Critical Chinese Copying

by Boya Gua (MDes '17)

The modern influence of the West in changing the concepts of “copy” in China, and the subsequent change of Chinese cultural attitudes towards “copy,” challenge the traditional Chinese concepts of the past, history and material preservation. In China, the process of copying has been a traditional mode of cultural transmission, whether in works of art or in the continuity of cultural identity of cities. In the turmoil of recent urban developments in China, “copy from the West” and “copy from the Past” are two conspicuous phenomena—the former is about importing “progressive” forms in a post-colonial historical context; the latter is about nostalgia and nationalistic aspiration for cultural revival. Therefore, through examining the architecture and social life in the “copycat” built environment, the thesis will investigate the shifting relations between tradition and creativity embedded in the standard Chinese idea “copy from the past” as well as the spatial dynamic embedded in “copy from the West” and raise questions such as: what is the changing of history of copy and people's changing attitudes on copy in China? Should copying be viewed as a deeply embedded cultural practice or just outmoded mimicry in China? And how can we define “creativity” in the contemporary Chinese context? The project will ultimately look at the formation process of Chinese identity and core cultural values in the context of the shift from traditional culture to modernity.