Made in China: Notts Meets Ningbo

Words: Jared Wilson
Photos: Jared Wilson
Monday 22 July 2019
reading time: min, words

Nottingham is twinned with nine cities across the world including Karlsruhe (Germany), Ghent (Belgium) and Timişoara (Romania). We went to take a look at Ningbo, our twin city in China, a place you may only be aware of because of a bridge near the QMC, but one that definitely seems to know a lot about us…


Ningbo is Nottingham’s twin city in China. It’s located on the east coast, about two hours south of Shanghai and is part of Zhejiang province. It’s a medium-sized city by Chinese standards, with a population of around nine million. That might seem massive by UK standards – indeed more than London – but in a country with a population nearing 1.4 billion, it’s still in their second tier.

Unsurprisingly, a major source of business for Ningbo is shipping, with its port among the busiest in the world. The name Ningbo is a combination of two words; ‘ning’, meaning serene and ‘bo’ meaning waves – a reference to its seaside location. If you’ve ever purchased a Chinese-imported item, there’s a decent chance it passed through here on its way to Nottingham.

A delegation from Nottingham went out there in April at the invitation of the local government to attend the Ningbo Cultural Industry Fair. This included various representatives from Nottingham City Council, as well as a group of creatives who were each given a stall to showcase the work they produce in Nottingham.

Among those creatives present were: Bruce Aspestos (Trade Gallery), Debbie Bryan (Debbie Bryan shop), Richard and Gill Taylor (GH Hurt & Son), Assim Ishaque (Simbrix), Joe Piliero (School of Artisan Food), Martin Somerville (By Our Hands We Make Our Way), Chanel Gericke (Fein Jewellery), Richard Ellis (George and Dotty) and Joan Kennedy (Joan Kennedy Artist). And of course, me, Jared Wilson from LeftLion.

The fair itself went brilliantly. We went out there to showcase our film The Lord of Milan, with Chinese subtitles – its second screening in China after being selected as part of the 2018 Beijing Olympics anniversary. They even built us our own private 12-seater cinema, with hundreds of people stopping by to watch it over the three-day event. All of the stalls clearly captured the interest of the Chinese audience, but none more so than Martin, whose live wood carving made thousands of passers by stop in their tracks, and even ended up with him being featured on China Central Television News (which carries the awkward acronym CCTV).

“This is a country with a world-class history of crafting, so at first I felt a bit out of my depth,” said Martin. “But I guess that carving wood in a country whose history has been heavily bamboo-orientated made me stand out as a spectacle. It was a strange confluence of events where you find yourself performing in front of around a thousand people, then being broadcast to over a billion people while wearing a wooden bow tie.”

The Nottingham delegation walked away with several accolades, with Joan Kennedy and Martin both being given awards for their exhibits and Stephen Barker accepting an award for curating the stalls on behalf of Nottingham’s Creative Quarter.

Speaking of the CQ, while we were there Ningbo also launched their very own Creative Quarter, to act as a sister to the Sneinton Market Avenues hub of creative businesses. Obviously it’s a different country, so they’ll end up giving it their own take, but one of the things pitched at the kick-off meeting was the idea of free hotdesk space for any Nottingham-based businesses who want to try their hand at working out there. If that sounds like your thing then get in touch with the Nottingham branch of the CQ to explore the opportunity.

Another notable event was the opening of a Nottingham collection at the 31,000m² Ningbo New Library. A collection of 65 Nottingham-themed books were donated to their collection, which varied from children’s books, to local history and works from local authors. Copies of LeftLion: 100 Covers, The Lord of Milan by Robert Nieri, Dawn of the Unread by James Walker and Holiday by Stanley Middleton were all donated by LeftLion, and will sit there in pride of place for years to come as a little bit of Notts in China.

The primary reason that links are so strong between the two cities is that in 2004 the University of Nottingham Ningbo Campus (UNNC) was established there, where approximately 5,500 students study each year. The campus has some striking visual similarities with the main UoN campus at Highfields Park, including a man-made lake and the word Nottingham in colourful photomosaic letters. They’ve also adopted the duck as their mascot, and seemed surprisingly aware of our city, with the word Nottingham appearing all over the place on bookshops and displays across campus. Many students there look forward to spending a term in our city as part of their third-year.

After the University was launched, the cities decided to twin and, in 2015, Nottingham donated a replica of our city’s famous Robin Hood statue to Ningbo. This takes pride of place in their new Cultural Plaza district.

Overall it seems that, as a city, Ningbo represents Nottingham a lot more than we do them. Granted, they have a presence on the University campus and in 2014 they also named the walking bridge between the QMC and the Uni campus ‘Ningbo Friendship Bridge’ in their honour. But these guys have shops, ducks and signs all over the place repping us. If you ever get the chance to go out there, I highly advise that you do.

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