QI QI GUAI GUAI ARCHITECTURE IN CHINA
CCTV headquarters. Photograph by Sixue Zhang.
On October 15, 2014, Chinese president Xi Jinping chaired the Forum on Literature and Art in Beijing and gave a significant speech. He indicated the important role of literature and art in realising the Chinese Dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. The next day, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, People’s Daily, as well as reporting the content of his speech, stated that President Xi had also called for an end to qi qi guai guai (bizarre) architecture. It was the first time that the phrase qi qi guai guai architecture entered the public consciousness. The speech had been reported by the media both in China and abroad and received widespread attention.
The subsequent fierce debate about qi qi guai guai architecture has never subsided, as national and local governments have actively responded to Xi’s call and taken action. An official policy document, ‘Several Opinions of the State Council of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on Further Enhancing Administration of Urban Planning and Construction’, was published on February 6, 2016. This policy was believed to be influenced by Xi’s criticism in the 2014 Forum and proposed restrictions on three characteristics considered to be emblematic of qi qi guai guai architecture: mei yang (xenocentric), tan da (oversized) and qiu guai (odd-shaped).
Another official policy document published on April 27, 2020, re-emphasized the importance of regulating mei yang, tan da, and qiu guai architecture and also outlined more detailed regulations. Furthermore, it declared that architecture should be built for ‘strengthening cultural confidence’ and ‘representing Chinese characteristics’. It is clear that from 2014 to 2020, the term qi qi guai guai architecture, derived from Xi’s 2014 speech, has become a focus of national policies and international attention.
In foreign newspaper reports, various English words have been used in an attempt to provide a suitable translation for the original term qi qi guai guai, including ‘bizarre’, ‘weird’, ‘wacky’, ‘strange’, and ‘oddball’. Considering the different implicit meanings between languages, this dissertation uses the original Chinese terms, qi qi guai guai (bizarre), mei yang (xenocentric), tan da (oversized) and qiu guai (odd-shaped). This can also provide a cultural context for this linguistic analysis. For example, qi qi guai guai is a doubling of the Mandarin term qi guai. Both characters (qi and guai) can be broadly interpreted to mean bizarre, but a doubling of the term qi guai, has the effect of softening its mood and heightening its informality and ambiguity. It was therefore unusual for President Xi to use qi qi guai guai to describe the architectural phenomenon in a national forum, as it is rather an informal term commonly used in everyday speech. The use of repetition expresses affection, leaving a greater impression, while its informality has caused it to spread widely through social media and to receive much attention and discussion among not only officials, but also the public.
Although qi qi guai guai architecture has been a popular topic of discussion in various media, it has so far largely escaped academic scrutiny. Furthermore, no systematic research has yet been conducted on the topic. This dissertation therefore aims to fill this gap by placing this popular social topic into a critical academic study. Due to the novelty and incompleteness of this field, no recognised specific academic concept of qi qi guai guai architecture or related methodological approach has been developed. Consequently, this research uses the three key characteristics of mei yang, tan da, and qiu guai, taken from the official policy emanating from Xi’s statement, as an analytical framework to deconstruct and critique this nascent term in three main chapters.
The dissertation adopts a methodologically diverse approach. First, although qi qi guai guai architecture is a new term originating in 2014, the conditions that gave rise to it are far from new. Indeed, similar architectural phenomena can be found throughout architectural history, offering important insight and opportunities for comparison, especially in the absence of any significant academic research on qi qi guai guai. For example, the specific historical or socio-cultural conditions in which London’s Great Pagoda in the eighteenth century or Beijing’s ‘ten great buildings’ or ‘big roof’ architecture in the twentieth century occurred are precedents from the past that help to inform the present. Additionally, relevant official policies regarding urban planning, construction, and other associated fields provide important insight into the role of qi qi guai guai architecture in China’s social constructions and transformations. Furthermore, although this architectural phenomenon stems from the president’s speech and the subsequent official policy, this study seeks insight from beyond the top-down narratives by incorporating bottom-up approaches, including alternative public opinion using different forms of social media. Chinese and western news reports containing different images and examples provide varying attitudes and opinions from different groups, such as architects, developers, and customers. The influence of the media in spreading qi qi guai guai architecture is therefore an important factor of this study.
Xi’s statement on qi qi guai guai architecture and the policy documents on its characteristics are the departure point for this critical study into the question of architectural bizarreness in the Chinese context. This dissertation aims to interrogate the topic not only from a political perspective, but also from historic, aesthetic, linguistic, cultural, and other perspectives, and to find interconnections among these different aspects. It provides a means of thinking critically about qi qi guai guai architecture and the impact it has on people’s lives. Finally, it also offers fresh opportunities for introspection, new perspectives and critical self-reflection in response to architectural development in China today.
 The term ‘Chinese Dream’ is an ideological concept proposed by Xi Jinping in 2012
 Xi Jinping, ‘An Important Speech at the Forum of Art and Literature,’ Xinhua Net, October 15, 2015, http://www.xinhuanet.com//politics/2015-10/19/c_1116868910.htm.
 Zhang He, ‘In Addition to the Speech, What Did Xi Jinping Say at the Forum of Art and Literature?’ People’s Daily, October 16, 2014, http://politics.people.com.cn/n/2014/1016/c1001-25845787.html.
 ‘Several Opinions of the State Council of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on Further Enhancing Administration of Urban Planning and Construction,’ Architectural Design Management, 33, no. 3 (2016): 31-35.
 Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development of the People’s Republic of China and the National Development and Reform Commission, ‘Guideline of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development of the People’s Republic of China and the National Development and Reform Commission on Further Enhancing Administration of Cities and Architecture,’ Kejian/38. MOHURD, 2020, http://www.mohurd.gov.cn/jzjnykj/202004/t20200429_245239.html.
 Qi means strange and guai means peculiar.
Copyright of image: © Sixue Zhang, reproduced with owner’s permission