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Cultural Exchange Seminar: Special Guest Speaker -- Prof. Zhang Yiwu

Invitation for Peking University Professor, Dr. Zhang Yiwu, to Lead Seminar Titled:
“From Feelings to Perspectives — Hong Kong and the Mainland’s Cultural Exchange and Understanding”

On August 5, 2012, in celebration of the 15th Anniversary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC) invited Prof. Zhang Yiwu to preside over a cultural exchange seminar.  The main topics of the seminar were:  1) globalization and China’s development in the last thirty years; 2) Hong Kong’s contribution to China’s development in the last thirty years; 3) current Chinese cultural trends; and 4) Hong Kong and the mainland’s future cultural development.

In part one, Prof. Zhang displayed four artworks that portrayed how the reforms of the last thirty years have shaped China’s cultural landscape.  The first painting was a 1980 masterpiece by renowned Prof. Luo Zhongli of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, titled “Father”.  The painting, a portrait of a frail elderly peasant, symbolized China at the start of the introduction of the reform and opening up policy.  At the time, the painting shocked viewers, because it revealed the stark reality of the countryside.  The second piece is a photo taken in the 1990’s by Mr. Xie Hailong, a journalist.  Titled, “I want to go to school”, the photo is of a young girl of an impoverished county sitting at her desk at school.  Her eyes, like a window to the heart of China, reflected her strong desire for self-development and prosperity.

The third piece is the cover of an American weekly magazine from 2005, titled “China’s Century”.  In the background of the cover are two of the most famous emblems of China: Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Great Wall.  At the center of the picture stands a Chinese female celebrity wearing a combination of the traditional cheongsam and a pair of jeans.  The picture tellingly reveals how rapid economic growth has led to an imbalance in the cultural scene.

Finally, the fourth piece is a photo taken after the Beijing Summer Olympics and the Shanghai Expo, showing another female celebrity attending a Canadian Film Festival.  She wore a long red dress adorned with white cranes, a bird symbolizing longevity and prosperity.  The dress was worn for the benefit of mainland Chinese, to highlight her international recognition and to enable her to claim an elevated status, because in doing so, she would have greater opportunities back home than abroad.

As China was experiencing rapid economic growth and pursuing the reform and opening up policy, globalization became a modern trend.  Globalization called for great changes, and shaped new archetypes for the new era.  With its advantage of cheap labor and property prices, manufacturing boomed.  Enriched and stimulated by worldwide demands for its exports, domestic growth accelerated and rapid commercialization took place.  Many cities flourished as consumerism changed people’s societal attitudes and their personal value system.  They became ever more driven by materialism and obsessed with self-indulgence.

The rise of popular culture challenged the elite culture.  The emergence of virtual reality raised questions on our perception of what is real.  The personal identity as a global citizen or a local citizen often became a conflicting choice.  Prof. Zhang Yiwu emphasized the need for exchange and mutual understanding between Hong Kong and the mainland, because this is the only way to resolve bias and misconceptions.

Prof. Zhang used a simple, lively and direct approach to address his topic.  His examples kept the audience engaged, and the core ideas were delivered powerfully.  There was also a question-and-answer period in which the gathering delved into more specific issues.

Prof. Zhang is a renowned critic and scholar.  He is Deputy Director of the Cultural Resource Center in Peking University, as well as the institute’s professor and doctoral advisor of its Language and Literature Department.  His research area includes media and popular culture, cultural theory, Chinese literature and film in the 80s.  In recent years, Prof. Zhang’s research has focused on globalization and marketization and their effects on popular culture and literature.  He has contributed enormously to the study of Chinese modern culture. Some of his works include: 'Pursuing from the Border', 'From Modern to Post-Modern', 'Great Transformation', 'Globalization and the Transformation of Chinese Film', and 'The Figure of New China'.  His popular works include 'Traces of Thoughts' and 'A Reading History'.

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