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Speech of Prof. Klaus Lehmann:
Chinas Cultural Potential in the View of a western Friend
on the presentation of my book „Teaching Design – Design Teaching“ at Jiangsu Phoenix Fine Arts Publishing House
in Nanjing on Oct 29th 2016
Yes, it has been a great enrichment in my life, to be invited to China and being welcomed everywhere.
It all goes back to a very early student of mine, it was Liu Guanzhong, who on his return to China, opened the first Industrial Design Course in Beijing.
About his importance , I don’t have to tell you, you know him
and his presence is felt everywhere
He and his students, now already Profs all over China, have opened so many doors to me.
So I came to China for the first time in 1985 and kept returning almost every year until now. That is more than 30 years.
I am a designer and a Design-educator at the State Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart, where I have bee teaching for over 30years.
I there established the Design Course , teaching many foreign students with many of whom I am still in contact.
Now I am retired.
I have been invited to many Universities, because Industrial Design was considered an important subject for the up and coming Chinese industry.
I have done many workshops there.
And the book we are presenting today , reflects the workshops,
dealing mainly with design fundamentals.
They have been my main research, my educational contribution and I have been asked in China.
to put it down in a book, encouraging me to write it in English
for a Chinese audience. And now we are presenting its
see myself as a matchmaker, introducing and creating contact to the
ideologies of young western thinking.
4. Not about Art and Design
No, I don’t , want to talk about art and design, which actually is my profession, and about which I have talked on many occasions,
about what is usually called design, about its technology and methods, to make products acceptable to the consumer,
neither do I want to talk about its economic importance, nor about its
moral. where its code becomes a national or global dimension.
5. Should Chinas copying-attitude be my topic?
Yes, it’s a violently discussed topic in the western world,
because it has its economic implications.
I know, that this is a obvious case of two different cultures.
I have thought about this in great length, often lectured and written about it, but feel, it should not be my topic today.
I dare to take a very large view, and the occasion today challenges me, to look at China and its cultural potential,
telling you about what I have learned in China in my own words.
like you to consider it as a contribution to Chinas self confidence.
6. What China taught me:
---its economic power,
---its craft tradition,
---its different thinking strategies
---its learning culture
There is no doubt, that Chinas economy is very powerful.
It has become the worlds factory. And the recent five year plan aims to develop China into the “leading innovation power”,
meaning not only “made in China, but also designed in China,”
---its craft tradition.
China has a long tradition, and numerous objects show great skill and art in handling materials and tools. Just think of porcelain, the white gold, which in English language is rightly called “China”.
Craft products are the evolutionary result of generations of craftsmen, mostly anonymous, who contributed to its improvement.
Maybe you think, that crafts have no value in a modern industrial society.
But I want you to recognize, that the crafts are the basics for all industrial inventions.
Not because of its past tradition nor because of its beauty,
but because of its heuristic potential for the future.
(Heuristic meaning the art of invention)
The Chinese, so I feel, have always been able, to adopt new ideas, their adaptability has made you very flexible, you have been able to react to any new impulse.
That’s not easy, when you are proud of your own tradition. conserving it, but want to meet a new challenge, opening yourself.
In the world of permanent global change, I am convinced,
adaptability is the strategy to survive.
And you have the genes!
Besides short term tactics and long term strategies, the chinese posses , in the view of Harro von Senger, (the most read Researcher on Chinese matters) another level of thinking, Moulüe, which goes back to master Suns scripts “the Art of War”, probably the first military tactic, 2500 years before our our time (Zeitrechnung), and stating, that “the best war is the one never done”.
Moulüe is a thinking strategy, mostly unknown in the western world, which shows to me, that ways of thinking have their culture and their history.
And China is rich on it!
---its learning culture
I know of no country where learning is considered as important as in China.
I have seen parents with their children in front of Tsing hua University, telling them what a wonderful achievement it would be, to study there, and I know, that when a child has successfully passed exams, the whole family would financially support it.
I also know of the civil servant entrance examination, the examination which opens you a career in public service.
It was open to everybody. Its criteria and its examiners have been known and held in every province in China, annually.
Some of the examination places can still be seen today:
One thousand boxes surrounded by walls for the annual two day Beamtenprüfung, which, and this is remarkable, started around 400 ! (and was finished 1905)
the effort to furnish civil servants with knowledge, national history,
poetry and language and may be pride.
7. My final thoughts.
One of the frequent questions after my lectures from students has been:
“How can we marry western technology with Chinese values.”
Of course I didn’t have a recipe but the question made me think. I felt, that there was a uncertainty about the historical value of their cultural heritage, about which they all seem to be proud of. But obviously there was a missing link, a gap to a modern industrial society.
I remembered that Japan succeeded to translate its tradition into a modern society, where as China was more
engaged in demonstrating its tradition and conserving it.
I therefore feel, that China, though economically strong, is still searching for its cultural identity.
My talk therefore wants to encourage you:
- to think about the wonderful heritage of your ancestors,
community, where each nation contributes its values,
(…….. in peace, I want to add)
On culture and design
corporate culture the guidance for design?
is the impact of modern design on cultural exchange?
shall designers and companies deal with cultural issues at present time?
mentioned in last article the responsibilities of designer to the
society. That theme also has to do with the purpose of modern movement
leading to the birth of industrial design . Design is neither technology nor a branch of arts;
instead it's a typical hybrid discipline or a border area of disciplines.
The most comparable is architecture, or let's say industrial design is
actually a branch of modern architecture, because it shares with the
latter the ideologies and masters at the early age. The biggest
difference between the two lies in scales and building methods. One is
bigger and the other smaller; while one is build in small quantity and the
other large or even in mass production.
in the end they are both for one purpose, namely enabling people to live
more comfortably and work more easily. Another factor to be noticed is time,
buildings normally exist much longer than products from modern
factories, and the difference is still increasing .
design is imported
believe that the design we have is imported from west Europe, and they are
part of the western culture. Included are the whole thinking, practices
and the formalities accumulated in modern design history. Very
often we are not aware of the presence of design, since we are accustomed to the surroundings without
questioning the origin of the buildings and products around us as human creation.
But I was stunned when I first saw the apartment building by Mies van de Roh in
Weissenhof Colony in Stuttgart, Germany, then suddenly I was clear what
is the example of so many followers all over the world of one century,
and how poorly many followers really are copying the master indeed !
fact is that the design ideology and thinking since Bauhaus is the
common wealth of us all, which has gone through experiments and
practices. And we still need to select and develop these values even
using products we experience modern western living and make enrichments
or changes to
it, sometimes unconsciously.
commercial life today has been experiencing many a change. The trend of
globalization is however an inevitable tendency.
the world leader in commerce is following the design ideology of western
world, or they are pioneers in those areas. The evidences are their
attitude towards environment protection and the supports to creative
activities in corporate culture. In other words, the leading companies
are those, which lead also in the design areas; while the design here
includes tangible and intangible, the latter is the so-called commercial
creation, or business paradigm design, the newly established branch of design professions.
this respect the corporate culture needs to be merged in the design
culture of the world; hence CI could not be the only guide to the
design activities of any corporation intending to join the global
design belongs to western culture, can we take for granted that the
western culture is really one culture? No, I should point out that the
so-called globalization is in fact Americanization; that tendency is
also questioned and negatively responded in the west, mostly in Western
Europe. The opposition is made of socialists, nationalists and other
people fearing the aggressive culture of the USA. As a contrast the East
Asians are the people who are welcoming the globalization to the most
in the creative profession, including design, there is room for national
and individual spirits to play a role. Although designers are making use
of non-lingual expressions and unlike the architects they do not have
much heritage from ancient time to follow. Hence we need to get rid of
formalistic barriers and understand the real heritage of spiritual
fields like philosophy and religions.
designers, firstly they are designers, and then persons of cultural
tradition and personality. It means they are professionals in working,
namely following certain procedures and pursuit objectives of clarity.
These habits also guarantee their design to be practice acceptable to
the world standard. At the same time, the specialty as part of
regional culture they express themselves naturally, since they are
living where they are. China is a big country with a huge population; it
is of big differences between lives in the north and down south. The stereotype of great
wall and dumplings or red lampion as symbols of China is but only for
northern provinces right. Southern provinces of the country are
providing very different art of living. Of course in recent years it
witnesses more forms of mixtures and the city Shenzhen exists where the
majority of inhabitants are migrants.
European culture in the other hand is divided too. German design,
Italian design, British design are all vigorous phenomena of regional
and cultural differences; the design figures are firstly European and
then national, or multi-national, like Richard Sapper.
designers are all world citizens, and also carriers of regional
cultures. If they have national culture and distinct personalities, they
will expose those qualities in their works; it is not necessary to
express through presenting certain symbols to be themselves. One should
has his contents, for it's the decisive forces in the reigns of
creativities. To be better one needs to study great cultures of the
whole world, including those of his own nation.
tasks are to create and to lift, to create new form of material world
and lift the value of the old. The former is real creation while the
latter commercial act. Also they need to convince, like the vicars, to
convince people accept their beliefs.
as culture in China
ID has aroused the interests of society as either local governments or
commercial institutions organize many events and activities. These will
no doubt promote design as title and attract attention from both government
and society. But seen as profession it is still young and needs time to
become mature. Any culture needs time to be enriched that explains why
industrial design grows slowly in China. Many people there would accept
this fact easier, if they could think about the cultural properties of
design at all.
China it has just begun to introduce the design culture as one of the
consumerism, during the modernization of the coast and big cities.
Modernism as style in interior design and architecture is widely
accepted, as imported examples. But trendy life styles are more popular
among young people focussing in personal electronics
like mobile phones and portable music players etc.
is more important than personalities, this is the depiction of a culture
of mass followers. In a world viewing culture as business, it is
support the young culture of design. Let design be culture, is a new
attempt. I mean to let design be more meaningful and worthy to be talked
about. For this purpose designers are encouraged to pay more attention to
the society and real people, not just the clients' intention and market
society needs culture; people need to talk about something.
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