China's architectural exports to less-developed countries, such as conference halls, government offices, hospitals, institutional headquarters, schools, stadia and theatres, have played a special role in the state's foreign aid and diplomatic strategy. Beginning in the late 1950s, such exported architectural projects were presented by the Chinese Communist Party-led government as gifts to many Asian and African nations in exchange for their ideological, political and diplomatic support. In the post-Mao era, these architectural exports were combined with economic assistance, debt relief and expanding market access, suggesting economic cooperation, political engagement and cultural communication. In this study, a range of typical buildings are woven with their particular historical and socio-political backgrounds into a cohesive narrative. This is the first attempt to examine and theorise the development and transformation of this distinctive phenomenon, using architectural aid as a lens through which to unpack the state's motivation for and the institutions/individuals' commitment to constructing China's global influence. It is argued that the exported architectural projects – profoundly marked by the state's intervention – demonstrated what we term a ‘transformational modernism’ that was both a product of social transformation in China and a positive engagement with the recipient nations' local conditions.
Fig. 4. Dai Nianci/The Beijing Industrial Design Institute, the section of the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall, 1973, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Fig. 4. Dai Nianci/The Beijing Industrial Design Institute, the section of the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall, 1973, Colombo, Sri Lanka. © Dangdai zhongguo jianzhu dashi: Dai Nianci.

Highlights

  • China's architectural aid epitomises the state's long-term, sophisticated engagement with less-developed countries.
  • China uses architectural exports as an instrument to enhance its political, economic and cultural influences.
  • A range of typical buildings aided by Chinese government and designed by design institutes are analysed.
  • Chinese architects are committed to cultivating a transformational modernism in architectural export.