proposition than luxury cars. It is therefore essential that China creates its own design and engineering colleges where students are encouraged to develop not just style but an understanding of Chinese cultural strengths. Students will need to explore original Chinese design qualities and learn how to apply those qualities to 21st century products. These future Chinese auto industry designers will have to develop a clear understanding of product definition, benchmarking and most importantly how design must be a fundamental part of the quality process. Similarly, young engineers will have to examine and understand current automotive technologies, but they will, like the designers, have to question established methods and look for new solutions from within Chinese traditions and knowledge. A recent lecture tour that The British Council organised gave me the chance to see whether this is a possibility. Two of the colleges I lectured at were in Beijing and Shanghai - Tsinghua University Art School and Tong Ji University, respectively. The students were just like students everywhere; charming, curious, stylish, confident, optimistic and sometimes late! The most commonly asked questions were related to what the students called ' Rip- off design'; they wanted to know what they should do when their bosses told them to copy a Western product currently in production. They were also desperate to know how they could find a unique ' Chinese style' to apply to their design work. I suggested this is happening because the rate of expansion of the Chinese motor industry is ahead of that of design and engineering training, so the hungry production lines need instant feeding and this is most easily achieved by copying current models. It is now up to the graduating students to demonstrate they are at
least as creative as their European and American counterparts, and to find the courage to express that view. The extent to which Chinese cities have changed over the last five years is fascinating. Beijing has developed a relaxed ' café culture' with animated exchanges of ideas, small designer/ maker workshops and a cool sense of style. Shanghai is more aggressively forward looking but with a recently found appreciation of its architectural and cultural history. I gave interviews to at least a dozen design and lifestyle magazines. The journalists were young, very well informed and optimistic for the future. They were keen to hear my opinion of the 2009 Shanghai Auto Show. My opinion is that there is already a lot of young talent in the Chinese design studios, and when presented with a design brief that is different from the industry standard they are very capable of producing interesting work. But when a black four- door sedan is called for there is little creativity. The sad thing is that some reputable European design consultancies are just as unimaginative when answering the same brief. I travelled from Beijing to Shanghai on a startlingly modern train which ran at speeds of up to " There is a lot of young talent in Chinese design studios, and when given a brief that is different from the industry standard, they are very capable" 300kmh ( 190mph), left on time, arrived on time and was very smooth running. The streets of all the cities were filled with electric bicycles and scooters; most houses and apartment blocks using solar heating and all the students expressed a genuine concern about climate change ( technically Beijing is at the edge of the desert). Some people tell me that China is bent on ruining the world; I was left with the feeling that the Chinese have no intention of doing so at all. more information? click here!