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A map of China

China, which is 13 hours ahead of Washington, D.C., during Standard Time, has 23 provinces, five autonomous regions, and four municipalities.

China in transition

Traveling Chinese exhibit spurs free public lectures about change in China

By Pauline Oo

October 9, 2007

When University of Minnesota lecturer Seth Werner asked if the new I-35W Bridge could be made by China, a hush fell over the crowd that had gathered at the Weisman Art Museum on the Twin Cities campus for his talk. Skeptical looks were everywhere, as was disbelief at the boldness of the question. But 50 minutes later, many people were nodding their heads and saying "yes" when Werner posed the question again.

Werner's "Made by China" talk was part of the Weisman's lunchtime discussion series (see sidebar below) held in conjunction with its current exhibit "Documenting China: Contemporary Photography and Social Change."

"Made in China is the idea that everything we buy, see, or touch is made in China," says Werner, who teaches marketing at the Carlson School of Management. "It means, for example, that a company based in the U.S. is using China as factory to manufacture something that is brought back here for sale and consumption." The common assumption is that China equals cheaper goods and shoddy quality, he adds.

But, he points out, "Made by China," is a totally different thing. In this case, China herself, not Western companies, are inventing, bankrolling, and manufacturing products, some of which are the finest in the world.

For example, the King Memorial Foundation chose Lei Yixin, an award-winning 53-year-old sculptor from central China's Hunan Province, to sculpt a stone statue of Martin Luther King Jr. for the MLK memorial park in Washington, D.C. (Members of the foundation first cast their sights on sculptors in Italy, but few have experience working in granite.) Yixin, considered one of the nine living treasures in China in his profession, will use 1,000 tons of granite stone from China for the sculpture. Last year, the National Basketball Association inked a multi-year business partnership with Haier, one of China's largest appliance manufacturers. (Since entering the United States in 1999, Haier has become the top-selling brand of compact refrigerators, a market leader in home wine coolers, and is No. 3 in freezers.) And the community of D'Iberville, Mississippi, will be rebuilding its city devastated by Hurricane Katrina with the help of two construction firms and workers from China.

Upcoming...

On Thursday, October 11, at 7 p.m. at the Weisman Art Museum, Gu Zheng, professor at Fudan University in Shanghai and curator of "Documenting China," will share his thoughts about his homeland and the exhibit in "Between the Document and Memory: Visual Representation and Social Change."

China Now at Noon
The hourlong talks (noon to 1 p.m.) are free and held at the Weisman Art Museum on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis. Refreshments are provided.

Thursday, October 18
"Women in Modern China: From Golden Lotus to Iron Maiden to Supermodel" by Wang Ping, associate professor of English at Macalester College and photographer

Thursday, November 1
"Contemporary Chinese Art in the Global Spotlight" by Doryun Chong, Walker Art Center curator

Thursday, Nov. 8
"Documenting Shanghai as an Insider and Outsider: A Personal Scrapbook" by Minneapolis-based photographer and new media Jamason Chen

The Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum is located at 333 E. River Road in Minneapolis. Museum hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is free.

"Made by China is the next thing that we should pay attention to," says Werner. "When we think of China, we think about manufacturing jobs. The development of China is faster that this... We need to shift our way of thinking of China as a far-off distant land with cheap products to a sophisticated country that has quality goods."

Previously, China was an agrarian society. Today, between 100 million and 150 million people have moved from the countryside to China's cities for jobs, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. China's transition from isolationist nation to international powerhouse, however, has not been easy. While many Western nations have endured similar changes over the last 200 years, modernization in China has occurred in a relative instant, moving workers from fields to factories and from the country to the cities in just a few decades.

A walk through "Documenting China," which runs through November 25 at the Weisman, offers an insight into this monumental shift. The New York Times has hailed the 57-image exhibit, developed by Bates College Museum of Art and organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, as "profound" and "heroic," a must-see for anyone interested in understanding contemporary Asian society.

"This exhibit is important to remind us what's going on in China," says Werner. Each winter and summer, Werner leads a group of University of Minnesota students on an academic excursion to China.


Did you know?

* China has $1.3 trillion in foreign currency reserves, and it has invested two-thirds of that in U.S. Treasury bonds. The U.S. dollar's devaluation on world currency markets, though, has prompted the Chinese to diversify and create the China Investment Corp. This new government investment company aims to invest in about 50 large-sized enterprises around the world.

* Lei Yixin, who will sculpt the stone statue of Martin Luther King Jr., was among the 14 master stone sculptors (which also included three University of Minnesota alums) invited to participate in last year's Minnesota Rocks!," an international stone-carving symposium in St. Paul. Members of the King Memorial Foundation who visited the event were drawn to Yixin's "Contemplation" sculpture, and the rest, as they say, is history.

* China will, for the first time, host the Olympic Games August 8 to 24, 2008. Fuwa Jingjing the panda bear is one of the five mascots for the games in Beijing. The others are Beibei the Fish, Huanhuan the Olympic Flame, Yingying the Tibetan Antelope, and Nini the Swallow. To learn more about preparations for the upcoming games, see Beijing 2008.