Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Understanding how China thinks

By Daria Berg and Mohammed Shafiullah (China Daily European Weekly) Updated: 2011-07-29 11:37

Xiao Zhuoji, professor of the School of Economics of Peking University, explains: "In a harmonious society, the political environment is stable, the economy is prosperous, people live in peace and work in comfort and social welfare improves."

The idea of harmony also governs China's international relations, as Hu Jintao stressed during his visit to the US in January. China's Premier Wen Jiabao told Britain during his recent visit: "Tomorrow's China will be a more open, inclusive, culturally advanced and harmonious country."

The search for harmony extends not only to politics but to culture, too. China's State Councilor Liu Yandong notes that the concept of harmony regulates relations "among peoples, between individuals and society, among nationalities and states, among cultures and between humans and nature." She stressed the need to "promote multinational cultural communication under globalization".

This is where the Utopian Team comes to the fore. Through a combination of avant-garde art and a social consciousness they strive to promote cultural communication between China and Europe.

Like many of the new generation of writers, artists and intellectuals in China, He and Deng critique local culture, the impact of globalization and the spectacular transformation of urban life in China today. Their 2008 work "Family Museum Project" tackled social issues such as poverty and the plight of the migrant workers in Shanghai. More recently they rolled a huge ball of red thread through the streets of Guangzhou to symbolize the disorientation felt by new migrants in the city.

As part of the Utopia is Back project, He and Deng visited Scotland in 2009 to perform an artistic memorial to the Scottish missionary and pioneering 19th Century sinologist James Legge (1815-1897). Legge gained fame for his translations of the Chinese classics, such as The Doctrine of the Mean, into English. In 1876 he became the first professor of Chinese at Oxford University. His mission was to gain insight into Chinese thought while giving Europe a better understanding of the Chinese world.

The Utopian Team sought to reciprocate James Legge's journey to the East by embarking on their own journey to the West, building new bridges of understanding and opening new channels of cultural communication between China and Europe.

The Utopian Team's most spectacular performance event in Scotland was a parade through the streets of Legge's birthplace, the Scottish market town of Huntly in Aberdeenshire. The event dramatized both the celebration of intercultural communication and the pitfalls of cultural misunderstanding. The artists staged a symbolic funeral procession in memory of Legge, part mourning ritual, part carnival celebration.

By interweaving Chinese and European languages, symbols and imagery, the Utopian Team achieved an event that is perceived as a carnival by some, but a memorial event steeped in religion by others. Chinese calligraphy, traditional Chinese white funeral attire, and newspaper confetti as money of the underworld intermingled with the sounds of Scottish accents, bagpipes and Christian hymns.

The Utopian Team's artistic activities demonstrate that global communication requires us to strive for a profound understanding of each country's social and cultural contexts. He Hai notes: "Just as James Legge did in China, we tried to integrate completely into the life of Huntly - we were trying to change into local people."

Their work reminds us that reaching a societal utopia lies in bridging the communication gap between East and West; in tackling the social challenges that the new generation of China's citizens face; and in contributing to a truly harmonious society of the future.

About the authors:

Daria Berg is an associate professor of Chinese Studies at the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies and the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham.

Mohammed Shafiullah is Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the Division of Psychology and the Centre for Intercultural Research in Communication and Learning at De Montfort University in Leicester.

Previous Page 1 2 Next Page

Most Viewed Today's Top News
New type of urbanization is in the details