Neither spectacular nor ordinary: a visual essay on imaginations and homes in Beijing from 2007 to 2019

Gladys Pak Lei Chong*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This visual essay explores the intertwining relationships between urban transformation, homes (the physical dwellings), and imagination in Beijing over a time span of 12 years. The visual materials used in this study are photographs taken in and around the city of Beijing from the time leading up to the 2008 Olympic Games, in 2007, up to the pre-COVID-19 period. Inspired by Arjun Appadurai’s (Citation1996) writing on the social practice of imagination, this article explores the ways in which the imagination – the image, the imagined, and the imaginary – reflects, as well as constructs, the discursive practices of ‘the good life’ in dwellings. The images of the ordinary home not only help investigate the practices of imagination in ordinary life, but more importantly, they serve as a tactical intervention that encourages as well as urges us to contemplate and reflect on the transformation of China. They compel us to ask questions. How do the politics of the spectacular Beijing intersect with the politics of non-spectacular, ordinary everyday life? How have imaginations of the good life that drive support for the state-orchestrated development been displayed, constructed, disseminated, and materialised in the social lives of the ordinary? I argue that imagination of the good life carries the potential to aspire and transform; yet, it can also impose control, and subjugate one to the network of power relations that produces order and normativity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalVisual Studies
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Apr 2023

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

User-Defined Keywords

  • Olympics
  • Imagination
  • Home
  • The Good Life
  • Beijing
  • Ordinary
  • Spectacular
  • Spectacle
  • Visual culture
  • Visual ethnography


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