The Case of Shanghai's Laundry
After the fuss about the WTO and pirated videos, Orlando Jones had become obsessed by the issue of how the Shahghaiese were to dry their laundry in the near future. On Thursday 28th November, 2001, it was reported on Shanghai Noon (Shanghai Broadcasting Network -SBN) that the Shanghai Municipal Government was formulating a regulation prohibiting the drying of laundry on balconies, outside windows, on rooftops,
or in the street. This regulation, which was to come into effect in April 2002, specifically stated that the restriction would be policed most strictly in areas "frequented by visitors". Admittedly, there were no fines or punishment for disobedience, but perpetrators of laundry infringements would "receive instruction" (be given a good talking to). Orlando Jones suspected that in Shanghai, "China's financial powerhouse" the word "visitor" meant "foreign investor." The Municipal Government was quite explicit that the issue was one of environmental "appearance." For Orlando Jones, the issue was one of everyday urban cultural practices (she loved that Chinese people sun dried their washing on lines across the sidewalk or across the hutongs) being eroded by the construction of western capitalist 'aesthetics' as international norms. This infuriated her. She suspected that the Shanghaiese did not dry their laundry in public in order to offend the sensibilities of foreign investors but because it was an ingenious laundry solution specific to the configuration of Chinese urban economic environments.
Chinese cities were composed, it seemed obvious to Orlando Jones, almost exclusively of apartment blocks. Detached houses were extremely, and furthermore, unaffordably, rare. Chinese urban citizens had therefore no backyards, courtyards and certainly no in-ground clothes hoists. While Chinese householders, she knew, had acquired white goods such as refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners and the inevitable large, digital colour television set, electric clothes driers were conspicuously absent from retail outlets. Chinese people hung their laundry to sundry on balconies, outside windows and in the streets because the only other option was to hang sodden washing inside one's apartment.
For a while all was quite, but as the April deadline approached, the case of Shanghai's laundry became a cause celebre, a media event, and a controversial issue. The Shanghaiese were up in arms, they were not happy. A female professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, Wang Haifang, became involved in their cause. Orlando Jones waited for further developments.
As Spring approached, Orlando Jones began to photograph laundry.