It all began in 1922. Between 1922 and 45 was a period when China discovered and explored animation for itself. The main force behind early Chinese animation were three classically trained art students from Shanghai, the Wan brothers, who taught themselves the techniques of animation from studying 20s American cartoons such as Out of the Ink Well, Popeye and Betty Boop. The very first Dong Hua movie, “Uproar In the Studio”, was born in 1926 in a 7 square metre room in Zha Bei district of Shanghai.


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CamCon: 2014

Guest appearance.


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Chinese Culture Programme: ReadCon 2013-14

The creation of ReadCon was part of the flourishing of the British animation convention scene within the last decade. Held on the campus of Reading University, this convention focused on home grown indie comics and crafts.


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UK Film Premier at King’s College, 2011

“Dedication” is a film about the traditional ways of life of TCM doctors in China’s Guang Xi region, inspired by the renown doctor Ban Xiuwen.


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