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Global Times [11:08 June 13 2011]
Larry Rinaldi, moderating CHPs capital conversations Saturday. Photo: Courtesy of CHP

Larry Rinaldi, moderating CHP's capital conversations Saturday. Photo: Courtesy of CHP

By Lin Yigu

On June 11, 1911, China’s revolutionary figure Chen Duxiu took to the streets, handing out pamphlets entitled Beijing Resident Declaration, urging Chinese citizens to get together more often to discuss public affairs, to help serve the progress of society. One hundred years later to the day, Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center (CHP), a local NGO, hosted their second annual lecture series, Capital Conversations, at Capital M restaurant in Qianmen. The panel included professors of architecture, linguistics and fashion from Chinese and US universities, ready to exchange their points of view about how to address China’s cultural heritage preservation.

The conversation focused on the everyday, tangible connections that can be made to Beijing’s past through the built environment, language and fashion, especially costume design.

Amy Lelyveld, associate professor of Yale School of Architecture, spoke about the philosophy and beauty of Chinese architecture. She pointed out that balance and intelligence represent the core principles in China’s traditional architectural design. The courtyard of each house, especially those in the hutong, shows the deep respect of Chinese people for nature. A courtyard means that regardless of its size, residents can access the sky.

Dr Chen Fu, professor of Linguistics from Beijing Normal University talked about the evolution of the Chinese character, or hanzi. Although it dates back thousands of years, its grammar and pronunciation has changed a lot since then. “So if you bring a person from the Qin Dynasty (221 BC – 206 BC) back to life to talk to a modern Chinese person, they’ll barely understand each other.” But even though the Chinese character has evolved, it still maintains its basic meaning and bonds all the Chinese ethnicities together as all Chinese people read and write using the same characters. “Though China has various dialects spoken by different locals, they are still within the system of Chinese language and they are all written in Chinese characters. The reason they sound different from Putonghua is that they preserve the pronunciation of ancient Chinese, like the way Cantonese is pronounced.”

Sun Xuefei, professor of Fashion Design at Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, entertained the audience with her cheongsam that she designed five years ago. She said she’s concerned that young people today are not especially interested in Chinese traditional dress; conversely Chinese elements are often favored by big name brands. “As you can see in these pictures, Christian Dior’s 2009 fashion show, the image of blue and white porcelain, which is of Chinese characteristics, is designed into these dresses,” said Sun. Although young people are mostly uninterested, a look at the red carpet parades in recent years suggests that actors and starlets prefer to wear designs with Chinese traditional features. “I’m glad that Chinese celebrities now start to promote Chinese traditional costumes to the world. But I have to say some of them do not have classy taste towards their dress.” But Sun does have a favorite. “You can see this dress worn by Gong Li, the leading Chinese actress, the cheongsam she wears in this picture when she was attending the Cannes film festival is so nice. The design is really delicate. But unfortunately, it wasn’t designed by Chinese. So I can’t help thinking why Westerners get a better command of Chinese elements in their designs?”

“I hope by our efforts, the CHP can promote social progress and public civilization just like Chen Duxiu did a hundred years ago,” concluded He Shuzhong, founder of CHP, at the end of the discussion.

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