(Continued from World Design Congress 2009: Day two. Written at the time, last October.)
Based at Tongji University, where he is a professor at the institute of cultural criticism, Zhu Dake might be an example that the public intellectual in China has a little more leeway than is often characterised in the West (see also this interview at Danwei.org). His speech centres on the balance, or tension, between authoritarianism and consumerism that China is facing - or encouraging, depending on how you look at it - and features some subtle critique of both aspects of that balancing act. I’ll reproduce it in a bit more detail here (though please excuse any inaccuracies due to my typing or the translation at the time.)
He starts with Mao's legacy; since the second round of reform and the “opening up”, China has been engaged in consumerism and late stage capitalism, he says. So a curious hybrid between consumerism and authoritarianism has led “to a specific spatial logic in China.” These two systems “inconsistent yet they coexist with seeming harmony”.
He then shifts to talking about china (as in porcelain, china-ware), which “can be traced back a long way” and how “china transformed into China”.
Here, he starts to outline the danger of over-use of specific cultural symbols - not only china, but also the overuse of the colour red, which he calls a “visual disaster”. Red, he points out, is “representative of authority, just like the wall of Forbidden City”. It represents “conquer and warning to the general public.” (He shows some photos of the reddish outer wall of the Forbidden City.)