US-China Cooperation: Restoring Qianlong’s Secret Garden

Thirty women, China’s best embroiderers, in Nanjing, worked for one year to embroider the richly brocaded upholstery. Papermakers, working with a traditional and especially tough pulp from the mulberry tree, recreated the paper strong enough to support the Italian trompe l’oeil ceiling painting, from their papermaking studio in rural Anhui. Bamboo craft masters, recruited after a national search, prepared inner skin bamboo carving and bamboo thread marquetry with their grandparents’ tools. During the Cultural Revolution, many of these craftsmen’s parents, or grandparents, had their tools smashed. Some buried them and they survived. Many tools had been handed down for generations.

They chosen to were repair the emperor’s secret garden, Juanqinzhai. (The book🙂

juanqinzhai book

I learned about the project from a lovely documentary, The Emperor’s Secret Garden (by Mandy Chang and Zhou Bing, 2010, BSkyB Masterpiece productions). The Qianlong Emperor, who ruled around the American Revolution, was the richest and most powerful man on earth. As a highly cultured man, Qianlong wrote calligraphy, and we actually saw his handiwork on auction in NY a few months ago:

At Sotheby's Chinese calligraphy auction, NYC, Spring 2014

My son and I pretending we could afford Sotheby’s Chinese calligraphy on auction, NYC, Spring 2014. A few of Qianlong’s panels were set to fetch half a million dollars.

Qianlong, already living in earth’s largest palace, having sucked (as emperors do) the continent’s wealth, commissioned a secret garden where he envisioned retreating for a fashionable, scholar-monk-style retirement: 27 buildings, grottos and rockeries, a garden, and interiors of textile, friezes and woodwork, silk brocade so delicate it’s transparent, woven on looms 2 storeys high; a level of craftsmanship that blows the mind. Somehow, the retreat was locked up, and discovered dusty and crumbling in the early 2000s. It had been undisturbed since the 1700s. As WMF explains, it sparked one of the most awe-inspiring international  restoration projects ever.

From the World Monuments Fund slideshow on the project: A painting of the garden complex itself, and of one mural, of the royal family:

the emperors garden painting

wood panel showing royal family

The work was part of Forbidden City’s first international collaboration — and China’s first large-scale interior conservation project. The effort became a lab, and a classroom for training a young generation of Chinese conservators. But first, restoring the emperor’s secret garden required searching for what had  nearly disappeared: highly skilled traditional craftsmen and women.

Together with architects, engineers, scientists, archaeologists and curators, conservators and conservation scientists, helped by the World Monuments Fund, the hideaway was restored. Cultural heritage was strengthened. Traditional craftspeople fired up their shops. And the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing created, through Jinqinzhai, China’s first degree program in interior conservation. Which means preservation according to international standards, can begin to take hold here.

 

To see, as we have, the scale of destruction (even to this day) of the treasures scattered across mainland China is to understand what a huge big deal it is. The project also forged new levels of cooperation and trust between U.S. and China preservationists, a positive part of this emerging, fraught relationship. I expect it won’t be the last: Large sections of the Forbidden City are still in disrepair.

Qianlong Emperor (reign 1735-1799)

Qianlong Emperor (reign 1735-1799)

If you’re in China, you can go and visit, though the rooms open only part of the time.

Mod Chinese Architecture

China Petroleum University gymnasium

China Petroleum University gymnasium

Our campus (China University of Petroleum, Qingdao) is only about 3 or 4 years old at this location. Some of the buildings are cold, but surprising and dramatic. We didn’t seek out interesting new buildings; they’re everywhere. Train stations, universities, are part of the economy-stimulating infrastructure-building boom that’s both kept China’s economy kicking through the global slowdown, and — now — threatens to take it down as all the  (bad, or corrupt, or ill-considered) loans and spending comes home to roost.

mod gym campus architectureWe passed this each day on campus.

Hangzhou West train station (Zhejiang)

Hangzhou West train station (Zhejiang)

Train stations — this one in Hangzhou — are Hollywood-futuristic. They’e moving millions of people so it’s not surprising they have 10 escalators, not 2 or 4. Many we saw had 8, standard. It makes sense, but still looks daunting, futuristic & impressive. The driveway taking cabs to the Hangzhou station just is as we (’70s kids) once imagined the future.

lots of escalators nanjing

Nanjing's city public library, downtown Nanjing (Jiangsu)

Nanjing‘s city public library, downtown Nanjing (Jiangsu)

Jinan's train station (Shandong province)

Jinan‘s train station (Shandong province)

Right, note the huge lotus sculpture in a massive (Soviet-big) plaza in Jinan, largest city and transport hub of Shandong — the province home to the most Party leaders at the national level. Left, we randomly passed this on the streets of Nanjing — the public library.

If only the book collection inside was as expansive as the open-to-the-sky design.

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“You Can Call Me ‘Mr. Wong’ “

kenny with hisBeats by Dr DreThere is no photo of ‘Mr. Wong.’ Not his real name.

He does have a business card (black). Black card, black market.

His stall in Qingdao‘s largest indoor flea market sells counterfeit electronics. China, yes it’s true, is home to rampant illegal trade in counterfeit goods. Violating copyright is illegal & I’m totally against it. But — yes. My son bought some fake beats by Dr. Dre headphones in China. They retail in the U.S. for $250. Worn around the neck, I am told, beats are the ultimate (middle school) status symbol.

At his market stall, “Mr. Wong” said he’s got “real” ones. They will run you RMB850 (about $120). What he calls “class C” copies will run you RMB150 (about $20–choose from red, black or white). He also has what he calls “class A copies” that will run you about $60. You can listen to the difference, feel the leather vs. plastic. They were indistinguishable to me. (Apparently there is no class B copy.)

I actually think “Mr. Wong” made up this A/B/C copy classification system so we’d pay $60 for the $20 ones…(but who knows?)

He ships to America, he says.

He sells without U.S.-to-China customs fees/import tax: they come from Canada, he says. Uh, that makes sense… (?)

My Qingdao business students wrote, one night this summer, on “Will China move from copycat to global high-tech power” and if so, when and how? We discussed a new ebook, excerpted here (“Beta China: The Dawn of an Innovation Generation,” by Hamish McKenzie, a PandoDaily contributor). McKenzie is very optimistic about China’s emerging high-tech future, citing the success of (cult) mobile handset maker Xiaomi, which makes China’s homegrown answer to the iPhone and is run by 43-year-old Lei Jun, called “China’s Steve Jobs.”

Students’ consensus: China is great. So it will get beyond copycat to real tech leaership. But first, they wrote, education has to change, to nurture creativity rather than memorization. And some wrote, too, that financing (start-up funding) and legal mechanisms (copyright protection) — basic manufacturing infrastructure — must mature, to fund and protect inventors.

The students all seemed to conclude that there’s reason for optimism, but China also has a long way to go.

 

Start the Day Right (Chinese Food)

Canteen windows: breakfast variety

Canteen windows: breakfast variety

We have cold cereal, yogurt & fruit, maybe an egg, bagel. French toast or pancakes on week-end. Breakfast isn’t very varied. Love it but — I’m saying, it’s not that involved. Totally different story in China. We were strictly using the university canteen (cafeteria) in Qingdao this summer, having no kitchen. Breakfast choices were just as varied as dinner, with more than a dozen windows, each totally different. Soup with beans or greens or noodles, buns, dumplings, all kinds of meat, breads, vegetables, eggs and lots of kinds of pickles, & much more.

Fried little buns, like a savory beignet

Fried little buns, like a savory beignet

Unfortunately, first sight entering the canteen is the slop tables, ladies scraping food garbage into giant stainless steel pails. Not a great image! But the ladies are lovely! Below, a few pix of soup, dumplings & breakfast in a Chinese university.

Canteen ladies, China Petroleum University

Canteen ladies, China Petroleum University

Breakfast wontons (hwin dun)

Breakfast wontons (hwin dun)

Canteen tables, China Petroleum University, Qingdao

Love the dumplings!

Love the dumplings!

Grab your chopsticks

Grab your chopsticks

 

Morning soups

Morning soups

Economic-Development Zone Bike Tour

We have been living in Huadong, a suburb of Qingdao on the bay letting out to the sea –officially an “economic development zone.” I’ve been all over China and have never seen this many skyscraper apartments going up. Mile after mile, some super-fancy with the German-esque follies/details (red rooves, cottage brown stripes) that reference Qingdao’s German colonial past. It’s also home (slightly inland) to massive factory after factory campus, including Haier, which I think makes large appliances like air conditioners.

“Development” means factories, in my students’ argot. Development in my lingo means things like health, education, as well as infrastructure. Here it really doesn’t have that overtone of human development.

SO we took an economic development zone bike tour along the coast, where landscaping of flowering trees, promenades(including a “movie star walk of fame) and exercise machines stretch for miles. s the zone hasn’t finished developing — the buildings are mostly empty, my university only opened this campus a couple of years ago — it’s totally empty. On the horizon are ships and factory stacks. And along the coast,  clammers and fishermen with nets.

fisherman boatsclammers in the smog

God forbid eating shellfish here; sorry, Qingdao. It goes on and on; we’re not the fastest riders but not slow either and this is two hours’ riding  — it just doesn’t stop.

Here’s what it looks like.

Kenny on Huangdao Promenade

Kenny on Huangdao Promenade

mod swervy buildings

keny and buildings

Rent-a-tandem (we didn't)

Rent-a-tandem (we didn’t)

weird red landscaping

Look Who’s Here in Qingdao: Einstein

Einstein statue; China University of Petroleum Qingdao

Einstein statue; China University of Petroleum Qingdao

Look who we found at our university: Albert Einstein.

This is in keeping with the Jews-in-China theme we’ve pursued on our blog. My students, during conversation hour every day before dinner, are always excited to hear I’m Jewish. “All Jews are smart” is the reigning stereotype. It is closely followed by the more pernicious ones about secret all-powerful cabals controlling banks. Both of them scare me and I try to talk them through it.

 

A far, far less august and world-historic Jewish person was seen on a big, red banner; she was honored to give a talk to the MBAs last weekend.

Jill Hamburg Coplan and something apparently about me giving a lecture one night to the MBAs

Jill Hamburg Coplan and something apparently about me giving a lecture one night to the MBAs