Creative exchange offers a platform that encourages interactive dialogues, promotes idea sharing, forges closer partnerships, and ultimately generates more opportunities and economic growth, writes Jun Huang, partner of architect firm Wei Yang and Partners
The climate crisis has pushed the world to an historic turning point. 2019 saw another record-breaking summer, unprecedented flooding, bushfires, glacier melting and locust swarms. The future seems unpredictable as according to the UN, “the world has only ten years left to prevent irreversible damage of climate change.”
So how to mitigate the situation to ensure a bright future? The world must reach consensus, must adopt a new approach, and must find creative solutions. Rather than waiting for a heroic scientist to invent the ultimate fix, we could explore the magical power of creativity in all sectors, through creative exchange.
The creative force
Creativity is the process of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Over the past two decades, the concept and importance of creative industries have been recognised worldwide. The more inclusive idea of ‘creative economy’ is now on top of many countries’ agendas thanks to a mix of unprecedented social and economic challenges and emerging trends and technologies. The global market value of the creative economy is estimated at over £1 trillion. Creativity is more important than ever.
A United Nations Creative Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report published in 2019 highlights that ‘with export growth rates at 7 percent over 13 years (2002-2015), the global trade in creative goods is an expanding and resilient sector buoyed by China, whose exports of creative goods growing at twice the global average, totalling $168.5 billion in 2015, four times those of US.’
China is now the largest exporter and importer of creative goods and services.
In fact, China is now the largest exporter and importer of creative goods and services. The UK, regarded as the international creative powerhouse, was the first country to map and quantify the creative industries as a defined economic sector in 1997. The past decade has also seen a significant growth in UK’s creative industries, which excel on the international stage and now generate over 5 percent of the UK economy.
The special bond
Creative exchange offers a platform that encourages interactive dialogues, promotes idea sharing, forges closer partnerships, and ultimately generates more opportunities and economic growth.
This is particularly evident in the continuingly strengthened collaboration between the UK and China. Both countries have identified the creative economy as central to the development of their overall economies; both have committed to accelerating the growth of their respective creative industries through policy and funding, and both have facilitated the creative exchange to deepen the wider collaboration across different sectors.
Both the UK and China have identified the creative economy as central to the development of their overall economies
I witnessed this special bond emerging in early 2008, prior to the Beijing Olympics. In February, I was invited to attend the launch of the ‘China Now’ event, aimed to introduce contemporary China to the British public, increase mutual understanding, and promote bilateral cooperation. With over 800 activities covering culture, economy, trade, education, science, technology and sports, it was an unprecedented event in the history of UK-China exchanges in terms of scale, duration and the level of participation involved. Over the next six months till the Olympic Games, the event had been carried out in different cities of the UK, and ‘China Now’ was a huge success thanks to collective efforts from both countries.
If ‘China Now’ was mainly about introducing China to the UK, the Shanghai Expo 2010 was a great opportunity for the UK to showcase her best to China and the world at the biggest international Expo in history. The extraordinary UK Pavilion, colloquially known as the Seed Cathedral, expressed British creativity and was one of the star attractions of the Expo.
I was an “ambassador” of the joint UKTI / RIBA Trade Mission to the Expo, promoting ‘Best of British’ and exploring possibilities for British architects in China. My role was to help other delegates to understand the entirely different context and figure out how to turn creative exchange into real business. The mission did not only help improve better understanding between two countries’ professionals, it also fostered their confidence of collaboration.
Later that year, I moved to Beijing to launch a new office and during the two-year period I was there, I participated in numerous international creative exchange events across China and witnessed the rapid growth of local interests in British creativity, led by architectural and cultural sectors. By the time I left in 2012, just before the London Olympics, many British firms across creative industries, big or small, had tasted success, with some having their local operations set up.
Looking back, what a momentum building over the four years between two Olympic Games! Despite the worst recession in history, both the UK and China demonstrated resilience and bounced back much quicker than others. This period was particularly characterised by rapid growth of creative industries in both countries.
A new direction
As the global economy shifts gears in the post-recession era, a new direction was identified by both the UK and China to grow stronger together – developing the creative economy by expanding collaboration through creative exchange.
Indeed, there are enormous opportunities for the two nations to successfully collaborate and to mutually benefit from a new level of understanding. The UK has seen a continuous rise of Chinese students, visitors and investors, bringing in new perspectives of Chinese culture. In China, British companies and expats are among the most active. Beyond considerable economic benefits, the deepened creative exchange has also generated positive cultural and social impacts on the UK-China relationship and set a great example to the world.
One of the key phenomena in recent years is the rising concern on environmental issues. For instance, more questions are asked about sustainability than aesthetics or other conventional topics in my lectures on city and architecture design, which represents the overwhelming shift across all creative industries.
Judging the Landscape Institute’s prestigious LI90 awards last year, I was encouraged to see environmental resilience was not only considered highly in the criteria but also taken on by high-quality submissions around the world. Not surprisingly, considerable submissions were from China, who eventually scooped two major awards. For someone who has been directly involved in a decade long creative exchanges between these two countries, I envisage that the UK and China will lead the world in using creative power to combat the Climate Crisis.
If oil was regarded as the primary fuel of the 20th century economy, creativity is the fuel of the 21st century
If oil was regarded as the primary fuel of the 20th century economy, creativity is the fuel of the 21st century. With the UK having just left the EU and China transitioning from a manufacturing-based economy to a knowledge-based economy, creative exchange will play an even bigger role in both economies and ensure a brighter future for both countries.