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A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice "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 A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice "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.


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A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice "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 A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice "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.

30 review for Blockchain Chicken Farm: And Other Stories of Tech in China's Countryside

  1. 4 out of 5

    Meike

    Xiaowei Wang is a Chinese-American artist, researcher and activist working on technology-related issues. In this book, they describe their travels through the Chinese countryside, searching for the sources and consequences of technological innovation. While it's interesting how they dissolve the myth of the conservative countryside, it's even more interesting how they confront non-Chinese readers with their prejudices only to illustrate how stupid these cliches actually are, and how close Wester Xiaowei Wang is a Chinese-American artist, researcher and activist working on technology-related issues. In this book, they describe their travels through the Chinese countryside, searching for the sources and consequences of technological innovation. While it's interesting how they dissolve the myth of the conservative countryside, it's even more interesting how they confront non-Chinese readers with their prejudices only to illustrate how stupid these cliches actually are, and how close Western technological realities are to those in China. In eight essays, Wang talks about the surveillance state and surveillance capitalism, eCommerce and digital multi-level-schemes, social media and influencers, the title-giving chicken farm that uses blockchain to improve food safety, and some other economic and social implications of technology in rural China. I liked how the author puts economic phenomena in perspective with an intersectional approach: They are Han Chinese-American, traveling between big cities and rural areas, talking with tech specialists and workers, young people and old people, always trying to measure both the chances and dangers of digital innovation. And they also open up the big perspective: What kind of world do we want to live in, and what does that mean for the way we build and use technology? What opportunities and threats does technology bring for social justice? Unfortunately, I'm not a tech specialist, but the texts are easily accessible, and the social dimensions are way more important than the details of technological processes. This is an intriguing read for anyone interested in the development of digital technologies and how they can change the face of societies. Plus there are some "Sinofuturist" recipes in the book, so readers can find new ways to engineer their food! ;-)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel Nicholas

    I Went to Rural China and All I Got Was This Valuable New Perspective on the Relationship Between Technology and Geopolitics.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Vipassana

    AI is not the balm to any problem—it is just one piece of the ever-hungry quest for scale. The purchase of Halloween costumes in suburban United States fueling the replacement of growing wheat with chili peppers in Dinglou is one of the many cases in Blockchain Chicken Farm of how technology and globalism are changing the ecology of rural China. The book is an exploration of the changes in land, ecology, and migration in rural china as a result of technology, consumerism, and globalism. Xiaow AI is not the balm to any problem—it is just one piece of the ever-hungry quest for scale. The purchase of Halloween costumes in suburban United States fueling the replacement of growing wheat with chili peppers in Dinglou is one of the many cases in Blockchain Chicken Farm of how technology and globalism are changing the ecology of rural China. The book is an exploration of the changes in land, ecology, and migration in rural china as a result of technology, consumerism, and globalism. Xiaowei Wang highlights the resulting precarity of life for gig workers and the exploitation of that precarity by internet platforms and government policies. Wang talks about pearl parties where American shoppers pay to have direct sellers livestream the unboxing of low-grade pearls artificially sealed inside an oyster. The industry is a pyramid scheme that offloads all the risk on to the direct sellers of the oyster-pearl experience while the company procures these “wish pearls” from rural Chinese farms. While Wang doesn’t directly describe or quantify the precarity of life for the sellers, they do note that the states with the greatest number of direct sellers – North Dakota, Iowa, Wyoming, Montana – are also states with a high unemployment ranking. At the same time, the increased cultivation of pearls in these rural farms leads to excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the waterways around the farms, changing the local ecology of these regions. Xiaowei Wang, through these stories, says simply that technology and the internet are having serious impact on the natural world. It is something to seriously reckon with if we are to address the climate crisis. However, Wang isn’t trying to definitively make a case of what the solution or even the problem is. They suggest an adoption of Shanzhai in tech development, building community, and letting go of the future. It was a loose coming together at the end, one that felt more personal than a direct conclusion. However, it’s one that resonated deeply with me. -- December 2020

  4. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    i just read a very angry review of this book by an ayn rand fan about how it's too ideological haha. i'm mulling it over... regardless the facts alone in this book are so interesting. and the ideology is beautiful i've been fantasizing about becoming a software engineer and (separately) moving to china bc i want to be current... tech is the future, china feels like the future bc it's gone thru both communism and capitalism and is therefore on the event horizon of history... i want to rush headlon i just read a very angry review of this book by an ayn rand fan about how it's too ideological haha. i'm mulling it over... regardless the facts alone in this book are so interesting. and the ideology is beautiful i've been fantasizing about becoming a software engineer and (separately) moving to china bc i want to be current... tech is the future, china feels like the future bc it's gone thru both communism and capitalism and is therefore on the event horizon of history... i want to rush headlong into the void... um! but this book is about unpacking that, how behind china's sleek urban tech scene are rural farmers, taobao villages, etc, how behind technology is humans, how thinking about "china" as a discrete concept in the context of tech/the global economy doesn't make sense in that components, investors, employees are global. "it would have been easy to believe the technological arms race between china and the united states... because at least then a person, a company, a country could serve as the symbol of sinister surveillance." but instead your favorite american christian girl autumn influencer sells fake pearls sourced from rural zhejiang (this is not the best example of what i just quoted but was a very enjoyable chapter). as bong joon ho said, we all live in the country of capitalism! re: ayn rand fan, i think this book is certainly ideological but i guess i was moved by the ideology so i don't mind haha. and i think the book generally does a good job of connecting particular observations about rural china w theory. there were some points that felt a little bit disconnected (especially in the chapter on predictive policing in a guiyang urban village, where most of the critiques of technological surveillance/carceral punishment felt borrowed from american critics. i didn't think the author followed the guiyang police station long enough to be able to thoughtfully apply those critiques to it. i was actually fascinated by how grassroots the data collection was, how the community seemed to buy into it for better or worse... though i didn't know chinese police were trained off US models! yikes!). shit that was a long parenthetical. that's really the only spot i felt the critiques were off though. otherwise the book was so clear about observing/conceding the ways in which technology was lifting rural china out of poverty, but in ways that are unsustainable, that overlook these beautiful philosophical nuggets: "the process of learning doesn't reside solely in our brains, it's environmental, physical, and, most of all, social, carried out through interaction and dialogue" "an essential part of being human is the ability to enter into commitments and to be responsible for the courses of action that they anticipate. a computer can never enter into a commitment" the "recipes" were so sci fi and cool to read in a nonfiction book. they made me feel optimistic about the future as one where technology is nurturing. "there is so much potential for AI to serve life, to expand the open systems we do live in." and a concrete example! "there could be scenarios where an AI model helps small-scale fisheries across the world examine weather patterns, getting rid of the need for expensive forms of expertise. this stands in contrast to the current economics of AI, which would learn toward an expensive, corporate AI model that demands small fisheries become industrial fish farms to recuperate costs" my brother would probably say, well industrial fisheries are more efficient! but "the work of a farmer is [not] to simply produce food for people in cities, and to make the food cheap and available... for thousands of years, the work of these farmers has been stewarding and maintaining the earth, rather than optimizing agricultural production" i LOVE the analysis of shanzhai, as "an unapologetic confrontation with western ideas of intellectual property"

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tanuj Solanki

    Xiaowei Wang does the tough task of critiquing tech-religion while being a tech-optimist. The marvelous part is that the book works as a travelogue, as a short survey, and as a general critique of the present. Much recommended to my Indian friends, who may see in TaoBao's rural initiatives the radiations of the track that Indian agriculture may soon be pushed towards. Xiaowei Wang does the tough task of critiquing tech-religion while being a tech-optimist. The marvelous part is that the book works as a travelogue, as a short survey, and as a general critique of the present. Much recommended to my Indian friends, who may see in TaoBao's rural initiatives the radiations of the track that Indian agriculture may soon be pushed towards.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    3.5 stars

  7. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    This is a fun and hugely informative book of essays on the state of technology in rural China. The author is very smart Chinese-American woman who seems to combine the skills of a software engineer with those of a journalist and an entrepreneur. There is fairly little that is available on the conduct of technology enterprises in China, much less outside of the major metropolitan areas. While the chapters appear to be only loosely related to each other, they end of being well linked to any overall This is a fun and hugely informative book of essays on the state of technology in rural China. The author is very smart Chinese-American woman who seems to combine the skills of a software engineer with those of a journalist and an entrepreneur. There is fairly little that is available on the conduct of technology enterprises in China, much less outside of the major metropolitan areas. While the chapters appear to be only loosely related to each other, they end of being well linked to any overall economic policy problem for the Chinese governments. The country is strongly organized around an internal passport system, with rights and benefits linked to areas of residence, such that it is not at all easy to pick up and move oneself or one’s family from a rural location to areas like Shanghai or Beijing where so many economic opportunities lie. As a result, each year hundreds of millions of Chinese migrate over 1500 kilometers to find remunerative work and who largely send their pay back home while living in temporary “urban villages” while away from home. To do away with internal passports would greatly exacerbate the population problems in the Chinese mega-cities. To further restrict the movement from rural areas would be politically dangerous as well and require the providing of new opportunities to the migrant workforce that ended up staying home. Many of the chapters are concerned with efforts to consolidate and build large scale economies in rural food businesses, such as chicken raising and pork production. These businesses appear to require large size and capital intensity to generatge sufficient profit. Unfortunately, it does not appear feasible to force large numbers of smaller producers out of business, which requires initiatives such as in the title chapter that seek to innovate around quality assurance for smaller producers. Other chapters focus on the growth of large scale knockoff businesses that sell mostly to a rural customer base that could not patronize regular retail stores. One of the more interesting chapters covered efforts to build entire new retail areas linked to Alibaba and TaoBao, the latter a direct to consumer internet firm that is not dissimilar to eBay. A troubled financing venture that ran into troubles just prior to its IPO is related to this effort. The writing is sharp, clear, and thoughtful. Ms. Wang is skillful at talking to a wide range of people to build her stories and the rich detail is helpful. I look forward to more books in this series and more work from Ms. Wang.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rollin

    This was the book I looked forward to the most this year. It is a deeply empathetic work that pulls no punches. The book is both meandering and deliberate where every personal aside and theoretical diversion illuminates a new facet about how tech is changing the way we live our lives. The intermissions of recipes and speculative fiction were particularly refreshing. However, there is one gap that I wish was explored more (Put more generously, this book offers an opportunity for a new research proj This was the book I looked forward to the most this year. It is a deeply empathetic work that pulls no punches. The book is both meandering and deliberate where every personal aside and theoretical diversion illuminates a new facet about how tech is changing the way we live our lives. The intermissions of recipes and speculative fiction were particularly refreshing. However, there is one gap that I wish was explored more (Put more generously, this book offers an opportunity for a new research project.) In Wang's writing, the Chinese countryside is more pastoral than rebellious. While they do reference the bandit-filled "mountain strongholds", the rural parts of China have a more pronounced legacy of being sites of resistance. From the 14th century story "Outlaws of the March" to the escapades of communist cadres in the early 20th century, the Chinese countryside is turbulent, rowdy and violent. While this most certainly has changed in the 21st century Chinese state, I can't help but imagine how/whether the rural legacies of rebellion (both real and imagined) impact the people's use of tech there. Nevertheless, this book lived up to expectations. It collapsed long distances in our global economy and encouraged a deeper meditation of how tech is shaping the way we eat, communicate, trust, and live.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    life really is mr. worldwide 2 quotes i loved: - A once complex relationship to nature has flattened and been diminished to cash cropping, the earth becoming factory, once rich soil becoming dirt. - My last ten purchases on my credit card do not speak to the poetry of my mornings, the slant of Californian sun at 4:00 pm, the moment between dream and waking. In a life with specificity and intention, the power of surveillance and data becomes deflated, the industrial quality of rendering people into life really is mr. worldwide 2 quotes i loved: - A once complex relationship to nature has flattened and been diminished to cash cropping, the earth becoming factory, once rich soil becoming dirt. - My last ten purchases on my credit card do not speak to the poetry of my mornings, the slant of Californian sun at 4:00 pm, the moment between dream and waking. In a life with specificity and intention, the power of surveillance and data becomes deflated, the industrial quality of rendering people into categories vanishes.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ula

    A very insightful, beautifully written book about technological advances in rural China. For some time, I am convinced that this country is like Japan in the 80s - they are at least a couple of years ahead of the rest of the world in terms of new technologies, and watching what happens there is like a glimpse into the future. This book confirms my belief. It is like reading some SF novel, you have to repeatedly remind yourself that it is nonfiction. Moreover, it is not a dry account, rather a ki A very insightful, beautifully written book about technological advances in rural China. For some time, I am convinced that this country is like Japan in the 80s - they are at least a couple of years ahead of the rest of the world in terms of new technologies, and watching what happens there is like a glimpse into the future. This book confirms my belief. It is like reading some SF novel, you have to repeatedly remind yourself that it is nonfiction. Moreover, it is not a dry account, rather a kind of personal travelog with many digressions and inspiring reflections. The book is a part of a very interesting series, FSG Original x Logic, which dissects the way technology functions in everyday lives. Thanks to the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    Looking at the title and reading the NYT review of Blockchain Chicken Farm, I thought this would be a straight up account of how tech is transforming China's rural regions - a little bit like Lee Kai Fu's AI Superpowers perhaps. And Wang does deliver an eye opening account of how technology is being deployed in the rural regions - how Sanqiao village in Guizhou uses blockchain so that urban consumers hundreds of kilometers away can track the provenance and treatment of the poultry they are consu Looking at the title and reading the NYT review of Blockchain Chicken Farm, I thought this would be a straight up account of how tech is transforming China's rural regions - a little bit like Lee Kai Fu's AI Superpowers perhaps. And Wang does deliver an eye opening account of how technology is being deployed in the rural regions - how Sanqiao village in Guizhou uses blockchain so that urban consumers hundreds of kilometers away can track the provenance and treatment of the poultry they are consuming (although Wang notes that it would be easy enough to fake web pages and video feeds); how internet gaming company NetEase moved into pig farming when its founder became concerned about the authenticity of the blood tofu in his hotpot, using technology to ensure that pigs raised by Weiyang, its agricultural products division, "live an optimised life", even setting up MOOCs to train skilled workers for the company; how Alibaba's ET Agricultural Brain aims to use AI to transform pig farming; how young people are choosing to remain in the rural areas to serve as farm service technicians - by operating drones to manage crops; the establishment of Taobao Villages where village households manufacture products at home for Taobao. But Blockchain Chicken Farm isn't just about tech. It's a commentary on the values of contemporary society, where technology isn't necessarily to blame for the tensions and stresses we see arising; it merely accelerates their trajectory and makes them more visible. In his opening chapter, Ghosts in the Machine, Wang gives a sweeping summary of China's cultural context - how pre-1949 China and socialist central planning under Mao continue to shape the present, creating tensions with urban, contemporary China. Wang cites sociologist Fei Xiaotong's observation of the difference between rural and urban culture, which I found thought provoking: "In Fei's eyes, rural culture is marked by a different sense of time, a different cosmology. At the core of rural culture, he says, is a belief that the universe is already perfect as it is, and that our duty as humans is to maintain that harmony...every day depends on tending to the present moment. An act of care. In contrast, urban culture is centred on the belief that the universe must be constantly corrected on its course, and that life is defined by the pleasure of overcoming future challenges." In Chapter 2, On a Blockchain Chicken Farm in the Middle of Nowhere, Wang recounts political scientist and food safety expert John Yasuda's assessment that maintaining contemporary food safety will always be a challenge before "ultimately food safety revolves around social trust and...'social trust can't scale.' When supply chains were shorter, being able to meet your farmer created this trust. With supply chains now long and complex, the change that you might meet the Australian farmer who grew the kiwi you eat or the Mexican farmer who produced the avocado on your plate is low. Farmers themselves are also isolated from seeing the people they provide food for; they send their products off to larger corporations that then redistribute them." This observation raises the question for Wang on how we can extend and grow trust in an increasingly networked world. Technologies like the blockchain also require the extension and development of trust - in the code underpinning the technology and in those who have developed the code. Wang notes: "A system of record keeping used to be textual, readable, and understandable to everyone. The technical component behind it was as simple as paper and pencil. That system was prone to falsification, but it was widely legible. Under governance by blockchain, records are tamperproof, but the technical systems are legible only to a select few. Even exploring transactions on a blockchain requires some amount of technical knowledge and access. The technology of record keeping has become increasingly more complex. This complexity requires trust and faith in the code - and trust in those who write it. For those of us who don't understand the core, trusting a record written in natural language on a piece of paper seems at the very least a lot clearer." Moreover, Wang questions whether blockchain can really be deemed to be democratising and unbiased - it merely shifts control and power from the bureaucracy to technical experts (typically white and male). Or how in Chapter 3 When AI Farms Pigs, Wang comments on AI's potential to serve society, and how realising this potential will depend on the choices we make - whether we use AI to help "doctors diagnose and identify disease versus AI replacing the human social service worker who determines whether someone should receive medical benefits", or whether an "AI model helps...small-scale fisheries across the globe examine weather patterns, getting rid of the need for expensive forms of expertise...in contrast to the current economics of AI, which would lean toward an expensive, corporate AI model that demands small fisheries become industrial fish farms to recuperate costs". I could have done without the random chapters like How to Feed and AI, How to Eat Yourself, and How to Eat the World, where Wang creates recipes to serve as metaphors for the challenges and opportunities of technology. But overall, Blockchain Chicken Farm offers a peek into a different side of life in China.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Vicky Huang

    Bold, honest, and original!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Horst Walther

    The first 100 pages were sufficient to convince me to follow the author to the end of the book. Xiaowei Wang can certainly be described as technically adept or nerdy. Wangs enthusiasm for the use of digital technology is palpable. Nevertheless, Wang is critical of the consequences of this hasty transformation of China's economic and societal landscape. This research & contemplation, also echoed by the voices of contemporary or almost contemporary philosophers and writers she Wang is referring to The first 100 pages were sufficient to convince me to follow the author to the end of the book. Xiaowei Wang can certainly be described as technically adept or nerdy. Wangs enthusiasm for the use of digital technology is palpable. Nevertheless, Wang is critical of the consequences of this hasty transformation of China's economic and societal landscape. This research & contemplation, also echoed by the voices of contemporary or almost contemporary philosophers and writers she Wang is referring to, is definitely worth reading - at least as far as I got. It is a slow read for me, as I use to follow the references quoted. … Now that I have read Wang's book from the 1st page to the last, I feel I have come a tiny step closer to understanding contemporary Chinese life, the perceptions of it, and the expectations on its evolvement. Understanding China will be one of the major tasks for all of us, and it will require significant effort. China is vast, diverse, and changing rapidly in parts and remaining true to itself in others. The current fierce competition between the declining superpower U.S. and a rising China is not really helpful in accomplishing this task. But Wang's book helps - at least a little. It is, in parts, a personal journey. It begins with personal feelings in a small village in southern China, on the Jianxi-Guangdong border. It ends with a description of shehui ren, literally but ironically "society people", a kind of "no future" movement among less fortunate of the Chinese youth, reflecting the own feelings on their motivation. It is this absence of any pretence of conveying a general truth that makes this little book credible and true.

  14. 5 out of 5

    LMS Software

    One of the best book i haven't seen ever. i'm planning to start a chicken farm with perfect business plan. i think this book helpful for me to get new and creative ideas to start it's emergingly. we are Digital teacher is your personal digital tutor which helps you to visualise the tougher concepts in a simpler way through animations, videos and voice over for better understanding. One of the best book i haven't seen ever. i'm planning to start a chicken farm with perfect business plan. i think this book helpful for me to get new and creative ideas to start it's emergingly. we are Digital teacher is your personal digital tutor which helps you to visualise the tougher concepts in a simpler way through animations, videos and voice over for better understanding.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cosmictimetraveler

    This book is a visceral disappointment. For anyone planning to read this book, please understand that it is only maybe 40-50% about tech in China's countryside, 10% random prose (which is actually quite good which further fuels the disappointment), and 30-40% garbage tier takes on politics and social theory. The remaining percentage contains bizarre recipes and speculations on the future. In a way, I am glad I read this book. We all pretend we like to expose ourselves to the opposing viewpoints This book is a visceral disappointment. For anyone planning to read this book, please understand that it is only maybe 40-50% about tech in China's countryside, 10% random prose (which is actually quite good which further fuels the disappointment), and 30-40% garbage tier takes on politics and social theory. The remaining percentage contains bizarre recipes and speculations on the future. In a way, I am glad I read this book. We all pretend we like to expose ourselves to the opposing viewpoints to become more well rounded thinkers, but rarely do we actually read entire books by someone we disagree with. When I saw this book was by a "non-binary" person I considered putting it down because of the assumptions that come to my mind regarding how such a person might write and interpret events, philosophy, and the like. Well that would be prejudiced wouldn't it, so I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. As usual my presumptions were correct, but it always feels good to be right and it also led to a contemporary twist on an old joke: How do you know if someone is non-binary (replacing vegan, or "does Crossfit", etc)? Answer: They will tell you. Sure enough, the author shoehorns how technology is not really all that advanced because the facial recognition cameras in China cannot recognize the author to be non-binary. The thought that the author misses the supreme irony in such a statement (and the fact that some reading this review might as well) makes it all the funnier. It is not even that I give a shit that the author is a far left non-binary progressive. But that is not the bought I wanted to read when I bought something called Blockchain Chicken Farm. I wanted a book on technology in rural China with an emphasis on blockchain. The part about blockchain chickens is only maybe 10 pages or less and it might be one of the longer anecdotes from the countryside. I did NOT want an ill-informed progressive take on modern technology. There are much better modernist critiques, like pretty much anything published by Urbanomic. Anyway, here are some specific issues I had with the book: - The claim that the blockchain is turning food into a commodity instead of a human right. Mind-blowingly stupid, this claim ignores the fact that many foods are already commoditized on modern financial markets and quasi-commoditized in grocery stores. The author provides absolutely no rationale for food being a human right. This is the same mistake the far left makes with healthcare and education. They prescribe positive rights which entitle some to the labor of authors. Positive rights are self-defeating as even the simplest of thought experiments can illustrate: if I am stuck on an island and get sick, but nobody comes to provide me healthcare, are my human rights being violated? No of course not. Likewise, I can survive an infinite amount of time on an island while retaining my negative rights (like free speech), as those need malicious actors to infringe upon the rights of others. This is basic stuff, but shows how important axiomatic thinking is instead of the free-wheeling nonsense common in this book. - The claim that Hobbesian philosophy has been disproven by "the research". The author then bizarrely links Hobbesian philosophy of a strong central authority being necessary to control the savage nature of man to the philosophy of crypto-anarchism. Crypto-anarchism is simply a tool to bypass authoritarian structures altogether. Instead of debating banking regulations or having lobbyists influence legislation to have banks do this or not do that, cryptocurrency provides a way to ignore that altogether with peer-to-peer anonymous (quasi on some coins I suppose) payment systems that leave government out of the picture entirely. - The general lack of rigor the author has with defining terms. Sometimes China is the best, sometimes they are the worst (insert mandatory We Stand With the Uyghurs blurb at the beginning of the book, the easiest kind of lip-service that leftists love paying to social issues without actually doing anything about it (see: BLM)). Sometimes the author understands libertarian philosophy and the desire to be free from authoritarianism, sometimes the author wants the entire world to be based on communal feelings, whatever the hell that means. There is one positive aspect of the book however, although it was unintended I am sure: - While reading this book, China launched an anti-trust probe into the business restrictions Alibaba places on their 3rd party partners. I had the realization that there is no reason whatsoever to allow the ineffective agency, the government, to look into the practices of the most effective agency, Alibaba (or substitute Amazon in the USA). If anything, our governments are so ineffective that Alibaba or Amazon should look into their respective government's systems and try to fix them to meet even the most basic of free market baselines. Our governments are almost completely free from accountability, as is evidenced by all the hypocrisy exhibited by our legislators during the covid pandemic. Any of the archaic attempts to recall legislators available to us today are too slow for the modern world. Here is an idea that would hold legislators accountable: all bills passed must be digitized for the public to read which EACH provision in the bill being hyperlinked to the primary legislator who added that provision. Place a limit on the number of provisions per legislator and the number of legislators per provision. The author then ends the book with a banal whimper for a better world, which reads more as an admission of the author's own short-comings in life (5 digits in debt, why are you buying MLM pearls?). They do mention an incurable disease, which as far as I know was not explained elsewhere in the book, so I do wish them the best with that. Overall, a very disappointing experience. If the entire book was like the anecdote where the author buys the condiment from the rural farmer who asks her to pay in WeChat, the book would be at least a 3 and maybe a 4. Some of the prose is very well-crafted. But as it stands, it is merely a testament to the fact that socialism will never work because people who can't guide their own lives surely should not guide the lives of others.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Wren

    Two short passages from Blockchain Chicken Farm: * After all, life is defined not by uncertainty itself, but by a commitment to living despite it. * The present moment promises nothing – it only demands. It demands building the communities that shift culture, that allow interbeing to thrive. It demands the work of awareness and care, instead of the tools of efficiency and scale. It demands seeing individual freedom as nothing more than a way for all of us to be oppressed. Most of all, the present de Two short passages from Blockchain Chicken Farm: * After all, life is defined not by uncertainty itself, but by a commitment to living despite it. * The present moment promises nothing – it only demands. It demands building the communities that shift culture, that allow interbeing to thrive. It demands the work of awareness and care, instead of the tools of efficiency and scale. It demands seeing individual freedom as nothing more than a way for all of us to be oppressed. Most of all, the present demands the tender, honest work of attempting to make meaning, instead of looking, waiting, or wanting. Through the present moment I see glimmers of liberation embedded in the work we must do at this time. Because what else can we do?

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    It begins as non-biased as possible with an introduction on how technologies and humans interact. I thought this was going to be a very matter of fact book with incredibly articulate writing from the author. The way she describes a smart phone as, "The darkened screen beckons to me, reflecting back like an ancient scrying mirror, a device used for divination, a mirror on which to project all our desires," was a way no one would have used to picture a smart phone but everyone who read it would in It begins as non-biased as possible with an introduction on how technologies and humans interact. I thought this was going to be a very matter of fact book with incredibly articulate writing from the author. The way she describes a smart phone as, "The darkened screen beckons to me, reflecting back like an ancient scrying mirror, a device used for divination, a mirror on which to project all our desires," was a way no one would have used to picture a smart phone but everyone who read it would intuitively understand. One of the author's goal with her arguments was to avoid criticism of technology because there are two sides to every story. What may be good for you may not be good for me. If the author had stuck with this format, the book would have easily been awarded 5 stars. Unfortunately, right after the introduction, the irony and failures begin. She criticizes American capitalism and free market while being a CCP apologist. While recalling her third day of her visit, she explains the debilitating and harsh caste system in China called, the hukuo, in which your social program benefits are determined by your ancestral home. Someone, by default, who was born in a big city gets more benefits than someone who was born in a small village. This limits a Chinese from success because it creates distinct class difference that favor certain people based off of nothing more than where they were born. But for whatever reason, she proceeds to criticize the success of the United States for having similar class systems and being able to extort the labor of lower and poorer classes. She does so without providing an ounce of evidence of any similar laws in the United States. The author is very critical of the free market, using words to describe it like delusion and eerily. According to her, market forces create problems of food safety and it should be up to the government to mediate social trust and regulate to protect its people. She is critical of the free market even though as she provides a plethora of evidence of how the free market is giving consumers trust in food safety with innovations from informatics and sensors being provided by market forces such as Alibaba, fitbits for chickens and Bits X Bites. On the other hand, zero evidence toward her statement that the government can be the ones to create social trust. I don't get this author. The author does a great job summarizing the disastrous results of Mao's Socialist China in the Great Leap Forward when millions starved, including her great uncle, because of collectivized farming - an obvious form of socialism. Where her great aunt lost a limb because educated doctors were sent to reeducation camps and the only 'doctors' left were young students who gave faulty medical advice - an example of demonizing the competent and successful in favor of the incompetent and unsuccessful. And yet, the author cannot put two and two together, lacking logical reasoning, and demonizes blockchain innovators - competent and successful - and essentially the free market, for making food a commodity instead of a 'human right.' I'll end this review with a quote that she begins the book with, "Nationalist dreams stand, dull and mute, nothing more than a point between dream and illusion." (p29)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nuha

    Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley for the Reader's Copy! Now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indie Bookstore. It is impossible to live in the US today and not hear about the rise of the Chinese economy. Yet, for most people, the impact of rapid technological changes on daily lives of Chinese folk, especially folk in rural areas, remains a mystery. What "Blockchain Chicken Farm" does is clear some of the misconceptions about rural China (ie that it is backwards, less com Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley for the Reader's Copy! Now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indie Bookstore. It is impossible to live in the US today and not hear about the rise of the Chinese economy. Yet, for most people, the impact of rapid technological changes on daily lives of Chinese folk, especially folk in rural areas, remains a mystery. What "Blockchain Chicken Farm" does is clear some of the misconceptions about rural China (ie that it is backwards, less competitive, laid back) while documenting really fascinating micro industries (blockchain chicken farming, pearl mining, third party buying). What I loved most about this book was the way Wang delved into the personal lives of the Chinese people, whether through interviews or personal explorations. Some of the material seems straight out of science fiction (block chain chicken farms, really???) but as often happens in life, the truth is stranger than fiction. A fascinating read!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Picasso

    The title of this book is such a clickbait and the book itself is a weird mix between travelogue, essay and memoir, but I really enjoyed it. The prose is effortless and conjures a kaleidoscopic but still clear picture of modern China (of which I was quite ignorant), specially rural China and its interaction with technology/e-commerce. The blockchain-tracked chicken do make a short appearance in the book, but are by far not the most interesting story (and I am not even sure you should call a priv The title of this book is such a clickbait and the book itself is a weird mix between travelogue, essay and memoir, but I really enjoyed it. The prose is effortless and conjures a kaleidoscopic but still clear picture of modern China (of which I was quite ignorant), specially rural China and its interaction with technology/e-commerce. The blockchain-tracked chicken do make a short appearance in the book, but are by far not the most interesting story (and I am not even sure you should call a private blockchain a blockchain at all... but since this book is not about the technology per se that is maybe nitpicking on my part).

  20. 4 out of 5

    Su Lin

    I mostly enjoyed this—it was an easy read and the stories were relevant and engaging. The author spends a fair amount of the book philosophizing about the future of politics/technology and at times it felt a little bit like a rant (though I did agree with a number of their opinions, it felt like just that, a lot of opinion). It was also a little too brief; don’t think I learnt too much more from reading this beyond what’s been covered in other books like Factory Girls/ Age of Ambition etc. Still I mostly enjoyed this—it was an easy read and the stories were relevant and engaging. The author spends a fair amount of the book philosophizing about the future of politics/technology and at times it felt a little bit like a rant (though I did agree with a number of their opinions, it felt like just that, a lot of opinion). It was also a little too brief; don’t think I learnt too much more from reading this beyond what’s been covered in other books like Factory Girls/ Age of Ambition etc. Still would recommend though as a very contemporary take on tech in China.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Rodenbaugh

    I came into this book expecting to learn a lot about the tech industry in China outside of tier one cities. you can find that in this book if you’re willing to sort through and deal with the authors heavily anti-capitalist political opinions that are on full display throughout. I would have enjoyed the book more if it focused more on the day to day stories of builders outside of chinas t1 cities and less time on the authors political opinions :)

  22. 4 out of 5

    Yun Rou

    I unabashedly give this book five stars. It is a wonderful piece of writing. More importantly, it's a wonderful presentation of thoughts and ideas synthesized into a relevant and contemporary look at everything from technology and society in China to artificial intelligence, what it means to be human, the purpose of business, and, dare I sound hyperbolic, the purpose of living. I've not read something as creative and smart as this book in some time. I unabashedly give this book five stars. It is a wonderful piece of writing. More importantly, it's a wonderful presentation of thoughts and ideas synthesized into a relevant and contemporary look at everything from technology and society in China to artificial intelligence, what it means to be human, the purpose of business, and, dare I sound hyperbolic, the purpose of living. I've not read something as creative and smart as this book in some time.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Queena Li

    Read if you are skeptical about current closed systems of innovation and curious about alternative models, like stories about rural development, are interested in designing innovations that prioritize sustainability over time, account for more than problems of scale, and work to enhance our abilities to take care of each other (our mutual livelihoods, safety, food security, access to justice and education).

  24. 4 out of 5

    Avraam Mavridis

    The first half of the book is what I was expecting and what the title claims, and is fascinating. The second half although has some examples on how tech is used in rural China it's more of what the author thinks and mostly feels about it, interesting but kinda not what I was expecting (although I mostly agree with her views). Not a book for you if you are a neoliberal who believes tech and markets can solve poverty. The first half of the book is what I was expecting and what the title claims, and is fascinating. The second half although has some examples on how tech is used in rural China it's more of what the author thinks and mostly feels about it, interesting but kinda not what I was expecting (although I mostly agree with her views). Not a book for you if you are a neoliberal who believes tech and markets can solve poverty.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Cody

    Among the timeliest texts I've encountered, taking vast, messy, and complex topics and rendering them into nuanced, humane, and compelling ideas. Xiaowei Wang's ability to, in clear and engaging prose, balance tech's potential with its, thus far, problematic execution is a marvel and very much needed as we blaze toward a more and more digital existence. "The call to an examined life begins." Indeed, and this book offers meaningful examples of what such a life could look like. Among the timeliest texts I've encountered, taking vast, messy, and complex topics and rendering them into nuanced, humane, and compelling ideas. Xiaowei Wang's ability to, in clear and engaging prose, balance tech's potential with its, thus far, problematic execution is a marvel and very much needed as we blaze toward a more and more digital existence. "The call to an examined life begins." Indeed, and this book offers meaningful examples of what such a life could look like.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Greg Ruben

    More like 3.5. Excellent, unique writing on contemporary China. I learned a lot, and it made me consider some new angles on similarities between American and Chinese late capitalist culture. The only detractor was meandering passages in which the author cites grad school theory. Very woke, very inaccessible.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kenny Buntara

    Quite an eye-opening book about how technology has transformed China from an agricultural center to a technology hub. Wang managed to capture the daily lives and experience of regular people who lives in the more rural parts of China. She then explains how each of their lives were transformed through tech. Definitely a good read to know a little bit more about China

  28. 5 out of 5

    Marissa

    A thought-provoking, insightful tour of rural China and it's technological development. Loosely related stories weave together a broader narrative around geopolitics, culture, and technology that left me feeling like a techno-optimist despite the book being based in critique. A thought-provoking, insightful tour of rural China and it's technological development. Loosely related stories weave together a broader narrative around geopolitics, culture, and technology that left me feeling like a techno-optimist despite the book being based in critique.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Snonono

    Incoherent. Only small portions of the book are dedicated to technology in rural China, while the rest jumps from topic to topic for a hundred pages. Would love an actual account on innovative farming in China but this isn't it. Incoherent. Only small portions of the book are dedicated to technology in rural China, while the rest jumps from topic to topic for a hundred pages. Would love an actual account on innovative farming in China but this isn't it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    xinhui

    Interesting anecdotes and stories, but author was a bit too preachy about tech and its meaning for my liking.

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