The Real Expo
This week, there was the Real Expo in Shenzhen, an exposition for real estate in China. My Chinese partner organization was also present – being the organizer of that part of the exposition where Chinese villages present their successful preservation projects. They were having stands and brochures with beautiful landscape photos, projects reports, women and men in traditional clothes and jewelry, Chinese tea being made in the traditional way and local products being shown that have been produced by young entrepreneurs which my Chinese partner organization has helped to start up with a crowdfunding. The stands were very nicely decorated featuring the characteristics of the place e.g. with reconstructed village gates or walls, with traditional furniture or equipment.
Besides the stands, decision makers, academics and project organizers had presentations with some performances between the talks. There was for example a song being performed by a woman and a man about the cultural and traditional heritage of a certain village, accompanied by a video showing the beauty and peace of this place. The song was very romantic expressing there is an emotional relationship between the people and their village. As a result, the visitors are also emotionally addressed and not only being academically and factually informed about the cultural heritage at the risk of being lost. Plus, I found it refreshing to listen to music between all the informative and argumentative talks.
But what was striking was the contrast between the real estate stands financed by the government promoting urban investments and the stands representing Chinese villages. The village stands were very inviting and ornate, but the other stands promoting urban development were way larger and equipped with more high technology.
Discussion round in Huangpu village
On Wednesday this week, Mr Huang invited us to Huangpu village in Guangzhou. He used to be in the local government, being responsible for the preservation and renovation of this village and revitalizing it pretty successfully.
Between 1757 and 1840 the Cantonese Huangpu village was the only port open in China, all the other ones being closed down mainly because of the pirates coming to China. So, Huangpu village used to be a window to the outside world for China, and for the outside world to the Chinese world. It was an important trade center and it was the only possibility where Chinese products could get to the international market, which were especially silk, tea and porcelains. People here people were very open minded because of all the foreigners coming to the village. Many wealthy merchants lived in the village, who furthermore were curious about what was outside China, so they traveled outside with the foreigners and did business mostly in Southeast Asia, Europe and America. They worked for example as Chinese Ambassadors in foreign countries. And because of their knowledge about foreign countries and continents, Chinese Ambassadors also represented Japan and Russia in many cases. When the Chinese tradesmen came back, they build new houses in the village and especially there is a high accumulation of traditional architecture. Most houses and alleys in the village have barely changed in the past 200 years.
So, in my presentation about rural areas in Germany and the way my organization operates, I also talked about the approach of cultural landscapes. This one considers every type of landscape man-made, which, in the process of planning, results in a stronger focus on the people and therefore the involving of local inhabitants in the planning. Mr Huang found this very inspiring, since in China, agricultural and nature landscapes are not considered “societal” landscapes. He also pointed out to the difficulty of finding the right balance between development and preservation. It is important to really revitalize the place and to keep it alive and to stimulate the economy there, but of course to preserve the local cultural heritage.
About 10 to 20 years ago, China’s society was mainly economy-driven and not much focusing on preservation work. Today, Chinese society and government are more conscious about old traditions and culture. Yet, preservation work faces a number of problems in China: Many people leave their villages and move to the city, leaving the villages abandoned. Also, different parts of China are in a different state of economic development and they therefore focus on different areas and have different policies on cultural preservation. Stimulating the national development and also improving the connection between the villages and the cities furthermore means to improve the infrastructure by building a high speed railway system, airports and highways, but of course these affect the landscape and the environment.
Apparently, Chinese society nowadays focuses more on cultural and traditional heritage than it was the case 10 to 20 years ago. This is what Mr Huang concluded in our discussion round and also, it is visible in the real estate exposition where urban development is being promoted but at the same time village and cultural heritage preservation work is represented. However, the area and obviously the extent of investments for village projects is still smaller than the focus on urban development.