31 July 2023 | Chris Nash
Firstly I’d like to thank SACU members, Lead Curator Bryan Sitch and Project Assistant Dr Fang Zong on behalf of all SACU members for their hospitality in giving me a guided tour of the Gallery on a recent visit to Manchester. Secondly I would urge all SACU members to not only visit the Chinese Culture Gallery themselves but to recommend it to family and friends. As someone who has lived and travelled in China for the last ten years I would say that a visit to the Gallery took me back to places, people and ideas that I have treasured from my experiences. From the very start where you come face to face with photographs of ordinary Chinese people in real and natural settings and flow under the Moon Gate ( as I have done countless times in China), inscribed with the inspirational words of Dr. Lee Kai Hung, you are in the safe hands of a talented team of curators who share their love of China through the exhibits.
I think the Gallery is absolutely right to focus on two key themes. The first is sustainability and the environment. I was overjoyed to meet the artisanal bamboo products in the first case. This took me right back to my experiences among the various ethnic minority groups in the south west of China – the Miao, the Dai, the Hani and the Yi. It was my great privilege to live with these groups for short periods and to experience something of their sustainable life styles, all in harmony with the local landscapes which they care for and which care for them. There is so much practical skill and Earth wisdom that we can learn from them. We should never forget that these ethnic minorities are full and important members of China where their home areas are given autonomous status, giving them full identity within the country as a whole. In Yunnan I listened enthralled as two local people told me how local and national politicians had worked together to build a ‘Tea University’ where all the traditional knowledge and skills of local communities could be taught to future generations and the wider world. The Chinese government is working across the whole nation towards a 生态 文明 – a shengtai wenming or ‘ecological civilisation’.
The second key theme is what I would call ‘the local and the global’. One of the biggest barriers to improved understanding between our two great cultures is that too many of us still think of China as far off and far away, unreachable behind both real and ideological ‘walls’ in our minds. And of course limited thinking like this exactly suits the self interest and power grabs of a certain type of politics. In their own contribution to breaking down these barriers, the Chinese Culture Gallery uses every opportunity to present a much more important narrative, stories of connections and continuities. There are cases called ‘Experiencing China and Anglo-Chinese Friendships’. These are embodiments of the work of SACU because they document bridges of friendship between Manchester people and people from China. Like SACU, the exhibition does not hide from the political dimension to the task of growing mutual understanding between China and Britain, but deals with the subject objectively and in a respectful manner that invites visitors to think for themselves and hopefully leave preconceptions at the door.
In our SACU Articles of Association the first stated objective is :
1/ To promote and advance the education of the public in all aspects of China and the Chinese people.
Our colleagues Dr Fang Zong and Bryan Sitch (supported by co-lead Andrea Winn) deserve enormous credit for the light the Chinese Culture Gallery has shone on this goal. I know they would want me to recognise the inspiration of Dr Lee Kai Hung behind their achievement and so I’ll close by echoing again his words which embody the spirit of this wonderful place :
‘‘If there is no dialogue, there is no understanding
If there is no understanding, there is no trust
If there is no trust, there is no harmony
If there is no harmony, there is no peace”.