(June 30, 2008) — I had an amazing few days in China recently, and the experience encompassed much of what China is all about — culture, crowds, confusion, communism, capitalism, creativity and more.
I was invited by Lorraine Justice, director of Hong Kong Polytechnic University's School of Design, to speak at the opening of HK Poly's new joint venture with Zhejiang University — the International Design Centre. IDC has two sites, the university campus in Hangzhou, and the brand-new Ningbo University Science Park.
The venture has been a year in the making, and local government officials are offering strong support. The aim: stimulate industrial design, and product research and development, from education through real-world application, with practical assistance for manufacturers and brand owners.
The pride and excitement among those involved was palpable at the June 5 ceremony at Zhejiang University. Later, I was treated to a banquet with all the trimmings at a Communist Party-run hotel with local government leaders and Ningbo university officials. The event included an official greeting session (in Chinese, with no interpreter) from the Communist Party's secretary of the People's Government of the Ningbo Zhenhai district, at which Justice was the guest of honor.
The following morning took us to Ningbo University Science Park, with its soaring, curved glass building connected to a glass, globe-shaped structure — all very modern and high-tech. A brass band, red carpet, streamers, flower sprays, confetti cannons and seating for a few hundred guests made it clear this was an opening of significance in the local community. Twenty-some local dignitaries attended. The official ceremony was followed by fireworks.
Afterward, we toured IDC's unfinished space in the center's main, 17-story building. Justice said local officials let IDC directors pick whatever space they wanted there, then gave it to them to use, rent-free, for the next two years. The view from IDC's area revealed many more buildings going up on the science center land.
As I drove back to Shanghai, the journey took me over another feat of Chinese engineering: the Hangzhou Bay Bridge. The six-lane, cable-stayed bridge, at 22 miles, is the longest transoceanic bridge in the world. It opened May 2 at a cost of about $1.7 billion. The bridge cuts in half the 150-mile distance by road between Ningbo and Shanghai and has become a tourist spectacle in its own right.
My trip revealed much about China's ambitions, achievements and shortcomings. For one, the plans surrounding my visit changed daily, which is not conducive to efficient, productive execution. But that is typical of China and is unlikely to change soon.
The pomp and protocol were fascinating. The structures served as reminders of China's engineering prowess. Local government and university officials demonstrated their commitment to quality education, design research, product development and brand building. Together, it all underscores some of the keys to China's future.
Grace is PN editor and associate publisher. To view photos of the science center opening and a video interview with Justice, go to www.plasticsnews.com/china/idc.