A cultural envoy making a difference
LI Jingjing spent 12 years climbing the corporate ladder to become a veteran in the marketing of luxury goods. But then she decided to abandon a successful career and a high salary to become an ambassador for cross-cultural exchanges.
“Many people chase luxury goods just for the brand itself and not because of culture or quality,” she said. “In fact, what you buy doesn’t equal how much you spend.”
In 2014, she joined the Oriental Danology Institute, a social group dedicated to enhancing cross-cultural understanding.
“The next generation needs to know about roots and culture, so they don’t blindly follow what others do,” Li said. “Instead, they need the confidence to make their own choices.”
Her job now is to raise awareness about cultural roots and shared experiences. She cites one example.
“Many young Chinese don’t like reading traditional classics, which have instead become somewhat popular among many foreigners,” said Li, citing the lyric poems of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). “It really surprises and encourages young Chinese people. So, it turns out that foreigners have influenced Chinese to read Chinese classics.”
At the same time, she said, foreigners who read the ancient classics become more immersed in Chinese culture and get out of their expat bubble. “It’s important to create a platform to allow real communication between Chinese and foreigners,” she said.
To that end, Li organizes activities, like reading get-togethers, music shows and dramas, often based on holiday traditions in different countries.
“Holidays express cultural roots,” she said. “And cultures always have similarities. What we all have deep in our hearts can easily touch others. We just need to use a new way to bring that to the fore.”
In 2016, the Oriental Danology Institute organized a series of cultural events featuring the work of Chilean artists. They were held in historic Zhangyuan Garden, a well-preserved shikumen community. It was a chance for local residents to show how life in Shanghai’s famed lanes and alleyways once thrived.
“Both ancient Chinese and Chileans used tied knots,” said Li. “Taking that concept, we asked residents to hang traditional items of daily use, like buckets, on ropes, together with Chilean knots that link buildings.”
As a “cultural ambassador,” Li first learns about foreign cultures before interpreting them to others. One of her most impressive memories was in Brazil, where she visited aboriginal tribes in the Amazon rain forest to learn about Brazil’s roots.
“Urban dwellers have the preconception of aborigines as savage and vulgar,” she said. “In fact, it’s just a stereotyped prejudice.”
She found that the Indian tribes of Brazil pay great attention to education and societal equality. Sex education is one example. “Young boys are told that if they take young girls home at night, the young girls will turn into stars and they will never see them again,” she said. “It’s so romantic and beautiful. Compared with them, we are actually vulgar.”