In the Eyes of the Culturati
Acknowledged internationally as a pioneer and leader of creative design in jewellery, Ms. Kai-yin Lo, is also a keen supporter of cultural activities. She organized modern Chinese painting exhibitions, art symposiums and published books, all conceived and executed in the finest standards. Her body of design work and other interest reflects her keen regard in art.
"To promote culture, it is most important to make it understandable and appealing to the widest circle of people."
Besides designing jewellery and running her business, Kai-yin Lo has devoted much energy to promoting Chinese art. She has her own views on the subject, "I have a profound interest in Chinese art and culture. I always want to make it approaching and understandable so that more people can appreciate it. Only then it becomes meaningful." She stressed that this subject cannot be high sounding. She aims to make it relevant to as many people as possible.
Despite her involvement with Chinese art, traditional Chinese elements are not explicit in her jewellery design. She explains, "I always have the belief that jewellery design has to be incorporated into modern life. What is important is how to make art survive time. It is a process of bridging the past with the present." Kai-yin Lo's designs do not exhibit obvious Chinese elements, but they are all classy, elegant and simple in form, creating a look very much her own that embodies a synthesis of the East and West. It is not without reason that she loves the strong shapes of works of art that existed before the Tang dynasty. Kai-yin Lo's designs reflect her cultural background and aesthetics.
A conversation with her reveals that it is her deep interest on ancient artifacts that led her into the field of jewellery design. She describes how she came to it by chance, "I love to collect small antique objects and jade ornaments. To leave them lying idle at home was such as waste. So I tried to piece them together into necklaces. The first batch of designs was later bought by Cartier of New York." The opportunity exposed her innate creative talent, leading her way to become a world class jewellery designer.
Renowned for her innovative designs, Kai yin Lo says, "My principle is that jewellery must become part of life. Firstly, they must be wearable, and add harmony and colour to life.
Valuable jewellery to be kept in safety boxes under guard is to me a burden and you end up not wearing them. Secondly, jewellery design should not be constrained by a specific mode of ethnic design. Things with strong ethnic overtones cannot be widely accepted. Only jewellery with a universal touch of beauty can be made an international brand."
Lo has always been keen on promoting culture. In recent years she has organized large-scale exhibitions of modern Chinese paintings in different corners of the world, including "Wu Guangzhong : A Twentieth Century Chinese Painter" at the British Museum in 1992 and "Twentieth Century Chinese Paintings - Tradition and Innovation", an exhibition that toured the world for 15 months till January 97. She has also published and edited a book on traditional Chinese furniture, entitled "Classical and Vernacular Chinese Furniture in the Living Environment". Both the Furniture in the Living Environment". Both the Tsinghua University (Beijing) and Fudan University (Shanghai) invited her to give lectures on marketing. Now she is busy planning a TV programme on Chinese culture, and a book on Song ceramics, which will be published later this year. Does she give herself such a full schedule or is it just a coincidence? She says, "I do have a plan and what I have done is what I am deeply interested in. That is the main drive. Through those cultural activities, I have the opportunity to enrich and deepen my understanding on different areas and improve myself en route. I learn, gain knowledge and come to new realization." Lo considers her coordination of the 1992 exhibitions at the British Museum of paintings by Wu Guanzhong as her greatest triumph. "This was the first time the British Museum featured a living artist of any nationality. More importantly the exhibition aroused international interest for contemporary Chinese painting."
Lo eagerly shares with us her views on art and life, "Art can enrich life. It needs not be something exclusive or highbrow. We are not talking about just collecting famous paintings or sculptures but appreciation with one's own heart. Interest on arts should be cultivated since youth. In many countries in Europe and North America, the support given to cultural activities encourages participation and interest. Hong Kong is much more apathetic, mostly because there has not been a programme of education nor inculcation on art. People are too busy merely to make a living. But it is high time for a change. To be more aware and appreciative of our aesthetic and cultural pursuits make for a better life."
Lo said she is luckier than most, since she has born inherent in art and an innate appreciation of its enjoyment. Having studied European history, she is both knowledgeable on European art and keen on Chinese culture. Her collecting interest ranges form antique furniture, ceramics, jade, stone sculpture to modern Chinese painting. What is her favourite art form among different periods? She says, 'Each has their own characteristics and merits. I like the graphic simplicity of Ming-style furniture. I also like ceramics from the Five Dynasties to Song Dynasty, and stone sculptures from Wei to Sui Dynasty. In fact the history behind each artifact is the most fascinating part. I am glad I studied history instead of art history as the former gives you a view of the changes of society in turn influenced by political and economic changes. Art is an expression of this fabric of development.
To have a clear direction, to combine personal interest with career, and - what is more, her passion for art and culture, her keenness on learning, her perseverance and energy on promoting and sharing them certainly gain her our respect.
Going west from Yangguan - In Search of the Ancient Civilization
Going west through Yangguan and Yumenguan of the ancient Silk Road was the Western Territory - today's Xinjiang. Anxi, Hami and Turpan are considered as the key access to the West. From there the Silk Road will then divided according to the landscape into three sub-routes in the north, middle and south. The strategic geographic position and rich natural resources of Anxi, Hami and Turpan have led them to be the pioneer of exchange between midland China and the West since ancient times. They were important cities of military, agricultural and cultural development. Not only are there magnificent natural landscape, there are also lots of archaeological treasures unveiling the past glory of these cities.
Anxi, lies at the center of the ancient Silk Road, was considered as the key to the West. Commanding Office was set up in the Tang Dynasty, making the city a military base to gain control over the Middle Asia.
The Hard Times of Suoyang City
Fifty kilometers southeast of Anxi is the city of Suoyang. Originally it was called "Kugucheng". It was a town of strategic military importance. Numerous important gates were set up to form a line of defense. In the Tang dynasty, the famous general Xue Ren-gui was besieged in Anxi while he was on his way to conquer the West. The soldiers had used up all their supplies and had no hope of assistance. They could survive only by eating produce called Suoyang. The city was then renamed as Suoyang.
Ancient City of Suoyang is now regarded as one of the nation's main preserved historical relics. Ruins of castles and cannons could still be seen there. However, all houses and temples were virtually destroyed. The scene is desolate beyond words.
Hami lies astride the eastern section of the Tianshan Mountains. To the south of the mountain range is the Hami oasis and to the north is the Balikun grassland and Yiwu River valley. Hami has a strategic position on the ancient Silk Road, and was important to different dynasties. History tells that the central government of the Han dynasty instituted county and prefectural governments there, the Tang dynasty set up Yizhou Prefecture and the Ming imperial government established the Hami Military District in that area. Hami is a gifted land highly suitable for agriculture and husbandry. Various folk customs also add unique colour to Hami.
Hami Forest Farm is situated in the center of the afforested areas on the northern side of Tianshan Mountains. It produces abundance of woods and is classified by the United Nations as an important plantation zone of pines. The plain across the middle of the Hami oasis has exuberant vegetation and continuous farmlands, making a shade of green. At the foot of Tianshan Mountains is the Balikun grassland. The land was cultivated by ancient minorities in the Yin, Shang and Han dynasties. The grassland is still one of the important bases of animal husbandry in Eastern Xinjiang nowadays. The horses bred in Balikun have been famous for endurance of crude feeding, tough and speed.
Hami is also, under no exaggeration, a land of fruits. Great temperature differences, long sunshine, little rainfall and dryness characterize its climate. Such climatic condition is favourable for growing fruits and melons. Early in the Han dynasty, honeydew melons were grown everywhere in Hami and its neighbouring areas. During the Kangxi Period of the Qing dynasty, the fragrant and delicious melons were sent by the kings of Hami as tributes to the Qing court. The emperor was so delighted with their texture and flavour, hence the name Hami gua (melon). Hami is also famous for its watermelons, dates and grapes.
Colour ethnic customs
Hami has a population comprise of numerous minority groups including Uygurs, Hans, Huis, Kazakhs and many others. A variety of ethnic customs thus exist.
The Uygur people in Hami are well known for their singing and dancing. They are good at performing varieties of folk dance to the accompaniment of music. The art of folk dancing in Hami has a long history. Early in the Han and Tang dynasty, the Hami folk dancing music "Yizhoule" (the music of Yizhou) was first introduced into the midland China. In the late Tang dynasty, the Hami music was incorporated into midland culture to develop into perfect melodies for dancing performances.
Yurk is the traditional living quarters of the nomads. They are built in unique styles. The frames of the yurt are made of red willow wood, covered with felts and enclosed by walls woven by grass. The interior is decorated with various colourful embroideries such as heavy curtains and tapestries, and built in unique style.
Paper cutting and embroidery are other traditional crafts in Hami. The Uygur embroidery is characterized by its adoption of the essence of Han embroidery art into their own traditional folk style. They have various patterns with bright colours and sharp contrast, showing a combination of creativity and high craftsmanship.
Turpan, lies on the meeting point of the three sub-routes in the middle part of the Silk Road, was the ancient center of traffic from midland China to the West. With its long history of glory as well as picturesque natural landscapes, Turpan was once the most famous city in the Western region.
A Brilliant Historical Picture
Turpan - the ancient basin with enchanting, exotic scenery and customs. It has abundant archaeological sites and valuable relics to fill up its history of glory and prosperity.
The ancient city of Jiaohe is located on a lonely island shaped like a willow leaf about 10 km to the west of the Turpan city. Steep cliffs surrounding the city renders it a strategic point easy to defend and difficult to attack, making it the target for scramble. Although it is now deserted, the ancient official residence, living quarters, monasteries and streets can still be seen. According to historical records, from 108B.C. to 450A.D. Jiaohe served as the capital of the former Cheshi (a kingdom). Early in Tang dynasty the Commanding Office of Anxi, the highest military and administrative authority of the Western Region, was stationed there. It was in the first half of the 14th century that Jiaohe was destroyed in war.
The ancient city of Gaochang lies in the east of Turpan city. It was built in the first century B.C. when garrisoned troops of Western Han dynasty were sent to station there. Later it gained the status of a prefecture. In 450A.D. North Liang wiped out the former kingdom of Cheshi. In 327 A.D. Gaochang was promoted to the position as the military, economic and cultural center of Turpan.
While the well-known Flaming Mountain resembles fiery dragon winding from east to west, in between there is a shade of green called the Grape valley (Putao Gou), rendering a spectacular sight. On both sides of the valley are layers upon layers of grape trellises interspersed with flowers and fruit trees. Farmhouses scattered around the village, making a pleasant retreat from the Turpan City. The grapes grown there are of top quality and are well know in the country.
Due to lack of rain and snow, Turpan Basin has always been relying on underground water irrigation system. The Karez, a marvelous irrigation system becomes a unique scene in Turpan. The Karez is comprised of a series of wells and linking underground channels that uses gravity to bring ground water to the surface. The earth piled around the wells and channels forms small moulds resembling craters of volcanoes from a bird's-eye view. There are more than 1,000 Karez in the Turpan Basin, totaling over 5,000 kilometres of tunnels. The Karez channels of Turpan have a history of more than 2,000 years. It is incredible how the ancient Turpan people conducted such a large-scale project with their crude tools and ancient digging methods.
In 640 A.D. Gaochang become part of the Tang dynasty and the Xizhou prefecture was set up. In 1275 A.D. Gaochang was seized by Mongolian nomadic nobles that ended the city's tragic fate.
To the north of Gaochang is the famous Astana-Halahezhuo Burial Ground, where over 400 ancient graves were unearthed. Its arid climate provides excellent conditions for the preservation of its buried archeological treasures. Bodies from the graves are preserved as dry corpses - hairs still remain, traces of eyebrows can be seen. Thousands of precious relics such as silk fabrics, painted stucco figurines, coloured pottery and calligraphy are also unearthed. Their abundance earns the Burial Ground the name of "Underground Museum".
In the middle of the Flaming Mountain valley lies the Bezeklik Thousand - Buddha Caves. It had been the royal monastery of the king of Huihe (ancient Uygurs). In the Uygur language Bezeklik means 'place where there are paintings'. The caves were excavated at the beginning of this century. There remain 83 grottoes with over 1200 square meters of mural paintings. The murals are in superb condition. Their colours are rich and fresh; the lines are bold and vigorous, representing a continuation of the painting style of the Mogao Grottoes of the Tang dynasty. It is widely acknowledged that it is the most representative and best preserved historical treasures in Huihe's Buddhist art.
Xuan Zang - the most well-known traveler on the Silk Road
The Western Region lies on the way by which Buddhism spread to China. Since times uncountable Buddhist monks had traveled on the Silk Road to study and spread Buddhism. Xuan Zang, the Buddhist monk, is the best loved of all Chinese travelers on the Silk Road. The account of his journey was featured in the famous Chinese novel, Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en. Xuan Zang undertook his journey to India in 629 A.D. While he was in Gaochang, the king highly appreciated the learned Xuan Zang and persuaded him to stay and help administer the country. However, Xuan Zang rejected. He continued his journey via the northern Silk Road to India and Pakistan where he studied in the famous Buddhist University of Nalanda. He spend 14 years in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka before returning to China via the southern Silk Road 654 A.D., bringing back 650 Buddhist scriptures, among which 75 were later translated. His book Records of the Western Region, which detailed the history, geography and lifestyles of the ancient countries on the Silk Road, is highly regarded as a valuable reference on Indian history and religion.