Principal findings from stakeholder interviews in China
The interviews were conducted with 22 Chinese participants (including 10 makers and 12 non-makers). Their professional backgrounds were diverse, namely office worker, design practitioners, programmer academic worker, university student, and local community centre staff. All 10 makers took part in the interviews are male, while the non-maker group contained eight females and two males respectively. The non-maker group also included three senior citizens.
The interview results cover three key issues of making and makerspace in China: 1) the meaning of making; 2) how makerspace should be; and 3) the role of makerspace in the Chinese context. It was observed that there is a significant gap between young people’s perspective and that of older respondents.
Most interviewees found it challenging to define ‘making’ within their socio-cultural context because there are several expressions of making in Chinese, e.g. handcrafting, producing, manufacturing and creating. Subsequently, they described ‘making’ by referring it to various handcrafting activities – ranging from the traditional practices (e.g. pottery making, painting and woodworking) to the modern types of making (e.g. building LEGO models, modelling and developing digital applications).
Different types of making that appeal to Chinese people
For most people, making means realising ideas through technology and/or hands. Some young people also highlighted that making is a hobby. It is a kind of activities and lifestyles going beyond simply an approach or toolkit for materialising their ideas. According to young participants, ‘to make’ is also to have fun and learn new things.
However, it is important to note the different views from some senior participants who consider making as part of their daily life. They gather in a community centre or a senior university, and kill time as well as socialise through handcrafting activities (e.g. painting and knitting). For them, making is a daily routine that benefits their physical and mental health.
Different meanings of ‘making’
The motivations for making
Making activities is usually tied up with ‘makerspaces’, which, however, is an unfamiliar concept to many Chinese participants. Not every interviewee understands how the makerspace was initiated in the modern era, and how it should be like in a specific cultural context. Therefore, when being asked how a makerspace should be designed, different groups describe such spaces for their future making in entirely different ways.
For some young people, Xinchejian (for the minority), FablabO (education-oriented) and Chaihuo (commercial) are their types. These makerspaces mainly focus on digital and high-tech making which originates from the hackerspace that was initially born in western countries. They prefer their makerspaces to be well-equipped workshops with sophisticated machines and tools (e.g. 3D printer, laser cutter, CNC, and tools for making wood, leather & fabric). The exhibition area is not necessary, but it will be helpful.
By comparison, older people picture their makerspaces as a community centre where essential hand tools for knitting and comfortable furniture are provided. They also emphasise that newspaper, books and accessible toilets are essential. Nevertheless, both groups expect a similar atmosphere.
Most of them prefer the space to be bright, cosy and homely. Some also would like some private areas because they are not in favour of having too many socialising activities in the makerspace.
How makerspaces should be designed
Most participants acknowledged positive influences of ‘making’ and makerspace on their community. They suggested that space for ‘making’ could help connect people to share ideas and promote the sense of community. Some emphasised the social role of makerspace since it could support the young generation’s education and improve senior citizens’ mental health. Besides, the outcomes of making are largely enjoyed by the makers as well as their friends and families. This is another key benefit to their community. However, some respondents expressed concerns about the exclusiveness of the makerspaces – this type of space may only benefit the minority of people who enjoy making. Some makerspaces in China, such as Xinchejian, current face considerable challenges, as they are perceived as exclusive space for the minority.
Who may enjoy the outcomes of making
When asking whether they would use makerspaces, respondents provided both practical and personal reasons that would hinder them from coming. Participants believed that they do not have time for making. Moreover, they are lack of making skills and do not want to work in public areas. Besides, some reported that they have no desire to make. The practical reasons that prevent people from using makerspaces are issues related to space itself, e.g. the poor quality of making activities, the poor management and the atmosphere of the makerspace. One participant also emphasises that the idea of making and makerspaces is not popular in Chinese society. There are only a few makerspaces and only a small group of people know of such activity.
When questioning the potential socio-cultural impact of making, some feedbacks highlighted the importance of re-investigating the context of ‘Made in China’. One participant mentioned that the current ‘Education of Maker and Making’ (provided by the Makerspace/Hackspace) hinders the development of making in China because they do not solve real industrial problems (e.g. manufacturing). In this sense, ‘making’ has become an educational product, which helps to polish the students’ grades and enables them to access to better schools. Therefore, it is important to rethink the concept of making and makerspace. The Shaji village (which has been completely transformed and developed through a combination of furniture making and e-commerce) was given as a reference of how the ‘narrative of making and makerspace’ in China could be. Based on this reference/narrative, some interviewees argued that such an industry shows how China is redefining ‘making’ and scaling up makerspaces, and this would undoubtedly change the lifestyle and economic development in China in a long term.
To summarise, the overall concept of making and makerspaces in China has a different narrative compared with that of the UK. The concept of social enterprise is not fully established in Chinese society. Most of the makerspaces in China are for-profit and have sustainable business models. Not-for-profit makerspaces heavily rely on governmental support, e.g. community neighbourhood centres and youth maker education. In order to get funded by the government, these not-for-profit makerspaces need to respond to the national ethos, such as ‘Strengthen the Nation with Innovation and Technology’. It was observed that digital fabrication and youth education may have higher priority than other types of making. The perception of makerspaces among younger people is significantly different from that of older citizens. Young professionals and students perceive makerspaces as a place for entertaining, supporting practices and developing new knowledge, while senior citizens prefer a space for their daily recreation. Their different opinions also reflect their different lifestyles. Most people commented that makerspace could provide opportunities for improving their physical and mental health, exploring creativity and enhancing cultural and economic development.