Press release

China: Birth and belonging

Wellcome Collection joins forces with Chinese Arts Centre to produce a major two-day symposium tackling the idea of identity in contemporary China.

Exploring hot topics and questions including how the one child policy has influenced attitudes towards the family, stem cell research and conflict in 20th- and 21st-century China, 'China: Birth and belonging' will bring together experts from the worlds of performance, the humanities and science to provide exciting new insights into human identity.

China: Birth and belonging
Friday 26 February 19.00-21.00 and Saturday 27 February 10.30-17.00
Tickets cost £30 or £20 for concessions.
The price includes entry to the events on both days and refreshments throughout, including lunch on Saturday.

In various ancient Chinese philosophies, a person's identity is founded by their interaction with the world. Life therefore does not begin at conception, but at birth. In traditional medicine people are influenced by inheritance, the environment and also Qi ('breath of life'). This symposium will explore these ideas and what they mean for China today.

Ken Arnold, Head of Public Programmes at the Wellcome Trust explains: "As part of our 'Identity' season, we wanted to explore a completely different national identity. Is there an essence of Chinese identity? Is the nature of the individual within it distinctively different? Does 'Chineseness' remain unchanged when exported to 'Chinatowns' around the world? This symposium aims to go beyond common assumptions to delve into these fascinating questions."

'China: Birth and belonging' coincides with 'Identity: Eight rooms, nine lives', a major temporary exhibition at Wellcome Collection which launched in November 2009 and explores contributions made by diverse individuals spanning the worlds of science, the arts and history, who collectively have provided a fuller understanding of what distinguishes each one of us, as well as setting challenging questions about our own sense of our individuality.

Performance, Friday 26 February

Chinese Arts Centre curates an evening of newly commissioned interventions and performances, which will provide elements of intrigue, opportunities to try out drawing skills or to simply relax and listen to haunting vocals. 'Identity: Eight rooms, nine lives' will be open and the curators will be present.

Sally Lai, Chief Executive Officer at Chinese Arts Centre comments: "Working with Wellcome Collection, Chinese Arts Centre is presenting an evening of intriguing performances that explore the complexity of identity. Reflecting a current trend in Chinese contemporary art of art as an event, the three performances on the evening offer unique perspectives that are at once playful, mesmerising and challenging."

The contributing artists are:

Brendan Fan
Brendan Fan's practice consists of discreet gestures, actions and interventions. His work utilises absurdity, humour, futility and failure to investigate the nature of the art object and the contexts in which it exists. During the course of the evening, Brendan will carry out a series of interventions involving the audience.

Yuen Fong Ling
Artist Yuen Fong Ling will lead a performance workshop that will reconfigure the notion of the traditional life drawing class, in order to question issues of identity, reflexivity, power and ownership of the gaze. Taking a photograph from Wellcome Collection, of a Chinese artist painting in his studio (by John Thomson,1837-1921) as his starting point, Yuen creates a life-drawing class which the delegates can take part in, themselves becoming part of the artwork, while others observe.

Seaming To
Vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and composer Seaming To will perform a set with musicians Semay Wu (of Mayming/Homelife) and Paddy Steer (Homelife). Pulling together influences from her heritage with her own experimentation of mixing tradition with identity and stories from her childhood, the set will be an atmospheric reflection on fantasy versus reality. Seaming has been writing and producing solo material for an album of pulsing and atmospheric song-based electronica to be released in early 2010.

Talks and discussion, Saturday 27 February

The One Child Policy: Impact on attitudes and reproductive choice
Therese Hesketh, Professor of Global Health, UCL Centre for International Health and Development
Since its introduction in 1979 the one child policy has had a direct impact on the lives of over one fifth of the world's population. The policy has influenced reproductive choice, preferred family size, and access to abortion. How has this had an impact on sex ratios and what does this mean for the future?

Eating Qi: Food, identity and inheritance in China
Vivienne Lo, Senior Lecturer, Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL
In ancient China, knowledge about the potency of flavours and their ability to nourish body and soul was framed in terms of nurturing the body's Qi, its Yin and Yang. It also connected individuals to their community and ancestors. Do these ideas still have an impact today?

Wartime and Identity in Modern China
Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China, University of Oxford
Conflict has had a major impact on the diversity of China's population. The war against Japan in the 1930s and 40s affected the identities of women, ethnic minorities, and refugees. China's turbulent history is reflected in the shaping of contemporary Chinese identity in the 21st century.

Unborn Life and Stem Cell Research in China: Changing values and scientific quests
Jack Price, Professor of Developmental Neurobiology, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London
Margaret Sleeboom-Faulkner, Reader in Anthropology, University of Sussex
Some have argued that China will soon become the world's leader in stem cell research. How does its cultural and legal context have an impact on this science? What does this mean for the country's population?

Art, Migration and the Complexity of Belonging
Diana Yeh, Visiting Lecturer, University of East London
By revealing rarely told stories of artists and writers of Chinese descent in Britain, Diana Yeh will challenge our assumptions about Chinese notions of identity and belonging. While family, ancestry and birthplace are often vital, they relate to identity and belonging in complex and often unexpected ways.