MDes Talks: Study Trip to Hunan: Solving Social Issues and Experiencing a Different Chinese Culture

I never thought I’d have the time to visit Mainland China during my study in Hong Kong. After all, the curriculum of ID&BM is packed with class activities, and we also have other learning opportunities aside, like this week’s Frame Creation workshop.

But I did.

Through ID&BM’s network, we learnt about a collaborative workshop organised by LeNS and Hunan University. This workshop has given me a chance to explore China. Not long after I received a nomination to take part in this workshop, we set off after the Christmas break. We travelled by train and the journey took a few hours from Shenzhen to Changsha – the capital city of Hunan province and where Hunan University is located. Hunan province is in south-central China, and the weather is much colder there than in Hong Kong. However, we did not let the weather stop us from exploring the city.

And little did I know – because of this cold and damp weather – I fall in love with spicy food. I used to be a non-spicy person my whole life.

Trip to Hunan: Solving Social Issues and Experiencing a Different Chinese Culture
Hunan University

Learning Network on Sustainability

Trip to Hunan: Solving Social Issues and Experiencing a Different Chinese Culture
At Hunan LeNS Design Workshop

So, what is LeNS? LeNS refers to the Learning Network on Sustainability (http://www.lens-international.org/). LeNS is a global network, composed of six existing, functioning regional networks including LeNS_China. LeNS is supported by EU and involves 34 universities all over the world. Their projects often focus on Sustainable Product-Service Systems (S.PSS) and Distributed Economies (DE) as both models advocate environmental protections with social equity and economic prosperity.

This workshop aimed to promote a new generation of designers and design educators to effectively contribute to the transition towards a sustainable society for all. Students from invited institutions in China gathered at Hunan University. We had 14 teams altogether, and each team had five to six students from a different school. The workshop also invited professors whose work has been in the areas of sustainability to share their cases and perspectives with us. Some of them came all the way from Brazil and Finland.

Workshop Brings New Understanding about China and Sustainability

Trip to Hunan: Solving Social Issues and Experiencing a Different Chinese Culture
A professor guided us to organise our ideas

Each team was asked to study a food issue in China and proposed a suitable solution. Professors introduced tools and methods useful for analysing specific cases, and students contributed their creativity and resources in solving the issue faced by the largest population in the world.

My groups, Flying Penguin, chose a village on La’ershan (腊尔山) in a rural area as the site to solve its local food issue.

During the workshop, I appreciated the opportunity to work with other students from mainland China. They provided a different point of view to understand food issues. Some of them were raised in small villages, and they were close to the land and farming, hence knowing where the real problem lay. Also, I got the chance to talk to a farmer there over the phone, to understand their situation directly.

This workshop has informed me that China has started to include the human aspect in the problem-solving process, at a community level concerning people and their culture and network. I used to think China prioritised technological and economic development, often measured by quantitative growth targets. I am interested in how China progresses in the future.

Sustainability is not only about products or physical resources, but also intangible value and systems. When a system is sustainable, both physical and intangible resources can be used effectively and ultimately achieving the goal of creating new value for stakeholders.

Exploring Changsha and Becoming a Fan of Hunan

Trip to Hunan: Solving Social Issues and Experiencing a Different Chinese CultureTai Ping Jie, Changsha

Trip to Hunan: Solving Social Issues and Experiencing a Different Chinese Culture
Yuelu Academy (Photo Credit: Sek Keung Lo/ Flickr)

During the trip, we had a weekend to explore different places in Hunan, thanks to the host university.

We visited the famous cultural attractions - Yuelu Academy, and also the museum of Hunan. Both institutions showed the history of Hunan, and I become more interested in the people and environments of this city.

It was the local touristic spots caught my interest. We had a blast in neighbourhood areas where the locals live, such as Tai Ping Jie, and sampled the local Changsha food!

Trip to Hunan: Solving Social Issues and Experiencing a Different Chinese CultureWhat excited me most was Hunan (Xiang) cuisine!!

Trip to Hunan: Solving Social Issues and Experiencing a Different Chinese Culture
Spicy preserved egg dishes (Photo Credit:Joonyeon Ha

Study Trip to Hunan: Solving Social Issues and Experiencing a Different Chinese Culture

Study Trip to Hunan: Solving Social Issues and Experiencing a Different Chinese Culture
Stinky tofu in Hunan! It wasn’t that bed actually! (Photo Credit: Lin Shuting)

I am not accustomed to having spicy food, but Hunan cuisine opened up a new world of culinary excitement and delights to me. It’s my first time falling in love with the spicy food.

According to my local teammate, the reason for putting so many spices in the dishes is due to the weather: local people needed the spices to keep the body warm and to get rid of the dampness within. The Hunan cuisine we sampled used a lot of chilli peppers and garlic, but I bet whoever tried it once would be hooked.

This trip has not only shown me a new understanding about China and sustainability but also turned me into a fan of Hunan.

I can’t wait to come back!


Image credits. List image: Pei Tzu Chu. Header image: Sek Keung Lo/ Flickr. Content images: Pei Tzu Chu except as specified.

Posted by Pei Tzu Chu - Being passionate about life, never stop exploring. Graduated in International Business from National Taipei University of Business, Taiwan. Appreciating how design changes the world and bringing surprise to life. A current Master's student in International Desing & Business Management (MDes).

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MDes Talks is a series of Student Blogs contributed by students in different specialisms under the Master of Design Scheme. It is set out to share students’ first-hand experience in the d-school pedagogy, their projects, takeaways, and student life in general.
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