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Zara Arshad

MA work

Design Museums in Contemporary China: Localising Global Models

The rise of the design museum in contemporary China is a local phenomenon that fits wider global patterns of museum construction and expansion, changes in museum practice, and ongoing debate around the very meaning of 'design'. These global trends are heavily invested in the 'creative industries', a concept that has come to underpin a broad sector of cultural policy and practice worldwide. The idea entered China in the early 2000s, though it is the localised and ideologically-motivated cultural industries that are officially recognised by the Chinese central government. The adoption, translation and appropriation of the cultural and creative industries are indicative of the expeditious and multifarious transformations that are evolving internally, demonstrating how China is at once negotiating distinct local ideological and political outlooks, while also attempting to find its place in the world.

Sitting within this narrative are Chinese design museums, which may be used as a prism to explore these transformations. Using the examples of the China Design Museum (CDM) in Hangzhou, the China Industrial Design Museum (CIDM) in Shanghai, M+ (museum) in Hong Kong and, to some extent, the Shekou Design Museum in Shenzhen, this dissertation focuses on how and why design museums have emerged in China today, and questions who they might be for. It captures the complex local-global interactions involved in the development of these institutions, as well as the range of negotiations that occur domestically; ultimately seeking to illustrate that transaction, exchange and mediation in China, although governed by state-prescribed parameters, occur between various stakeholders, each driven by their own ambitions, goals and needs.


  • MA Degree


    School of Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2015

  • I am a designer turned design journalist, a design historian in training, and an aspiring curator. Specialisms include contemporary Chinese design, web-publishing, research and events management. I am the 2013-2015 Friends of the V&A Scholar on the RCA/V&A MA History of Design programme.

    I was born and raised in the UK, but I have also lived in Indonesia, Syria and China. I completed my undergraduate degree at Goldsmiths College, University of London, as a student of the BA (Hons) Design course. I believe in internationalism and the potential of design to solve political and socio-economic issues. Since 2008, I have been practicing as a freelance graphic designer and writer, with clients such as Teach for China, The Library Project, United Nations Volunteers, Designers & Books, Interior Design (magazine), Icon, Change Observer and AIGA. I have also worked at Icograda Beijing 2009, British Council in China and Beijing Design Week, and I currently write for Design China.

  • Degrees

  • BA (Hons) Design, Goldsmiths' College, University of London, 2008
  • Awards

  • Friends of the V&A Scholarship Award, 2013–15; Basil Taylor Memorial Award, 2014