Proposal for cultural exchanges and their advantages concerning the New Silk Road

China’s ambitious “Belt and Road Initiative” has raised significant interest globally. Besides the key economic rationale of the project, it is necessary to consider the cultural dimension of the Belt and Road. The “Belt” that embraces Eurasia and the ”Road” that circumvents it have to reflect the cultural diversities in the region. Every country, people, community or individual has something to reveal and to express about its roots, background or own past and particular life. All of us share tales. Moreover true or false stories help us to make sense of reality.

Fig 1, Lola Flameng, ESA 2016

Today, in many parts of the world, people are aware of the co-existence of several possible truths. We can therefore easily say that fiction takes a very important place in our lives. Imagination, fantasy, dreams and finally aesthetics underpin our daily lives. They allow us to take distance from the events and occurrences we face. Representation system and symbols are needed.

Xiang Chun Wei, ESA 2017
Xiang Chun Wei, ESA 2017

This way, anyone can make a trip on the new cultural Silk Road during which he/she can recount and draw own stories and memories.

Fantasy, imagination, dreams, surrealism, fiction and poetry are our leitmotif and will be intertwined.


A. The New Silk Road, “for a good neighborhood policy”.


This concept has to be considered as an interconnectivity project across Central Asia to develop natural and industrial resources to build different networks.

The partnership between more than 60 countries involved in the enterprise should pacify a big part of the world and meet our need for stability. This Chinese initiative aims to boost China and Central Asia’s economy and open the path for an inter-state commitment. As said by David Gosset, director of the Academica Sinica Europaea at CEIBS, “China is working to turn Asia into a giant, interconnected entity”.

In this context, we introduce this venture as a new world equilibrium with new bilateral relationships between China and the US.

locomotive 2

This grand strategy opens and builds networks of roads, railways, pipelines and ports in order to draw new geographic maps, enable new human behaviors, links and understanding or misunderstanding of one another.

These strategic and economic Asian roads can be explained by the following ideas: Chinese renaissance, global multipolarity, interwoven interests, grand strategy with global vision. The concepts of cohesiveness, grand harmony, social harmony – or “Eurasia’s Dream, a dream we can pursue together” – perfectly illustrate our topic.


B. Back to the ancient Silk Road and the first crosscultural experiences

silk road - old picture

For us Europeans, Alexander the Great (4th century BC) represents the major figure of the conqueror. He was called “the Border Man” who opened a corridor and traced a new geopolitical “Pax”.

Alexander the Great

With his huge army he went out of the known world to reach India and after that went back to the Middle East. After his conquests, a book about what he did – or imagined having done – was written.

The “Alexander Novel” is still read today because his real adventures mix fiction and genuine tales about his trips into Middle East and Asia. For example, he traveled through the sky transported by dangerous monster-birds. He also went under the sea in a submarine! With these examples we can appreciate and realize the necessity of fiction, which opens the reader’s mind, enables him to imagine, dream and use his imagination to create an overview of the world and also to take distance from it. In reality, Alexander the Great was a merciless conqueror and yet he was also strangely both lenient and broad-minded to the peoples he had subjected and ruled. He was a compulsive writer too. He gave them the opportunity to keep their own cultures, religions and traditions.

Alexander the Great-2

The Greek’s arrival into the Middle East and Asia triggered change people’s imagination. Today, we acknowledge the consequences of Alexander’s presence. The descriptions of what he did, related, invented and saw highlight our need to make sense of what we encounter. The Other was dreamed and approached by the power of imagination, that is a filter between reality and fiction, a kind of platform allowing the switch from fiction to reality. We thus have to acknowledge the importance of the link between the historical reality and complete fantasy. I am sure that one is relevant to the other, and vice versa. In other words, fiction can reveal an important part of reality. This way, the power of art can be seen as something hugely important and necessary to progress, to better understand the world, others and finally ourselves.

Another relevant example comes from the Chinese history and literature. The story of the famous Buddhist monk Xuanzang or Tripikata began at the beginning of the Tang dynasty. Xuanzang left China to go to India because he wanted to get original sutras to better practice Buddhism. After many varied and dangerous adventures, he obtained them and went back to his homeland. His incredible travels have been told and retold until today. This famous hero with his stooges monkey, horse, pig and the lad are still “the references” in Chinese culture.


Just as Alexander the Great did, Xuanzang encountered various beings and creatures, all of them having the same function: to put words and images on the unknown world. Here are some images representative of them all are the fruit of our imagination.

monkey samurai



alexander-novel-02 alexander-novel-01


C. The forum itself and the first proposal about the topic of imaginary cities

As already mentioned above, this platform aims at enabling students, professors, and more generally anyone with an interest for the “practice of crosscultralism” to exchange ideas and/or drawing about the China’s Belt and Road project.

We are convinced that new economic connections can enhance cultural relations and partnerships between our different countries. Thanks to globalization everyone can share ideas worldwide. The development and influence of new technologies enable us to improve our possibilities to communicate and to travel, but contemporary society remains characterized by a lack of communication between people.

Internet is a marvelous communication tool, don’t be afraid to use it to develop communication in itself and pose these questions: how to better communicate? How to better understand one another? How to use images, signs, icons, symbols to open a new way to have an impact on the world?

Artists and Institutions are not the owners of culture, all of us have a responsibility in this matter. Culture is our social cement and our civilizing work. Let us try to set up a think tank dedicated to these ideas.


Leila Weber, ESA 2017
Fig 3, Leila Weber, ESA 2017

Imaginary cities have always inspired artists and architects. Literature, cinema and graphic arts have been prolific on the subject. The project of imaginary cities, located on the new silk roads, will be the support of a thinking process about the noble and rich links that could exist between East and West. Here, townplanning and architecture are considered as an interface; towns are questioning the sites (real or fictive) and our ways of living, exchanging, meeting. The platform is an opportunity to gather thoughts of several fields, including contemporary arts, economy and philosophy. Specialists may gather their knowledge in order to draw proposals. Although use of mixed medias is encouraged, drawing – often considered to be an universal language – will emphasize the scope of the project. The reflection will be using utopia and poetry to create with boldness our dreamed future.

To begin the workshop thinking process, a workshop is going to gather teachers and students in art and architecture from several universities from China and Belgium in order to draw imaginary cities proposals. For this workshop, although the use of mixed medias (photography, video, writing, models…) will be encouraged, drawing – often considered to be an universal language – will emphasize the scope. In this project, utopia and poetry will guide the reflection.

Simone Schuiten