026_G17_InSight_BrandChina

Global_17

Global Insight Brand China Rote learning is a central pillar of China’s education system qualified to rise up the imperial chain. Most of these tests – just like the Chinese language itself – are premised on memorising, uniformity and repetition. With such foundation stones laid to honour the art of duplication, it is hardly surprising that it has been hardwired into the social system. This is reinforced by the traditional master-student relationship within schools and universities where, all too often, copying is the default position. Students at university will regularly copy out essays from the internet and present them, uncited, in all innocence. In their view, there is nothing wrong with plagiarising the ‘correct answer’ from a respected expert, instead of spending time trying to give their interpretation of the answer that could be wrong. Seen through Chinese eyes, copying is not only sensible, but it is a symbol of respect for authority and, importantly, it is a way of passing the test. Students at university will regularly copy out essays from the internet and present them, uncited, in all innocence Indeed, the Confucian-esque existence of filial piety (the structural homage to parental or teacherly authority) compounds the issue. While such deferential social structures have undoubtedly served China well over the years, they have created a society in which copying is deeply rooted in the culture and not seen as something negative. In The Impact of Confucianism on Creativity, College of William and Mary (Virginia) academic Kyung Hee Kim notes that within societies in which Confucian values predominate, “rote and repetitive learning produces learning in a mechanical way without thought or meaning”. This “prevalence of rote learning, memorising and drills markedly inhibit creativity”. Chinese journalist Huang Chongyao notes: “The difference between American and Chinese dreams is that the Americans have hope, we have targets.” China’s social structures, policies and perceptions are engineered, as far as possible, so that new ideas do not rock the boat – at least, that they do not undermine the leadership position of the party. Unsurprisingly, the education industry lays the ground rules by rigidly teaching children to copy, to repeat, to trace. School students, for example, learn an impressive set of artistic skills, but after years of study each student has merely learned to draw the same object for days and weeks until they ‘succeed’ in the acceptable portrayal of the object. They have been taught to draw particular objects – and only these objects – in a ‘correct’ way. For them, the aim is to ‘get it right’ rather than ‘have a go’. As a result, the system is designed to reinforce a process of engaging people to hone visual memory and regurgitation: it is but a short step to architects copying alluring Western projects. As Pamela Long says in her book Openness, Secrecy, Authorship: Technical Arts and the Culture of Knowledge from Antiquity to the Renaissance, “A useful working definition of authorship permits a gradation of meaning between the poles of authority and originality” – but the problem is that China does not yet have a fully formed sense of creative or autonomous authorship. This is changing but it is still a way off. As modern-day China grows in confidence, there is a more assertive belief that other countries should begin to learn from China, rather than the other way around. So on one hand, China continues to look around for established R&D that it can appropriate; on the other it wants to ensure that no one purloins its own. It is not a coincidence that the ‘opening up’ of China in 1979 was when IP rights were first recognised in the country. Obviously, there is no going back, however much some hardliners within the Chinese state machine would like to. It was fewer than ten years ago that China changed the country’s constitution to enshrine private property rights. Nowadays, the China Daily newspaper even has an IP channel that provides comprehensive reports on current and future trends in IP development in China. As part of this professionalised approach to patent rights, for instance, anyone – from a foreign company or an individual – who contributes to a patented invention that is made or completed in China is eligible for the Chinese government inventor reward and remuneration for abuse of these property rights. There has been a spate of legal cases recently, such as the defendant in Suzhou who was sentenced to a year in prison and a US$12,000 fine for counterfeiting Louis Vuitton and Gucci trademarks. But nobody is stealing too many Chinese design secrets… yet. I recently travelled on a late-night slow train from Shanghai and was accosted by a young man with a proposition for me to invest in his solar panel business. For only $2 billion, he would be in a position to buy German solar manufacturing technology or for $200 million, he’d be able to set up using American solar technology. When I asked why he wasn’t setting up a Chinese solar manufacturing plant using Chinese technology and R&D, he looked at me pitifully and said: “Why would I want to do that?” It’s a fair point, but it reflects something of a cultural – and actually a political – problem. But this won’t last for long. Austin Williams is associate professor in architecture at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, China, and director of the Future Cities Project in London. Williams is the author of The Enemies of Progress: The Dangers of Sustainability and co-editor of The Future of Community and The Lure of the City: From Slums to Suburbs 26 l www.global -br ief ing.org f i rst quar ter 2014 global 


Global_17
To see the actual publication please follow the link above