A teaser for Aowen Jin’s Made in China: Factory Girls documetary about the lives, dreams and aspirations of China’s factory girls.

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‘Kaleidoscope’ By artist Jennifer Yang

My heart tinkled with delight when I marveled at artist Jennifer Yang’s work in the Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester. The work consists of large-scale sections of paper origami, which through the clever use of light and colour interact with the viewer depending on their viewpoint around a stairwell. It gives me reassuring comfort and delight in encountering artwork which is familiar but yet offers so much space for surprise and wonder.

The work challenges our current perception of traditional craft. In a world where contemporary art can mean everything, crafts are still being viewed as inferior to ‘fine’ art. It is artworks like this and others that remind us of the enchanting powers of traditional craft – just like any other art approach.

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Artist’s impression of the Sky City One in Changsha

The Sky City One in Changsha, China, aims to be the tallest skyscraper in the world, rising 202-storeys into the hazy Hunan sky. The skyscraper will be located smack in the middle of the Hunan countryside, roughly 16 kilometers (10 miles) northwest of Changsha downtown in what is currently a wetland along the banks of the Xiangjiang River. It is due for completion in June, 2013. Sky City One, according to environmental architect Lloyd Alter, will be taller, greener, faster and cheaper.

We are by now used to huge, tall skyscrapers dotting China’s cities and even the countryside. It is almost standard practice to transform China from its shady past to glamorous modernity. It seems as long as China has the biggest of everything in the world, surely it must be the best place on earth. In the meantime taste, style, culture and tradition are often lost in this simplified pursuit of size.

However this attitude is deeply rooted in Chinese culture. In China, size matters! Chinese people compete to have the biggest gold rings, the biggest jade stones, the biggest diamond…. Now the whole car industry benefits from China’s never ending demand for ‘something bigger’.

I am glad China has thought about building an environmentally friendly building but I hope one day we can go one step further to understand what is impressive about being Chinese rather than focusing only on size.

My upcoming exhibition explores the dreams, goals and ambitions of factory girls working in the main Chinese manufacturing hubs. Over the last month I have been based in the town of Humen – which is the capital of China’s clothes-making industry. This sneak preview from my making-of documentary introduces the town and its population.

Thoughts after watching The Arrest of Ai Weiwei play.

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Chinese poster saying: 打碎旧世界创立新世界 “Destroy the old world; build a new world.” Classic example of the Red art from the early Cultural Revolution. A Red Guard crushes the crucifix, Buddha and classical Chinese books with his hammer; c. 1967. From Wikipedia.

I have written a review of the play in a previous post. This post is about my concern for Ai Weiwei’s opinion on the future of China and art.

Throughout the play Ai Weiwei explained that classical art had died, and that it didn’t relate to people’s lives today. However if the play was all about free speech then surely we must respect that any artist who really enjoys doing classical art. Everyone is free to express their individuality with whatever art form one decides to pursue. If someone painted flowers that enchant me then I still think he or she is still an artist to admire and respect. I don’t think anyone is in the position to restrict the thinking of what art is or what kind of art we should practice.

At the end of the show, Ai Weiwei smashed a 4000 year old Chinese vase which symbolised harmony: to have something new is to break something old. It symbolises China’s society today, and calls for a abrupt change in Chinese government. It is a worrying view, as I strongly believe reform not revolution will serve China better.

As a person who loves China and want the best future for China,  I don’t believe that the way forward is to destroy anything just because it is old. The Cultural Revolution had the logo “Destroy the old world. Forge the new world.’ It didn’t work out well for China. Is this an overly simplistic view of China’s problems?

China just went ended over 100 years of war less than 63 years ago. Then it was the Cultural Revolution, famine and the Great Leap Forward. Most people have just started to live a better life after all the sufferings. A new war will just plunge people back into chaos and misery. I honestly don’t think Chinese people have the energy to start another revolution right now, since most Chinese want to focus their energy on improving their economical living conditions.

It takes decades to rebuild a broken country after war. Even looking at the comparatively successful example of the French Revolution, during the Reign of Terror (1793-1794) more than 40,000 people died in less than 2 years.  With the population and scale of China, how many more would die through such revolution is unimaginable. In comparison, Britain chose a series of reforms to strip mornachy of its power with much less human and economical sacrifice through the Regency era then the Reform Act 1832.

I understand how much emotional and physical torment Ai Weiwei must have gone through, but we must cool our heads and restrain from using ‘violence against violence’.  We must instead look beyond personal sufferings to think what is really the best for Chinese people.

The Official Theatre website

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The theatre was packed, and even though the majority were just white middle class people, I was still thrilled to sense everyone’s excitement and anticipation, and grateful for the fascination China has for people living in the West.

After the play, some of the audience stood up and applauded. People were clearly delighted with what they had just seen. Overall the play was interesting and engaging – with a good mixture of serious analysis and humour.

The play had a brilliant opportunity to do something original with this intriguing story, yet I was disappointed to see almost everything happened in a confined interrogation space. It is a cliché of so many other films and plays on similar topics – with people tied up in a chair. I believe it is the time to challenge this formula and break old boundaries.

The play bravely gives every character a personality. Whether it is the prisoner, the prison guards, interrogators or the politicians. By looking at these peoples’ emotions and stories, the play displayed a more direct and sensitive outlook on daily lives in China.

The play also tried to explain Chinese inner government power struggles between different political groups. I don’t know whether the Western audience was familiar with this topic but it certainly tried to demonstrate the well-known fact in China: 一个共产党,许多政治党派 (one Central Committee, many political groups). Within the Communist Party of China, there are many groups of politicians who have very different views on how to govern China. For example: Some hold the view that China should be ruled with an iron fist and anti-Western values like that of Mao Zedong; some believe in military power over economic power; and others believe in a softer approach and certain levels of social freedom, like that of Deng Xiaoping. These political groups within the committee constantly battle over the control of China.

There are some ideologies from the play which raised bigger concerns for me. I’ve covered them more in my next blog post.

The Official Theatre website

Migrant Workers Gangnam Style

Of the thousands of people around the world who have tried to copy the popular Gangnam style dance, I have to say that this version by Chinese workers has the most profound political and social impact – they did not do it for fun but, did it to generate publicity in order to get their wages paid.

Recently Chinese migrant workers have staged thousands of protests relating to their pay, work conditions and their treatment across China’s booming cities. With the fast and broad spread of information and social media in China today, more and more Chinese migrant workers are aware of how to mobilize different channels to promote and highlight their causes. They are very conscious of the power of media in promoting the their own personal stories.

I feel very encouraged by these changes. These people no longer feel neglected and powerless because of their social status; they are the new breed of Chinese people who understand their value and who would push the urgently needed reform in China. This change of attitude and ideas give me the strength to help them have their voice heard.

I couldn’t wait to work with them in April on my new art project to discover more about these individuals. I am sure they will produce something unique and special to them rather than just copying the ubiquitous Gangnam Style.

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