UCCA Beijing

“The New Normal” Conversation Series — Urbanity Unhinged!
Taobao: Rural Revival or Urban Demise?


Location:  Nave
Language:  English with Chinese translation

UCCA welcomes renowned urban planner and architect Neville Mars to present his recent research into Taobao-driven urbanization, a curious yet unstoppable phenomenon that has been sweeping across China for nearly a decade. The conversation will be moderated by “The New Normal” co-curator Alvin Li, who previously worked with Mars as a researcher on the subject under discussion.

To invoke the notion of Taobao is a trigger for a sequence of oftentimes negative imaginations: from the familiar reality of shanzhai and cheap labor, to the more implicit workings of neo-liberalism and accelerationism. What’s often left unnoticed is how such a position is almost exclusively afforded to inhabitants of urban regions who, until recently, have been privileged in terms of cultural access and production. In this conversation, Mars and Li will look at Taobao from the perspective of urban development. Might it be that Taobao and e-commerce have, beyond all their ills, also become a force for good, propelling organic, bottom-up urban development? Could an “urbanity unhinged” generate new urban potential, with new growth models, a new aesthetic, and even a new urban culture?

Ticketing: Free


*Collect your ticket from reception 45 minutes before the event begins;

*Please no late entry;

*Seating is limited, and tickets must be collected individually;

*Please keep mobile devices on silent.

UCCA Membership Benefits

Scan the QR code below to sign up for UCCA membership and enjoy exclusive member benefits.


For this event, UCCA members will enjoy:

• Exclusive seats reservation service

• Members-only guided tour

For UCCA members, please send us your name and mobile number to RSVP (ve@ucca.org.cn) or call UCCA membership hotline: +86 10 5780 0200


15:00-15:20 Ticket pick-up at the reception desk (for UCCA members who RSVPed)

15:20-15:50 Exclusive UCCA members-only guided tour

15:30-16:00 Ticket distribution at the reception desk (for UCCA members who didn’t RSVP and non-members)

16:00-18:00 conversation

*Please arrive promptly.


Neville Mars (Architect, urban planner)

Neville Mars is the principal of MARS Architects Shanghai and director of the non-profit urban research platform Dynamic City Foundation. For thirteen years the Dynamic City Foundation has been active in China operating within a unique multi-disciplinary framework. Specializing in design research of green solutions for fast changing urban environments, the Dynamic City Foundation manifests its findings in a range of media from publications to buildings to large artistic interventions. It dismantles long-term observations, spatial concepts, urban theory, and ideas along all lines to create tangible works of art. MARS has been invited by UN HABITAT to produce the masterplan for Tacloban, the city ravaged by super typhoon Haiyan. Mars is the author of the book The Chinese Dream - a society under construction (010 Publishers, 2008), a 800-page tome which proved to be a prophetic analysis of the correlation between city building and society building in China, inspiring the theme of China's 12th Five-year Plan. Later this year, Mars will publish his second book “Manifesto of Mistakes - urban solutions for the new world”, an ecocity design manual that rethinks the fundamental principles of the urban discipline, in order to arrive at a comprehensive strategy for process-driven integrated urban planning.

Alvin Li (“The New Normal” co-curator)

Alvin Li is the English editor of UCCA. He studied philosophy at Connecticut College and has been working as a writer and translator since 2013. Particularly interested in gender variance and queerness, as well as their implications for community practices and social relations, Li has been organizing queer film festivals, monthly screenings, and community-oriented events in Shanghai for three years. Prior to joining UCCA, he worked as an editor of LEAP. He is a regular contributor to a range of publications, including Frieze, ArtReview Asia, Randian, Artforum China, and others.