This month sees the launch of a host of China design initiatives. Are we right to be celebrating China’s design achievements? Do politics get in the way?
At my old college, the head of graphics’ claim to fame was that he’d designed the iconic Che Guevara image, adopted by so many students the world over. To them, the image is a symbol of freedom and revolution, to others it’s an image of a terrorist. Design is one of the most powerful weapons in the political armoury and therefore unwittingly, the bedfellow of opposing views. Great design usually outlives politicians’ promises.
Greg Quinton, Creative partner, The Partners
Designers tend to be more remote from government than Olympic delivery secretariats and this independence should be celebrated. We’ll never close the gap between our political visions if we don’t strive to engage with the people of China in whatever ways we can. The British Council’s involvement with the Get it Louder exhibition in China last year was an opportunity for British designers to know a country from which most of the last century had alienated us. The China Now programme extends this opportunity to a wide public.
Emily Campbell, Head of design and architecture, British Council
Friday 14 March: Tibet erupts with the worst pro-independence demonstrations against China in more than 20 years. Saturday 15 March: the Victoria & Albert Museum opens an exhibition championing modern Chinese Design. Should I wear my Richard Gere hat, or my John Berger? The PRC is schizo: clamping down on anyone who tries to be independent, yet promoting mould-breaking design. I’d recommend visiting the exhibition. See the creativity of a nation that invented porcelain and led the world in papermaking and printing. But remember that modern China is a nation that, beneath its elegant Vivienne Tam trousers, wears steel-capped jackboots.
Steve Spence, Founder, Ministry of Truth
China has been a slave to the West for far too long, but 2008 is its year to show off to the world, heightened by the Olympics. It is rightfully its time to shout about its cultural developments. Whatever the results, the political message is that it is a superpower to be reckoned with. If the vast quantities of new Chinese design graduates is anything to go by, we should sit up and take note.
Max Fraser, Design author and curator