How China's cultural cases share its wisdom and solutions with the world
Song of the Earth
Published: Mar 27, 2024 10:51 PM
Editor's Note:

"The land of China,

I wish to speak to you

only in the language of land,

only in the green language of paddy,

only in the crimson language of flame."

These are the touching words in the poem The Song of the Land of China by Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. He visited China three times and left behind a number of timeless poems to express his admiration for the country.

Promotional material for <em>The Song of the Earth: Artistic Documentary for a Better China</em> exhibition Photo: Courtesy of China Academy of Art

Promotional material for The Song of the Earth: Artistic Documentary for a Better China exhibition Photo: Courtesy of China Academy of Art

A new exhibition at the China Millennium Monument's Beijing World Art Museum, The Song of the Earth: Artistic Documentary for a Better China, documents a total of 100 cases around the vast land to interpret the concept of a "­Better China." 

"In the new era, in the name of a better China, we, the Chinese, are composing our own Song of the Land," reads the explanation for the exhibition's name from Gao Shiming, chief planner of the exhibition and president of the China Academy of Art, which hangs over the entrance of the exhibition.

Some of those cases focus on China's rural revitalization and heritage conservation, while others take "Chinese people" as a focus to show how the country has dedicated itself to efforts such as providing the elderly with caring communities and children with up-to-date aesthetic education. By integrating these case resources, the development concepts and experiences of the Better China initiative are expected to become Chinese experiences that can be shared with the rest of the world. 

Gao told the Global Times that the environment can become a new driving force and new factor for development, and become a very important experience for China that can be shared with many others. 

"For example, when we read Charles Dickens' novels, we wonder where the London fog had gone? Most of the industry had been moved to the colonies. So for the large number of countries in the Global South, former colonies, how can they achieve their own development?"

As the world's factory, "China can achieve ecological civilization, and more southern countries can also have the same confidence to form truly high-quality development. I think the development concepts behind Better China and Chinese modernization are gifts given by generations of Chinese people. A true gift to the world," Gao noted.

The Better China initiative is dedicated to collecting different social and cultural studies over the years and analyzing them to find new development routes for fields such as cultural education, cultural tourism, art and technological growth. 

The following four cases are selected to give you a glimpse of how the Chinese are composing their own Song of the Land. 

Nihegou village in Yulin, Shaanxi Province Photo: Courtesy of China Academy of Art

Nihegou village in Yulin, Shaanxi Province Photo: Courtesy of China Academy of Art

Jujube village revived

Nihegou village in Yulin, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province has been revitalized by rebranding its centuries-old jujube forest. 

The ancient village was in decline due to its isolated location. A project was jointly launched in 2014 by China Agricultural University, the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology and the Rural Culture Renewal Volunteers Association, aiming to preserve its traditional jujube culture while creating added value for the red dates.

Sun Qingzhong, a professor with China Agricultural University, said that connecting ­local characteristics with the environment is the key to realizing the Better China goal.

During the renovation, the research team prioritized the upgrading of the outdated infrastructure in the village while preserving its agricultural tradition.

"We tried to use local stone and wood materials as much as possible, constructing 'ecological toilets' and helping the village plan and design landscapes such as jujube drying cliffs and jujube forest trails," Sun said. 

At the same time, preserving and carrying on the jujube culture of the village helped villagers restore their cultural confidence. 

Professional homestay operation teams also pitched in to help create a cultural tourism brand. The rebranding efforts have increased the added value of the red dates.

This not only attracts many tourists but also brings more and more young people back to the village. Contributing to the development of the village, youngsters have found a sense of belonging in the revitalized village.

A conceptual design of space equipment at the exhibition Photo: Courtesy of China Academy of Art

A conceptual design of space equipment at the exhibition Photo: Courtesy of China Academy of Art

Grand space program

In Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, a group of intelligent art installations has been established to showcase space themes and elements, thereby initiating reflections on technology, humanistic exploration and education on aerospace themes.

Currently, the project involves the conceptual design of controllable intelligent space robots or space equipment. It aims to utilize the robots' or equipment's movement, optical, and acoustic "perception" capabilities to autonomously assess and provide feedback on the environment. "Regardless of whether it's in the city or countryside, in urban areas or villages, what concerns us is whether these practices truly solve problems for the local people, what resources they provide in return, and most importantly, whether they genuinely inspire the locals' initiative, whether they bring about changes," said Gao.

The project team has fully leveraged intelligent devices and robot technology to transform scientific data into artistic forms of expression, showcasing the profound integration of technology and art through interactive intelligent space-themed installations. Moreover, students involved in the project have gained practical experiences in designing and arranging smart devices, mastering algorithm models, writing code and producing hardware to apply intelligent devices in various scenarios.

A conceptual design of space equipment at the exhibition Photo: Courtesy of China Academy of Art

A conceptual design of space equipment at the exhibition Photo: Courtesy of China Academy of Art

Kingdom of Migratory Birds

Nestled at the confluence of the Ganjiang River, Xiuhe River and Poyang Lake, Wucheng township, Jiujiang city in East China's Jiangxi Province, is a world-class migratory bird sanctuary and the core area of the Jiangxi Poyang Lake National Nature Reserve. The township enjoys a history of more than 2,000 years and is known as the "Kingdom of Migratory Birds."

Starting from 2019, local authorities committed themselves to creating a model for the Better China initiative in Jiangxi by building an international bird watching destination.

Upholding the concept of symbiosis with nature and leveraging the advantages of being at the forefront of bird watching, the eco-tourism destination integrates international bird watching, wetland sightseeing, cultural exhibitions and leisure experiences.

The township takes the natural environment as its core, blending the ecology of migratory birds with the cultural richness of the millennium-old town, creating an ecologically distinctive haven with historical and cultural significance. While protecting the environment, Wucheng has also launched activities such as bird watching festivals and conducted educational programs on wetland conservation and field studies.

The development of this migratory bird paradise has promoted local employment, achieving both income increases for locals and stimulating economic development. Bird watching tours have not only promoted the conservation and development of local culture but also improved the cultural literacy of local residents through educational opportunities.

Fan Jian, a deputy director of the Office of the Wucheng Migratory Bird Town, said that by focusing on building the brand of migratory bird town, three new agricultural tourism enterprises have been able to thrive. In 2019, economic output exceeded 10 million yuan ($1.4 million), benefiting more than 200 farming households and injecting economic vitality into the town.

China-Portugal joint laboratory

The China-Portugal Joint Laboratory of Cultural Heritage Conservation Supported by the Belt and Road Initiative (JLBRI) is one of 19 Belt and Road Joint Laboratories given grants by China's Ministry of Science and Technology in September 2020. 

As a strategic platform for technological innovation on the national level and co-established by the City University of Macao and the University of Évora in Portugal, the joint lab is based in Soochow University in East China's Jiangsu Province. 

Wu Yongfa, director of the laboratory and professor with Soochow University, said that the conservation of cultural heritage is essential from a national and global perspective. 

"Relying on the sensational historical trades and cultural exchanges during the Han [206BC-AD220] and Tang [618-907]dynasties, the contemporary Belt and Road Initiative [BRI] seeks mutual understanding and reciprocal development in business, technology, and culture among all entities involved. Among this calling, the research, conservation, inheritance and communication of cultural heritage of BRI member countries requires its own discourse," said Wu. 

With the principle of "sharing, responding, enabling and leading," the JLBRI aims to serve the need for communication, collaboration and development among BRI member countries, providing a comprehensive platform for research and industrial entities interested in cultural heritage history, conservation technology and international education and communication of cultural heritage conservation.

The laboratory has been dedicated to research in areas such as traditional Chinese culture, scientific heritage, the Maritime Silk Road, and cultural heritage conservation in the Greater Bay Area. It aims to tell China's stories, foster cultural confidence and protect cultural heritage along the Maritime Silk Road.

JLBRI has served as a bridge between China, Portugal, and other BRI member countries, becoming a significant participant in Macao's cultural heritage conservation.