Return to the Motherland - Coming Full Circle

I just got my visa and will be off to China at the end of this month! I will be spending 2 months at Tsinghua University in Beijing, working on a community supported agriculture (CSA)project led by Professor Liu (Deputy Director of the Sustainable Design Institute). This project is part of the "Rural-Urban China" thematic cluster under the umbrella of the DESIS Network. We will be working closely with Little Donkey Farm (the first CSA in Beijing) to explore ways to improve service and member experience through areas such as education, plantation management, product/packaging design, and communication/marketing. We will also be collaborating with X6 (a Beijing architecture firm) to design new tools/methods allowing urban Chinese households to grow food in their own homes.

This project resonates with me on a very personal level. My father was born in the countryside of Hebei province and grew up farming the land with his brothers. He eventually immigrated to Canada, although much of my family remained in the same village. I feel very fortunate for the opportunity to return to China as a designer, working on a project to improve the sustainability of local agriculture. It seems that things have come full circle.

In addition to the design project, there are a few other purposes for this trip:

  • Gain a better understanding of life in rural China

    • What are the current living/working conditions of Chinese farmers?

    • How have things changed over the last decade? How do they see things changing in the next few years?

    • How have agricultural practices developed? (sustainable farming, new technology, etc)

    • How is the mass migration of workers to the cities affecting life back in the countryside?

    • Re-connect with my family and learn more about my family history

    • Experience working at a Chinese university and meet some very smart people

      • Tsinghua University can be considered as the MIT of China. It is the top educational institution in the country and is known for its strength in scientific research. Many of China's future leaders will be graduating from there, and it will be interesting to hear where students think China is headed. What is their interpretation of the "Chinese Dream"?

      • Understand the perception of "design" in China

        • Is designing for sustainability/social innovation a growing movement? How is it defined? How much interest is there from the government, the design community, and the public?

        • How strong is the concept of "user experience design"?

        • How does design education compare with the west?

        • How is the design profession changing?

        • What is the general perception of Chinese designed products?

        • Check out the startup community in Beijing and Shanghai

          • What is being done to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship?

          • What are the business/technology trends?

          • Improve my Chinese

            • I'm sure I will get plenty of chances to practice my Chinese while I'm over there. I plan to sign up for a few language classes and perhaps tutor English on the side.

After my 2 months in Beijing, I will be traveling throughout China for another month and a half, exploring some famous sites and visiting family. If you have any suggestions for places to visit, I'd love to hear them. I'll be writing about my projects and travels so make sure to sign up for my blog mailing list if you want to follow along!