(By Prof. Helen Storey)
At the end of November last year The British Council invited Prof Tony Ryan and I to share how we work with Chinese Universities – As the UK representatives for the ‘Creative Minds’ series, clocking up 6 lectures, in 6 cities, in 6 days was gruelling, but it gave us a rapid and intense sense of their urban life, what over population actually feels like, physically, and the colossal speed of China’s development. Speeding by ‘Blade Runner’ type landscapes – China increasingly, feels like a planet of its’ own.
Brought together by the sun, Tony began each lecture with Project Sunshine linking the solution to our species future energy needs, to the same force that also triggers the catalyst making Catalytic Clothing tech active; purifying the air we breath, as it also meets oxygen.
As the lectures went on, we began to pick up on what seemed to light up the hundreds of pairs of young eyes, the moments, when despite the constant pauses for translation, there was a palpable electric buzz of energy that came back towards us – at our second to last gig, at Southeast University in Nanjing, a girl stood up at the end and announced she wanted to make it her life’s work to bring Catalytic Clothing to China and so single handily, Rain, our 22 year old female engineer started what she has called ‘ A Pure Revolution’.
Communication has been constant and hard work – Rain has been exceptional at driving the project forward from her side, although it has also been an endless lesson in fathoming cultural difference and of not knowing if we have understood each other entirely. Still, increasingly, as time has gone on, the loudest language of all has emerged, the inaudible yet bonding sound of the same wishes for our planet and our species.
After well over a 100 emails, many QQ calls, from New Years Day, to the earliest of mornings, we have started an experiment to see if enough Chinese students across the country will sign up to the project, in order to attract the attention of the authorities – we started with my leading the design process, but at close to the last minute I realised I had to let it go entirely, for her and her growing team to define and deliver as they wished.
Design is also about knowing when not to design.
Between us we hope however, to have created a cultural experiment that delivers an unusual way for ‘the people’ to ask for a product it wants and that business can and will in turn respond – fully reversing how the commercial world usually works.
Air pollution is one of China’s most pressing environmental problems, the carcinogenic dense smog hanging over Beijing is visible from space with NASA reporting that it stretches almost 750 miles from Beijing to Shanghai. Deadly PM2.5 levels (which have been directly linked to causing lung cancer) in Beijing are 25 times higher than deemed safe by the World Health Organization. The smog covering a quarter of China has been likened to a nuclear winter and is not only causing premature death and health problems, but also stunting the growth of crops. As Wang Xiangwei, editor of the South China Morning Post wrote, “What good is achieving Xi’s Chinese “dream of rejuvenation” if people cannot breathe the air or drink the water?”
Unlike here in the UK, there is strong Governmental commitment to do something about it – and over on Facebook I’ll share some of the images that mark this journey between Rain and us, as we feel our way across language, culture and time, towards a conclusion, which only the living of it will determine.