When we think of China, we tend to consider its population of 1.4 billion people, its industrial wealth and the opportunity for business to cream off some of that wealth for themselves.
So I was surprised to see Bentley express a more populist view in their Bentley Mulsanne Visionaries series.
Rather than highlight the luxury lifestyles of the rich and famous, they’ve focused on the work of two visionary Chinese icons – Jackie Chan and Wang Shu – and the inspiration they bring to a new generation.
Wang Shu is a Chinese architect, winner of the prestigious 2012 Pritzker Prize for Architecture, and voted Wall Street Journal’s ‘Innovator of the Year’. He’s known for using his culture’s ancient and venerable traditions for inspiration in creating award-winning architecture of true originality.
The prize, which is often referred to as Architecture’s Nobel Prize, reflects the role played by China in developing architectural ideas to blend mass-urbanisation with the unique traditions of the past.
The management at Bentley acknowledge a similar responsibility – building on its own rich heritage without losing the qualities and traditions that created their success.
In the video (below) Wang Shu talks about having respect for the past, and how traditional and modern day technology can co-exist to produce a better outcome.
He explains the parallels between calligraphy and architecture, showing how “..small details influence the whole design” and then casts he eye over the Bentley’s Mulsanne, which is something he’s clearly delighted by.
“I like true things, real things – I like original things” says Shu, who also describes the Bentley Mulsanne as a car in which “you can feel the British culture – everything a little bit gentle”, a car which “..keeps the feeling from old things.”
You begin to realise that what makes cars like the Mulsanne so appealing to the Chinese, is not their ostentatious display of wealth but instead the sense of tradition they capture.
For a nation whose culture goes back over 5,000 years, that’s important, and one way in which Bentley clearly differentiates itself from more modernist German brands like Mercedes-Benz.
The downside of China’s rapid growth is the way its younger people throw away the past. Wang Shu talks about the many historic buildings which are being destroyed and the role played by people like him in recycling and keeping respect for materials that have worked for thousands of years.
The clear subtext being the parallels with Bentley, which blends traditional craftsmanship seamlessly with the latest advances in engineering.
From a purely personal standpoint, I don’t mind advertising which inspires or reawakens such latent thoughts. Yes, of course Bentley would like to be seen in the same light as a Pritzker Prize Laureate, but having experience both (Bentley and China), the connection between a visionary architect and visionary car maker doesn’t seem so much of a stretch.
The same is true of Bentley’s Jackie Chan film – you gain a whole new respect for the actor, martial artist and philanthropist without ever feeling he’s sold out to lure of monetary gain.
If you watch these Mulsanne Visionaries films without feeling something anew, then perhaps its time to put down your smartphone, step outside and take a look at the real world.
There’s plenty more to watch including one with land speed record holder Andy Green, FIA President Jean Todt and Bentley’s former director of design, Dirk Van Braeckel.
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Check out the Bentley Mulsanne Visionaries page to stay up to date on the Visionaries videos.
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