Revising Articles Written on the Land—Commencement Speech at 2022 Graduation Ceremony of the College of Architecture and Landscape, Peking University
Dear master’s and PhD students, congratulations on your graduation! Today, you are leaving the university and starting a new chapter in your life. The society looks to you to make a contribution to the progress of humanity!
As for the contribution of intellectuals, the popular phrase “writing articles on the land” might be the best words for the graduates from the College of Architecture and Landscape, but it has unfortunately been used too often to be a praise for landscape architects, professionals who are trained to design and shape the land. Today, I commend “revising articles written on the land” to all the graduates and students in this college, and I believe no graduate from other colleges is more appropriate for this calling than you are!
During the current pandemic outbreaks in Beijing, I have to stay far away from the metropolis, which gave me the time to walk and read the “articles written on the land already.”
I walked on the farmland where I had played and worked in my childhood. Barefoot, I walked through the paddy fields while expecting to step on some slippery loaches and rice field eels in the mud and feel the itch as they crept on my feet; expecting to find fat frogs holding their heads up above shallow waters, with bulging eyes just like the ones on the bronze mask from Sanxingdui Ruins; once stepped on, the frogs would suddenly dive into the mud. But I was disappointed that none of such scenes appeared. The abuse of pesticides and herbicides has killed most creatures, along with hundreds of insects. My feet were stung by this stretch of lifeless, hardened soil mixed with construction waste and plastics.
I walked along the river, across the fields and hills, and arrived at an upper-reach valley of one of the Yangtze’s tributaries. I was expecting to meet a clear stream, singing birds, swimming fish, flourishing forests, and fresh springs. But I was disappointed too. More often than not, I found the once meandering watercourse replaced with cutoff, hardened channels, and teared into several sections by levees and dams made of concrete and steel. The same goes for the sub-tributaries, irrigation ditches, and even foothill trickles. Ornamental flowers are planted in delicate parterres along the riverfront. Such hardened ditches destroy habitats for fish and shrimp and aquatic vegetation that can degrade pollutants. As a result, the rivers and ponds along the banks are smelly with overgrown and overspread algae—pollution from farmland has also poisoned the water source of local rivers and lakes.
I walked through the lanes and allays of an ancient town built a thousand years ago. Benefited from its rich water resources, the town was prosperous and splendid, both economically and culturally. I was expecting to follow the ancient stone paving allays in my memory, to have a shaded rest in Shuikou (village water inlet/outlet) forests, to hear the chorus of diverse birds on the old camphor trees, and to enjoy the view formed by white walls and black tiles hidden behind trees and bamboos, the productive orchards on both sides of the paths, and the smoke of the cooking fires in the rain. But, again, I was disappointed! Both Shuikou and the moss-strewn old trees are disappeared.Instead, cement roads separate water outlets, with strings of red lanterns hanging on lampposts in an exaggerated shape, and connect an oversized square at the entrance of the village. After demolishing the authentic ancient town, a new one was created on the same site with huge investment, where numerous buildings and structures, such as pavilions and the horse-head walls, are clustered. Here, “beauty” is interpreted as creating ornamental sceneries, “history” as forming ancient-looking images, and “cultural identity” as introducing stereotyped symbols.
I walked on the land, perusing the “book” consisted of various “articles.” There is so much more to this book that many times I cannot bear to look at it. I am so ashamed to be in the same profession with the ones who have created so many ignorant and hideous landscapes on the land—landscape architects should write “articles” that can truly and profoundly promote environmental improvement of the land.
Our future landscape architects, it is your time to write, or rather, to revise these articles written on the land. Please remember that the articles you write will represent your knowledge, especially your wisdom about ecology and aesthetics you have learned and developed in this university.