About DorothyArnott

Textile design student at Duncan of Jordanstone.

“The Elite Generation”

This assignment began with a fairly amusing story which does eventually bring me on to topics I’ll discuss later…

I was sitting in the student union (a common destination for students as it is cheap and cheerful) on a Friday night celebrating my friend’s 21st birthday, when a young Chinese man came over to me explaining that he had lost a bet with his friends (a group of Chinese students male and female and an Italian student) and now he had to ask my permission to kiss me on the cheek. I didn’t know how to respond, but to laugh and tell him I didn’t think my boyfriend would be too happy with that, but clearly it had taken a fair amount of courage to come over, and it was harmless enough so I added that he had to kiss all the girls cheeks… and he did. He got a cheer from his friends clearly enjoying their night out, thanked us and carried on with his night.

Who said the Chinese were shy? This gave me the perfect opportunity to start networking and get in contact with students to interview. It turned out I knew the Italian student he just didn’t recognise me from a distance. Being part of what is known in China as “The E Generation” (those born after 1990) I wanted to discuss their views towards education, why they came to Dundee to study and how much influence do their parents/ relatives have on them and what they do with their lives. At university we are obviously here to study, but there is no denying that there is also the social aspects of being a student too (more so when you are in 1st year), I begin to wonder how the attitudes and behaviour of 18+ year olds here would be perceived in China.

I asked the following question to gain an insight to the importance of education and some cultural differences in student life between China and here.

How important is education to you?
How much influence do your parents have on your education?
Why did you choose Dundee University to study at?
What do you like about Dundee?
How does student life here differ from China?

The  following responses I got were from Chinese students (female aged 21, male aged 22).

1.The develpment of China is based on education,and it really matters to everyone including me ,but honestly, the methods and condition of the education in most China is not good enough.

2. My parents support mine every decision, which Uni ,which country to go … and they don’t care my grade

3. I could apply to the University of Dundee through the ‘3+1+1’ programme more easily than applying to other universities

4. The uni is good ,and the people here are very nice ,the view is beautiful …

5.  We can rent flats out the Uni,and cook for ourselves.

1.Education is very important for me. In China, you couldn`t be able to find a decent job if you don`t had a good education or something.

2. About my parents. I would like to say they have a big influence on my eduction. Basically they are my sponsors , without them I can`t get an opportunity of eduction. Plus, they are also good teachers in my life regarding how to be a right person.

3. I was supposed go to Japan as exchange student, However there was a horrible earthquake happened in Japan, so i chose my second option which is dundee university. No particular reason.

4. I think dundee is a great place to have fun and the people are nice here they are very friendly and polite.

5. I think the life here is totally different with China, people speak english here and to be honest they drink a lot. Going to night club or going to a pub is very social and common here, but in China is kind of crazy and unnormal. But still , for me it’s very exotic and attractive.

The responses I received highlighted the issues I thought that would arise as well as some surprising statements.  Respecting your elders possibly comes hand in hand with making them proud and not wanting to disappoint them in the Chinese culture. This in turn enforces the say your relatives have on your life, education and future. This is emphasized through the support the parents have for their children’s education and want for a better life. I found it surprising that one interviewees mentioned that her parents fully support her decisions, but don’t mind about her grades. I think this is refreshing. I would have imagined a lot of pressure being put on their child(probably only child) to succeed expectations (yet again,maybe she was being modest  and was super smart anyway).  Education in China was highlighted not to be “good enough” therefore being educated elsewhere is the best option, which more and more of the fortunate  ” E generation” have the opportunity to do so allowing them to  grow and thrive in other cultures and allows China to develop in the long run when they return for work there.

When going to any country to study it is inevitable to be absorbed into the culture as well, or at least it would be a loss not to take the opportunity to do so. though I  did find it amusing that it was mentioned about our social and drinking habits were highlighted. We  Scots don’t do ourselves any favors do we? We should show our exchange students how hardworking and smart we are…and what we can do for China in the future too!

Attitudes to China

If someone was to ask me about where the clothes I bought were from I would most likely start off by naming a local high-street store and like most people if I was asked where the clothing I bought was made, I would naturally assume it wasn’t made in the U.K. be it due to cheaper labour elsewhere in the world, more specifically “Made in China” perhaps.  Wouldn’t you say the same?

I found this interesting clip which basically highlights the amount of things that we are wearing are made abroad, it is not about Britain, it is about America, but I feel it is a similar situation anyway and states that China is well ahead in the manufacturing of clothing than anywhere else in the world.

Popular high-street stores may  include Topshop, Burton, USC, New look, River Island,primary  and H&M and prove to be favourites among students (I asked this target market),some being  more expensive than others, but all concerned with the latest fashion trends. Though the question is, are such high street  stores as conscious about the production of their clothes as they are with their image / the image of their customers and ultimately do the customers know and even care about the manufacturing of the products they are buying. In the image based society  that we live in today how much thought is actually put into anything other than the way the clothing looks and makes us feel? Do shoppers consider the wider issues regarding the manufacturing of the products they are buying at all?

With a few questions in mind I interviewed people gather some responses. I asked them to write their answers on a piece of paper shaped like a t-shirt to keep them engaged with the questions I was asking and somewhat preempting discussion of clothing and retail shops. I asked them the following questions:

  1. What is you favourite shop?
  2. What was the last item you bought from there?
  3. Do you know anything about where the product was made?
  4. If not, where would you guess it was made?
  5. Do you care where the product is made?
  6. What do you think of the quality of the product?
  7. What do you think about the quality of the product made in the U.K as opposed to those made elsewhere int he world.

From the responses I received I came to the assumption that the majority of people do not actually care about where the products they buy are made.  The majority did say that the clothes were probably made in “poorer countries” and/or Asia.To an extent people didn’t mind where their clothes came from however when given a moment to think about their response a few did bring up the issue of child labour, and how that did  concern them, but because they do not usually think twice about their purchase  at the time they don’t feel guilty about it. I can’t judge them on the topic discussed, otherwise I’d be a hypocrite. When I go into a shop to buy, a dress for example, I see it for what it is, a dress, a dress I can wear on my next night out with friends and look fashionable, then I would probably check the price label to see if I could afford it…Never in the process of purchasing this said dress do I think to myself, where is it made and who made it. It is said “ignorance is bliss” after all, would our favourite shops be our favourite shops if we knew all the ins and outs of the manufacturing side to them.

When I discussed with people what did they think about the quality of the clothes, they said that they could be better but for what they are paying for it suited them just fine and they didn’t mind that the clothes were made abroad rather here in the U.K . I am beginning to wonder if I should be more concerned for the lack of manufacturing  actually happening close to home,in Britain, considering I am a Textile Design student. What does the future hold for me and my designs (hypothetically speaking if… I were to become a Textile designer with such important decisions to make), must they be “shipped off” to other countries simply to make ends meet and make a possible profit and how would I feel about the wages of the people making the products, the labourers, the hours they work and the wage they are paid.

I feel that most of the shops I go into to not particularly advertise an “eco/ethical friendly” environment. There is usually no information about where the clothes are manufactured other than the labels on the individual garments. As I do study textile design I feel that this is a topic that I should research greater and could be a consideration to be incorporated into my own work.

Silk

China were the innovators in the production of silk many centuries ago and  managed to withhold the secrets of  how the material was made. Silk  therefore only traveled to the western world through the many trade posts stretching from China  all the way to Europe, known as “The silk road”(although not actually just one road).  Silk was grown, harvested and weaved in China and in the early years were only to be worn by Royalty as it was an extremely rare material, but as China developed their techniques it soon become available to people of “social status” /”aristocrats” then to the masses. Asia is still to this day the largest producers of silk, China being the largest then followed by India and imports  travel worldwide to reach popular demands. When Europe finally  did find out how to make silk  the production increased in Italy for a long time, but as mentioned, today Asia are the largest producers, this could possibly be due to the combination of skilled a workforce and cheaper labour in the countries compared to other countries.

Silk is a natural(protein) fibre that is obtained from the cocoon of the  silkworm which is native to China (hence their innovation in this material).  The silkworm’s main food source comes from Mulberry leaves , but it is possible for different species to feed on different types of leaves and therefore produce different variations of silk raging from fine to coarser silks. Non-mulberry silks, as they are known, include Tasar, Eri and Muga silks and they have distinctive colours and properties.

Once silkworms eat the mulberry leaves and reach their full growth they then begin to spin a cocoon around themselves. After they hatch into moths the cocoons that are left behind are collected to produce silk.  The cocoons are boiled in water then spun into threads and/or weaved into silk. Silkworms have been completely domesticated and do not exist in the wild, so essentially they are only bred for the production of silk.

Silk is the strongest natural fiber that there is, it is extremely versatile and strong which makes a practical material to use in many products. It is also luxurious, delicate, smooth, shiny and simply a beautiful material  that can also be easily dyed and these properties make it extremely attractive to different industries.Having so many   incredible qualities allows  silk  to be such a popular material. In both the fashion industry and interior markets silk is used in their products from clothing to fine furnishings. Silk is a popular material for clothing (for both womanswear i.e dresses and menswear i.e ties) as it can keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer and it is extremely light and flexible, so is therefore comfortable to wear. To add to the attractiveness of silk, it can be dyed different colours to fit changing fashion trends and beads or embroidery can be easily added to the fabric.

Alongside the “boom” of silk production the Chinese artwork and crafty embroidery styles also developed. Working into the silk with fine embroidery threads produced incredibly beautiful and detailed designs whither it be of people, animals/mystical creatures, flowers or objects. As an ancient form of artwork there are four major styles that developed in China which were “Su embroidery”, “Xiang embroidery”, “Yue embroidery” and “Shu embroidery” and all had slightly different techniques. “Su embroidery” was known to be very intricate, “Xiang embroidery” used many colours emphasising tonal changes,” Yue embroidery”  was complicated and used very bright colours and “Shu Embroidery” was very neat. As well embroidery another popular art form developed  in China and applied to silk was “silk painting” as silk was “invented” before paper so it was a popular material to paint on to.

China was fortunate enough to innovate the production of silk all thanks to the silkworm native to the country and are innovators in techniques that can be applied to silk. As a textile student I enjoy using silk as I am aware of course it’s great properties and  of course it’s  popularity. I can easily add my printed design onto the fabric and work on top of them to add more texture(embroidery), all things that the Chinese developed centuries ago are still being applied today.

How is China “Sold” to potential tourists?

The Stereotypical view of a country is often how is it “sold” to potential tourists visiting.  Stereotypes are seen exploited in travel magazines because people are familiar with the images that “represent” the country or that they would associate with the country. If we associate a country with certain images then of course that is what we expect if were to visit it. Travel brochures are full of images that would be considered stereotypical to give people a taste of what they are buying or rather giving people “what the want”.

When asked about China people mentioned several different aspects about the country from the food to the people and places. There was a contrast I noticed. People would either describe a “rural” image of China of the rice fields with  farmers wearing traditional hats and the historical landmarks such as The Great Wall of China. This then contrasted the other image of China people had in mind, describing China as being filled with tall skyscrapers and being very advanced in technology and science. It is no surprise that there is such a contrast as it is such a big country which has all the above. More often than not it is the rural image of China that is featured in travel brochures however as it is a culture so different from others, and that is it’s selling point.

The image captured in tourist brochures of China  that I gathered, are of idyllic places filled with culture and ancient history. Often advertising tours to different locations and deals visiting popular landmarks and going on site seeing “adventures” (that are all planned out  in a day to day itinerary).  Although the historical areas are emphasized more as desirable places to visit, there is no denying that China is a vast country that has more than just its “mighty past” to offer. The images in the brochures are of  The Great Wall of China, Terracotta warriors, giant pandas, calm scenery and people in traditional garments and only a few images of an “east meets west” theme of the metropolises cities that are rising today. All very alluring images to entice many tourists each year to visit, though what is being portrayed in the brochures does not necessarily meet the image that a modern China wish to convey today. On the other hand there is the idea that if China is modernising then eventually it will look  like every other built up country, and what would attract the tourists in the future, if not its interesting unique history.

The images that are illustrated in the travel brochures do  not match the desires the country has to make China modern. Though this is not necisarly a bad thing however.  China’s challenge is to create a balance between their interesting and captivating traditions and ancient history with their  potentially thriving future. Preserving as much as they could would be ideal  to keep tourists visiting the country year after year to enjoy everything it has to offer, old and new. An example would be the Hutongs in China, narrow streets/alleyways which  there are traditional courtyard housing (siheyuan), that are being demolished in order to create new roads and towering buildings. By taking away the “culture” of Hutongs have not only destroyed ancient buildings that are homed to families for generations but also disturbing communities and their day to day lives. Hutongs are such unique buildings and are an attraction to many tourists, destroying them all would be a great loss to the country.

A balance of tradition with modernity maybe difficult to achieve with a country that is so vast and developing so fast. It seems to be that the traditional aspects that are the selling points to tourists hence the stereotypical imagery that are being emphasised in the travel magazines, but this does not match the countries desires to make it modern.