Mapping China Now

Beijing, Winter 2007 -3 to 5 degrees C. brrrrr.
Shanghai, Winter 2007 -2 to 10 degrees C. brrrr.

I wonder how colddd it feels to be in Beijing a few weeks back. Just when it seems as though the temperatures couldn’t go any lower two months ago… brrrrrr.

But such is the impact after a good two weeks of travelling the much hyped Beijing and Shanghai and also touching base on Shenzhen (mainly for the HK-SZ biennale)- you dig the China vibe. The trip has ignite an interest in these ‘new’ Chinese cities and its people, especially its living architects, artists, film makers & writers who- more than anyone else, care about making sense of this radical phase the entire nation is traversing.

And thankfully, the way we perceive a city is often very subjective. So here’s a honey pot of personal highlights, recommendations- just some stuff to share.

China Walk (19.12.07- 02.01.08)

Beijing will be, or already is the next coolest city & tourist hot-spot in the making! – for all its vitality in reinvention (and pimping the city) , in cultivating a spirited art scene and a whole new world of bold architectures, transformations & openness! Shanghai on the other hand feels relatively more stable, a city that is probably worth spending some time living or working in and you get to explore the various aspects of its urbane life on a more micro level. Beware though, people are generally less friendly, quite nasty. hmm. Shenzhen in comparison is a less developed Chinese city whom unlike HK- its neighbour across the border, feels mostly empty, spacious and sparse. Until you walk into the heart of this mini shopping district that is, where almost everyone seems to be.

random quickies:

798 Art District, Beijing

A venue to the delight of all art and architecture buffs. Of winter-scape, Bauhaus factories, adaptive reuse, galleries, shops and art pieces of all shapes, sizes and contents. While quietly exploring and wandering the sprawls of galleries and studios you wonder at the same time, where are the common folks? And then on hindsight, why isn’t there a venue like this here at home?
Pre-Olympics frenzy, Beijing
It was an exciting and somewhat surreal pilgrimage to these mostly larger than life buildings and places, albeit many were still U/C or not fully utilised yet. Will be back someday!
CCTV/TVCC, Beijing
The National Grand Theatre, Beijing
The only venue that was already open to the public and ready for use. Surreal surreal surreal.
Commune by the Great Wall, Beijing
This came as a surprise, a galleria of private ‘houses’- and the mad quest on X’mas day to catch a glimpse of the entire collection before the sun sets at 530pm!
Xin Tian Di 新天地, Shanghai
Cosmopolitan Shanghai at its best- upmarket fashion boutiques carrying local brand names and more, chichi shops, bars and restaurants… . Adaptive reuse of the traditional housing shi ku men, gives this place a localised character amidst the cosmo-ambience and contents.
Bridge 8, Shanghai
Up and coming design and creative work hub and an iconic building specially designed and created for it! Home to a couple of archi firms like Aedas SH. I’m curious about how these places actually work.

Jinhua Architecture Park, Shanghai/Jinhua
17 pavilions situated in an agronomic small city, Jinhua. Probably the longest stroll through a park ever- Architecture elemental and poetic.

SZ-HK Architecture and Urbanism Biennale- Oct Lofts, Shenzhen
Oct-Lofts- The 798 of Shenzhen. Forget about the museums for now- raw, old and stripped down really works well.
and the people..!

I suppose what also makes these travels more meaningful at the end of the day is when they evoke thoughts & reflections about your urbane life back in your own city- when you begin to ask “Why not?”.

And of course with just a mere 2 weeks plus of travelling and 3 cities, we can’t get too far on ‘Mapping China’- here are some other fragments that could possibly make up the bigger picture:

DVD China

Shop. Along 自忠路 near 新天地 this shop with a surprisingly wide selection of films which got us pretty excited. A gem yeah.

盲山 (Blind Mountain, 2007)
Li Yang


We got this non-pirated DVD for a mere 21 yuan and it came bundled with 天堂口 (Blood Brothers). An earnest offering from independent Chinese director, Li Yang– his second feature film after the award winning 盲井, Blind Shaft. Beautifully shot almost entirely in a remote Chinese village, Blind Mountain paints a picture of suburban Chinese society through its take on one of China’s social problems- sex trade and slavery. Unvarnished and gritty in realism, it depicts a society in the throes of moral collapse. Certainly worth shoving China chic aside for a moment to spend some time on this gem of a film. Looking forward to more films from the director!

Read China

Shop. Books, Bookstores, design bookstores are not an uncommon sight especially in cosmopolitan Shanghai. Good for picking up cheap copies of the Chinese editions of A+U and Detail- we also found copies of Chinese Conception of Space (中国空间) by Li Xiaodong, ex-Professor and design tutor in NUS. Written in both languages, and it is about erm, Chinese conception of space.

Commune By The Great Wall (长城脚下的公社 ) –
Catalog/ Book/ DVD
A really decent book which documents all the houses of the private collection in drawings in pretty pictures, in Chinese and in English. Got this from the souvenir shop within the Commune itself.

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers (2007)
Xiaolu Guo


Probably the only published literature/novel ever- that is rightfully written in badddd English, and thereafter shortlisted for the Orange Prize in literature. A light and easy read, the transient relationship between an Englishman and Chinese woman is examined in the format of a dictionary. Imagine ulu and shamelessly honest Chinese girl from communist China meets carefree, arty and worldly Ang moh in London. Personally, the high strung clashes in ideals and philosophies between two people and two cultures as well as the good humour as a result of this lost in translation are truly the memorable moments in this rather delightful read.
Guo is also a film director whose feature film How is Your Fish Today? (2006) was selected for the Sundance and Rotterdam Festivals. Someone to look out for!

Hear China

Ever wondered what the modern China indie music scene is like? P.K.14 is a Beijing-based art punk band who was recently voted by TIME magazine (together with local band, The Analog Girl) as one of the five Asian bands to watch in 2008. It doesn’t matter what these guys are slurring- as long as they slur in Chinese, trash the frenetic rhythms, dish out the politics, play to a largely underground scene and appear deep, dark and dangerous… slurpsss.


Primary Colours: Feng Zheng Jie Exhibition @ SAM – till 20th April


Renowned Beijing artist in the contemporary Chinese art scene best known for his Portrait of China series which deals mainly with the issues of a globalised China. Stylistically sensual and pop.

奥运精华游 Olympic Walkers – Channel U , Thurs 9.30pm
13 episodes across the seven Olympic cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Tian Jin, Qing Dao, Shen Yang, Hong Kong and Qin Huang Island and witness the preparations for the world sporting event!

Film: Boomtown Beijing, Dir: Tan Siok Siok, Singapore International Film Festival ’08
A documentary by local film maker, executive producer and educator Tan Siok Siok while he was a visiting lecturer at the Beijing Film Academy- A film about the ordinary Beijingers’ Olympics experience.

qmark_pink.jpgand China.


4 responses to “Mapping China Now

  1. wow that’s a really longggg article, but a really neat and apt one to describe the myriad sights, sounds and senses of China! It’s befitting for the scale of the cities, and a really whirlwind dive into the culture of an emerging power.


  2. Oh and I may add there’s also an exhibition of Chinese artists at the UCC in NUS that can be included into the China.SG section..

  3. haha i feel like a damn reporter. But it was a fun built up.. discovering and then adding the stuff as they came along through the weeks!
    i think the list can go on and on, and its really quite exciting.. dig dig dig. junkie really.
    more to come i think!

  4. yes more please!

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