Negotiation Across Cultural Distance: The Creation and Interpretation of a “Chinese Style” Christian Campus
AuthorXie, Y; Walker, P
EditorJackson Wyatt, V; Leach, A; Stickells, L
Source TitleProceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand 36, Distance Looks Back
PublisherSociety of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand (SAHANZ)
University of Melbourne Author/sWalker, Paul
AffiliationArchitecture, Building and Planning
Document TypeConference Paper
CitationsXie, Y. & Walker, P. (2020). Negotiation Across Cultural Distance: The Creation and Interpretation of a “Chinese Style” Christian Campus. Jackson Wyatt, V (Ed.) Leach, A (Ed.) Stickells, L (Ed.) Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand 36, Distance Looks Back, pp.441-454. Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand (SAHANZ).
Access StatusOpen Access
For Europeans, China has long been in the imagination of remote fantasies. The seventeenth century and the following eras of colonialism witnessed a lasting interest among Western architects in designing Chinese-style buildings. These either represented historical and geographical “distance” or – if built for Chinese audiences – a putative “familiarity.” The campus of West China Union University (Chengdu, China) was among the Chinese-style projects designed by Western architects in the early twentieth century. To facilitate local acceptance of this institution, British architect Fred Rowntree took great pains in combining Chinese architectural elements with Western principles and technology, with meanings encoded in the buildings. The meaning of the buildings was then interpreted in various ways by people from different socio-cultural backgrounds. Some enthusiastic Western donors claimed the buildings as beautiful monuments of the “remote” Chinese culture, while interpretations by Chinese people varied from elegant hybrids of the two architectures to crystallised symbols of cultural imperialism. The discordant interpretations not only challenged the original purposes and intentions of the architect, but also raised the question as to how architectural meanings are perceived in cross-cultural contexts. This paper discusses the architecture of West China Union University and the cultural distance reflected through its design and interpretation. Informed by semiotic theories, this paper proposes the construction of architectural meaning as a negotiation where the diverse interpretations competed with each other (and with the architect’s intention) before reaching a balance. A dynamic framework is thus adopted to unfold the complexity and contradiction in architectural meaning across cultural distance.
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