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February 24, 2010

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Great manifesto of our era

WU Liangyong

Wu Liangyong, born in 1922, is a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering. He has led many important projects, including the new Beijing Library and the expansion of Tian'anmen Square.

World Expos are an expression of their times. I visited the expos in Hanover and Osaka. Each featured a theme pursuant to the culture and development of their eras: the one in Hanover was themed "Mankind-Nature-Technology," while that in Osaka was called "Progress and Harmony for Mankind."

The theme of World Expo 2010 Shanghai China is "Better City, Better Life." Linking beautiful cities with a beautiful life is a great manifesto that addresses the problems and hopes of our time.

The China Pavilion at this World Expo celebrates Chinese urban culture, whose depth has been recognized by scholars but not appreciated fully by the world at large. Li Changchun, member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, once suggested that the culture of China's settlements should be included as part of the country's traditional culture in a project called "China's Ancient Invention - Compass."

China's urban culture is as long and profound as its history. When we try to get to the core of its essence, we explore in some depth the following ideas:

1. The integration of cities and nature. Cities and nature are inseparable. Paintings depicting Chinese cities or landscapes always convey their poetic charms, a departure from the ancient Western methods of using aquatints to portray cities.

2. The integration of cities and villages. Traditionally, Chinese cities and villages comprise the integral heart of the nation. They work to the mutual benefit of each and coexist in harmony.

3. The link between cities and their various aspects, such as civilization, architecture, engineering, technology and transportation. Cities are home to colorful urban cultures that overlay the physical environment. For instance, the painting "Upper River during the Qingming Festival" vividly recorded the vibrant urban life in a Chinese city in the 12th century.

4. The philosophical concept of harmony between man and nature and the ingeniousness of human endeavor. Examples of that include the Grand Canal of China and the most representative urban sceneries in China.

Maybe we have become so inured that we don't see these concepts clearly anymore. Today, however, we are using the platform of World Expo 2010 Shanghai to renew their exploration and enrich our understanding of our cultural inheritance.

China has witnessed a far-reaching redevelopment of its cities since the founding of New China 60 years ago and during the 30 years since the nation implemented policies of economic reform and opening to the world. These achievements may be summed up as following:

First, regional development. China developed policies on regional development in as early as the 5th century BC, as recorded in "Yu Gong," the first Chinese classic on regional geography. In modern times, regions such as the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta have all enjoyed great development and made great strides in politics, economy, science, technology and other fields.

Second, insufficient attention to issues such as strains on urban ecological environments and the exploitation of rural assets. But today there is a new awareness of these issues and innovative efforts are underway to address them. Campaigns to return cultivated land to forests and to protect natural scenic areas have been launched in recent years, greatly improving the prospects for the ecological environment in western China.

Third, learning lessons from the West. China has historically been adept at building on the experiences of others. We have opened our minds to adopt the best practices others have to offer and have made great strides in adapting those experiences to benefit our development.

Fourth, preserving our traditions. China treasures its culture, history and customs. We treat them as the integrated heart of our civilization and seek to harmonize the past with the present and future.

However, there are pitfalls along the path. Lewis Mumford, a famous Western humanitarian scholar and an advocate of better urban living environments, questioned in the concluding paragraphs of his masterpiece "The City in History" whether urban development should be oriented toward cultural life or toward the promotion of unfettered technological expansion. While believing the West is going further along the latter course, he cited the painting "Upper River during the Qingming Festival" as an example of the former path.

"The unique features of those various scenes, various professions, various cultural activities and various figures - these can produce unlimited combinations, permutations and variations," he wrote. "It is a city full of life instead of a perfect hive."

In trying to integrate China's ancient and modern achievements, we have endeavored to bend the use of science and technology to the greater good in the development of Chinese cities.

The development now underway in Wenchuan of Sichuan Province after the devastating earthquake in 2008 demonstrates our concern for the lives of people and their living standards. To ensure a better life for both urban and rural residents has been our guiding principle.


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