Beijing, Mrs. Li

 

We see a middle aged lady walking in a fast pace, yet almost unnoticeable in the crowd, discreetly putting small stickers randomly on lampposts, walls and other objects in the street.

 

We are curious and decide to catch up on her and have a chat. When we approach her she introduces herself as Mrs. Li and she tells us that she is a follower of the, in China forbidden, movement of Falun Dafa (Falun Gong). She is happy to talk with us and we can publish the interview with photos of her under the condition that it will not be published in the Chinese language.

 

In 1996, Mrs. Li was suffering from cancer. A friend introduced her to the book Zhuan Falun. That’s when she started to get interested in Falun Dafa.

 

According to Mrs. Li, she was at the lowest end of her life at that time; she suffered from her illness and in the same period she had broken up with her boyfriend. The introduction into Falun Dafa turned around her life. “It was my destiny”, she says.

 

Mrs. Li started to follow Falun Dafa by reading the Zhuan Falun and meditating, in which she tried to maintain peacefulness and kindness no matter what difficulty or disappointment she was confronted with. She followed the guidelines by performing a set of exercises that is needed to better understand the concept of the philosophy.

 

Mrs. Li tells that she gradually recovered from cancer has never been ill again since. “I’m 59 now, do you believe that?” We agree that she does look healthy, energetic and younger than her age.

 

In 1999 an intense nationwide campaign was started against the Falun Dafa in China. At that time, every school was propagating how wrong and mad the Falun Dafa is and the news came with terrifying stories every day; such as a story about a mother who immolated herself together with her young daughter.

 

Mrs. Li said that during that time she once came to petition against the crackdown together with many other Falun Dafa followers. However, they were all taken to the police station and asked to leave their personal information. In 2001, they were sent to a special class, which they felt was more like a “brain-wash class”, for all it was about was to change their mind and make them believe that Falun Dafa is evil.

 

Finally, Mrs. Li felt tired of the pressure and signed a guarantee that she would never follow Falun Dafa again after which she was allowed to leave the class and go home. However, after a while she felt guilty for lying and started to exercise and meditate according to the Zhuan Falun again.

 

Mrs. Li tells that there were a hundred million followers of Falun Dafa in China. Though some people stopped following Falun Dafa after the campaign against them, still a significant number of followers discreetly stick to their belief.

 

“Few followers died during that campaign”, says Mrs. Li, “they were tortured to death”.

 

Falun Dafa is not a religion, according to Mrs. Li, for it doesn’t restrict people with any external rules. You don’t need to pray every day or respect the God in a specific way. As long as you are sincere, kind and patient, you are already one of them.

 

How come that guiding individuals to be good and keeping them healthy is considered to harm people? Mrs. Li said that Falun Dafa has never been a political belief, and they didn’t aim to fight against the government. She reckons that the government is afraid of Falun Dafa because the government is built on fake principles, malice and revenge; which is the opposite of what Falun Dafa followers believe.

 

According to Mrs. Li, all the terrifying news about Falun Dafa reported by the government is a made-up story. Wei Huo (“False fire”), a forbidden documentary, shows all the evidence and analyzes those “made-up” footages.

 

Mrs. Li also told us that Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Dafa, used to be “the most powerful guy” in China. Many people were attracted by his faith of being kind, more than members of the Communist Party in China. “Even Jiang Zemin’s (*) relatives were followers”, says Mrs. Li, ”and so were many other officials”.

(*) In the official Falun Dafa communication, former president Jiang Zemin, is held personally responsible for the crackdown on Falun Dafa followers.

 

 

She insists this is the reason why the government attempted to destroy Falun Dafa. In her words, the Chinese government first had police infiltrate into their group, trying to find something wrong, and finally made up stories to crack down on them.

 

Mrs. Li has been on the list of the police since the very beginning of the campaign. When she hears that we have been following her for a while before contacting her, she realizes that she did not notice that and that she has to be more careful in the future. If they catch her putting up stickers, they will put her in jail. Then she again says we should publish her story as long as it is not in Chinese and starts posing for a photo while holding up a text that reads: “FaLun DaFa is good! Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance is good!”

 

Despite not being able to openly exercise her believes, Mrs. Li wants to stay in China. Not only because the majority of followers are still here, but also because it’s better to practice and meditate in the most complicated environment. The more difficulties and suffering you have to deal with, the better achievement you will make.

 

Besides putting up stickers, Mrs. Li does her Falun Dafa exercises and studies Zhuan Falun every day. She claims that she has read it for a hundreds of times. Although “Falun Dafa” is a sensitive word online, which you will absolutely not be able to find and use on the Internet in China due to censorship, there are still articles to be found that share feelings about the experience of studying Falun Dafa. “You won’t find any words about it through the article, yet you know what it is about if you are a follower” said Mrs. Li.

 

Mrs. Li used to be a teacher and also a businesswoman with a little bit of success. According to her, she has always been in the forefront of new developments. Mrs. Li says that these have corrupted society into a filthy world with the lowest moral standard, where almost everyone is pursuing money. Thus, it’s important to continue promoting Falun Dafa to purify the world.

 

She also believes that Li Hongzhi, their master, as well as all the other followers abroad, will come back to China one day, when it has become a better place.

 

Mrs. Li has some friends who are also followers and has hardly any contact with anybody else.  When asked about her family, she refuses to tell anything about it.

 

 

 

Beijing Honest Architectural Design Company (BHAD)

 

The Beijing Honest Architectural Design Company is located on the 29th floor of one of the towers at JianWai SOHO. The company is managed by three partners. We speak with two of them: Yang Chenggang and Tian Bing.

 

Yang: I have been interested in architecture since high school. Actually, I enjoyed art and design when I was a kid and I started to learn painting at the age of 4 or 5. However, art didn’t promise a serious career in the 70s or 80s in China and so my parents hoped that I could do something better than art. That’s why I became an architect.

 

When did you start designing?

Yang: In 1994; it has been 17 years now. He (Mr. Tian) started earlier than me, he has been doing it for over 20 years.

 

What’s your first project?

Yang: I started doing some projects with my director when I was still studying in university, but I don’t feel attached to any of them; I just did what my director told me to do. My first own project was the Annwa Mansion near Anzhen Bridge, with a design that seems pretty naïve to me now and doesn’t match with my present view on designs.

 

Your company’s business is in commercial property or residential?

Tian: More in residential.

Tian: In my point of view, it’s quite hard to strike a balance between art and marketing demands under the present circumstances of architecture in China. The majority of our projects are more commercial than artistic and we are not satisfied about it.

Yang: But the truth is that we never give up finding a better balance. Because every one of us does have a dream on architecture, even though architecture itself is affected by many other factors, such as policies, clients, time etc.

 

What would you design if you could ignore all the external pressures?

Tian: Architecture can never get rid of the society. If it’s extremely idealistic, I would design something that meets an individual’s needs. However, needs vary from people to people.

 

What about the style?

Tian: I believe that the trend is a cycle of history. For instance, people now prefer simple design; however, today it’s modern but it is likely to become retro after 5 years. Just like villas, it’s popular to have a Tuscan-style villa nowadays, yet it could be an avant-garde Japanese style in a couple of years.  I think it’s same with fashion; it involves both vintage values and the psychology of the majority.

 

Some architects put more emphasis on the aesthetics of the design, while others focus more on the ecological aspects. What’s your position?

Tian: As an architect, I hope that my design can contribute to an individual’s living style. Ecologic buildings are certainly part of our plan, including low-carbon and low-energy buildings. I also wish that we could have more design with Chinese distinctions. As you can see, most ideas in China are from other countries which lack our own distinctions.

 

Now please mark the following buildings on a scale from 1 to 10.

 

 

(1) New CCTV Building

Tian & Yang: Nine.

 

(2) The old (JianWai) SOHO buildings

Tian: 5, I think. This is a famous Japanese concept (SOHO: Small Office, Home Office).

Yang: It can’t be great on the form of design, but it is a successful project considering the operation afterwards. When evaluating a building, we need to take the period in which it was designed into account as well. Some buildings may turn out to be a failure years later, but it can be a masterpiece at the current time.

Tian: Chinese architecture still puts a  lot of emphasis on the appearance in the design, due to the uncompleted development at present. However, form is just part of designing.

 

(3) The LG Twin Towers

Tian: Five. I feel that Koreans do worse on this very aspect (he means designing), so are their clothes …^_^

Yang: It’s not good, not even as pure commercial buildings.

 

(4) The Phoenix Office Building

Tian: It has not been completed yet, a 7 perhaps.

Yang: I give only 6 points. First of all, I don’t think that it fits the environment there. It’s without saying that architecture should coordinate with the environment. Besides, I have seen some other designs at the competition of this project, and they were better.

 

(5) Interesting. What about the Bird’s Nest?

Tian & Yang: Nine.

 

(6) Forbidden City

Tian & Yang: 10!

 

(7) China World Trade Center Tower III

Tian: 8.

Yang: I agree.

 

Among the projects in your company, which ones satisfied you most?

Yang: We are still developing.

Tian: I was awarded for the best design for several times, but I’m not particularly satisfied with any of them. There’s always something, professional or commercial, affecting us.

Tian: Frankly speaking, some of the foreign designs are also not so good, such as architecture in the 60s in America, as they were in the process of a big development. Like the current the situation in China; architecture is still developing.

Yang: Yet, we are always seeking for a better opportunity. In fact, we always consider how much development a case can bring us.

 

That’s sensible. I’ve observed that your company seems to be doing well. When did you start it?

Yang: This corporation was founded by the Ministry of Construction together with Hong Kong partners in 1994. Then we three bought this company in 2003 and later we became the managing directors of this company after the elder architects retired.

 

I used to run a company with a partner as well, what will you do when there’s an argument?

Tian: Arguments are inevitable. We need to consider more about collective interests, and seek the common ground while respecting differences.

Yang: Architecture is a rather idealistic job, for everyone holds their own ideas. Thus, it’s necessary to communicate, to have discussions and then come to an agreement with each other. That way we can work out the best scheme.

Tian: It’s kind of different with western people. Occidental individuals tend to stick to their own grounds; while oriental people are likely to find a balance between two sides. I think that’s due to the different cultural backgrounds.

 

Are you also good friends after work?

Yang & Tian: Of course!

 

You have many employees working in your company. With the fierce competition going on, how do you retain your staff?

Tian: With money.

 

Just money?

Yang: Of course not. China is a pretty materialistic country nowadays, thus the economic basics are important. However, employees are also seeking for good opportunities in their careers, challenges as well as happiness at work.

 

How much does a senior architect earn every month?

Tian: A senior architect can make at least 200,000 RMB per year. That’s 15,000RMB for a month.  The cost of manpower increased a lot these years in China, while the payment for our designs still remains the same.

Tian: What people pursue is different. Some prefer making more money, while others are more interested in opportunities. To illustrate it with our company, if a project cannot bring any opportunity to develop ourselves in new directions, we will make it a commercial case and try to maximize the profit. By contrast, if a case can contribute to our development, we will ask for less money. So, our strategies are different.

Tian: Anyway, architecture in China is still in a process of development, so the social status of Chinese architects isn’t as important as in foreign countries. It’s not a problem only for this industry. Actually, the situation in Beijing is much better then in the provinces.

 

 

Beijing, Mr. Wang and Mr. Niu

 

Niu Qingbin and Wang Dianhui are sitting on the street, drinking and chatting. They are both native Beijingers and speak with a heavy Beijing accent.

 

When they hear I’m from the Netherlands, the subject immediately changes to football. They watched the friendly match against Germany last night (from 3:30 to 5:30 am). They claim that everyone in Beijing is interested in football.

 

Niu Qingbin is 50 years old. He used to be a worker in a brewery and he could drink a lot.

 

Wang Dianhui is 58 and will retire from his job at the Beijing Heating Group in 2 years. He is looking forward to having time for climbing mountains and for travelling.

 

Mr. Wang is proud of his son, who is 30 years old. His son is an attorney and so is his wife. Mr. Wang says he was not successful himself, but it does not matter; “it is the next generation who lives up to our expectations”.

 

Before we leave, Mr. Wang states that it is important for a person to be down-to-earth and do something practical for fellow citizens.

 

Then they both say, in an earnest manner, that they hope that the photographer will learn more about lives in Beijing and that they wish he will show the various aspects of Beijing to the foreign world, because only introducing the real Beijing to the whole world will eventually help the society.