The first day of the China Unlimited trip commenced with the opening ceremony at Hanban Headquarters, China’s main body of dissemination and growth of Chinese language and culture in the world. This task is being delivered through a wide network of Confucius Institutes all around the globe, enhancing students of Chinese language and welcoming them to the richness of the Chinese culture.
Mrs Chen Mo, the Director of the Division of International Exchanges at Hanban, addressed a warm welcome to all the winners of the China Unlimited competition and explained the way Confucius Institutes operate around the world. The presentation was accompanied by a number of testimonials given by international students of Chinese language, coming from all around the globe, speaking in fluent Chinese and confirming the Confucius Institute’s effectiveness and overall progress. The meeting was followed by a refreshing audiovisual multimedia experience about Chinese language and culture.
The Dashanzi Art District
Following the enthusiastic welcome ceremony at Confucius Institute Headquarters/Hanban, the China Unlimited delegation was guided at a unique cultural hub of Beijing, the Dashanzi Art District. An area of unparalleled artistic importance, to the extent that very few areas in the world can be compared, this unique quartier hosts a plethora of art galleries of any type of art. Walking in the streets of the district is one of the most fascinating urban experiences one can live, passing by one gallery after the other, shopping in art shops and resting in picturesque cafes and restaurants. Dashanzi art District feels like a city within Beijing, a city where time stops and art reigns.
The smell of paint is vivid, as well as the figures of Chinese and international artists on their way to their atelier. An artist from the China Unlimited delegation rushed to describe it as “my Disneyland”. This quartier though is not only addressed to artists where they find the place they naturally belong. This artistic urban nest is for all; for every Chinese citizen or the citizen of the world to mingle with Chinese art in all its forms and glory, breathing the smell of fresco as she walks by or making new friends by exchanging opinions about an art piece.
Dashanzi Art District is surely a creativity cradle in Beijing and one of the few places in the world where urban blocks can be formed by galleries, houses, bookstores, cafes and restaurants purified from the feeling of commercialism as in thematic parks. This district could be possibly compared with a Biennale with all its pavilions, only that it does not happen every two years and it is not composed by prefabricated constructs where the visitor pays a ticket to visit. Dashanzi Art is there, live, 365 days per year and it is for everybody. An infinite art district of the world that upgrades urban life and induces all citizens or random walkers to the final destination of art: The Art of Living.
The Red Theatre
The first day of the China Unlimited trip closed with a fascinating Chinese dance drama at the famous Red Theatre of Beijing. Dance drama in China is a privilege to experience as it provides a rare understanding of Chinese history and culture, together with the social ties and values that the Chinese society holds upon. Attending a famous red theatre drama right after Dashanzi Art District signified to the China Unlimited winners the rich transition from Chinese modern art to the very basics of the Chinese culture.
In the morning of the second day of the China Unlimited trip the winners were hosted by the Beijing International Chinese College (BICC), a private institution whose aim and aspiration is to teach Chinese language to international students in Beijing. Gifted BICC professors gave a profound presentation of the history of Chinese language, its transition through the dynasties and most of all the explanation of Chinese calligraphy. All the westerners in the room had the chance to find out that Chinese calligraphy is a sine qua non for Chinese culture and language. The talented BICC teacher said in the classroom that it is the school’s scope to develop the Chinese students’ talent in the drawing of Chinese Characters correctly but also with aesthetic beauty and harmony. The teacher also revealed that Chinese Calligraphy is so important to Chinese culture that youngsters with non aesthetic hand-writing of Chinese characters rarely land on good jobs in China.
Overall, the morning sessions at BICC were a rare opportunity for the delegation to truly grasp the fundamental pillars of the Chinese language, its evolution from the traditional to the simplified characters and the power of the language to sustain the communication of a couple of billion of Chinese people around the globe. Certainly one should not also forget how the robustness of the Chinese language and character structure have been the source of inspiration for a number of other languages and cultures in Asia.
In the afternoon of the second day of the China Unlimited trip the delegation was escorted from the Chinese language classes, to one of the most spectacular and traditional parts of the old city in Beijing, Hutong. A district at the heart of the city, well preserved and maintained as it was in the past centuries, Hutong is undeniably a treasure at the heart of the city of Beijing. The picturesque houses with the big majestic door, the elevated footstep at the entrance together with tokens that signal the history of the family and its importance, the traditional tools outside, everything creates a unique atmosphere and feeling to any foreign visitor. Commuting with the traditional bike taxis in the narrow alleys one can feel in the breeze an old smell and vivid taste from ancient Beijing.
Moreover, the winners of the China Unlimited trip had the honour to become guests of a local family in Hutong. A uniquely structured interior, with all the traditional rooms of the house built around a central yard, was able to give a glimpse of the old Chinese society to the guest, right from the door’s footstep. The atelier of the daughter of the family was a bonus for the visitor, being able to witness complex painting techniques on glass. Moments away from the Beijing Bell Tower and the Tian’ Anmen Square, Hutong, an old and traditional district of old Beijing, maintains its upmarket value with a rare cultural essence reminiscent of the roots of China, leading the way for the present and future of the country’s capital.
Heading towards the end of the second day of the Beijing visit, the China Unlimited winners had the opportunity to amuse themselves in a special Chinese acrobatic show. From aesthetically pleasing and difficult stunts, to acrobats risking their lives and the inclusion of five motorcycles running simultaneously inside an iron cage, the acrobatic show demonstrated the diversity and richness of Chinese acrobatics.
The Capital Museum
The third day of the China Unlimited visit found the winners of the competition at Beijing Capital Museum. A masterpiece of modern architecture at the heart of this vast city the museum offers a rare collection of artifacts depicting Beijing’s vibrant history. The different levels provided the pleasure to the visitors to see anything from ancient Buddha statues made from gold or bronze found in ancient Beijing, to Chinese fine porcelain vases and other cultural tools and exhibits. What was truly inspiring at the Capital museum was its thoughtful structure, allowing the visitor to create a clear image in his mind about how Beijing looked like in the course of time throughout the different Dynasties. This museum is surely a jewel for Beijing, a unique chance to know about the history of the city right at its mere heart.
Beijing Olympic Complex
The dusk of the third and last day in Beijing found the delegation at the city’s modern Olympic Complex, the main Olympic campus for Beijing’s Olympic games in 2008. Naturally, the attention of the visitor was attracted immediately by the National Olympic Stadium of China, or else “Bird Nest”. A magnificent architectural design that every architect in the world would be fond of, creates at once a majestic sentiment to the visitor of China’s super modern Olympic complex. The immense LED screen on the periphery of the stadium, embedded in between steel rods, shows the connectivity between structural architecture and technology. Certainly, although the “Bird Nest” is an eye-catcher, the Beijing Olympic complex is much more than this. The gigantic famous “Water Cube” stadium, the stadium where the swimming pool at the 2008 Olympics is sheltered, already from its exterior LED lights, structure and shape adds up to the state of the art architectural work spent in the design of this unique sports complex.
Apart from the numerous stadiums of progressive modern architecture, what is truly worth mentioning here is the extent Beijing has capitalized on its Olympic sports facilities, post the Olympic Games. China has made sure to make this huge investment a pole of attraction for the Beijing citizens, a place to spend an afternoon or evening with friends or family, a place to do sports or relax. And all this with free access to everybody. The plethora of people enjoying their evening at the complex, together with the plurality of events taking place for every age, from children to elderly, leaves no doubt of thinking China as the true example of how to upgrade the real Return on Investment (ROI) in sports. Undeniably this image of the Beijing Olympic Complex strongly contradicts the sad images of the deserted and wrecked sport facilities of other Olympic Games hosts like the ones in Athens in 2004 or the images of the Olympic Complex in Rio likely to be taken in 4 years from now. China has surely a lot of lessons to teach the world. Post Olympic Games infrastructure and management is certainly one to add to the long list.