red-by-karlmond

RED


 

I am Emperor, my descendants will be numerous. From the second generation to the ten thousandth, my line will not end.

朕为始皇帝。后世以计数,二世三世至于万世,传之无穷。

It feels like an understatement to deem China as only a country. Europe, the continent, is approximately 10.1 million square kilometres. In comparison, China is 9.6 million square kilometres. Aside from being the most populated country in the world, it also houses the most populated city in the world, Shanghai, boasting over 24 million residents, almost 3 times the size of the “very busy London”. Though Ancient China boasts the longest standing empire in all of history, China truly became “one country” when the Qin emperor conquered and united the warring states, unifying both written and spoken language across the whole territory. The emperor was said to have rejected the past, burning books and burying scholars in the process to keep the study of history at bay, which is blissfully ironic as the First Emperor is evidently one of history’s most important figureheads, and is often referred to within literature, film, and even Mao Zedong’s speeches.

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I was born and raised in the UK. My parents came here over 35 years ago, emigrating from Hong Kong when it was still under British rule. My household growing up was traditional, we lived with my great grandma whose English extends as far as “I don’t know”, and whatever expletives I learnt from my brothers who are nine and ten years older. We ate traditionally, picking up all the cultural habits of serving others before yourself, learning all sorts of chopstick taboos along the way, getting smacked on the wrist with them if I enacted any of them. I remember being very young and naive, not really understanding the difference between being Chinese and English, and generally not understanding race at all. I think it was only when I went to Hong Kong at ten years old I saw the difference, meeting my cousins who didn’t speak a word of English (we used to love saying “mint chocolate chocolate chip”), going to the temples, seeing all these Chinese signs and well, being surrounded by people who were Chinese. It was a bit of a revelation for me, to see this whole side of my family that I hadn’t seen before, and I guess a whole other side of my heritage and culture.

When I went to university I remember joining the British-born Chinese Community and met hundreds like myself – foreign-born Chinese, when I had only ever known five or six. Language levels we fluctuated, but we all had the same eating habits, a similar dress sense, hairstyles, even stories from our clearly very similar upbringings. A culture, or some unexplained reasoning, was something we all shared without understanding where it came from, but something we learnt almost together through our shared past experiences, followed by the development of a great pride being Chinese. I moved to Shanghai a few years after, and it was only then plain to see how evident Chinese emigration truly went all over the globe.

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There were foreign-born Chinese from all over the world, with enough countries I could count on two hands. Living in Shanghai made me very curious to the Chinese mentality – I spent days each week talking to the stall owners in the market about China, I’d watch local films, ramble aimlessly with the taxi drivers, observe the local money lavished in luxury. China is eye-candy for the traveller. The buildings are tall, the architecture is grand, but whatever heritage was left in Shanghai was either demolished or refurbished into some sort of light-ridden tourist attraction, filled with money-grabbing attractions for those looking for luck. It was a little odd, but that is to be expected of the East meets West city – comparable to that of Hong Kong. From my studies of Chinese culture and history during university, it was very much what I expected of China – something that chased Western ideals but with a strong Chinese foundation.

I’m no historian, but the West has mostly been a goal to chase for the East. Japan’s Meiji period was well influenced by Western civilisation, with intellectuals arguing Japan should look to the “civilised countries of the West”, abandoning traditional Asian ways. Mao’s ‘The Great Leap Forward’ was an effort to position China at the forefront of economic development, with an industry that conquered the feats of the West. Of course these were all different time periods, where the world was a different place to where it is now, but I can’t imagine competition between cultures is something that will ever come to a halt. The jingoism manifested from our national educations is only broken by those who leave and explore other cultures, and China’s is certainly no exception to this rule. We are led by what we are taught locally, and I don’t think that a narrow-minded one-view approach is what we need, which is appropriately on-topic with current talks of “British Studies” being introduced into the UK curriculum.


Politics aside, one thing I love about Chinese culture is the superstition. There are no fourth floors, because four in Chinese sounds like ‘death’. Chopsticks standing upright in your bowl of rice are reminiscent of incense, which is primarily used to honour the dead. Yes, there is a lot to do with death in China’s superstitious culture, but we’re no strangers to the idea of the afterlife, even if there is no primarily religious deity within China. Equally, there is plenty to do with luck. The number eight is a very lucky number, because it sounds similar to ‘wealth’, as you may have learnt in those really good HSBC adverts. Then there’s red. Red is very auspicious.

Red is the primary colour of the flag. Red is the colour of the lucky envelopes dashed out at Chinese New Year. Red is a symbol of happiness. Red is worn during weddings. Red is even the colour of Communism.

I have always associated red with China. Chinese cinema is often very dramatic, and even the music videos seem to be terribly sad. Beautiful scenes are crafted out of magnificent colours and textures, telling stories through lavish settings that complement scenes with very little dialogue. Everything is expressed as though it were poetry, whether it is the art of calligraphy with each individual brush stroke, the spiritual ethos embodied within martial arts, or the deep ambiguous meanings that build the foundations of Chinese idioms. Folklore is common, and stories of emperors and their palaces are often retold, with fantasy elements including Monkey Kings and Chinese heroes. It’s all truly beautiful.

Chinese culture and history cannot be represented within one book nor one piece, though neither could any civilisation that has lived as long. The room for creativity in China could be limitless when there are so many rich references to pull from. I hope that in the next few years that China’s creative potential will unfold, and that people will see more about China than just the ‘Made in China’ tag. Sure, the country makes great knock-offs, but there is a vast history and talent pool waiting to be represented.

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“Everything has its beauty, but not everyone can see it.”

诸事有其好的一面,但不是人人都能看到


CREDITS

Art & Photography
Karlmond Tang

Styling
Harris Elliott

Hair
Stefano Mazzoleni

Make-up
Riona O’Sullivan

Set Design
Rick Graham

Models
Robin Loo at AMCK (London)
Betty Bachz

Photography Assistant
Dom Fleming
Miko Shimizu

Stylist Assistant
Rickardo Mattocks-Maxwell

With special thanks to Vivienne Westwood

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Betty wears all clothing by Vivienne Westwood

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Robin wears Vivienne Westwood jacket, Tomas Maier at Mr Porter trousers
Betty wears Paul Smith jacket, Paul Smith trousers

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Betty wears Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood, shoes by CAROLIN HOLZHUBER

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Robin wears all clothing by Vivienne Westwood, flag by Tourne de Transmission

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Betty wears all clothing by Vivienne Westwood

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Robin wears all clothing by Vivienne Westwood

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Betty wears all clothing by Vivienne Westwood

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Betty wears all clothing by Vivienne Westwood

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