Creativity and Copy: Design Culture in China
This presentation originates from an explorative survey on the emergence of design as a discipline of the growing creative industries in China. The findings of the study suggest that the notion of creativity rooted in Western modernity is in many ways incompatible with the local Chinese values embedded in a Confucius and socialist tradition. Research on the contemporary design culture in China through fieldwork and discourse analysis of Chinese traditional philosophy questions the stability of the terms ‘creativity’ and ‘copy’ as seemingly solid definitions and ends.
Examples collected from the field provide insights into the Shanzhai* phenomenon as well as the controversial statements about design and copy by the key players of the Chinese creative industries. A comparative study of the relevant historical and philosophical backgrounds project these cases onto the canvas of transition and change. Ultimately, the transitional space offered by the intertwined relationship between imitation and innovation challenges the conventional understanding of design creativity as an elitist, singular and mystified concept.
* Shanzhai literally means mountain village, referring to a bandit stronghold outside government control. In the Chinese society today Shanzhai is above all used to describe the copycat products but can be applied to all kinds of acts of deliberate copying.
Heng Zhi studied industrial Design at University for Applied Arts Vienna and Politecnico di Milano. She is curator of the collection at Vitra Design Museum. Previously Zhi worked as a scientific staff member at the faculty Design and Context, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna between 2009 and 2013, and as assistant professor at the department Manual and Material Cutlure, New Design University St. Pölten between 2014 and 2016. She curated and moderated numerous exhibitions and symposiums in China and Europe. Her design work has been exhibited in Vienna, Beijing, London, Shanghai etc. Currently Zhi is a PhD candidate at the department History and Theory of Design at University for Applied Arts Vienna.