Tuesday, 11 December 2012

A Wild and Untamed Landscape

I am now in a very beautiful studio miles out in the mountains, only 1 hour by car from Canberra.  On the hill road this morning driving out to the studio from a small town, called incongruously Bungendore which sounds like something from Harry Potter – in 22 miles we saw only 2 other cars.  Yesterday a car overtook us which was a major event.  The place is empty.  Out in the bush, miles from anywhere, there are only hills and trees and kangaroos for company,  I could just make out a tiny village in the distance.  Yet in the middle of bush and scraggy eucalyptus trees there is a  mainline railway from Sydney to Canberra which stops a mile down the road at Tarago, the village.  

Jane Crick, the potter who invited me and who organised my whole tour of Australia, runs a teaching studio out here in the bush, and has 50 acres.  She has a tin shed studio, a tin shed for the kilns, a tin shed gallery, a tin shed toilet and an old yellow railway carriage on a very short track as a sleeping space.  She has solar powered electricity and, and no water except rainwater, which is stored in a huge tank. 

Jane lives in Canberra and comes out here to her studio, as do all her adult students – some of whom travel for miles to get here.  They are desperately keen to come as the Adult Education centres where they were going regularly are being closed due to government cutbacks.  It is absurd that the government should close the vocational courses, as the economy here is very strong. Pounds sterling don’t go very far here, certainly not as far as they did last time I was here 24 years ago when everything seemed cheap. 

Now Australia has managed to keep hold of some regulation of its banks and so did not get caught up in the crash bang wallop which affected banks in the UK.  Consequently the dollar is strong against the pound.  And China is buying up all their minerals.  There are rare earths here which do not exist anywhere else in the world, tantanum for example, which is used in mobile phones. It does seem bonkers to depend on selling capital materials, like a giant Ponzi scheme.

Out here in the purple hills it is a beautiful location, truly amazing, like being in a national park except it is just wild country.  Often in Australia I get the sense that I could just start walking out the door and go for thousands of miles to the other side of the country before coming to any sort of obstruction.  And that is in spite of white people having been here for over 200 years and in spite of all the damage they have done.  Still the landscape is wild and untamed.  White people could leave tomorrow and I get the impression that in a few years the trees and wild life would overrun their doings. The strength of the landscape is in the psyche of Australians and is reflected in a national longing for art which expresses their relationship with it. 

There is a large pond in a dip in the hills below the studio, which is manmade, and is a magnet for birds and frogs.  They sing and croak and gargle and hum all through the night.  We paddled around in the marshy land at the edge of the large pond, which locals call a dam, looking for clay to use as a slip on the pots.  It’s not that easy to find clay here, nor soil either actually, as even though the landscape looks wild and original, the trees are sparse because the land was cleared.  So the soil was blown away.  It never was very deep at all, and that has given me a deeper appreciation of soil as an entity.  We have a huge amount of it in England, it goes down deep in many places and is moist and full of nutrients.  Here in these hills it is only an inch or so deep; and seems like a valuable and rare resource. You can’t just make it overnight.

During tea breaks my students on the course inevitably talk about wildlife:  about wallabies, about goannas, and bandecoots.  Some people have seen pelicans flying around.  Enkidnas, which are prickly creatures that lay eggs and are related to the duckbill platypus, often crop up in conversations too.

I bought a musical instrument called a zyladrum from the only craftsman in the world who makes them.  He lives near here and has developed a method of making a tuned wooden box drum.  It sounds divine, it is impossible to make a bad sound.  I am not particularly musical, have never played anything like this before, and on my first attempt made sounds which were meditative, hypnotic and tuneful.  People told me I should make a recording!   I am completely hooked on it.

Sandy Brown is an internationally renowned ceramicist who lives and works in North Devon. She is the Art Advisor at Resurgence magazine.
Find out more about Sandy Brown

Monday, 19 November 2012

Trust your hands

I am in Brisbane now, giving a workshop in creative throwing to the potters at the Brisbane Institute of Art.  This is an independent non-profit organisation which is not a government art school but a place which runs art classes at various levels and is open to anyone.  They have a wonderful building – after years of being peripatetic and homeless, operating out of temporary accommodation, a football club with glorious premises went bankrupt, and now the Brisbane Art Institute has their huge building.  What an interesting metaphor of society here, that it cannot afford football but it can afford art.  There are classes in printmaking in a well-equipped printmaking studio, a massive painting studio, facilities for sculpture, bookbinding, and ceramics of course.
They do award their own diplomas which are recognized by the government art colleges, and interestingly their own diplomas are awarded after students have achieved a certain level of ability, without the need to write long dissertations, in fact without the need for them to do any written component at all.  So it focuses on the activity itself, and is not en route to academia as are all government art courses now here and in the UK. 
The only difference between the old vocational HND courses in the UK and the new BA Hons courses with which the universities rushed to replace them is that the BA course has a dissertation component which accounts for a large proportion of the assessment.  As far as the practical content is concerned it is the same on both courses.  Here the emphasis is on doing, and it seems to be what the participants want, as it is thriving.
There is a mixed bunch of participants on the course, from well-established professional ceramic artists to beginners, including one middle-aged Japanese man.  I am enjoying teaching his culture back to him in the form of the clay preparation method and kneading which I learned in Mashiko where I lived for four years as a student potter.  He seems to know it is something significant to him and has taken to it like a duck to water.
Yesterday we were focusing on using the potters wheel as a creative tool, not just a vehicle for mass production, which of course it can be too.  But too often in the rush to master the technique of throwing pots we can forget that it is a creative medium just as poetry writing is, or composing music is, or dancing is.  I have been surprised to see that the less I teach about the technique the more it is possible for students to grasp what I am saying and to be free to experiment and to play. 
So now I am holding right back, and just suggesting that they focus on playing and being loose, and trusting their hands.  After all, they told me yesterday that the reason they have come on this workshop is because they respond to my lively throwing and also my use of colour, which we will come to later today.
Sandy Brown is an internationally renowned ceramicist who lives and works in North Devon. She is the Art Advisor at Resurgence magazine.
Find out more about Sandy Brown

Friday, 9 November 2012

Coral island in a changing world

Nick Brennan, the warm hearted fair-haired guide on Lady Elliot Island, which is an eco-resort on the Great Barrier Reef, has been chatting with me about the effects of climate change and the state of the coral island in this changing world.

At first, I was struggling with the inherent contradiction in that we fly to this island: it is in fact the only island on the reef with an airstrip, and it is the only eco-island on the reef.  And we stay there.  How can that help the environment I asked?  Nick replied saying that the Great Barrier Reef, in spite of being ‘protected’ and called a ‘Marine Park’, is not well managed at all.  He talked about the ‘Hunters and Shooters Party’ being in power in New South Wales and allowing general use of the reef, saying they don’t protect it and certainly don’t police it.

Lady Elliot Island is the only green zone, and is the only eco-island on the entire Great Barrier Reef.  It means no fishing, no moving coral, no moving the numerous sea cucumbers without putting them back exactly where they were as they only move a foot a year.  It means no taking anything from the island!

The island has to police itself if people turn up to fish, which they do – the young staff have been known to canoe out to offending boats to tell them to go.  The fishermen say ‘There are no fish anywhere else”. Yet surprisingly the island has pulled itself back from the brink of extinction.

Over 200 years ago the guano (Bird droppings) which was over 1 meter deep was drastically harvested for fertilizer, and all the vegetation and trees died.  The birds died.  It was practically a dead island.  Some time later, the government had to build a lighthouse and they imported goats onto the island to feed the lighthouse keepers.   That meant that any new vegetation that tried to shoot up was promptly eaten by the goats.

Then in the late 60’s one man, Don Adam, visited the island and determined to re-vitalise it.  He planted native trees, coconuts, pandanus, casuarinas and shrubs.  As the lighthouse was now being automated he shot all the goats.  Gradually the seabirds returned.  There are now thousands of resident birds, including many white-capped noddies.  They like to nest and breed in the pisonia trees which are now healthy and plentiful.

I snorkeled around the coral and marveled at the abundance of fish; the colours are astonishing underwater; so bright, lit up from the inside like neon.  Nick told me that even in the last five years since it has become a Green Zone the number of fish in their waters has increased considerably; it is amazing how quickly marine zones can recover.  Even the coral is in good shape here, and is not suffering too much from bleaching as it is elsewhere on the Great Barrier Reef.

The main danger that they are all worried about is the acidification of the seas.  The more carbon dioxide we use the more the oceans absorb it, and that is what is causing the bleaching and thus the death of much of the coral further north from here.  Coral is an extremely sensitive living animal; it is not a plant, it is an animal, and it cannot tolerate temperatures too high or too low, and certainly not too acidic.  That will kill it.

Nick believes that the way to justify the use of the island by tourists is education.  He is immensely knowledgeable about the coral, fishes, birds and vegetation of the island and greets each new arrival with an introduction to the ways of the island.  Don’t stand on the living coral, don’t move anything, don’t take anything away.  Here we value each living being, including the 300,000 birds on the tiny island.

It is so small you can walk round it in an hour, as I did. And that includes time to stop and wonder.  Yet it has so many fish.  He takes visitors out on reef walks, gently pointing out that what looks like scum at the shoreline is in fact sunscreen made by the coral itself to protect it from the sun, and is the active ingredient in the suncream which we use.   He can spot a clam from a long way off, and can name almost every fish we see, including the striking blue Picassotrigger fish.  He encourages us to pick up sea cucumbers, which feel rubbery like car tyres, and which squirt.  He tells us to put them back exactly where we found them as because they move so slowly, a foot a year, they will be completely disorientated if they are moved.

It is deceptive, as when you look at the water from the shore, particularly when the tide is out and the water is just in the lagoon, it looks as if there is nothing much happening in the water.  You can see the shape of the coral, its amazing mushroom layered growth, some are like huge brains, and you can see the white sand which is actually dead bleached coral.  It dies when it is exposed to the sun, so when it grows upwards and pokes through the sea to the sun, it dies, or the central bit does, and its only recourse is to grow sideways instead, thus staying under the water and eventually forming a lagoon.  Some big corals grow very slowly, at just one millimeter a year, and we calculated that one particular coral in the lagoon which we were walking around, was two meters across which meant it was actually a thousand years old.

Yet when you put a mask on and look through it, beyond the surface to the life underneath, you see that even right up to the shoreline there are fish swimming about, lots of little intense ultramarine blue ones, long moray eels, tiny little baby fish which are what the birds eat, transparent butterfly fish which are exactly like butterflies you might see in a meadow, sometimes there are turtles.  In the nesting season there are thousands of turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs.  We just missed that as we are too early, but we saw turtles mating and gently swimming past.

The island uses solar power for most of its energy needs, and desalinates sea water so that it is self-sufficient in water.  There is still much more to be done, as they do still need to import fuel.

I went on a snorkeling safari this morning, which means spending longer out in the deeper water, again with Nick to guide us.  We were taken out by boat, and then urged to jump in when it was 4 or 5 metres deep.  Nick does put himself under pressure to ensure we see turtles and also Manta rays, and swims about looking for them for us.  And occasionally he will take a deep breath and swim down to the sea bottom and pick up something to show us.  This time it was a pineapple cucumber; a sea cucumber which is much larger, looks like a pineapple, and is squishy.   He brought it to the surface to show us, and then minutes later took another deep breath and gently placed it back in the sand where he had found it.

I am completely hooked now; I could spend ages looking at this extraordinary world. I don’t mind whether we see a turtle or a manta ray; just the everyday shoals of fishes are amazing.   They move so quickly; I look up out of the water to check where Nick is for example, then immediately look under water again and new different fish have teleported themselves right beside me.   They are not afraid; of each other, or of us.  They bump into me, checking me out.  One delightful turquoise fish stayed with me for ages, swimming around my face and touching my cheeks. I felt as if I had a friend.  Other snorkelers said the same; that a big shoal of fish would adopt the human fish and stay with him or her, incorporating them into the group.

At night, I was most surprised to see in the pitch darkness that the sky was full of stars and that there was a new moon.  Something didn’t look quite right; it was wrong somehow.  Then Patrick, my partner, pointed out what it was: the new moon crescent was at the bottom of the moon, lying along the rounded bottom.  Where I come from in Appledore the new moon crescent is either to the left or the right of the moon.  It did look odd, as if we were on a new planet.

Now I have unfortunately left Lady Elliot Island and am in Brisbane where I am due to give a workshop to the Brisbane potters tomorrow, on Creative Throwing and Intuitive Sculpture.  We shall see what transpires!

Sandy Brown is an internationally renowned ceramicist who lives and works in North Devon. She is the Art Advisor at Resurgence magazine.
Find out more about Sandy Brown

Friday, 26 October 2012

Australia: craft, culture and coral

I am currently in Australia where I have been invited to do a series of presentations, workshops and artist residencies.  I arrived first in Townsville, in the tropics, where there are crocodiles in the creeks and a potter friend we visited, who has tall massive mango trees, was being kept awake at night by huge bats squeaking playfully as they drop unripe mangos onto the tin roof of her bedroom.

They have wonderful plentiful clays in Australia, some of the best in the world. Particularly they have very white clays which are extremely plastic. This is unusual as to achieve whiteness potters have been known to incorporate all sorts of materials into the clay, most famously Josiah Wedgewood who used ground animal bones, hence bone china.  And even in China where it is possible to achieve a wonderful translucent whiteness that comes at the expense of plasticity.  The clay there is short, like short crust pastry, ie crumbly and very difficult to work.

Here in Australia however you can have both superb plasticity in clays which are sensual delights to use on the wheel, as well as a beautiful fired whiteness which takes colour well.

Since I got to know Noel Butler, a dynamic Aboriginal artist who came to Appledore for the Visual Arts Festival two years ago, I have become more interested in Aboriginal people, so I asked my Townsville hosts whether there were any indigenous people there.  I had not seen any so far.  I was told that it was very sad.  There had been several different countries of Aboriginal people here, who each spoke different languages, and who had a history of animosity with each other.

Some time ago they were shipped off to Palm Island, about 30 miles off the coast, and there they remained.  They fought each other, were depressed and often drunk, and it is not surprising.  Australia still has not come to terms with its Aboriginal people, in spite of the fact that Quantas staff wear fabrics printed with an aboriginal artist’s painting.  I know Noel well, I am going to visit him, and it hurts me to think that people like him are virtually imprisoned and devalued in their own land.

Noel is a great campaigner for Aboriginal culture.  He lives Resurgence values.  He runs a centre for delinquent boys and has them live in the bush, showing them how to survive on plants and available food.  I will write more about him when I visit him, and have been planning for some time to write about him for Resurgence magazine.  He also teaches a module on a university training course for Doctors, showing them the healing properties of plants.  He is a truly remarkable man, and has survived a terrible childhood.  It is absolutely shocking how he and his people were treated in the name of civilization by a white government, and I feel shame when I think about it.  And it still goes on.  

Even here, where I am now on the great barrier reef on a coral island which is a green zone, there is a poster advertising a DVD about the coral reef which is called Coral Reef Dreaming.  It seems white Australia is happy to appropriate the art, or what it thinks is the art, of Aboriginal people, while still keeping them down.

I am currently having a break on a coral island, called Lady Elliot Island, which is in a Green Zone.  It is all protected.  We are told on arrival not to walk on any living coral, not to touch any shellfish or living creature on the reef.  I have been snorkelling this morning looking at turtles, manta rays, and beautiful colourful fish. Before I leave this eco-resort I will interview our young guide, who is very knowledgeable about the effects of climate change on the island.  His name is Nick and he has done two degrees in Marine Biology and Marine Science.

Sandy Brown is an internationally renowned ceramicist who lives and works in North Devon. She is the Art Advisor at Resurgence magazine.
Find out more about Sandy Brown

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Royal Hampton Court Palace Flower Show

Going to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Show with open shoes was perhaps not the best thing to do. When I went, my feet got cold and damp and I was very tempted to buy a pair of wellies from one of the many gardening stalls. Hopefully the weather will improve before the event closes on 8 July, so that when you go, you’ll be able to wear sandals…
This year’s event is sponsored by Ecover, which is exhibiting a Show Feature that takes inspiration from the firm’s new packaging, Plant-astic, which is made entirely from sugar cane. Tom Domen, Innovations Manager at Ecover says: “Ecover stands for making the cleverest usage of plants. We are dedicated to making highly effective products that are kinder to people and nature.”
Last year the company introduced its new Plant Plastic bottles across the product range, which was an industry first. Fifteen hectares of sugar cane can produce all the material needed for a year’s supply of Ecover bottles. As well as using plant materials for packaging, Ecover products have always been developed and manufactured using sustainable and biodegradable plant-based and mineral ingredients. They really are a must in my kitchen!
Other environmentally conscious exhibits at this year’s show include a garden designed by Tony Smith which questions whether it is possible for us to manage the rainforests in a way that benefits everyone.
The show also features ‘The Bee House and Garden’, a collaboration between the British Beekeepers Association, The Bumblebee Conservation Trust and the RHS, which celebrates the way in which nature and gardens combine to create a honey pot for bees. The feature demonstrates how to make one’s garden bee-friendly. There are also a number of impressive show gardens, including the Discover Jordan Garden and the Badger Beer Garden.  
Unfortunately, I was at the flower show for only an hour – although I managed to spot Princess Alexandra and Moira Stuart (not together) – and so didn’t see all the delights. Judging by the many attendees, they all had smiles and were enjoying the experience. So, if you’re stuck for something to do until 8 July, a visit to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show is well worth a visit.
Please visit www.rhs.org.uk for more information.

Image: Anneliese Dianthus by Darcy & Everest © The Royal Horticultural Society
Sharon Garfinkel is Marketing & PR Manager at The Resurgence Trust.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Green House event

Green House Think Tank is an exciting new environmental organisation which was created last year with the remit of “challenging the ideas that have created the world we live in now, and offering positive alternatives”.  
I attended its recent event at The Guardian’s headquarters in London where Green House think tank chair Dr Rupert Read and Polly Higgins, environmental barrister and Damian Carrington, head of environment at The Guardian, explored the idea of the ‘Guardians for future generations’ idea which Rupert had developed in discussion and collaboration with the membership of the Alliance for Future Generations.
Over 40 people attended this event which included a mini-try-out of Rupert’s idea. Twelve of those attended the meeting – including me – were picked at random to form a mock-jury to decide an issue of vital importance to future people. Our topic was fracking and as a ‘super-jury’ we agreed, on balance, that it would be against the basic interests/needs of future people.
This mock-super jury session was modelled on Polly Higgins’s ‘mock ecocide trial’ of last year, which has been featured in Resurgence.
This event represented a new idea to charge a ‘super jury’ of ordinary people with more extensive powers than the House of Lords. It followed Rupert’s launch of the ‘Guardians for Future Generations’ report at the House of Commons in January. The report proposes that a council of randomly picked members of the public should be placed above the House of Lords to oversee all government decisions. The Guardians’ central powers would be a veto over new legislation that threatens the interests of future generations and a right to force a review of existing legislation that is already damaging their basic needs.
For more information on Green House Think Tank, please visit: http://www.greenhousethinktank.org/page.php?pageid=home
Sharon Garfinkel is PR and Marketing Manager at Resurgence.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

In It Together

Turns out I have a sister I didn't know about. Not only that but she lives just down the road. We have the same parents but up to now have led relatively separate lives. Interestingly despite this I was intrigued to discover we share many of the same values. This sister in question is another charity – The Resurgence Trust.

The charity I represent is the Yarner Trust nestled away on the Atlantic Coast on the border of North Devon and Cornwall and about 10 miles from The Resurgence offices in Hartland. The biggest surprise to me was that I am in fact a little sister and not a husband, son or brother that I'd been led to believe for the past 33 years. I thought I'd been making a good play of things as a bloke – culminating most recently as a hedge laying, coppicing and firewood-chopping caretaker at the Yarner Trust.

Resurgence has 12 years on Yarner (which is in fact exactly the same age as me and anything else starting things off in1978), and we met this week to discuss ways of working together to promote various ways of ethical living. Both charities were conceived by the Dartington Trust and following a couple of sit-downs recently we have some interesting plans on the cards ranging from a 110mile walk around London to a joint nature writing competition and a regular blog from Yarner to feature on this website. Well that's the blog done, I best go for a walk.

Jon will be doing a sponsored walk along The Green London Way, 28 May – 2 June 2012. More information here.

Jon Every is a botanist, working as Care Taker and Education Officer at The Yarner Trust

Friday, 27 April 2012

Walking The Talk

Steps towards a sustainable life.

For too long now, or maybe for just the right amount of time, I have been living in a way that I knew was not right for me.

To give you a bit of background – before I became the Care Taker at The Yarner Trust I was a gardener and nurseryman. I spent a good 10 years tending to plants, digging, conditioning soil and trying to put plants first whilst caring for the local environment.

I then reached the point when I wanted to know more, to get both the big picture view and the microscopic insight into the workings of a plant and their place in the wider scheme of things.

For me, that meant going as a mature student to university. I had scraped through school and college and was more interested in travelling, partying and visiting my friends who had gone off to uni in various parts of the country than studying for another three years. But now felt like the right time. I don't know who was more freaked out by the sight of me in a white lab coat – my mates and family who had gotten used to me as a bit of Worzel Gummage meets Jack the lad or me? Whenever I caught sight of myself in the reflection of the fume cabinet with my goggles and lab coat on I would wonder if I was in an episode of Quantum Leap and was catching a view of me in another person's body.

Sitting in class doing quantum physics, macro evolution or organic chemistry I just had to keep reminding myself that I had come into this with nothing to lose and with the mentality that you can do anything you put your mind too even if you had failed GCSE maths.

Sandwiching in a year at Kew, a plant-collecting trip to Puerto Rico and a place on an EU funded biodiversity mapping project – alongside being taught by some of the most distinguished lecturers in plant diversity – made me aware of four things:

1. The world we live on is facing an extremely difficult future
2. There appears to be very little work being done to create realistic solutions to the problem of global change
3. The entire human race and the whole biological world depends completely on the plant kingdom
4. The only way to make a real impact is to practice what you preach (or hear)

For me, this makes working at the Yarner Trust the perfect job. More specifically, I can help to organise and run courses that offer practical solutions that contribute towards leading a more sustainable lifestyle. I can also take what I’ve learned about the importance of respecting the natural world into schools, colleges, prisons, business forums, garden societies and anywhere else where there are people in a position to make a positive difference.
Finally, I can use a compost toilet, grow my own food, produce some of my own energy and hopefully by the end of my time here be able to build a sustainable home which will have a minimal impact on the Earth's resources.

Jon will be doing a sponsored walk along The Green London Way, 28 May – 2 June 2012. More information here.

Jon Every is a botanist, working as Care Taker and Education Officer at The Yarner Trust

Photograph: Ferns by Colleen Slater

Friday, 6 January 2012

Kongzi's Crystal Balls

It is a tradition of sorts for seers to commit themselves to prophesy at this time of year. A New Year is a new start  – an ideal vantage point from which to gaze in to the future and make sweeping predictions about what on Earth happens next.

The picture is of the secular Chinese prophet Kongzi – better known to us in the West as Confucius. While the warring states of China were tearing themselves apart, It was Kongzi’s habit to roam round the various kings and courts, about 500 years before the birth of Christ, advising them on how best to run their affairs.

Amongst his most famous sayings are: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves,”, “The only constant is change….” And “Study the past as if you would define the future”.

The last one that strikes me as the most pertinent for this New Year.

Firstly because Confucius was Chinese. If I had to make any predication at all about the future I would have no hesitation betting that China will continue its charge to become the most powerful nation on Earth. In many ways, China already has this status. However hard we try NOT to remind ourselves, the vast majority of products we will have purchased for our loved ones this Christmas will have been made in China. What does this simple reality tell us about our past, present and future?

It tells us that today in England we are no longer willing or able to manufacture items considered essential for economic growth and wellbeing at a price that consumers are willing to pay.
I often fantasize about challenging someone to stand naked in Piccadilly Circus with £250 to spend ONLY on clothes they can find that are actually made in England. I wonder: how long would it take them, and how far would thy have to go, to get themselves fully clothed? And here – in Blake’s land of Satanic Mills that gave birth to the industrial revolution! Oh how things have changed!

Ever since China attached itself to the World Trade system, from the late 1970s onwards, wealth has been gradually shifting from West to East as the momentum behind the manufacturing monster that is now China has grown inexorably greater. And, since our thirst for consumerism is fueled by cheap products (a condition Karl Marx cutely called commodity fetishism), so our addiction to cheap Chinese labour has grown ever greater.

In order to prevent its new found wealth leaking back westwards, communist China has exercised its supreme state control to maintain barriers to free trade and has consistently massaged its exchange rate to maintain its status as the world’s cheapest source of labour. China is now easily the world’s biggest one-stop-shop mass producer.

As a result, prophesies about the future seem to point one of two ways. Either the West continues to go bust and China becomes all powerful – initially economically but gradually militarily, too. Or, globalisation breaks apart and there is a return to protectionism in which each nation-state is pitched in a battle of survival where eventually self-sufficiency will become all the rage and we will start growing vegetables again in the moat surrounding the Tower of London.

On a global level either outcome could be construed as good news.

A liberally inclined God may look down on such a world and see some long overdue justice in the swing of economic might Eastwards after nearly 1,000 years in which the tide has been generally pulling West.

And if economic globalisation collapses, the idea of reuniting production with consumption can only be good for the Earth itself – after-all we can’t sustain making things on one side of the world and shipping them to the other forever without causing even more gross, irreparable ecological harm.
From a British perspective, I am convinced there’s a lot to learn from the past to help us through either eventuality – but not much from the study of British history. Rather it is the story of China that has most relevance today.

In a world where China is the biggest global power, a better understanding of the past as seen by them would be a smart start to forging a new, more constructive understanding and dialogue between our cultures. How about an apology for the many atrocities we have committed there (e.g. the Opium Wars) coupled with a little less bleating on our behalf about human rights? That would be a start….

In the event that globalisation breaks down, there are few better examples I can think of about how to build an effective self-sufficient society than those of the Far East before seventeenth century western powers began to mangle them up. Late medieval and early modern Korea, Japan and China contain many fine lessons about how to build successful, self-sufficient societies.

That’s why I believe Kongzi’s dictum “Study the past as if you would define the future” has particular relevance just now. So, my New Year’s message for our dear Education Secretary Michael Gove, is simply this:
If history is to be a compulsory subject in the national curriculum (which I believe it should be) then if we want to be a relevant, strong and successful society in the future then please, please, please make Chinese history, beginning with the study of Kongzi himself, at least as central to the subject as the Normans, Tudors, Victorians and World War II…

Read weekly postings by Christopher Lloyd on the What on Earth website. 

Christopher Lloyd is the founder of What on Earth Publishing Ltd, the company behind the What on Earth? Wallbook. His books include: What on Earth Happened? and What on Earth Evolved? Christopher divides his time between writing books, journalism, and lecturing mostly in schools, museums and literary festivals.