After nearly three weeks in China, my perceptions of the country had begun to conform into a somewhat cohesive ideal. From the academic intellectuals, we could see how much internal inflection or self-cultivation was a factor of their ideals. I had an idea of how lovely the Chinese people were, how ambitious they seem to be becoming, and how important Daoism and Confucianism thought was to the sentiments of the Chinese people. I had been able to form criticisms of infrastructure problems China looks to have and the facades of materials used in construction. For example, buildings that looked to be made of brick were at close inspection actually plaster painted to ‘look’ like brick (quite offensive to a Bauhausian such as myself).
I also could see the reach of the Chinese government’s censorship and a complete lack of trust I had in anything coming out of the media machine in China. The censorship problem in China in particular invokes immediate disgust from the socially conditioned American I am, and still I have trouble with the idea of it. However, today, we made an almost accidental trip to the 798 art district in Beijing and all at once, my concepts of China completely changed (which happens often there!). The art district is an area of Beijing that was the site of an industrialization surge in the 60’s but had since become abandoned after the Cultural Revolution. Artists decided to move in and setup studios, art spaces, and galleries. After the area became popular, the Chinese government decided they should try to shut down the flowering district. In response, the artists organized, elected a member to a city council post, and was able to effectively argue the importance of art as a catalyst for innovation and progress. Now, the government helps sustain the area. There are literally hundreds of galleries, shops, and studios winding in and out of old factory spaces. It’s a beautiful area – the mix of modern, impressive design in the middle of converted industrial hardware is striking and pleasant. The streets were bustling with people of all nationalities, and everyone seemed to have a smile on their face. There were enormous statues of transformers (Bay style), excellent sculpture artwork lining the streets, and paintings everywhere. People were relaxing and laughing in cafés that were on every corner. It was the first time I could say, “you know, I could live here in China.” There were

What completely altered my opinion of China and ultimately gives me a very strong hope for the openness that I think is coming for the country, was the artwork itself. There was more progressive art and design in the 798 district than anything I’ve seen in Denver, New York, or anywhere I’ve traveled or have seen in the world. The pieces ran the gamut – on one had there were beautiful oil paintings with extreme skill, expertly crafted sculptures and on the other, grotesque works with naked figures and extremely suggestive, even offensive works. The explosion of expression we were experiencing was tantalizing and the air was electric everywhere you went. I loved it. It was hard to believe; I found myself dozens of times saying, “Are we really in Communist China?” If the government is accepting, or at least tolerant of the movement going on here, China is on a very bright path indeed. I loved the 798 district and it is a MUST see for anyone visiting China.

Roy

Advertisements