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Chindia Times?
Text by Supriya Nair and Photograph by Ritam Banerjee
Published: Volume 17, Issue 5, May, 2009

Philip Dodd, radio host, writer, and head of Made In China, an agency which facilitates collaborations between China and the UK, chats with Supriya Nair on Asiaís creative future while passing through Mumbai

What do you think of when you think of Chinese culture? Tang poetry, the mysteries of the Imperial Courts, or a plastic, modernistic industrial aesthetic? The blood-pumping Hong Kong action films, or the cutting edge art and design that leap out of the work of Ai Weiwei and the pages of Rayli and ViVi? Knockoffs or high culture? To the affable but sharply intellectual Philip Dodd, who develops cultural, educational and commercial projects between China and Doddís native United Kingdom through his agency Made In China, the answer isnít ĎAll of the above,í but ĎSo much more.í

In India on a lecture tour, Dodd, natty in a grey suit of impeccable provenance and equally at home in the colonial meeting rooms of the National Gallery of Modern Art as he is lounging at the Mumbai University bus stop, Dodd is the antithesis of the old stereotype of an ĎOrientalist.í Not for him the detached academic study of an inscrutable high culture. Chatting with him is real proof of how relationships between cultures have changed, thanks to the complex intersections of global economics and tastes. Dodd spoke to us about the change in the directional flow of the East-West relationship, Indiaís place in world culture, and environmentalism, among other things.

On the world turning eastward
The last 20 years were about the West moving into China Ė and India. The next 20 years will be about China and India moving into the West. The President of China (Hu Jintao) wanted to put culture at the centre of economic development Ė as we saw during the Beijing Olympics last year. China has an extraordinary market. By 2020 there will be a middle class of 600 million people. And they will want things like fashion, like design and culture. The world is moving east, because it has gotten interested in this phenomenon. In 1999, we had an exhibition of Chinese contemporary art at the ICA [Institute of Contemporary Arts] in London, and no one came. That is no longer the case.

On the differences in Chinese and Indian models of change
For China, the symbol of the sea turtle is significant. The sea turtle is the one who returns, who goes back. Many young Chinese left in the wake of what happened in 1989 (the military crackdown on a student demonstration at Tiananmen Square). They went to Paris, to New York, and elsewhere. These people are now returning, and they bring with them their dual perspective, their cutting edge cultural ideas. You see this not just in the pages of Chinese fashion magazines, but in art, literature, film Ė the most popular of which never even make it out of China in the first place.

The sea turtles are one engine of change in Chinese industry. The second is the massive market, which is what has brought global attention to China. China is different in one way from India; it can draw on the virtues of a centralised government, one that creates a better advantage in infrastructure simply because it can point at you and say, ĎDo it,í and then make you do it.

Thereís also a creative energy in private industry; this is similar in India and China. The 798 Art Zone in Beijing is one example of a new, hip China. The old 798 electronics factory that once existed there was rented out cheaply by artists in the Ď90s. After a while the designers moved in. Then the foreigners came in. And 798 is at the heart of an art and culture community in Beijing today.

On an emerging creative class in developing economies
I donít believe in the creative class; itís a kind of Lennonism. Too few people belong to this class, and it still pushes the high culture/low culture standards. Real creativity is about regeneration. Theres a technological slant to it. To be able to bring productivity to creative endeavour you have to be able to train other people in creative skills; you have to offer that kind of training to everybody.

On the relationship between past and present
Thereís an inordinately long artistic tradition in both countries. I think the relationship between tradition and modernity is the real challenge. What the Chinese have done is to repackage and rebrand aspects of their culture to make it hip and relevant to global culture today. You see that with the green tea, the massages, and so on.

On sustainability and future-tech
China is certainly taking sustainability very seriously, and it has a tradition that is much more attuned to the environment, and to environmentalism. In many ways itís way ahead of, say, Britain. Thereís a village in the north-east of China, where the custom is to plant a tree at birth. The tree is cut down at death Ė and another one is planted in its stead. So the cycle continues.

And the concern extends to media. Green media, today, is digital media. There are 635 million cell phones in China. Cell phones are a political medium in China. Protests and dating and jokes go on there. This stuff isnít happening on the Internet. You can see the emergence of a private life for people, because of mobile phones. I know people who are serious about plans to set up gay dating services via mobiles in China Ė something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. And so there are companies pouring billions into animation for mobile screens. There just isnít enough content.

On desi-Chini bhai-bhai
India and China are like Manchester United and Liverpool. What someone has got to discover, now, is how to broker the creative relationship between the two countries. I see some co-operation already happening, in the corporate sphere. But on the whole, itís still far easier for me to take a flight into China from the UK or the USA, than it is from India. That canít go on. It has to be an East-East relationship here. If the West comes in, itís going to try and make a Man United/Liverpool situation out of it.

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