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How can there be peace without people understanding each other, and how can this be if they don’t know each other?

Lester B.Pearson

Early supporter of Pearson College, former Prime Minister of Canada, and Nobel Peace Laureate

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Late Honorary President of UWC, Former President of South Africa

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Member of UWC National Committee of China, board member of UWC Changshu China

The sense of idealism and a purposeful life really makes the UWC experience unique and its impact life-long.

Wang Yi

Co-Founder, Vice Chairman of Board and Executive Director of Harvard Centre Shanghai. Pearson 89-91

UWC was one of the ten members of the international schools association that created the International Baccalaureate Organization in Geneva in 1963 … today, they are taken in over 4,000 schools worldwide and have become the gold standard for university entrance.

Sir John Daniel

Chair of UWC International Board and International Council 

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Kurt Hahn

German Educator, Founder of United World Colleges

Daybreak—Breakthrough and Subversion are the Sources of Creation

Issue date:2023-10-26

Central Saint Martins, the world's leading fashion design school, once organized a white show with the themes of "lover", "traditional borderline", and "your thought on art". Beginning with the replica of the three, exploring and establishing the connection between them, and ending with giving the show a narrative, Daybreak was successfully held on September 24th at EKA Tianwu in Shanghai.

The show was hosted by UWC Changshu China, initiated by Fashion Design Zhi Xing members, and students from WFLA and SHSID, and supported by the "HalloWorld" team. Professional dancers from Shanghai Theatre Academy were specially invited.

All the proceeds from this event will be donated to the student-led organization "HalloWorld" to support the Guizhou Rural Health Intervention Project, and the Chongqing Xiaotaihua Library Project. The aim of these projects is to connect students from urban and rural areas to enhance mutual understanding. All the chairs for the runway show have already been donated and shipped to the Xiaotaihua Library.


Decoding the concept of the show

"Breaking the stereotypes of fashion,

envisioning a glimpse of humanity hibernated behind aesthetics"

"Daybreak" is more than aesthetics, it is about humanity, bringing philosophical concepts into reality through the language of design and decoding the stereotype of fashion as "pure aesthetic pursuit".

"My passion towards fashion often encounters skepticism. Fashion seems to have been stigmatised as a plaything of the privileged upper class, it is deemed to be useless, merely luxurious, superficial, wasteful and so on. But in UWC, I met a group of like-minded individuals with shared passion, genuine sincerity and a strong desire to express themselves through fashion, devoting themselves to uncovering the hidden power and stories woven into the garment." A member of Fashion Design Zhi Xing said one year after joining the Zhi Xing.

Daybreak is the main objective of our Zhi Xing during 2022-2023. Members are required to complete one or two ready-to-wear garment production. They follow the design cycle to develop design concepts, formulate their design plans then evaluate their feasibility, and lastly reflect on their journey. Daybreak is designed to narrate the power of design with a vision to be connected with humanism, through three chapters:

Traditional borderlines

In this chapter, designers focused on the lines of boundaries that surround us: the tangible laws and intangible social expectations that divide us with Dos and DON’Ts. These divisions create a boundary between what is Dos as the realm of goodness and correct manners, while the DON'Ts represent bad and incorrect manners. The first chapter of 'Daybreak' was to trigger the audience to reflect on social norms, to trace the concept’s origins of right, wrong, good, and bad, and to explain how when we accept directives without thinking, we are to a certain extent desecrating our own freedom subjectively.

The designers combined the suit and tie of modern professional attire on the upper body with a voluminous European peplum dress with a skirt to support the lower body. These combinations are trying to challenge the traditional perceptions of both dresses and the source of the morality behind labels. Through the contradictory sense of robotic elements on the hem of the skirt and the large laser material wrapped around the skirt and the pure white fabric, it is a symbolisation of the modern society that grows from the traditional society. The fast-paced technology in today's modern society, under the change of the traditional society, restrains the individual's subjective nature, emotion and even freedom.

"Traditional borderline" Runway

Based on this premise, we have carefully examined the implications of venturing beyond the confines of traditional boundaries. While humans generally resist societal restrictions and seek freedom, we must acknowledge that these restrictions have often provided guidance throughout our life's journey. As we step beyond these traditional boundaries, we must be prepared to accept the consequences, which are often referred to as ultimate freedom. However, can we truly bear the weight of such freedom? Would a world where individuals enjoy unrestricted freedom and possess the power to act without moral constraints truly be better? How do we make a choice when faced with the potential crisis of an empty existence that accompanies the lightness of life?

"Traditional borderline" Runway

Instead of being confined by boundaries, we should maintain an awareness of the potential consequences.

Through this show, we want to remind people that they possess the ability to think independently as individuals.

Art of Life

In this chapter, we try to explore how art is the alternative solution to nihilism. The art here does not only refer to the art in the traditional context, but it is referring to the art that revolves around the life of humans.

Our designers used a compact disc to embody the records of art implication, exploited a speaker shaped at the dress to vocal the natural voice of art, and extracted the shape of stomach to transmit the courage of facing past diseases directly — Nietzsche advocated the ultimate spirit of Dionysus (intoxication, irrationality, immersion), while we believe that only the intertwining of the spirit of Apollo (rational thinking, calmness) and the spirit of Dionysus can successfully evoke the intrinsic life impulses and new motivations through building the connection with those who are suffering(the essence of the world according to Nietzche) as well.

"Art of Life" Runway

Love in absurdism

According to Camus, love is a resistance to nihilism. Echoing with his point, a designer used white fabric, pearls, and flounce to trace the crudest and purest part of love — stripping away individual differences in the understanding of love, we believe that the mutuality of love lies in the reconstruction of boundary lines: love does not only refer to romantic relationship or friendship but also macroscopically refers to passion and zeal. When we realize that the world is meaningless for our lives, it is our passion that enables us to create meaning for ourselves and build our own future.

Another designer's left shoulder of the top was inspired by the traditional clothing of monks, forming a contradiction with the denim fabric that symbolizes rebel in the pants and the random draping folds in the right half of the top — love can serve as a call to guide individuals to consciously step out of their existing identity, scrutinize their inner selves, and shape their personality through choices.

"Love in absurdism" Runway


Breakthrough in show form

"Things of the same root,

media should not be the limitation of expression"

In addition to the traditional runway format, we also had dances which serve as a bridge to close the gap between chapters. Different mediums release extremely different energies. Costume, installation and dance are the three elements of the Daybreak’s narration. From the design of the silhouette to the choice of fabrics, clothing is a subjective product that carries the designer's thoughts and ultimately establishes a direct connection with the skin.

The exaggerated appearances of the clothing serve to convey a subtle yet impactful presence on the characters they portray. In the realm of installation art, these garments are meticulously crafted to embody an energy field, highlighting the intricate connections between humans and their surroundings, while creating a narrative space. Furthermore, dance, with its fluid language, becomes a powerful artistic tool for storytelling, enabling the explicit elaboration of concepts and breathing life into the characters.

Because we believe in Daybreak, our limited funding did not stop us from narrating Daybreak as a complete show through dance theater, installation arts and fashion clothing. We believe in the essence of life that lies in fashion, in perception, discernment, creativity and expression. These three artistic productions complement each other, and they have exponentially amplified the narration power of the theme.

Installation art

Five dancers from the Shanghai Theater Academy portrayed the movement of a social group through the collective act of walking, while the solo dancer played the role of an individual who wanders away from the social group as an observer and scrutineer. The solo dancer served as a metaphor of social expectations that arise within individuals as they grew up through the passivity of their movements. It conveyed a sense of being controlled and shaped by these expectations. As the play progressed, the individual was pushed out by the social group, she tried to go back, but eventually turned around and escaped, determined to banish the influence of societal norms.

Then the soloist performed a meditation on the individual's loss of social guidance: through her light movements, she created an action that she is being dragged into a specific direction by an invisible force, and at the same time, she took the initiative to explore her surroundings. The intertwining of actions revealed the individual's inner struggle in the state of being drowned into emptiness. The dancer tried to explain that those seemingly constraining social norms are invariably rooted in our values and have become an integral part of our lives, and when we leave them behind, we will also face confusion and disorientation.

Dancers displaying the concept of "Traditional borderline", exploring the relationship between individual and society

UWC's talented duo of dancers, Lena and Angela delved deeper into Daybreak's narrative, focusing on Lena’s portrayal of an individual confined by the traditional norms of living in a small space. When the temptations of the outside world (as embodied by Angela's character) finally pulled her out of the traditional boundaries, Lena's mechanical movements show the individual's helplessness when confronted with the newfound freedom and novelty. She became swept away, unable to make choices, succumbing to the manipulations that guide her every desire. She was spun around by the manipulations to the point of falling down uncontrollably, and eventually collapsing in a state of emptiness after abandoning the rules — the "unbearable lightness".

Leading individual out of the cozy zone

Unbearable lightness of being

Displaying how the intertwining of Apollonian and Dionysian art may resist nihilism, Lena and Angela first demonstrated the initial conflict between the two. Deeply infected by classical ballet, Lena stood on the edge of the rectangular frame(installation) and adopted taut motions that symbolizes Apollo's logic and order. On the other hand, Angela, who devoted herself to modern dance studies, moved in and out of irregular elastic fabric, expressing the immersion and freedom of Dionysus with her drastic twirls, leaps, and body swings.

Finally,the action of Lena and Angela of splattering various colors onto the pure white elastic fabric within the framework, symbolized that the fusion of Dionysian and Apollonian spirit successfully imparted meaning to the blank canvas of being’s existence.

Tension between Apollo and Dionysus

Balance and symbiosis of the two

The dancers also used body language to convey the struggle between love and emptiness. Two dancers from the Shanghai Theater Academy representing the roles of giver and receiver captivated the audience. Their movements were accompanied by the use of umbrellas to symbolize the love between the subject and the object. This visual representation not only enhanced the impact of love in an individual’s life but also enabled us to discern truth, goodness and beauty. The final group dance served as a reminder of the initial social theme. The dancers strived to embody the state of coexistence with love and passion, ultimately creating their own set of rules.

Roles of giver and receiver in love

Dancers from an international school in Suzhou were invited to the event to perform a street dance. They skillfully combined the liberating styles of modern dance with the foundational elements of street dance. The dancers conveyed the delicate balance between passion and love in the final unison dance, demonstrating the courage to shape their own identities and perceptions of reality, even after witnessing the harsh realities of the true nature of the world.

Passion that can resist nihilism


All behind the creation

"Student's experiential learning

at UWC is our greatest strength."

As we transitioned from merely contributing to the design to managing the simultaneous development of three aspects: "show content", "audience", and "media", we faced immense pressure.

For the show content, we had to consider costumes, music, and dancers at the same time. How could we invite dancers from the Shanghai Theatre Academy? How could we balance the restrictions of certain costume silhouettes with the body freedom required by dancers? How could we meet the "rhythm" required by the runway music without compromising the "narrative" demanded by the dance in terms of music? These were all significant challenges.

For the audience, we had to take into account the audience from the two international schools in Shanghai we were collaborating with. We decided not to hold the event on our school campus, but this raised more issues. How could we bring Changshu's audience to Shanghai? How could we cover the expensive cost of the venue in Shanghai? How could we manage the rehearsals of the models and dancers at the venue?

Within our team, there were also disagreements. Some said: "We can just find a random venue, and the dancers are not essential. Being able to complete a ten-minute fashion show is already a success." However, for us, one of the key values at UWC is idealism. We are not going to build castles in the air, or get lost in empty words. Idealism is not about ignoring the challengs of reality, but about persisiting with a firm belief in our ideals.

Flush band interacting with models after the show

We were fortunate to find venue partners who were willing to support us. They not only waived all our venue fees but also agreed to go along with our bold plans. However, luck is not a coincidence, it is the result of Daybreak team's dedication: we could not pay for the venue, but we could show the value of this event as an "exchange". From simply determining the "event time", listing some pictures of costume pieces, proposing the idealization of combining modern dance with runway, we eventually included "chapter concepts", "event flow", "runway route", "ticket selling", "target audience" and other details in our plan. This allowed the venue partners to see the feasibility and professionalism of this project.

Behind the luck, we traveled between Puxi and Pudong in Shanghai, gathered specific information about the venue on-site, and devised a more suitable plan.

Behind the luck, we made numerous adjustments to the plan. The main installation was initially set to be placed above the pool. In order to provide the audience with an up-close look at the installation, we decided to pave a stone road. However, the day before the show, the venue engineer rejected the plan, he said: "Placing the stones in this manner will definitely cause severe damage to the pool floor. Have you ever thought about that?" Under this circumstance, we bought protective pads immediately at night, cut them to the right size, fitted them to the corners of the stones, and finally obtained the permission from the venue owner.

Stones paved to get to the installation

Being frequently asked for why we focused on "humanity" in such a significant extent, I believe it is indeed a product of UWC education. In philosophy class, we do not only learn about the views of past philosophers, but learning to grab multiple perspectives to understand ourselves and the world. In language courses, we explore how texts are related to global issues, connecting words and reality. In the study of design technology, we design to solve users’ needs and real-life problems. In film class, we view dynamic images as products of specific cultures, analyzing the intentions of filmmakers from economic, social and other perspectives.

In one of the Chinese classes, my teacher emphasized two types of connections. First, the intertextuality between texts. Second, the interdisciplinarity between different subjects. UWC education not only focuses on subject knowledge, but also on cultivating students' thinking approach across different disciplines.

Installation team working on rainy days

What's more, the UWC environment itself is "humanity-based". The number of foreign students this year has increased significantly, and the cultural integration has also brought more conflicts. However, it is precisely through these conflicts that we realize the diversity and uniqueness of each person, the insignificance of the individual compared to the vast world, the power of bonding and coexistence, and the responsibility as global citizens.

The Daybreak show would not have been possible without the support of community members at UWC Changshu China. The idealism of UWC is the greatest force that turns our ideas into realities.

In the face of a venturous event, which could easily be dismissed as meaningless and questioned for its sacrificial worth, Ciaran and Tingting, the teachers leading the Experiential Learning (EL) Team embraced the aesthetics and values when we first presented our proejct to them. From the beginning, they challenged us with practical questions, guided us in the search for solutions and answers, and attended the Daybreak show themselves. We are immensely grateful for their companionship throughout the journey, from start to finish. Beyond the success of the show, we have gained invaluable growth in our leadership, communication, and reflection skills. These skills embody the true value of experiential learning at UWC.

Models yelling for designers

"At UWC, when what you do is meaningful, there will be people who believe in you." This is the magic of UWC. Models were willing to sacrifice their rest time for rehearsal and get up at 5 in the morning to catch the high-speed train from Changshu to arrive at the event venue in Shanghai earlier. The video editor arrived in Shanghai a-day earlier and had to stay in a convenient store to complete video editing as her hotel room did not have WIFI. On the day of the event, one of our make-up team members, with zero runway experiences bravely took up the challenge to walk on the runway to fill in for a model who failed to show up. FLUSH band agreed to be part of the show even though they received the invitation just two days prior to the event. Their presence added a vibrant and lively atmosphere to the event. We are immensely grateful to the people at EKA Tianwu for their generous sponsorship of the venue. We also want to acknowledge the invaluable collaboration with our two high school partners and the HalloWorld Charity Organization. This event was a true testament to the power of teamwork.

This year, Fashion Design Zhi Xing plans to delve into the exploration of the relationship between fashion and sustainability. We will collect the unused fabric from UWC community members, remake it according to their needs, and make an archive in the process. We devote ourselves to redefining the concept of "abandoned", providing garments with the warmth of stories behind them. At the same time, we are going to prepare for the next show, pursuing our ideals and passions.

UWC day fell on the same week as Daybreak’s show day, and this coincidence seemed to echo the saying, "United, we can".

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