Prologue: Creative China (extract)

By Jiang Jun

Culture & Science
Among the Four Great Inventions of ancient China – Gunpowder, Paper, Printing and the Compass Sinan – a fundamental difference exists that most people are unaware of: while gunpowder and the compass sinan are inventions of science and technology, paper and print technologies largely belong to the realm of culture. In other words, while the former two inventions lay stress on terrestrial and naval rights, the latter two share an intimacy with cultivation and absorption into everyday life. The tendency for these Four Great Inventions to be associated with political governance and military achievement has polarized debates on the periodization of civilization and modalities of creative forms according to divisions between the East and West.

Planning & Market
Because of the centralized monopoly of 'creation rights', the Planned Economy restrained individual initiatives with regard to independent innovation. At the same time, state-determined forms of specialization are highly restrictive when it comes to transversal flows between different institutions, cultural practices, epistemological interests and business practices. Indeed, the governmental division of sectors restricts inter-industrial blending, and the inflexibility of the dominant industrial system is hostile to flexible transformation (which, paradoxically, is also the precondition of neoliberal, post-Fordist economies). Combined, these forces are opposed to mobility, cross-fertilization and the unforeseen potential of creativity. On the other hand, although creativity is remarkably adaptable to changing environmental conditions, the market does not function especially well as the catalyst of cultural innovation. The over-specialization and division that underscores market competition tends to consign the outputs of creative practice as generic and trivial. However, the mechanisms through which markets select the latest developments results in little more than 'renovation' of already existing forms, based largely on symbolic content – how the 'object' is advertised – without any essential alteration. The convergence of Planning and Market registers precisely the polarization of 'creativization of industry' and the 'industrialization of creativity'.

Foreign-oriented & Self-renovation
Developing over the 30 years of reform and process of opening-up, and in an export-oriented economy specializing in single products and parts, 'Made in China' performs in quite an ordinary way in terms of product innovation. However, it is amazing and dazzling in terms of the scale, diversification and flexibility of industry, which can be understood as the stage of primitive accumulation for 'Created in China'. Establishing the conditions for the economization of culture – embodied by the architecture of intellectual property regimes – the move to 'Created in China' is notable for the conventions and regulations by which knowledge is not 'open' so much as constrained by the borders of control. Progressive technologies both fail and flourish, either through silent submission or wilfull refusal. Paradoxically, 'Made in China' can be viewed retrospectively as potentially creative because its limits inspired instances of virtuous self-education precisely despite the unsupportive and frequently punitive social circumstances. With the help of 'Creative Commons' and the 'Learn and Practice' spirit of Copyleft and open source movements, acts of creative liberation have continued in the face of increasing regulation of inventive practices since China’s entry into the WTO in 2001. More than anything, an in-built understanding of creativity is without doubt the inherent mechanism that drives Chinese enterprises from being export-oriented to independently driven.

Industry & Space
If one cares to look with precision into the cultural industries, the flexibility and cross-pollination of creativity condition the possibility for a more extensive context for 'Creative Industries'. The concept of 'multi-dimensional creativity' should become the default for think-tanks wishing to traverse disciplinary and organizational borders. Such a mode of engagement should be able to integrate knowledge from various fields so as to diagnose and plan industrial development, offering targeted plans for new modes of work and mechanisms with which to explore creative production. The need for creative reflection destines its absence from a conventional environment, and only the comprehensive cultural context can be the incubator of lower-technical but higher-reflective creativity. Culture presents its complexity in even more unquantifiable ways than science and technology. The creative city brings culture, the element once located at the periphery of economic development, back to the core of metropolitan values, and conversely shifts the more attractive and energetic cultural capital into more sustainable and internal economic capital. In so doing, the modern city once kidnapped by the obsessions of power and capital regains its freedom thereafter.

Jiang Jun, designer and critic, has been working on urban research and experimental study, exploring the interrelationship between design phenomenon and urban dynamic. He founded Underline Office in Guangzhou in 2003, and has been the editor-in-chief of Urban China Magazine since the end of 2004, and is currently working on the book Hi-China. He is the translator of Tony Godfrey’s Conceptual Art, and Rem Koolhaas’ Bigness and Junkspace. He also teaches at Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts.