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


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.

Good grief! We have grass-eating-sheep neighbours! God help us!!

I was reading interviews with a group of renowned intellectuals including poets, writers, critics, musicians, reporters and artists etc who live in a newly developed area of Shanghai. In the interviews they explained that there was a lack of culture in their living environment because there was not enough government support. I am very frustrated with their opinions.

First, let me give you a brief history of the area. Xinzhuang (Village of Xin) was a farming village at the south west of Shanghai,  after passing the Huangpu River .  In the old days, villagers had to spend a whole day to reach central Shanghai, so no one paid any attention to this ‘backward’ place.

Old Xinzhuang

However, with the sudden expansion of Shanghai in the early 1990’s, the social, economical and architectural landscape of the village underwent dramatic changes. By the early 21st century, new houses and flats were built on the farmland to accommodate the ever expanding workforce of Shanghai; service industries flourished while farming struggled; cheaper housing prices and a new underground line (which reaches central Shanghai in half an hour) meant new residents from both inside the city (people looking for a more spacious home) and outside (manual labourers). Unlike in the west, where the expansion of a city happens over a long period of time, China did it overnight. Suddenly intellectuals find they are neighbours with farming peasants from the village or factory workers who came from villages all over China in search of a better life.

Xinzhuang housing

The intellectuals who were interviewed hold the belief that Xinzhuang has no culture of its own. Even though they live there, they do not interact with anyone in the area because the lack of culture in their neighbourhood. I felt a strong sense of sorrow and grief at their failure to see the newly emerged society has a rich mixture of cultures which were brought in by every group of its residents. It is pure arrogance for them to isolate their culture from the less privileged peasants and factory workers.

Old houses in Xinzhuang

Throughout the interviews, all the intellectuals seemed to call on the district government for cultural improvements to Xinzhang. I find this very hypocritical. These intellectuals are the best assets to inject, guide and unite the cultures of the area. But instead of trying something productive, they just simply push the responsibility to the government. Naively, one intellectual even suggests that the government should give 300 pounds to any young artist who plans to live there to attract new talent. But isn’t there plenty of intellectuals who live in the area already? Yet they have done absolute nothing for the community.

Let’s face the facts about China, how many impoverished familes coming from villages who are struggling for ends meet live in the community? Don’t they need more urgent

Xinzhuang Highway

support than some self imposed artist? Without a comfortable living standard, will people really care about art or culture? The government’s job is to improve the living standard for everyone in the area so they could one day have the privilege to appreciate culture.

Instead of blaming other residents or the government, why not take an initiative to work together and be the advocates of a new culture? Yes, culture needs time to grow and mature, but why not be the pioneers of this revolution.

The Chinese are a very curious race by nature, therefore, they will be drawn into anything that new and interesting, include culture. I have found this out through my own performance and sculpture exhibition in my hometown of Luoyang. Luoyang is a

People's Park, Xinzhuang (the biggest in Shanghai)

fast growing city just like Shanghai. When I staged my artworks around the public parks, I wasn’t sure how people would react (especially as it was on the coldest day of the year). However I got the most overwhelmingly intrigued audience I have ever seen to this date. People came from different backgrounds all eagerly engaged in the artwork and the discussions. Considering that this was only a spontaneous act, you can imagine just how much more you could have achieved with a bit more planning.

Exhibition in Luoyang

I find Xinzhuang a fascinating place right now. There you have all the ingredients of something new and exciting. Intellectuals can set up poetry workshops, art talks , classic readings etc all around public places. There are so many things you could do to

Xinzhuang's house planning

influence the population and lead a good local ‘cultural revolution’. Surely this will be much more productive than just complaining and hiding one’s head in the sand.