As another trip to China draws to a close, I leave this time from Shanghai Pudong Airport. Apart from the excitement of a trip on the Maglev (finally, after three years my itinerary allowed it!), the real thrill was finding a Lego Architecture set in the Duty Free of one of the great World Heritage Sites: the Great Wall of China. What’s not to like (apart from the price, which is as steep as the climb up parts of the Wall)?
Heritage, hospitality and culture in business is intimately bound together in any China visit with the University. Yesterday’s catch up with our colleagues at Beijing Technical & Business University saw us exchanging gifts, which remains a key cultural expectation in any business meeting. It tangibly represents the more intangible bond of friendship, reciprocity in culture and trust which underpin successful and prosperous partnerships which must be nurtured over time. BTBU has a historical association with the marketing and development of the traditional drink Baiju – and on previous visits #heritagehospitality has been free-flowing. Perhaps luckily yesterday the meeting was too early in the day, as little else may have been achieved.
We ended the day learning more about the heritage of birthday traditions, where celebrating the 9 in an age is more important than the 0. Reasons for this are explained here. One of our colleagues on the trip has turned 50 today, so it was culturally appropriate to feast on the eve of his birthday (whilst still 49) to wish him a long life.
Just along from our current hotel in the centre of Beijing, is Ritan Park, situated in the Jianguomenwai area very close to the British Embassy. The park is one of the oldest in Beijing, dating from 1530 and was built as a temple to the sun god. Chinese emperors would make ritual offerings at the central altar. It was a place of worship for the Chinese imperial court of the Qing (1644-1911) and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties. On a previous visit to the park, I watched a live action reinterpretation of the ceremonies in the central reconstructed ritual area. This seemed to involve local school children, all decked out in period costume with relevant accessories – what a memorable history field trip and doubt successful at reinforcing cultural identity and history!
Given the park’s centrality in a densely packed city, it has been re-designated as a Health and Wellbeing facility, with many exercise, walking and activity stations, as well as perimeter paths laid out with distance benchmarks for fitness and recreation measurement.
There is a comprehensive interpretation and orientation scheme through the park, with plenty of signage to inform and amuse this Western eye which is slightly obsessed with signage as my #heritagesigns tweets regularly suggest.
I have just arrived back in China for one of my regular trips in my role as Confucius Institute director for Heriot-Watt University. The sheer scale of heritage sites, cultural parks and the effect that scale has on heritage management practice never ceases to fascinate me particularly from the air as I arrive in Beijing. Sadly I didn’t have my camera to hand on this trip as the plane banked around the city from north to south to bring me in to the new Daxing airport, but the visibility was good enough to again identify stretches of the Great Wall to the north, and then a number of urban parks and cultural sites as we got closer to our landing point. Regardless of differences in management philosophies for heritage between the west and the east, one of the major factors that we sometimes fail to really appreciate is the sheer scale for heritage conservation which China faces in both the rural and urban landscape.
I was delighted to attend the Opening Reception last night at the National Museums of Scotland to celebrate the completion of the 15 year transformation of the main National Museum building on Chambers Street in Edinburgh. As the final three galleries to be represented included the East Asia gallery, we were treated to a performance of Japanese drumming, which echoed amazingly through the main atrium of the Museum.
Speeches were kicked off by the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Fiona Hyslop, who re-emphasised the point the culture is at the heart of flourishing societies, and were a vital part of public life (and policy). She has consistently stuck to this script, and as a longstanding political overseer of the culture and heritage portfolio in Scotland, it remains heartening to hear her continue to win the argument for culture within Government realms. Were that always the case south of the border, and oh to have a culture minister in England that lasted more than a couple of years!
We were then given short speeches by the National Museums Scotland Chair, Bruce Minto; the Chair of the Scottish Committee of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Dame Seona Reid (formerly known as the HLF, but renamed as part of their new strategic plan last week); and finally by Dr Gordon Rintoul, who as Director of NMS has seen the project through from the start. We then headed off to view the new galleries – covering ancient Egypt, East Asia and ceramic collections – and were left to ponder whether 15 years on, and with the changing fashions and expectations for museum display and experiences, whether it is time to start the whole process again, akin to painting the Forth Bridge.