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

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,302 ratings  ·  215 reviews
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
Paperback, 256 pages
Published October 13th 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Average rating 4.03  · 
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Gabriel Nicholas
Jul 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
I Went to Rural China and All I Got Was This Valuable New Perspective on the Relationship Between Technology and Geopolitics.
Jun 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-read, china
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 ...more
Dec 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
Tanuj Solanki
Jan 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
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.
May 15, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
~gentle reminder that the author's pronouns are they/them~

my most vivid childhood memories with my dad and of china are when my mom took me and my brother (from taiwan) to visit dad in china (who worked in tech there throughout the 2000s to early 2010s) and he would take us on factory tours and shanzai cd/dvd stores. i remember feeling emotional those summer days in my early teens, relating to lyrics for the first time, attached to sony cybershot, feeling small and big at the same time, wonderin
Dec 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 30, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: technology
This has been a very interesting read over the week. The book was packed with so many surprises and new knowledge about how large technological companies backed by the government are shaping people's lives all across China. To me it read like Silicon Valleys arms race on the surface but just replicating the Silicon Valley model everywhere in the end. I heard somebody saying, "Sillicon valley is a mindeset." And this mindset is spreading and scaling up people's lives, livelihood, living condition ...more
Mar 01, 2021 rated it did not like it
Shelves: china-shelf
This book was not so much a book, but more of a weird art project masquarading as a book.

I really am having difficulty knowing where to start.

I was very excited to see someone writing about agriculture in China, a topic that I have actually published on and is too often ignored in both Chinese and Western media. But I was disappointed when I read this.

First, from a stylistic perspective, Wang is a shitty writer. There was really no variation in terms of her sentences, this is 250 pages of str
Dec 27, 2020 rated it did not like it
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
Dec 31, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: asia, digital
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
Nov 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
48th book for 2021.

This is an interesting, if somewhat discursive, take on the effects of modern techno-capitalism is having on people living in rural areas of China.

It is an act of reportage, not straight documentary reporting, on the tech scene in rural China. As such Wang puts themselves—as a Chinese-American, non-binary, progressive, tech-worker—within the story she tells. This won't be the to the taste of people wanting a more "straight" account, but I found the approach for the most part
Emma Sea
Feb 25, 2022 rated it it was amazing
well, this is just wonderful, and adds another dimension to both techno futurism and lying flat.

At the end Wang mentions Lee Edelman's No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive and wow, I did not anticipate the decentralizing of The Child would be so immediately relevant to broader global culture already.
Wow. I had no idea about Chinese tech development and its extent until this book and the tender analysis of the writer was simply beautiful. I loved this. I am so glad I was intrigued enough by the title to give it a shot.
Horst Walther
Dec 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Dec 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
Ula Tardigrade
Oct 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tech, non-fiction
A very insightful, beautifully written book about technological advances in rural China. For some time I have become 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, rat ...more
Nov 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: review
I bought the book because it had two keywords that interested me - blockchain and China. But as the 'stories' went from swine to finally pearls, I realised that the title probably doesn't do justice to the multiple themes that surface in the book and makes it, a rich and nuanced read.
The introduction points us to 'metronormativity' - the idea that rural people and culture are 'backward, conservative and intolerant, and that the only way to live with freedom is to leave the countryside for highl
Dec 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars
Cailin Hong
Sep 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
Read a while ago so details are fuzzy but this was provocative enough that some big ideas still resonate.

Discusses tech in rural China to untangle the assumptions we hold about the relationship between technology, (urban) development, and social progress. I liked that it was "techno-optimist," sympathetic to consumer desire and the exigencies of improving quality of life and access to the hallmarks of modernity (food, choice, opportunity) to rural populations, while holding skepticism towards t
Liên Hoàng
Feb 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
Poignant read, in part because many of Xiaowei’s musings could have been mine, though theirs are much more astutely thought-through and eloquently put. This book will stay with me for a long time.

I didn't love the clickbaity title (still don't). I went in ready to rage at yet another tiringly upbeat report of China's tech scene. Instead, Blockchain Chicken Farm turns out to be more like a travelogue dense with musings, at times philosophical, at times deeply intimate, and definitely quirky (did
Jan 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
Cyberpunk was nonfiction
Jun 28, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Had to wait to review until after book club, but more non-fiction should be this humane, well-reported, and of course, under 300 pages. There is far more in this book about what life is actually like for Chinese citizens than ever enters the American media's "China bad, China scary, America good" discourse. I appreciated the author's work to add depth to what is often reduced to the flattest possible talking points, and the format of this tends towards a fast, engrossing read. ...more
Aug 27, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: stethics, studies
loved it ! will be thinking about to for ages to come -- truly a thoughtful reflection on the relationship between environment, community and tech specifically within china's countryside (as well as how it translates to the rest of the world and the globalization of tech) . . . . thank u xiaowei! ...more
Mar 15, 2021 rated it it was ok
Some interesting insights and observations, but hampered by the crabbed, rushed feel of a student paper left to the last minute.
Helin Gao
Mar 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
I bought the book attracted foremost by the word "blockchain" in its title, prepared to acquaint myself with the tech scene in China's roaring countryside, a rare pristine land of vast potential. Yet I found myself reading the introspection of a Harvard graduate not so much more advanced than myself in age as she traveled across China seemingly driven by curiosity instead of mission. There are so many ingenious observations in the stories that created a rare moment of connection between tech (wh ...more
Kevin Miller
Jul 06, 2021 rated it did not like it
This book is why grad school should be illegal. What could have been a fascinating book about rural China, which accounts for half of Chinese people but about 5% of journalism on China, is instead a giant word jumble of loosely connected intersectional academic theories that seems designed to impress the author's dissertation advisor. There is almost no discussion of Chinese history, but there are discussions of Bell Hooks' theories on being and belonging. There are extensive descriptions of the ...more
Jul 30, 2021 rated it really liked it
This book really had it all. Actual fieldwork in China's rural villages and sociological analysis, thoughtful, reflective prose, quirky bonus content like Whyrecipes on "How to Eat Yourself."

Was a bit hesitant to read this because of the author's American background, but they thankfully didn't force their own preconceptions and cultural judgements onto the reader. But I do gotta say that the author sometimes depicts aspects of rural tech with an (unfairly) bleak and depressing vibe, and I'm sti
Robert Patterson
Feb 05, 2021 rated it liked it
Reads like one part long WIRED magazine piece, one part travel guide, one part recipe guide, one part Asian American trying to settle between the differences in the West and China, and a dash of Techno-utopian dystopia... Some interesting questions. Fun.

- I wish the author would sometimes settle back and let the stories she is exploring be central.
- Not everything needs to be examined through the lens of an elite US Liberal Arts college and a few courses in Post Modernism and Deconstru
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