Session 4
Art Deco in China

With the end of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the first Republic, China began to open up more to the outside world. Shanghai, with its strategic geographical and commercial position, became the Art Deco capital, ahead of Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Nanjing; this, of course, was still at a time when the only entry point of foreign goods was through commercial maritime ports. Shanghai’s foreign concessions, established for the growing foreign communities, brought with them a cosmopolitanism that fostered rich cultural exchanges. As a result, Shanghai boasted an abundance of hotels, casinos, cinemas, built by Hungarian, British, French, as well as by young Chinese architects, all educated either in France or the United States. In these cities, a new society began to flourish, one that embraced a modernity already becoming international. Chinese returning from abroad brought with them a style of living that was quickly adopted by city dwellers: engineers, industrialists, shop owners, intellectuals and artists—this was the new middle-class enthralled by innovation. Alongside the espousal of the new came an appropriation of the foreign style. Art Deco’s ability to blend in with each country’s distinctive culture remained the key to its success and originality. Its geometric and simplified forms could be adapted at will while retaining a distinctive look. Very quickly, Chinese artists developed their own, modern Art Deco based on the beauty of their written characters and of their local plants and flowers.