China Academy of Art teaches students to ‘reinvent its heritage’

China Academy of Art teaches students to ‘reinvent its heritage’

School encourages designers to breathe new life into traditional crafts

This spring the usual 100,000 or so applicants vying for just 1,700 places at one of China’s most prestigious art colleges were not squeezing into vast halls for the gruelling four-day entrance exam. Instead, as a result of the Covid pandemic, the China Academy of Art hopefuls found the whole process had been moved online.

All the CAA’s courses, which include fine art, ceramics, architecture and fashion, are wildly oversubscribed and for those wishing to study jewellery, there are just 20 places on the undergraduate course and a handful for the masters degree. The jewellery course also attracts international students from around the world.

The CAA was founded in 1928, but the jewellery department is just 10 years old. Its evolution reflects a desire to rediscover and celebrate traditional Chinese culture while building a bridge to the modern world and serving a soaring consumer market.

“We want to teach students how to use traditional techniques in a contemporary way but also keep a global view on what is happening in the international scene,” says Zhenghong Wang, vice-dean of the college of crafts and head of the jewellery school at the CAA. “Chinese culture is the key point of our programme. Every class is linked with a tradition — even the basic technical classes are linked with a cultural background.”