Wooden Promises: Beijing Timber Mill and the Fibres of Chinese Socialist Living
Dr. Jennifer E. Altehenger
Lecturer in Contemporary Chinese History
Department of History
King's College London
Wooden Promises: Beijing Timber Mill and the fibres of Chinese socialist living
In late 1959, the Ministry of Forestry sponsored a large furniture exhibition in the Beijing Timber Mill in Fengtai District. On display were prototypes of furniture which the mill’s workers and other mills across the country had manufactured using novel production techniques. Visitors could examine how cheaper veneers, fibreboards, and plywood might help realize Great Leap Forward dreams of mechanization and automation. Soon, they were led to believe, everyone would be able to own such furniture. Their hopes, however, would be dashed. In 1960s China, techniques that are today commonly associated with the European “IKEA revolution” became a symbol of resource shortages and material scarcity following the Great Leap Forward. Starting with the Beijing Timber Mill, this talk explores some of these techniques, the products they helped create, and their political contexts. Mundane as they might have been, chairs, tables, beds and cabinets were an important part of the attempt to make the country ‘look socialist’. Their production histories shed new light on material cultures in revolutionary China.