X+Q Art Design for Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700 - 1900, V&A Museum, London

When aesthetics bring two together

Can art be the shared common ground for Europe and China?

Though there is a world of difference between Europeans and Chinese, there are some common threads that they share – the appreciation of history, civilization and artistic tradition.

The common links have been aptly summed up by Winston Churchill, the late British prime minister, when he said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

China’s claim to be the oldest and most continuous civilization often finds credence in its rich artistic traditions that stretch uninterrupted from the Neolithic era to the present. Modern day Chinese, amid all the glamour associated with social transformation, are looking for a coherent set of values derived from the diversity and richness of their history, as well as the traditions and aesthetic values embodied in Chinese arts.

Contemporary Chinese artist Liu Jianhua's porcelain art installation "Between" at Pace Gallery London

Contemporary Chinese artist Liu Jianhua’s porcelain art installation “Between” at Pace Gallery London

The phenomenal interest in Chinese art and antiques that is being seen in Europe is a reflection of this soul-searching process.

There are two conditions that need to be met to sustain the Chinese interest in buying art. One is appreciating culture;  and the other is having the financial means to afford it.

Chinese investment in the UK is now at an unprecedented high level, ranging from state-backed infrastructure investment to purchases by wealthy individuals. The opportunity to exploit this economic capital seems to be recognized, with many auction houses and antique dealers investing in Chinese-language signs and prominently displaying the UnionPay logo in their shop windows.

However, on closer inspection, you will find that these establishments tend to hold a welcoming but cautious attitude toward newcomers. For them, credibility established through the reputation built up over the years is the most important calling card for the trade, even more important than new-found wealth.

In a highly regulated market, the boldness of adapting to the change of new customers relies on cautious and intelligent execution. People are likely to start with an area that they feel comfortable and familiar with, perhaps a place of higher transparency in business regulations.

Take Asian Art in London, an annual London city-wide antique art fair, as an example. Its bilingual marketing collateral this year is in traditional Chinese rather than the simplified Chinese commonly used in the Chinese mainland.

Royalty and celebrity collectors often flock to the Masterpiece London, an art, antiques, design fair held at the Chelsea Royal Hospital in summer. This year a Hong Kong Pavilion was held at the fair, organized in partnership with Fine Art Asia, one of the largest Asian fine art fairs based in Hong Kong.

All of these seem to be sending mixed signals to Chinese buyers. On one level they recognize the rise in interest in Chinese antiquities and an increase in the wealth of Chinese collectors; however, they continue to use more familiar territories such as Hong Kong as a conduit to the mainland.

The Chinese elites are often drawn to Europe by the respect for authenticity and diligence when conducting business. They are drawn to spend some of their newly earned economic capital in exchange for cultural capital in the form of art.

Some of them may even hope to understand the history of their past through the artwork, in the hope that by understanding the past, they will be able to better appreciate where they are going.

 

X+Q Art Design for Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700 - 1900, V&A Museum, London

X+Q Art Design for Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700 – 1900, V&A Museum, London

However, it is not only the Chinese who have developed a newfound love for the tradition and innovation demonstrated in many of these works. Their European counterparts continue to demonstrate a strong interest in Chinese historical pieces. The current V&A exhibition “Masterpieces of Chinese painting 700-1900” has been received warmly in the UK, with many struggling to secure tickets for the show.

 

Some of the Chinese traditional values illustrated through the paintings are surprisingly similar to the pursuits of British gentleman; for example the leisure activities in pursuit of happiness during prosperous times.

The paintings also depict the notion of embracing solitude to move away from materialist temptations. This carries a striking similarity with moral views held in the Victorian era some 300 years ago.

For many Chinese, the traditional Chinese artworks hold more than just financial value. They embody a set of philosophical, symbolic and historical values that are shared by the nation. It is as if audiences in the East and West have found a common ground, a shared social value through the appreciation of traditional Chinese artists.

The active expansion of Chinese consumer power has inevitably caught the attention of the demand-led art market in Europe. With economic capital sure to change hands, it remains to be seen whether this renaissance in Chinese art will allow the East and West to establish a common ground through shared cultural understanding.

Click here to view the original article on China Daily Europe

Publication: China Daily Europe

Topics: China, Art market, Art Fair, Culture, Economic capital, Cultural capital

 

Photographer Luo Hao for GQ China

China and the second child

For many readers, no matter where they come from, the collective childhood experience begins with the line “Once upon a time” – reading and playing with their siblings and parents. Imaginations are ignited in infancy by fairy tales drawn from diverse cultures and languages, carried far and wide by the wonders of storytelling.

However, for Chinese children there is something missing in the social experience: a sibling. In 1979, the government introduced the family planning policy, limiting each family to one child. Ever since then the “single child” generation (Balinghou in Chinese – literally, young people who were born after the 1980s) has missed out on the experience of playing, sharing and growing up with siblings.

Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair

This year, the third Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair (CCBF) opened just as China announced a change in policy, allowing all couples to have two children for the first time in more than three decades. The reform will have a profound impact on society. Markets that serve the younger generations, in particular, education and publishing, are certain to feel the impact.

The booming children’s market
There are 230 million children under the age of 16 in China, with an average of 16 million born every year. With the introduction of the new policy, one can only imagine that the number will grow at an even more incredible speed – an estimate puts it at 3 million extra babies each year. Already the world’s largest publishing market (Open Book statistics), China has a children’s market accounting for 18% of the total (turnover RMB9.9bn/GBP990m) and is set to continue its 20% year-on-year growth trend, reaching up to 30% of the total market.

Just before the opening of the CCBF, 11 November marked Singles Day in China, a phenomenon that has evolved into a record-setting retail event, with Alibaba reaching US$14.3bn (RMB91bn) total sales in a single day. The new urban middle class in China has fully embraced consumerism, and the current generation of parents has driven a purchasing frenzy. The Magic School Bus, the bestseller on Dangdang.com, sold 193,700 copies in a single day.

Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair

JD.com, the largest B2C online platform for electronics goods in China with an annual sales turnover of RMB260.2bn (GBP26bn), entered the book market in 2010. In the past year it has seen a 60% increase in its book sales, overtaking Amazon to become the number two book e-retailer in China, just after Dangdang.com. Although currently books account for only 1-2% of its total sales, JD.com is ambitious to set up an online children’s club with customised recommendations, as it is the market leader in sales of mother and baby products.

Yang Ye, the General Manager of books at JD.com, and Children’s Buyer Zhang Ge suggested three key factors for an international title to succeed in the Chinese market. First, brand quality: how the book is perceived in the West and other Asian countries such as Japan and Korea; second, becoming an early seller – JD.com is the exclusive online retailer for Secret Garden, which has sold 800,000 copies since June; and last but not least, social media marketing via WeChat.

Learning about siblings and friendship
However, despite the scale of consumerism represented by these numbers, there are even bigger challenges ahead. It is the generation who grew up without siblings who are now facing the new option of having a second child. Parents and children who are both of the single child generation are keen to read stories that allow them to look at the world a little differently from their personal experience. Just what is it like to have a sibling?

An interesting example of such a story is Shh! We Have a Plan (Walker), which won the prestigious Chen Bochui International Best Picture Book Award at the fair. It is a story of four friends who try to catch a beautiful bird, and is beautifully illustrated by Chris Haughton. The story ends with a quote by Albert Einstein: “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”

A story about going on an adventure with friends, making friendships, and facing competition among peers/siblings helps to illustrate how to interact with others at an early age. The virtues of working together and being respectful to your peers are some of the topics that appear to work exceptionally well in China today.

During the three-day fair at CCBF there is a refreshing Scandinavian presence, with a special area dedicated to Moomin – only recently introduced to China on its 70th anniversary. However, according to its Chinese publisher Shanghai 99, even for internationally renowned characters, a successful introduction to the Chinese market can still prove challenging. Chinese parents are more likely to choose home-grown series, because they weren’t exposed to many international titles when they themselves were young. Sales of Shanghai 99’s bestselling Big Red Dog series have reached 1.5m; however, bestselling Chinese titles such as the Laughing Cat Diary series can easily reach 500-600 million copies. Almost 90% of international titles are sold online rather than through traditional retail stores, said Han Xiaohong, founder of Dandelion Children’s.

Photographer Luo Hao for GQ China

Photographer Luo Hao for GQ China

With the first Disneyland in mainland China set to open in Shanghai next spring, the place is buzzing with the desire to see the latest and best content from all over the world. Preschool products such as picture books are a booming market for the 300 million middle class consumers in China. Even Le TV, the largest online streaming company in China with 50 million daily users, is exhibiting for the first time at CCBF this year. It is setting up an edutainment channel aimed at families with children (accounting for 47% of its current users), and has started to acquire international content from broadcasters and publishers.

With the recent change in policy, it still remains to be seen how the Chinese will react. The children’s publishing industry needs to tap into that reaction and be ready to assist future parents in educating a generation. Will the international children’s market produce content that appeals to this exciting and yet challenging market? Here is your chance!

 

Click here to view the original article on BookBrunch

Publication: BookBrunch

Topics: Books, China, Society, Culture, Children

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Oil v.s. Culture

“Truth, like oil, always rises to the top.”
Spanish Proverb

I recently went for an olive oil tasting session at Iberica, a Spanish restaurant in Marylebone – which I must say is a wonderful experience to my surprise!

However, when I told some friends in China – they are absolutely horrified! They find the thought of tasting oil revolting. I wouldn’t blame them. In Asian cuisine oil is not suppose to add too much flavour to the food (with an exception of sesame oil as dressing). We commonly use groundnut oil, vegetable oil, or even Rapeseed oil for deep frying – everything else is covered by the strong taste of salted soy source or sweet rice vinegar.

There is no best (olive) oil we were told. The best oil is supposed to be perfectly blended with the food flavour.

First of all we were asked to do blind tasting of six different types of olive oils on its own. Each is a slightly different blend, be it the colour, the smell or the taste. Some can even be quite deceiving! The last type of olive oil I tasted looked rather cloudy with a sweet and nutty aroma, but when I took a tiny sip, the creamy liquid slid down my throat with an explosion at the end – it was spicy?!

We were then moved onto tasting a variety of oils (I cannot remember the three names so I have to describe them with my own feeling instead!)

  • mild and creamy
  • medium mild with a little grassy aroma
  • very strong in terms of the colour (darker) and the taste (‘unripe’ green olive taste to me)

with a selection of dishes served including:

  • Gazpacho of red berries, beetroot & anchovies
  • Salad of Urgell cheese, pine-nuts & pear
  • Octopus gallega with potatoes and vinegar

As a Chinese growing up with East Asian cuisine, I tend to always go for the mildest taste of olive oil, which is the first option. However, as we moved on with the dishes, I have actually decided if I were to buy extra virgin olive oil, I would choose the second option – it worked superb with the seafood – octopus, vinegar and spicy paprika. The olive oil has added an extra layer and created a more balanced flavor.

The Spanish proverb goes “Truth, like oil, always rises to the top.” I wonder if it works the same way with people in different culture – you, as an unique individual, rise above the cultural stereotype. We can also mix well with different cultural environment by making an effort to find the right balance.

 

Cultural Differences – Only in Humans, not in Animals

“The development of culture is one of the main differences between humans and animals. In humans, cultural differences are an essential part of what distinguishes neighbouring groups that live in similar environments.”
– Lydia Luncz – Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig

Walking in Regent’s park I sometimes wonder if the mandarin ducks would speak the same ‘language’ as their Chinese counterparts? Are there cultural and language differences between the English duck and the Chinese duck? Or, for them, there is merely the race difference.

We always blame on the cultural difference when we work with people from a different country – ‘we simply don’t speak the same language!’ you hear… but perhaps it’s the unknown makes the cross-cultural collaboration exciting – getting to know one another through the misunderstandings, getting closer after numerous mistakes, and finally achieving the goal together despite of the moaning and complaining that if ever we could do it all over again, it will surely be completely different!

After all, this is what distinguishes us from the animals…