Chinese Architecture Meets Globalization


China Pictorial 2014年7期


Although ancient Chinese people used the characters “建” and “筑” to describe the process of building something, the English word “architecture” was never translated as “建筑” (literally, “construction” and“building” in Chinese) until 1902 when it appeared for the first time in the Chinese edition of Motora Yujiros Ethics, translated by renowned Chinese scholar Wang Guowei. Before that, Samuel Wells Williams translated“architecture” as “建筑法” (methods of building) in English and Chinese Vocabulary in the Court Dialect that he compiled in 1844, and Gustave Schlegel translated “architecture” as “营造法式” (rules and methods of construction) in his Nederlandsch-Chineesch Woordenboek (1886).

The fact of the matter is that “建筑” doesnt even begin to summarize the architectural philosophy of ancient China. It is easy to associate the term with a single independent building which testifies to the greatness of manpower, such as Cologne Cathedral or Heidelberg Castle. However, ancient Chinese architecture advocated harmonious coexistence between man and nature, which should be defined as something like“environmental art.”

Of course, architectural structures erected for the dwelling of humans have never been pure artifacts. In the past, there wasnt such a distinct difference between“residence” and “architecture” as today. In fact, architecture is a fruit of human civilization. After repeated trial and error, and accumulation of experience, ancient Chinese architects became elite artists. Taking advantage of resources in an economical way, they created buildings that met basic residential needs while providing stunning beauty in form.

Unfortunately, many traditional buildings in Chinese cities eventually deteriorated due to a lack of maintenance over past decades. In view of their less-stable brick-and-wood structures and explosive growth of urban population, some once-magnificent quadrangle residences have become messy compounds inhabited by many households and furthermore even lost their basic function as dwellings. In a country that is still working to satisfy the basic needs of its people, how to deal with old buildings has no clear-cut answer.

By the 1980s, economic development became the mainstream current in China. The negative impact of globalization has been fully showcased in the country which once boasted some of the most poetic dwelling environments. Cities expanded at breakneck speed, and countless old buildings collapsed with the roar of bulldozers. Demolition notices were found everywhere. Meanwhile, the attractive real estate market lured architects to grab quick bucks copying others. As a result, architectural designs became chaotic and careless. Many new buildings appeared weird or boring. To a large extent, traditional culture was ruined, and many cities lost their individuality.

Behind the crude cityscapes is surging consumerism. Of course, the ideology that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-greater amounts originated in developed countries. Consequently, affluent Chinese people prefer European-style residences. Today, the pursuit of shallow opulence has become the cultural identity of some Chinese elites.

At the same time, numerous foreign architectural firms have swarmed China. The countrys architectural market is as wide open as anything. Most landmark buildings standing today in Chinese metropolises were designed by foreign architects who never lived in China. In fact, many designs werent initially drawn for Chinese cities, but landed there after the architects lost bids elsewhere. So, some designs dont complement the local environment. For instance, the National Center for the Performing Arts, designed by French architects, seems to clash with nearby Tiananmen Square.

Even so, a number of foreign architects who favor odd-shaped structures remain popular in China. Japanese architect Takamatsu Shin designed several public buildings in Chinese cities, including Tianjin Museum, which was completed in 2003. The museum resembles a huge tortoise, with facades decorated with glittering metal and glass. Its gaudy, modern exterior forms a sharp contrast with the classical elegance of the cultural relics inside. Professor Peng Peigen from Tsinghua University points out that such architects “took advantage of some Chinese peoples blind worship of Western countries and made China an experimental field for attempts at architectural innovation. Actually, such grotesquely-shaped buildings, with focus on visual stimulation, tremendously waste resources and would have never been built in their home countries.”

Chinese architectural critics couldnt help but feel envious of world-renowned architects enjoying the privilege of brainstorming ideas in China, and at the same time criticize native Chinese architects who catered to nouveau riche lust for European-style buildings. There is good cause for criticism of foreign architects who destroyed the cultural lineage of some Chinese cities, but as for native architects too tied to market demand, they should be warned not to make alien traditions their own.

A city will begin to die when its administrators consider architecture decorative sculpture. Such philos-ophy focuses solely on glitz rather than functionality. The National Library of China in Beijing is one example. Much interior space was wasted to enhance the exterior. Inside, one must navigate a labyrinth to move from one reading room to another.

Even worse, a city will wither with only contemporary-minded architects, especially an ancient capital such as Beijing. The most contemporary architects flaunt novel ideas, but such designs could be compared to professional bodybuilders showing off oiled muscles in various poses – while the neighborhood would better benefit from a decathlete.

Generally, Chinese architects are divided into two opposing categories: commercial and cultural. The former tends to hasten the pace of Chinas urbanization while neglecting the cultural foundation of architecture, while the latter attempts to preserve the indigenous culture of every city by drawing buildings that are simple, pedestrian, and even amateurish, so as to relieve cultural destruction caused by rapid economic development. Wang Shu, the first Chinese citizen to win the Pritzker Prize, the worlds top award in architecture, is representative of the latter.

Perhaps the two types of architects will eventually merge their positive attributes. How to retain indigenous culture? The answer may be hidden in the solutions to Chinas special issues. From a long-term perspective, Chinese cities will restore their respective cultural tastes only when they find the right architectural styles that align with their respective resources. When the day comes, traditional architecture will experience a renaissance instead of relegation to the world of archeology.

Rebuilding Tradition: Embracing Globalization with Caution

by Liu Dong, Shanghai Peoples Publishing House, May 2014

Although Chinas economy is growing rapidly and its peoples living standards continue improving, violence and hatred remain commonplace in the Chinese society. What challenges and opportunities will globalization bring to Chinese culture?

In Rebuilding Tradition: Embracing Globalization with Caution, Professor Liu Dong from Tsinghua Universitys Guoxue(Studies of Ancient Chinese Civilization) Research Institute expresses his worries about the future of Chinese culture in the context of globalization. Although cultural globalization is an inevitable trend, Chinese people shouldnt regard their traditional culture as dying. The future of Chinese culture depends on how we rebuild tradition. In the book, Liu points out that political legitimacy and harmonious coexistence between man and nature could be achieved only when we inject spirit and vitality into traditions based on our knowledge, vision, and understanding of contemporary times.

Liu Dong is vice president of the Guoxue Research Institute at Tsinghua University. When he was young, Liu studied under Li Zehou, a renowned philosopher of contemporary China. Consecutively, he taught at Zhejiang University, Nanjing University, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and Peking University. Moreover, he has lectured on almost every continent on the planet. Along with guoxue, he is also an expert in aesthetics, comparative literature, international sinology, political philosophy, education, and sociology of art. He has published and translated 17 monographs. He has also led complication of two book series, Overseas Studies on China and Renditions of Foreign Humanities and Sociological Studies, and is the founder of the magazine Chinese Academic Studies.

Collection of Yu Ying-shihs Essays(volumes 11 and 12)

Compiled by Shen Zhijia, Guangxi Normal University Press, June 2014

Collection of Yu Ying-shihs Essays (volume 11), subtitled Making Friends through Academic Communication, features prefaces that Yu Ying-shih wrote for many of his friends publications, including From Gamer to Master: A Preface for Selected Collection of Zhang Chonghes Poetry, Calligraphy, and Painting, A Preface for Wang Ching-weis Shuangzhaolou Poetry (revised version), and Endless Talent: Exploring Kui Chiehkangs Inner World through His Diary. More than just introducing these books and their authors, they show that Yu often gave deeper meanings to relevant books and included his own understanding of relevant issues, evidencing remarkable academic comprehension and profound insight.

Collection of Yu Ying-shihs Essays (volume 12), subtitled Guoxue and Chinese Culture, includes a number of works on the study of Chinese culture that Yu wrote in recent years. In these essays, Yu explains why guoxue has begun to gain popularity on the Chinese mainland in recent years, combs through achievements that Chinese cultural researchers have made throughout history, and elaborates on the relationship between guoxue and studies of Chinese culture, as well as their evolutions and futures. In The Relations between Man and Nature, a lengthy essay included in the volume, Yu explores the origin of ancient Chinese philosophy through comparative research of“axial breakthroughs” of Chinese and Western civilizations. These essays showcase the authors persistent love for Chinese culture, as well as his efforts to explore the self-adjustment and self-transformation of Chinese culture and the methods of integrating Chinese and Western cultures.

Yu Ying-shih, born in Tianjin in 1930, studied at New Asia College and the New Asia Institute of Advanced Chinese Studies in Hong Kong from 1950 to 1955, where he was mentored by Chien Mu, a famous scholar in contemporary China. When he studied at Harvard University from 1956 and 1961, he learned from Yang Lien-sheng, a China-born American sinologist, and graduated with a Ph.D. He has served as a professor at University of Michigan, Harvard University, and Yale University, president of New Asia College, vice president of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and a visiting professor at Princeton University. Now Yu dwells in the United States. His publications include Sino-Foreign Economic Exchange during the Han Dynasty, History and Thinking, History and Tradition, Modern Interpretations of Traditional Chinese Philosophy, Cultural Criticism and Chinese Sentiments, Historical Figures and Cultural Crisis, Scholar-Bureaucrats and Chinese Culture, The Historical World of Zhu Xi, and A Research of Fang Yizhis Moral Integrity in His Late Years.

Pong Yi-pings Notes on Art

by Pong Yi-ping, China Nationality Photographic Art Publishing House, June 2014

This book is the first published collection of Taiwanese writer Pong Yi-pings essays in art criticism, as well as the first volume of the series of the same name. The book consists of three parts: film art criticism, photographic art criticism, and dramatic art criticism. Although she focuses on visual arts, the author attempts to reveal the dialogue and mutual influence between different genres of art, as well as the various possibilities that may happen after the conflict and fusion of different art forms and cultures. In the book, Pong combines modernity and tradition and displays both experimental innovations made by Western artists to challenge traditions and efforts by Eastern artists to seek inner peace from tradition.

Pong Yi-ping has long been committed to art practice and criticism. Following the call of the heart, she spent a dozen years traveling around the world seeking truth behind apparent flamboyancy. Particularly, she stayed in France, the mecca of art, for several years. In the book, she relates film to other visual arts such as painting, photography, and performing arts, and explores other fields including drama, music, traditional operas, culture, philosophy, literature, and history. She shares her understandings of art and guides readers to explore the essence of the world of art.


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