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Architectural Democracy in China

I have been going to China for several years now to teach in Shanghai and Wuhan, usually around the work of Gamified Cohousing. But surprisingly, in 2019, the focus shifted to my work on "Architectural Democracy".

The lecture tour in China was divided into three parts, in July, October and November of 2019.

On the 18th July 2019 I flew out from Kathmandu, from the Nepalese lecture tour, towards Shanghai via Guangzhou. At Nepal's airport I had to do the obligatory VPN account active to cope with the usual Chinese restrictions in the western internet realm. Although not always such simple VPNs work. It depends on how angry the Chinese government is at the time. And if so, only the top notch ones get through the though impositions.

I stayed over at a glorious hotel, the Lin Yin Art Hotel, to balance out a rough week in Nepal of dirt, rain and pollution. The next day I took a taxi to Chuangshu, costing me more than a flight but there was no desire to get into that circus of chinese harsh authority which are the airports and train stations.

In Chuangshu, I gave a series of lectures and workshops (called the u-motion workshops) at the United World College. I introduced there the basic concepts of Architectural Democracy and then we did a fun workshop with kids on Gamified Cohousing. Here is a short video of that outcome:

At the United World College and at all the lectures in China, the title did not include the word "Democracy", removed as suggested by the Professors and Deans who invited me over, into titles mentioning simply "participation". Everything in the chinese faculties needs to be aproved by the communist party. Such a wording, Democracy, would likely raise too much attention, even maybe be denied of approval and lead to fustration among my academia peers who take great deal of time to organize these events.

Democracy is not a fobidden topic in China, one can witness such in for example Shanghai, at the famous French Concession neighborhood, at the Former Residence of Ke Ling, who founded the CAPD, China Association for Promoting Democracy, one of the few minor political parties allowed in China.

The other series of lectures and workshops took place at the now infamous Wuhan, at the Wuhan University of Technology. The office of the dean of the faculty department of industrial engineering is just in front of a misterious, constantly closed door of the representative of the communist party. The power of the party representative overcomes the one of the dean. We foreigners never interact with them.

Picture 1: At the entrance of the Shanghai International Institute Of Design And Innovation
At the entrance of the Shanghai International Institute Of Design And Innovation

Both in Shanghai and in Wuhan the students and lecturers are very sharp people and very critical of the regime. Many, if not most, are convinced that this model of government is the best possible one for China. This might be so because we are in urban developed areas, which are niches of wealth. But China still remains officially a developing country according to the World Trade Organization (WTO), allthough this is being currently contested.

Picture: The surge on electric bikes offer in Shanghai

Picture: a postcard from the French Concession

From the city Hotel, where I was lodged in, at the French concession, or, as the Chinese like to call it, the former French Concession, one takes the subway to the Tongji Campus. The transportation system in China, if not widely known by now, it ought to be, it works with an incredible precision. Everything is done via the phone, via wechat, we even tipped a beggar by scanning her QR code. My cash was not accepted by her.

But I do use cash, it still works. Also that is how they pay foreign professors! 

During these days, I once visited MacDonald’s for breakfast in the subway. A breakfast costs 1 euro, the equivalent in Finland is 4 and I tasted a taro ice cream, one of the earliest plants that people grew, poisonous when raw, but safe to eat if it is cooked, or apparently, as ice cream.

Picture: Street market in Wuhan

Picture: The interaction with students has always been very easy, with them often taking me and other professors to dinner

Picture: In Shanghai, on the 2019 11 24, with Professor Susu Nousala

Picture: on the 2019 11 22, an event on sustainability in Shanghai

Picture: on the 2019 11 24, a very friendly cat owner in shanghai

Pedro Aibéo

04.07.2023, Kajaani


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