Dig Deeper into “Cultural Exchanges”

When did cultural exchanges start? They started from commercial exchanges brought about by the Silk Road and the sailing of Zheng He, which were also intertwined with constant wars, nomadic culture and argo-farming culture. Culture had been mixed until different religions, ethnic groups, nations and boundaries separated culture and made it unique to a certain region and political system. As national capitalism emerged in the 19th century, culture gradually became a mysterious attribute of a single country that was unique and separate from other cultures.
That situation, however, began to change as globalization became the dominating feature of the 20th century. Barriers that had separated culture began to fall apart. The migration of traders and cultural people prompted person-to-person cultural exchanges and countries began to realize the significance of culture exchanges in facilitating better understanding among them.
That didn’t come easily. Cultural integration came into being only through several stages. The first stage was in the late 1960s. During the period, the strong economies and big powers dumped their own cultures to their weaker counterparts. Culture was thus transmitted by the token of symbolized and spirituality-loaded objects. These brought with them the values of those countries. At the core of those cultures were American culture and cultures of Japan and South Korea which became the followers of the United States after the World War II. As opposed to that, values of socialism developed to guard against the values from the Capitalist Camp. Such latent, intangible or sometimes forced confrontation lasted till the falling of Berlin Wall in 1989, the wall that separated the East and West Germany.
Then came a new era. This new era came even earlier for China. That began in 1978 when China and the United States resumed their relationship. Initially this relationship was centralized and then it developed in wider areas to promote mutual understanding and reciprocity. As the politics and economy opened up, countries started to embrace wide-ranging integration both in culture and lifestyle. But this process didn’t come at the same time for all countries, for countries differed greatly from each other in that the cultural institutions like cultural departments, museums and art galleries depended wholly on the existing political system and values of their own country. Cultural exchanges thus developed in line with the opening-up of the economy and politics.
Examples are many like the liberal movement in the 1970s, which featured the emerging of personal complex with Today and other journals, the Democracy Wall in Xi’dan, Star Painting Society and Artists Anonymous as the representatives. In the 1980s, the avant-garde movement swept the whole country with countless members till now. Between the end of 1990s and 2000, many more cultural movements developed like innovation in art education and art economy, which came into existence as the result of the ever-increasing person-to-person communication in the Internet, politics and economy between China and the outside world.
What is mentioned above is meant to help us understand the need to deepen cultural exchanges and to understand the influence of politics, economy and lifestyles on cultural activities. In that sense cultural exchanges are natural phenomena. I will then focus on the possibility of establishing surrealistic or artificial cultural exchanges. Different from the natural-nature cultural exchanges, this kind of cultural exchanges are called upon by cultural elites, practitioners and art workers and depend on certain spirituality beyond economy, politics and lifestyles. The discussion is only possible after we gain some basic knowledge about culture and cultural exchanges as mentioned before. Without knowing that cultural aggression, cultural colonization and cultural cleansing are all based on the ideologies before globalization, we can not scientifically expect or contribute to the future culture.
Moreover, some superficial notions about culture have to be abandoned. One example is that China’s cultural economy is emphasized and discussed time and time again while the exploration into the depth of culture is ignored. Only based on the proper understanding of culture can we get a clear idea of what we should pursue and explore in the future. As Mr. Wang Hui said, “China’s modern art needs to be de-politicized”. Besides that China’s modern art needs to get rid of the influence of economy and of conventional thinking and stereotypes.
The in-depth cultural exchanges also need to be based on those understandings so as to make genuine integration and criticism possible. The progress of culture is not only about building a sense of pride of the traditions and the nation but also is about absorbing different ways of thinking and things that have come to stay or things that will appear beyond expectation.
Evidently, to do that calls for the overall progress and innovation of the present systems and talented people involved in the whole process. That is also why Goethe-Institut is trying to forge the Residence Program for Art Managers initiated in 1999 by Arts and Culture (China) of the British Council.

Overall Characteristics of China’s Art
China’s art refers to all its current cultural phenomena. In Introduction the development of China’s art is mentioned, now I’d like to elaborate the relations and characteristics of its development, from which we can understand the changes of cultural characteristics and social transformation.
Ever since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese people have been engaged in building the new nation and a sense of national pride. Culture in that period became a medium for socialist China to promote itself and for others to get some insights into the transformation of China in a simple way. In that sense, culture played the role as the dominant means. Meanwhile, culture workers paid much attention to the real life of common people and the society as a whole. Everything had a clear-cut image and values like kindness, viciousness, beauty and ugliness were clearly demarcated.
Under such climate, those old and traditional things in China’s culture became the drawbacks of society (a proposition before May 4 Movement) and pursuit for the new, the bright and the healthy led to a unified culture. Such a culture could find its traces in the folk Spring Festival paintings or ornaments and the novels and philosophy of the literati as well as the movies depicting the life of the fledging cities. Thanks to such unified culture, a sense of grandeur and national pride that transcended culture came to the fore, which in turn prompted culture to take on the political element and occupy an overwhelming position. It should be clearly noted that the culture at that time is not the traditional culture we know of but a culture that goes against tradition and lacks any traditional cultural elements except for the clownish and criticized elements.
Another era in the development of China’s culture began from 1975 when the ten-year catastrophic Cultural Revolution ended, the culture of spirituality and greatness faded away and the sense of national pride was criticized.
China at that time was economically weak, which also resulted in the peaceful rising of the nation afterwards. Individuals began to reflect on the state of affairs. Among poets, artists, movie directors and writers, a new thinking was in the making and new cultural societies formed out of individual will. All that led to the overhauling of the culture that existed between 1949 and the 1970s. The intangible bonds of mentality and ideology among people broke down. Artists became independent in their pursuit of art. With the influx of overseas culture and knowledge, cultural activities mainly in translation of foreign works boomed. Among the works are those before the New Culture Movement (or May 4 Movement) like Student Times (a new edition in the 1970s) by Guo Moruo. The autobiography related Guo’s studying experience in Japan in the 1920s. From that the reader could get to know how a culture based on the Industrial Revolution of Germany got its way into China after Meiji Reformation in Japan in 1868. Intellectuals at that time had to learn German beside Japanese so as to gain the advanced knowledge. By doing that, they discarded totally the knowledge system of the old era, that is, the knowledge from the late Qing Dynasty. That was just a reflection of the then thinking waves and social environment in the 1970s.
The 1980s was a time when vigorous translating activities flourished, through which large quantities of works and cultural phenomena of other countries were introduced into China. The press played the role of a pioneer in the process. The avant-garde movement in the fine art in 1985 transcended the simple demand of individualism in the 1970s and focused instead on the understanding of the cultural works of that time, such as the works of Marcel Duchamp(France), Joseph Beuys(Germany)and Andy Warhol(the United States). The tremendous influence of those artworks could be found in China Modern Art Exhibition 1989. At the exhibition, works of various regions and from various times were displayed at the same time. It can be said that China’s culture in the 1980s was a mixture of modernity and post-modernity both in time and space. After the political turmoil in 1989, a great number of liberal, democratic and cultural personages left China for cultural havens particularly in Europe, the United States and Japan. It was between late 1980s and early 1990s that Mr. Li Xianting proposed the concept of ‘integration with the world’. Its meaning goes beyond its words to indicate how to transform our own culture to solve the current problems. But leaving China by an individual or a single group could not solve those problems.
The emergence of modern art in China in early 1990s together with the returning of large number of artists in mid-1990s cultivated the integration of information from two sides. Cultural exchanges became more frequent such as the visits and exhibitions of Robert Rauschenberg and Gilbert & George. At the same time, the less stringent politics still exerted control on art. An example is that in 1993 the first Body Art Exhibition had impacted society a lot. The complexity of the culture at the time influenced the process of China’s art and the types of modern art. The departure and return of China’s artists led to their reflection on their status, politics and art, which gradually resulted in the establishment of cultural groups.
That marked the beginning of a new stage that started after 2000. Culture took on the form of collectivism and resumed its social responsibilities. Artists began to pursue a kind of art without the intervention of politics but with individual flavor. They turned their attention more to economic issues. Some others including Zhang Peili, Qiu Zhijie and Wu Meichun returned to campus to promote education in modern art. That was not merely the request of the artists but also of the transition of the educational system. Under the backdrop, a fresher, more dynamic and more diversified cultural environment took shape. Coupled with the rising power of China in politics, military and economy, China’s modern art now is shifting from de-politicization, economy orientation and collectivism to individuality and extraordinariness.

Institutional Construction of Art
I have talked above about culture as a whole and the needs and developing process of art. Here in this section I will analyze the demands for China's contemporary culture from the perspectives of institutional construction and systematic construction. Galleries and art spaces appeared in China at the end of 1980s and the beginning of 1990s. They were opened mostly by foreigners (Hans, Brown, Laurence, and etc.) The early 1990s also saw Taiwanese and natives of mainland China involved in the construction of the system. It was after 2000 that galleries and spaces began to spring up one after another, led by 798 Art Zone at Beijing, which was followed by Moganshan Art District at Shanghai, Baiyaochang Art Creation Warehouse at Kunming, Yunnan Province, Art Creation Park at Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, Vitamin Space at Guangzhou, Art Creation Warehouse at Sichuan, and others. This cultural system has been built spontaneously by individuals or groups in a large scale.
The rise of private museums and the transformation of official museums both have their extraordinary significance. International cultural exchanges have been becoming a need of the government, a need that has turned from its early stage of introducing folk culture and classic Chinese culture to the introduction of contemporary culture and spontaneous culture. Such cultural exchange activities as Shanghai Biennale in 2000, Berlin Asia-Pacific Weeks in 2001, St. Paul Biennale in 2002, Venice Biennale since 2000 - which was also the beginning of China Pavilion, Sino-French Cultural Exchange Year in 2003 - which started various international cultural exchanges, and the Europalia Art Festival in Belgium in 2009 show that the dual cultural system, as part of a nation's politics, has become a direct means of international cultural exchange. The government takes over and exhibits almost all the characteristics of folk culture and spontaneous culture, which are transforming into the representatives of Chinese culture in the world communication.
It was during Berlin Asia-Pacific Weeks at the end of 2001, when China, as a guest of honor, began to use curators the first time, I was invited by Ministry of Culture to plan "Contemporary Chinese Art Exhibition - Living In Time". It can be said that big, comprehensive culture and art festivals in recent years have given position to visual arts and taken new mechanism to design different exhibitions, which are more effective than the past commemoratory or festive exhibitions. Some painting exhibitions of famous Chinese artists might be held overseas in the past. But what is academic coordinate? In Europe, few knew about Qi Baishi or the master artists in 20th century, who we always mentioned, though. This fact affects the cultural acceptance of China. As far as western academic traditions are concerned, museum exhibitions are supposed to concern about academic thinking and academic concepts, which is a kind of cultural ideology that Chinese just begin taking into consideration, or in other words, with which Chinese have weak consciousness.  
Interview: Constructing a New Visual System Watching China, Fan Di'an, Sanlian Life Weekly Magazine, Volume 44, 2009, Page 44~46
Defects of the system itself are clear, such as the lack of professional curators, since the curators of many folk, spontaneous cultural campaigns cannot meet the great demand, owing to the fact that many of them do not have the knowledge system a professional curator should have. Many independent curators grew up from the inside of art education system, a group engaged in first narration text and then criticism (from 70s to 90s). As a matter of fact, it was after 2000 that independent curators began to appear, accompanied by the beginning of art management education. However, the lack of a perfect domestic cultural mechanism led to the failure of cooperation between curators with professional training background or experience and the cultural mechanism and cultural institutions. Whether in private or official museums in China, there is a lack of professional workers, a professional operational mechanism and professional management. Thus, the museums became empty containers with no orientation or souls. So did cultural exchanges and in-depth discussions about arts, which resulted from a lack of museum studies and a lack of art exhibitions, displays and productions.
Cultural management became an undeniable necessity, whether for big cultural programs, museums or native galleries. Though filled with uncertainty and vitality, it is characterized with being unprofessional. Many Chinese natives engaged in cultural management went to auction companies or galleries since they lacked productive ability and were concerned too much about cultural economy. Only a few with ambitions and ideals are going on with independent planning of exhibitions. They are not only insiders of the cultural institution and system, but also independent individuals with all kinds of possibilities.
A deep need of cultural management in China was first found by a British cultural institution (Visiting Arts of Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy in Beijing) in 1999, when the institution was considering about the way promoting and displaying British culture and its cultural policy, which happened to echo the need of China's cultural management. Independent and official cultural workers were led into British cultural institution and learned systematically about the inner operation and its value system. At the time, YBA, a group of young artists of U.K. in early 1990s, was still in the ascendant and, as a typical movement of European and American arts in 90s, was influencing the whole Europe and America in 90s. I had the fortune to be a member getting the opportunity to know more about British artistic mechanism, and later, after I came back to China, I found the lack of a whole system (since there was no connection among museums, galleries and cultural institutions in China, and there was no cultural mechanism). Now, it seems that due to different artistic institution and mechanism under different historic clues, deep exchanges between different arts might stop at certain categories or levels. Besides, a lack of mutual understanding of cultures can also affect further communication.
I gladly knew earlier this year that Goethe-Institut was considering inviting China's young cultural workers to Berlin and other German cities to know about their cultural operational system, aiming at meeting the need of cultural exchanges. It is the right time to do the right thing. On one side, it is the need of the entire artistic environment, since a contemporary cultural mechanism is taking its shape with the development of gallery economy, the transformation of museums, and auctions and gallery expositions coming to their maturity. On the other, it is the need of inner innovation of culture, of which the spiritual connotation and orientation of China's contemporary arts were mostly talked about. It is also a need not only of the constant innovation of contemporary arts and the most avant-garde artists, but also of traditional cultural workers with job related to Chinese modernity and the traditional cultural system, and a need of contemporary spirit and exhibiting and displaying traditions and classics. It is also a need of the time, since the cultural strategy of the creative industry need talents who know about cultural and art management. The youth invited need a broader international horizon and experience, most of whom have experience accumulated in the operation of cultural institutions and overseas education. They are forming a supporting network system of a new internationalized culture, with their former experience and their newly-learned systematic knowledge of German culture. It is a network that will support the folk and spontaneous cultural groups to form their own recycling contemporary artistic system, and will also help make it possible to construct the contemporary new understanding of traditional and classic culture. To build up a cultural system would be not empty talk. All these resulted from a talk with Dr. Uwe Nitschke, the executive director of Goethe-Institut in Beijing. The executive team has great expectations and abilities. If the program could really last for more than 3 years, as the director said, the system would obtain a vast human resource. The aim of the program is to make the cultural exchange a two-way communication between Germany and China, built on the basis of mutual understanding and deep discussions.

The following citation is a brief response of a participant of the program:
KUMA program is an international exchange program co-sponsored by Goethe-Institut, Free University of Berlin and Mercator Foundation. We can see that it is a cultural program completed with the cooperation of a government Institution promoting German culture, an academic Institution and a fund provider supporting cultural development. The program shows its foresight and scientific characteristic from both its organization and implementation. If taken as a temporary institution assembled in response to the need of the time, its components made up a combination of strong ones.
This type of international exchange program focuses first on the cultivation of human resources, with the purpose that China's cultural managers know about Germany and their German counterparts know more about China's cultural managers' job, and then know the present cultural situation in China, the problems that turn up in China's cultural management, China's cultural policy and the degree that culture in China has been opened to the outside world. So it seems that the program was providing a chance for cultural managers of two countries to learn from each other. The Chinese cultural managers from 15 cultural institutions all over the country participating in the program are all good at English communication, which is a key factor that made the program diversified and the communication smooth and successful.

The program provided language training, a course on European philosophical art history, practice opportunities at Germany and a panel for a thesis defence. These activities helped the cultural managers get trained in different territories and tested their qualities and abilities they should own as cultural managers. During the practice time at Berlin, the participants visited about 70 government institutions, cultural management institutions, media and enterprises. It can be told that the program was a special education plan designed by the College of Culture and Media Management of Free University, having integrated their academic and practical experience accumulated over years. This kind of cultural training and cultural exchange let the college play a really significant guiding role in international cultural exchanges.
At the same time, KUMA program helped me know the role I should play as a cultural manager in China, and increased the awareness of my professional qualities and the sense of fulfilling my mission.
---Li Shi, Nov. 27th, 2009

Finding Ways of Communicating
Communication should never be one-way. Those who have the complex of nostalgia tend to dream of magnifying the rights of certain culture, ignoring not only the need of globalization and culture as a natural phenomenon before the appearance of any nation state, but also the need of any individual artist for a larger cultural environment.
Communication is a subject with many factors concerned, which should not be confined between arts, but need the knowledge of many other territories. The internal need of art is transforming into a need of the whole cultural system. The art exchange plan, decided by the political needs of China, need more people with experience and knowledge to support its ever larger operational mechanism, in order to make sure the understanding and synchronization of the needs of contemporary culture of both China and the world, by professional cultural exhibitions and displays.
Communication requires us to cross knowledge, borders, and restrictions, which is being achieved by more and more constructors of the system: cultural strategists who mainly work under the governmental mechanism of cultural policy making and implementing and regulations on art creation industries, individual cultural freelancers –intellectuals working independently with culture and art - who challenge an artistic and living style outside the institution, the educators of art who are cultivating and preparing talents for the development of art, and the people of various art institutions with international perspective and internationalism spirit, whose supports to individuals of different countries, domains and cultures, all together make an in-depth communication possible.
To find a way of communicating was a demand of late 80s and early 90s, a fact that going abroad became a wave in 90s, a reality of contemporary art education after 2000, and a spectacle of cultural economic phenomenon from the year 2006 to 2008.
The way of communicating is not something that the politics needs as I mentioned above, but certain inner need for an overall grasp of contemporary culture. It is a way whose construction needs the joint effort of more individuals, the synchronization of different cultural systems, and mutual understanding between different people and nations. It is not a political event among nations, but some lubricant for human relations.
The construction of the way involves many aspects. Superficial communication would lead to more misunderstanding, while, under a culture characteristic of diversity and prosperity, one more alternative for an individual would lead to a natural choice about his cultural need. Another need of cultural communication is the need of intellectuals who are supporting cultural diversity and pursuing the excellence of culture, when they criticize the present cultural system and cultural phenomena.

Afterword
What I expect is not an exaggeration of the work and function of Goethe-Institut, but a common recognition, by both international and domestic cultural institutions, of the future cultural orientation, and the joint effort to build up the cultural tendency mentioned above. What I have put down here is what I saw and thought about in the past decade. Surely, I cannot tell what the cultural future would be like, which is what we should work out at present - a new cultural mechanism that can help find out, display, and preserve the essence of contemporary culture that shares the same importance as traditional culture and modern culture. Failing to protect contemporary culture would mean losing the relevant clues linking to modern culture and traditional culture, thus leading to the loss of the capability of understanding traditional culture and modern culture. The right way for modern people to understand and solve problems concerning contemporary culture is an in-depth exploration into each level and aspect of the culture, only which, as a worldly matter, can provide us with a genuine contemporary cultural landscape, not just a simple cognitive reality, separated and isolated from anything related to it.
This article is a description of the whole picture of China's contemporary culture from diverse perspectives. Inevitably, the length and a variety of clues of the text may make the readers feel that different time periods intertwined with each other, about which I would like to have further and deeper discussion later, since it is the need of different groups for contemporary culture as well as the need of cultural exchanges. The purpose to admit the blending of different time periods is to eliminate the innate cognitive approach to certain knowledge or system. Can we understand what we know in a dynamic way to explore the really unknown territory? Of course, but with the prerequisite that we should have further mutual understanding and learn more about each.
The paragraphs I cited from Fan Di'an and Li Shi can make up for the lack of the perspective of me as a participant. I would be very glad to see an effective discussion about cultural development, joined by all the readers of this article.


Li Zhenhua

Nov. 24th, 2009
On a flight from Tokyo back to Beijing
(This article is a commission project by Goethe Institute, Beijing, and translated by Chen Xi)
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