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The Shanghai Dream

“We have all heard of the American dream – a land of opportunity for prosperity and success, the Irish Dream – a land for romantic poets living elsewhere. What about the Chinese dream?”

I have always had a fascination with Shanghai, the dream-like city where East meets West, and old meets the new. My grandfather, Qiusi Dong, translated Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield into Chinese when he lived in Shanghai in the 1930s. For me it’s one of the few places that could bridge China and the West, and where new ideas are born.

This summer I went to the Shanghai Book Fair and Literary Festival to re-discover the Shanghai dream – China is keen to understand the world much more so than we realise.

Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair 7-10 November 2013

The full article was originally published on BookBrunch.

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I Have Seen Happiness

You use a red cloth

to cover the eyes, and the sky

You ask what I see

I say, I have seen happiness

– Cui Jian, The Red Cloth

The Chinese art brand X+Q Art is invited for a special exhibition at Paul Smith flagship store in Paris to coincide with the Paris Fashion Week in autumn 2013.

I Have Seen Happiness, is an artwork especially created by the artist Xiang Jing and X+Q Art, personifies youth and innocence, inspired by the song from Cui Jian, the father of Chinese Rock. This sculptural representation of happiness is flocked in a rich red, blue, yellow and green, making it soft to touch. The sculpture embodies happiness, pureness and optimism, inspiring the pursuit of happiness and beauty in this word.

X+Q Art at Paul Smith
October – November 2013
3 rue Faubourg Saint Honore, Paris
Granta China

Small is beautiful – a new generation of private Chinese publishers

When the British economist E F Schumancher first arrived at the idea that “small is beautiful”, he probably never thought it could apply to China. The country’s size and vast population mean that everything it does is on a scale that breeds shock and wonder…

This article outlining my views of the Chinese publishers coming to this year’s London Book Fair. This article was originally published on BookBrunch.

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X+Q @ ENTRATALIBERA

X+Q Art @ ENTRATALIBERA for Fuori Salon 2013

Milan Invitation

Following phenomenal success in China and at London Design Festival last year, X+Q Art, which produces limited edition artworks based on the large scale sculptures by the art duo Xiang and Qu, will take part in a showcase exhibition On the Road, alongside international design visionaries Michael Young and Lapo Ciatti, at Milan Design Week this year. The showcase, which takes place at ENTRATALIBERA, known as Design Glamour Store, an 800sqm conceptual design gallery space, will also feature the two artists’ stunning original sculptures.

Showcase details

X+Q Art at ENTRATALIBERA Fuorisalone, 9th – 27th April

Reception: 11th April, 19.00

Address: Corso Indipendenza, 16, 20129 Milan, Italy

Phone: +39 02 7000 6147

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The Revolutionary

If you put one drop into the long river of human history. That’s immortal. That goes on waves after waves, drop after drop, long after you know it or don’t know it. That’s nothing to do wether you are aware of it. Your contribution is your immortality that something lasts. So you either make a difference or you don’t make a difference. In that case you just a piece of mud that swipes away. It doesn’t matter, but you can matter.

Sidney Rittenberg making history?

Yeah, history rode right over my body…

The Revolutionary, a documentary made by Stourwater Pictures

 

As someone who lives a parallel life between China and the UK, I cannot claim to be a total outsider or insider in either cultural scene. Instead I have split identities, loyalties to peoples and values on both sides of the globe.

It is encouraging and refreshing to see Sidney Rittenberg, an extraordinary American, who were trying to build a bridge between China and the US during the Cold War, has done it so brilliantly at the Chinese centre of power, despite of a few major mistakes he made along the way.

Now age 92, this remarkable man still has his belief as being a ‘revolutionary’ – as Mao said, ‘a revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another’.

I’m looking forward to the surreal moment when he appears on a Skype video telling his story to the audience across the ocean in 2013.

Events & Reviews

Financial Times Review “The Man Who Made Friends with Mao” by Jonathan Margolis

Pan-Asia Film Festival UK screening ‘The Revolutionary’ documenary, Asia House, 14 March 2013

Live Q&A with Sir John Boyd and Dr Julia Lovell 

St Sophia Cathedra

Russia in Harbin

Most people are attracted to visit Harbin these days because of the annual International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival, and I am of no exception. It’s a typical tourist experience: after queuing for 40 minutes in -25C, we slid down from a 50 metre high ice slide, a replica of the Great Wall of China, made of ice. It is a bit cheesy, fun, but above all a thrilling experience.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s well worth coming to see the ice festival. However, this is not what really impressed me about the city. When we visited the New Synagague of Harbin and discovered its fascinating Russian link, it struck me that Harbin is different from elsewhere in China. At the beginning of the 20th century, over 20,000 Russian Jews migrated to Harbin primarily because of the China Eastern Railway construction which began in 1898.

Harbin Jewish New Synagogue St Sophia CathedraTurkish Mosque

It was an extraordinary time. The Russians, Europeans, Koreans and Chinese (both Manchu and Han people) were living together in a place which was only first discovered as a fishing village in 1898. The old photos of Harbin shown at St Sophia Cathedra give us a sense of the urban landscape of the city, which was originally designed by the Russians. It is a shame though the picture captions are in Chinese only. In the heart of Harbin, St Sophia is the oldest Orthodox church in Northeast of China. Elsewhere in China, it might feel slightly out of place, but not here.

There were Jewish synagogues, Orthodox churches, Turkish mosques, Confucius temples and Tao temples spreading across the city skyline. At one point, Russian art schools, Western orchestras and even ballet schools were set up to meet the increasingly multicultural demand.

Industrial manufactures and trade businesses were quickly established here and quickly expanded internationally. One of the Harbin Business Tycoon is L.S. Skidelski, the great grandfather of Lord Robert Skidelski (a member of the House of Lords) who was also born in Harbin in 1939. To date you can still sense the lavish lifestyle from the old pictures of the black tie leaving party organised for the Skidelski family at the newly built Modern Hotel in Harbin.

So where are they now? We are told that almost all of the Harbin Russians or the Harbinets as they refer to themselves had left China by the mid-1960s, though it wasn’t clearly explained at the exhibition. We come across several Russian themed restaurants in the city, but I wonder if the locals can imagine all the glamour that this place once enjoyed?

Great Ice WallIce, Ice, BabyGangnam style

Because of the cold weather in Harbin you need to wear lots of layers to keep warm. To understand the city you also need to uncover it layer by layer. On the one hand I suspect everywhere in the world is becoming more and more homogenised. It’s overwhelming to see the capitalist consumer society here. People are rushing to gold jewellery shops before the Chinese New Year and Coca Cola has a snow carved ice bear in the middle of the walking street to welcome international visitors.

On the other hand to say the world is flat is untrue in this sense. Every time I visit a new place here, I’m keen to find out the story behind the place: a beginning, a middle and an end. Harbin certainly captures me by it’s rise and fall. I was lucky. During our short stay I got a fleeting glimpse of how new things take shape from old; how the old persists and returns.

As we leaving the city, we were told by the taxi driver that a new Harbin railway station just opened last month (the old railway station was part of the China Eastern Railway construction, built by the Russians). It puts a smile on my face. There is no end to the story – it’s only the beginning of another exciting cycle.

 

Top tips to understand the multicultural history of Harbin, visit

Old photo of Harbin Exhibition @ St Sophia Cathedra
88 Toulong Street, Daoli

Jews in Harbin Exhibition @ New Synagogue
162 Jingwei Street, Daoli

 

 

 

Sit on Cloud
Dubai skyline

A Tale of Two Cities: Dubai v.s. Sharjah

Time is on our side but our side is not on time.
Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, What Everyone Knows (2006)

The centre of the world is shifted when you are in the Middle East. It is the hub connecting the East and West. Then again, I shouldn’t be surprised because the name says it all – Middle – East.

Chinese Muslims can trace back their ancestors coming through the Silk Road; and the British can feel nostalgic about the old empire after seeing the Al Mahatta airport, the oldest airport in the Middle East, where the first flight was from Croydon to India, stopping over in Sharjah.

Admittedly I had a very stereotypical view of the place, one of cultural and religious conservatism. On the surface the dress code where women are rarely unveiled enforces this idea. And yet underneath the culture code, I was pleasantly surprised to see how open minded people here are. They are merely trying to retain their cultural identity and religious belief in a world where things all seem to be too easily homogenised.

The skyline in Dubai, in contrast to Sharjah, is completely modern and striking. When I was driven across the bridge from Sharjah to Dubai during sunset, I couldn’t tell where I am – judging by the city landmark, I could be in Shanghai or Manhattan. I was dazzled by the magnificent Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world built by Sir Norman Foster. Perhaps it is at the moment, but not until the Sky City to be completed in 90 days in Changsha, China.

It, however, reminds me of the story of Aladdin: you can build an artificial city overnight, but I wonder who lives there? I was told 30% of the buildings in Dubai are hotels. The transient audience can certainly enjoy a Las Vegas style holiday here, but it would be their loss, if they come to the UAE, without visiting  some of the more traditional emirates, such as Sharjah, because what they see is simply a mirage.

 

Soka Hong Ling invitation

Hong Ling Contemporary Chinese Landscape – Exhibition Consultant

30 October – 12 November 2012

Soka Art at Asia House
In partnership with Asian Art in London, King’s College London China Institute and EMI Classics

Hong Ling, one of China’s most revered landscape painters is to unveil his first UK exhibition, Hong Ling: Contemporary Chinese Landscape, at Asia House, as part of the Asian Art in London 2012.

Hong Ling’s work is magnificent and has given us all great pleasure. I hope to see more of his work showing in the UK.
Sir John Boyd, chairman of Asia House, former chairman of British Museum

“The concept of landscape painting in the East and West is rather different in my view. My aim is to convey the Chinese aesthetics of the universe – ‘my mind is the universe; the universe is my mind’ – through oil painting, a medium with its roots in the West.”

Hong Ling on JMW Turner’s Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (c.1842), TATE ETC, Spring 2013