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China Focus: China's design innovations bring "New Culture" to life

Editor: zhangrui 丨Xinhua

03-02-2017 15:56 BJT

BEIJING, March 2 (Xinhua) -- Almost a century on, the Red Mansion, a landmark of China's New Culture Movement, still attracts hoards of young people.

Built in 1918, the four-story red brick building was once home to Peking University library, school of arts, president's and dean's offices. It housed many academic and revolutionary pioneers, including Cai Yuanpei, Hu Shi, Li Dazhao, Chen Duxiu and Lu Xun, who made history in the early 20th century.

Now, creative cultural products are bringing it back to life.


Peking University was a stronghold of the New Culture Movement during the 1910s and 1920s. The movement tried to address China's ills through democracy and science, as Marxism rapidly spread across China.

In 2014, the New Culture Movement Memorial and the Beijing Lu Xun Museum merged and the following year began creative endeavors. Liu Xin, 31, is a designer in the Red Mansion.

In 2014, souvenir sales at the museum made only a few thousand yuan, but the sum grew almost 70 times from that last year.

Liu examined the history of a multitude of objects from museum collections and used their background to develop items that wed artistry and practicality.

In 2010, she noted from the museum's collections a Japanese caricature of Lu Xun drawn in 1936, which honored his "extraordinary will."

Lu Xun was a writer who profoundly shaped Chinese literature in the 20th century. Hundreds of millions of people have studied his works, beginning with elementary school textbooks.

Liu used the caricature as inspiration for four new images of Lu -- reading a book, delivering a speech, marching and fighting -- which now appear on bookmarks, rulers and pencil cases.

In the fighting image, Lu holds a pen as tall as a person in his hand, using his writing itself as a weapon. There are also products designed around Lu's proverbs.

"I see the ingenuity in these products," said Zhang Yi, a visitor to the memorial. "Over the years, I have gradually come to understand the works of Lu Xun which I first learned at school."

"The image of Lu Xun here looks approachable and prompted me to read his books again," he added.


In just one year, the creative experiment has generated unexpected results. Li Zhanqi, head of the project, said that social benefit for everyday consumers was an essential goal. Over 40 percent of the museum's visitors are students. The collections and exhibitions play a key role in their education.

When she designs new products, Liu often stays in the exhibition area to see the visitors' reaction to the work. Postcards and stationery priced between 10 to 30 yuan are her most popular items.

Products based on the Peking University logo, designed by Lu Xun, are also available at the Red Mansion.

"We strive for good quality, strong cultural resonance and to be affordable." Li said.

"Several years ago," Liu recalled, "a lady over 90 years old who graduated from Peking University came to the mansion with her family. She had returned from the United States and wanted to take a look at her old classroom."

The old lady left with several of the school logo products designed by Liu, reminders of her youthful years at college.


Creative industries are flourishing in China's culture-sphere. Just in 2015, the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City had over 8,700 branded souvenirs and sold more than 1 billion yuan's worth of them.

In March last year, the State Council said China should "develop the creative cultural industry," with sensitivity, practicality and originality.

These products are also finding popularity overseas. At this year's Frankfurt Paperworld, a leading international stationery fair, Liu's products were an instant hit and she was approached by German dealers interested in her products and designs.

"The goal of our industry is to promote Chinese culture. It also offers a wonderful opportunity for the museum to present itself to the public," said Liu.

"I hope our memorial can help people understand the history of Lu Xun and the New Culture Movement," Li Zhanqi said. "And I hope that when visitors leave, they take some souvenirs they can cherish."

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