Experimental Beijing: Gender and Globalization in Chinese Contemporary Art 9780822372479, 0822372479

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Experimental Beijing: Gender and Globalization in Chinese Contemporary Art
 9780822372479, 0822372479

Table of contents :
Note on the Digital Companion
Prologue: Worldly Fables
Introduction: Chinese Contemporary Art in the Expanded Field
Part I: Art Worldings
One: Xianfeng Beijing
Two: Showcase Beijing
Part II: Zones of Encounter
Three: The Besieged City
Four: The Hinterlands of Feminist Art
Part III Feminist Sight Lines
Five: Red Detachment
Six: Opening the Great Wall
Seven: Camouflaged Histories
Epilogue: Recursive Worldly Fables
Color Plates

Citation preview

Experimental BEIJING

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Experimental Gender and Globalization in Chinese Con­temporary Art

Sasha Su-­Ling Welland

duke university press Durham and London 2018


© 2018 Duke University Press All rights reserved Printed in the United States of Amer­ic­ a on acid-­free paper ∞ Designed by Matthew Tauch Typeset in Whitman by Westchester Book Group Library of Congress Cataloging-­in-­Publication Data Names: Welland, Sasha Su-­Ling, [date] author. Title: Experimental Beijing : gender and globalization in Chinese con­ temporary art / Sasha Su-­Ling Welland. Description: Durham : Duke University Press, 2018. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: lccn 2017039037 (print) | lccn 2018000299 (ebook) isbn 9780822372479 (ebook) isbn 9780822369288 (hardcover : alk. paper) isbn 9780822369431 (pbk. : alk. paper) Subjects: lcsh: Art, Chinese—21st century. | Art, Modern—21st ­century. | Artists—­China—­Beijing—21st ­century. | Art—­China—­Beijing. |  Globa­ lization in art. Classification: lcc n7345.6 (ebook) | lcc n7345.6 .w46 2018 (print) | ddc 709.51/0905—­dc23 lc rec­ord available at https://­lccn​.­loc​.­gov​/­2017039037

duke university press gratefully acknowledges the support of the university of washington china studies program and simpson center for the humanities, which provided funds ­toward the publication of this book. Cover art: He Chengyao, Illusion, 2002. Performance. Photography credit: Liu Hui.

for ­those we have loved and lost who promise life ­after life who leave us world ­after world

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note on the digital companion ix illustrations xi acknowl­edgments xv


Worldly Fables



Chinese Con­temporary Art in the Expanded Field


Part I

Art Worldings


Xianfeng Beijing



Showcase Beijing


Part II

Zones of Encounter


The Besieged City



The Hinterlands of Feminist Art


Part III

Feminist Sight Lines


Red Detachment



Opening the G ­ reat Wall



Camouflaged Histories



Recursive Worldly Fables


notes 275 bibliography 305 index 323

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A website created in conjunction with Experimental Beijing features expanded multimedia materials, including chapter image galleries, documentary videos, curated exhibits, interactive maps, and an archive of artists and images searchable in Chinese and En­glish. Designed to complement and visually deepen the experience of reading the book, the digital platform also provides readers with a nonlinear way to explore the image worlds discussed within. It highlights relationships among images, in which the form and meaning of one is ­shaped by ­others, as database searches and curated exhibits open new sight lines and modes of inquiry. To access the website, go to: experimentalbeijing.com

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Yin Xiuzhen, Portable Cities–­Beijing


Yin Xiuzhen, Portable Cities, installation view


Hong Hao, Selected Scriptures–­New Po­liti­cal World


Carved lacquer throne


“Canton: Chinese Small Feet Beauty”


“Chine: Chinoise à petit pied; Mendiant Chinois”


Jin Shangyi and Wu Biduan, Mao Zedong with the ­People of Asia, Africa, and Latin Amer­i­ca


Pan Jiajun, I Am a “Seagull”


Wang Qingsong, Forum


Cao Fei, Rabid Dogs–­Hungry Dog


Huang Yin, Imitation Louis Vuitton Advertisement Series–­Myth

fig 1.01

Gao ­Brothers, eds., The Condition of Chinese Avant-­Garde Art

fig 1.02

Shi Xinning, “Duchamp Retrospective Exhibition” in China

fig 1.03

Xu Xiaobing, Mao Zedong and Wang Renzhong Visit 1958 Exhibition

fig 1.04

Xiao Lu, Fifteen Shots

fig 1.05

Drawing lecture in the Central Acad­emy of Fine Art

fig 1.06

Dongfeng Citroën Picasso car advertisement

fig 1.07

Painting by one of Teacher Zhao’s students

fig 1.08

Zhang Dali, 100 Chinese

fig 2.01

Visitors at the Beijing Urban Planning Museum

fig 2.02

Beautiful Garden real estate advertisement

fig 2.03

Ocean Paradise sales offices and East Modern Art Center

fig 2.04

Dancing with Mingong rehearsal

fig 2.05

Wang Nengtao, Dream World ­Music



fig 2.06

Yu Hong, 1996, Thirty Years Old

fig 2.07

Baohu (protect) graffitied over chai (demolish) designation, outside cctv site

fig 3.01

Wang Yin, Flower

fig 3.02

Conflicting inter/national discourses of culture

fig 4.01

Artists at the Lugu Lake site of The Long March

fig 4.02

Lei Yan, Long March Battlefront Report, Issue #1

fig 4.03

Artists Bai Chongmin and Wu Weihe in conversation with Judy Chicago at Lugu Lake

fig 4.04

Lei Yan, What If the Long March Had Been a ­Women’s Rights Movement?

fig 4.05

Lei Yan, What If They Had Been ­Women?

fig 4.06

Song Yanping, Fire Extinguisher

fig 4.07

Pan Yuliang, Nude in Front of Win­dow

fig 4.08

Shan Lianxiao, To Be an Upright Person, Be This Kind of Person

fig 4.09

Liu Hong, Soliloquy, No. 10

fig 5.01

Li Tianpian, Classic Beauty

fig 5.02

The Red Detachment of ­Women, title sequence art

fig 5.03

The Red Detachment of ­Women, Qionghua exposes her wounds

fig 5.04

China Ballet Troupe, Red Detachment of ­Women

fig 5.05

China Ballet Troupe, Red Detachment of ­Women; Li Tianpian Red Souvenir (detail)

fig 6.01

Yin Guangzhong, G ­ reat Wall

fig 6.02

He Chengyao, High Noon–­Prayer

fig 6.03

He Chengyao, Hair

fig 6.04

He Chengyao, Mama and Me

fig 6.05

He Chengyao, Testimony

fig 6.06

He Chengyao, G ­ reat Wall–­Magnolia–­Mama and Me

fig 6.07

He Chengyao, With Re­spect to Marcel Duchamp

fig 6.08

He Chengyao, With Marcel Duchamp as My Opponent

fig 6.09

He Chengyao, A Salute to Mama (With Re­spect to Joseph Beuys)

fig 6.10

He Chengyao, Illusion

fig 7.01

The ­Women’s Eastern Times, cover illustration

fig 7.02

Lei Yan and Tang Zhigang, Group Photo of an Era

fig 7.03

Lei Yan, What If Our Factory ­Were Still ­Here?

Lei Yan, Bullet Shot through a Young Heart

fig 7.05

Lei Yan, Frozen Youth, No. 26

fig 7.06

Lei Yan, Camouflage Production

fig 7.07

Lei Yan, A Place Where Dream Starts, No. 6

fig 7.08

Lei Yan, How Do I Protect You?

fig 7.09

Lei Yan, How Do I Protect You? (detail)

fig 7.10

Lei Yan, Relic, No. 20


map fm.o1

Map of China.

map 1.01

Map of Beijing (western half).

map 1.02

Map of Beijing (eastern half).


plate 1

Wang Nengtao, Subversion–­Earth

plate 2

Chen Lingyang, 25:00, No. 2

plate 3

Wang Qingsong, Take Hold of the Brush, Strug­gle to the End

plate 4

Xiao Zhenya and Liu Enbin, Take Hold of the Brush, Strug­gle to the End

plate 5

Steven Holl, Linked Hybrid design for ­Grand moma, Beijing

plate 6

Xing Danwen, Urban Fiction (image 0)

plate 7

Xing Danwen, Urban Fiction (image 0—detail)

plate 8

Wang Yin, Sandstorm

plate 9

Yan Lei, Are You Among ­Those Invited to the German Exhibition?

plate 10

Li Shurui, Seeing Mountains, Seeing ­Water

plate 11

Su Ruya, Goddess Mountain–­Eternal W ­ oman

plate 12

Zhang Lun, Lugu Lake–­Happy Existence, No. 1

plate 13

Zhang Lun, Lugu Lake–­Happy Existence, No. 13

plate 14

Li Tianpian, Red Souvenir

plate 15

He Chengyao, Opening the ­Great Wall

plate 16

He Chengyao, 99 ­Needles

plate 17

Lei Yan, Southern Border Dream

plate 18

Lei Yan, Unnamed Tomb

plate 19

Cao Fei, Live in rmb City



fig 7.04

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Throughout the many years it has taken me to research and write this book, the list of p­ eople to whom I am indebted has grown in ways I could never have i­ magined at the outset. The traces of their intellect, imagination, generosity, and care weave through e­ very aspect of what appears in t­ hese pages. I am humbled by the collective effort that has sustained this endeavor and more aware than ever that knowledge and creativity are never singular pursuits. I, alone, remain responsible for any errors. First and foremost, I thank all of the art world participants—­artists, assistants, teachers, students, curators, critics, and gallerists—­who shared their lives and work with me, including t­hose whose names and images appear in this book, as well as many o­ thers. I appreciate their generosity in time and spirit, often offered before they could know I might be deserving of their trust. T ­ hose who responded with criticism and circumspection deepened my thinking and ethical commitments. Beyond t­hose named within the text, I extend thanks to the following individuals. Song Changqing first opened my eyes. Chen Xi, Cui Xiuwen, Daozi, Feng Jiali, Lei Shuang, Tao Yongbai, and Yuan Yaomin guided my early inquiry. Zhang Zhaohui collaborated on interviews and invited me to review exhibits. Zheng Lianjie, Wei Shanghe, and Zha Ba included me as interlocutor in many memorable activities. During and since my gradu­ate studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Lisa Rofel has mentored me with unfailing dedication, tough love, and profound intellectual vision. I c­ an’t thank her enough. I am grateful to all t­hose in the Anthropology, Feminist Studies, History, History of Consciousness, and History of Art and Visual Culture departments who supported my research, especially Gail Hershatter, Anna Tsing, Emily Honig, Donald Brenneis, Nancy Chen, Catherine Soussloff, and Jennifer González. Britta Erickson provided connections that launched my initial fieldwork. Fellow travelers in gradu­ate school and research—­Mae Lee, Cynthia Gabriel, Leah Mundell, Shiho Satsuka, Wenqing Kang, Hilde

acknowl­e dgments


Becker, Alex Day, Hiroyuki Matsubara, Angelina Chin, Xiaoping Sun, Thomas Chang, Ju-­chen Chen, Jennifer Choo, Ingrid Dudek, Friederike Fleischer, Mary Ann O’Donnell, and Terry Woronov—­provided camaraderie and inspiration. At the Chinese Acad­emy of Social Sciences, Professors Luo Hongguang, Tan Shen, Wang Gan, and Weng Naiqun gave insight and encouragement. Zhao Kebin and Pan Jie helped with administrative details that made research pos­si­ble. At the Central Minorities University, Professor Zhuang Kongshao and Fu Xiaoxing contributed to my appreciation of ethnography as a border-­crossing methodology. My f­amily in China—­Ying and Colin Chinnery, Liang Wei, and Chen Yonghua—­and the deep friendship and warmth of Li Ningning and her f­ amily created home away from home. At the University of Washington, I received support from many colleagues. Sareeta Amrute, Rachel Chapman, and Danny Hoffman in Anthropology read chapters. Madeleine Yue Dong in China Studies provided opportunities early on to make connections between UW and the Seattle Art Museum. Juliet McMains and Christina Sunardi, ethnographers of dance and m ­ usic, gave thoughtful counsel. I held a joint appointment in Anthropology and Gender, ­Women and Sexuality Studies for many years, during which my dean and several chairs—­Judith Howard, Priti Ramamurthy, David Allen, Janelle Taylor, Alison Wylie, and Miriam Kahn—­helped me navigate and strengthen the interdisciplinary nature of my research and teaching. To the entire faculty and staff of my home department, Gender, ­Women and Sexuality Studies, I extend gratitude for their wisdom and daily sustenance in feminist thought and movement: Michelle Habell-­Pallán, Angela Ginorio, Nancy Kenny, Regina Yung Lee, Priti Ramamurthy, Chandan Reddy, Luana Ross, Amanda Lock Swarr, Shirley Yee, Catherine Richardson, Young Kim, as well as Tani Barlow, Carol Langdon, and Elaine Haig-­Widner. I have worked with and learned from remarkable gradu­ate advisees—­Darren Byler, alma khasawnih, Nicole Robert, Hope St. John, Yiyu Tian, and Shuxuan Zhou. alma, Nicole, Hope, Yiyu, and Shuxuan, as well as Zhihua Li and Can Zhao, provided research assistance. Many other students, staff, and faculty at UW contributed to the digital companion to this book; I acknowledge them on the credits page of the website. At ­every stage, the Simpson Center for the Humanities provided exceptional scholarly support u ­ nder the visionary leadership of Kathleen Woodward. Assistance from Simpson Center staff, especially Miriam Bartha, proved vital to this proj­ect and o­ thers that informed it, including the Visual Praxis Collective coordinated with Danny Hoffman; New Geographies of


acknowl­e dgments

Feminist Art: China, Asia, and the World, an international conference co-­ organized with Sonal Khullar, with joint funding from an American Council of Learned Socie­ties Comparative Perspectives on Chinese Culture and Society Grant; and Ethnographic Aesthetics: Word, Image, Sound, a speaker series and microseminar. All of the New Geographies participants, especially Sonal and our keynote speaker Shu-­mei Shih, impacted the final version of this book. Renato Rosaldo, who first opened the door to anthropology for me as an undergraduate, opened Ethnographic Aesthetics with poetry and conversation that renewed my passion and hope for ethnography. Last but by no means least, the smart, brave, and fierce ­sisters of ­Women Investigating Race, Ethnicity, and Difference (wired) have kept me moving forward in all pos­si­ble ways. This book grew out of dissertation research supported by grants from the Wenner-­Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, University of California Office of the President Pacific Rim Research Proj­ect, and American Association of University W ­ omen. At the University of Washington, the Simpson Center Society of Scholars and Royalty Research Fund provided resources, most essentially time, for research and writing. I also gratefully acknowledge the East Asia Center and China Studies Program for research and travel support. Subvention funds from China Studies and the Simpson Center helped increase the number and quality of images in the book. Funding from the China and Inner Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies and the Asian Cultural Council made pos­si­ble the Cruel/ Loving Bodies exhibit in Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong that evolved out of my fieldwork. The artists and curators involved—­He Chengyao, Bai Chongmin and Wu Weihe, Anthony Leung Po Shan, Rosanna Wei Han Li, Zheng Bo, Neil Conroy and Lesley Sanderson, susan pui san lok, Mayling To, Biljana Ciric, Stella Win Yan Fong, and Zoe Ming Wai Shek—­taught me an enormous amount about the conceptual and practical challenges of art. I had the good fortune to pres­ent portions of this proj­ect at conferences and symposiums where I received invaluable feedback. I offer thanks to the participants and especially the organizers of t­hose events, including the following: Sarah Champion of the Chinese Arts Center, Manchester, and Helen Glaister at the British Museum; Wang Zheng of the University of Michigan and Chen Yan at Fudan University; Eileen Walsh at Skidmore College; Jason Kuo at the University of Mary­land; Elena Valussi at Columbia College; Neil Safier at the University of British Columbia; Maud Lavin

acknowl­e dgments


at the School for the Art Institute of Chicago; Young Rae Oum at the University of Pittsburgh; Shu-­chin Tsui at Bowdoin College; and Francesca Del Lago for a truly incomparable event at Leiden University. Ken Wissoker at Duke University Press has been an impor­tant and patient advocate of the book from beginning to end. Elizabeth Ault oversaw the publication pro­cess with incredible organ­ization and grace. Several anonymous readers gave perceptive and bracing feedback that strengthened the manuscript. Tim Stallmann designed the wonderful maps. Wendy Call, writing guru par excellence, read almost ­every word, and without fail tightened my prose and coaxed me off ladders of abstraction back into the realm of lived experience. John Vallier, Matthew Allen, and Zhijia Shen of the University of Washington Libraries assisted with image preparation and permissions. I am extremely grateful to the institutions, artists, and photog­raphers who gave permission to reproduce images essential to the book’s story and argument. Without the kind, creative, and loving care provided to my ­children by Yanli Lin, Kelly Monthie, Cynthia and Ethan Anderson, and the teachers at the Learning Tree Montessori Preschool, uw ­Children’s Center at Laurel Village, and New Discovery School, I would not have been able to finish writing this book. Nothing would be pos­si­ble without a lifetime of love and support from my parents and larger, extended f­ amily. James Tweedie has been with me through ­every twist and turn of this proj­ect, serving as a constant source of devotion, compassion, humor, and brilliance. I c­ an’t imagine life without him. Our c­ hildren Lino and Zola teach us on a daily basis about why we do what we do and how to do it better. They have been infinitely patient with failed attempts to grant me with the superpower to write a book in ten minutes instead of ten years. And they reminded me at the very end that I still needed to thank the world and feminists! May their wisdom guide me through every­thing yet to come. Fi­nally, I dedicate this book to all ­those lost, all too soon, along the way: Tianpian, Ningning, Karen, Kara, Robert, Dad. E ­ very day without you I strive to do justice to your memory through the imprint you left on my life and vision of the world.







Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts




Beijing Tianjin







Sichuan Fine Arts Lugu Lake Institute HUNAN GUIZHOU





Hubei Institute of Fine Arts



Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts


MAP FM.01 ​Map

Wuhan GXI



Nanjing Shanghai Hangzhou






Xi'an Academy of Fine Arts


Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts



of China. Designed by Tim Stallmann.

China Academy of Art ZHEJIANG

acknowl­e dgments


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Worldly Fables



He was born in 1895, son to a farmer turned self-­taught artist. He and his ­father scraped by as itinerant portrait paint­ers. He was seventeen when his ­father arranged his marriage, although his wife fell ill and died young. ­After his ­father died, he made his way to Shanghai, where he studied painting and dreamed of Paris. He found a patron, a Jew from Baghdad married to a wealthy Shanghai real estate magnate. In 1917, she sent him to study in Japan. In 1919, he shipped off to Paris with a new wife who had run away from an arranged marriage. He attended the École des Beaux-­Arts and copied Prud’hon, Delacroix, Velázquez, Rembrandt. When his scholarship money ran low, his wife supported his study of the g­ reat Eu­ro­pean masters by sewing piecework embroidery for the Magasins du Louvre. He returned to China as a celebrated salon painter with bohemian hair, velvet coat, and cravat tied in a bow at his neck. His paintings blended traditional Chinese brush technique with the figurative realism of his Eu­ro­pean training.1 She was born in 1895, orphaned at a young age, and sent to live with her ­uncle. He sold her as a teenager into a brothel, where she gained the sympathies of a wealthy customs official. He already had a wife from an arranged marriage, so she became his concubine. He gave her a heart locket with their photos in it, which she wore around her neck. Recognizing her talent, he sent her to art school in Shanghai. In 1919, she won a government scholarship to study abroad. During an eight-­year sojourn in Eu­rope, she studied in Lyon, Paris, and Rome. She returned to China and exhibited eighty works in her first solo exhibition, which drew crowds in Ningbo. The First National Art Exhibition of 1929 in Shanghai included five of her paintings in oil and gouache. While she received acclaim for her realist depiction, her brushwork and use of color showed the influence of modernists like Cézanne and Matisse.2



Xu Beihong became head of painting at the newly established National Central University in Nanjing and hired Pan Yuliang to teach u ­ nder his direction. In a photo­graph of the faculty, they stand side by side on a campus lawn: she with her Western suit and strapped heels, a book clutched in her arm; he with his parted hair and floppy cravat, a dark coat and hat clutched in his arm. Former École des Beaux-­Arts classmates, they shared an academic training in oil painting. Xu held fast to this tradition while Pan pushed its bound­aries in explorations of female subjectivity. In an incendiary review of the 1929 National Art Exhibition, Xu championed academic realism against the “despicable, muddle-­headed, dark and corrupted ele­ments” of modernism.3 The Art Movement Society, founded by other overseas students returned from France, responded to this call to arms with a manifesto. It declared, “Artists should not confine their views within national bound­aries, nor should dif­fer­ent schools attempt to turn competition into a domestic conflict! It is our belief, therefore, that artists of this new era should study the art of all nations with a global perspective. Any art, not limited to the art of Eu­rope, but extending to the art of the Philippines and Australia, deserves our attention as long as we can learn from it.” 4 In the years to follow, the clash between Nationalists and Communists reached a violent crescendo that engulfed the politics of aesthetic conflict. Left-­wing members of organ­izations like the Morning Flower Society—­ whose woodcut movement drew on German Expressionism, Soviet engraving, and Japa­nese printmaking—­were shot dead.5 Morality campaigns meant to enforce social order attacked the be­hav­ior of modern girls like the painter of sensuous nudes, with her cropped hair and strapped heels. While no extant evidence supports the story of Pan Yuliang’s domestic downfall, it circulates in the popu­lar imagination: that someone defaced a painting of a male nude in her last exhibit in China and left a note describing the work as “praise from a prostitute to a brothel frequenter.”6 She turned her back on t­ hese critics for a studio on rue Vercingétorix in Paris, where she lived the remaining de­cades of her life. Xu Beihong rode the storm and emerged a national artist and patriot. He held exhibits and sold paintings throughout South and Southeast Asia to raise funds for Chinese war relief. In Darjeeling, he sketched the Indian models whose figures fill his large-­scale ink painting of the Chinese parable about a foolish old man intent on moving the mountain blocking his view. He was named the first president of Beijing’s Central Acad­emy of


Several months ­after moving to Xinjiekou, I fi­nally walked past the statue of Xu Beihong into his memorial hall. ­There I met a man whose job was to explain old paintings and photo­graphs to the few visitors who made their


worldly fables

Fine Art and stood on the rostrum with Mao Zedong when he announced the birth of the ­People’s Republic of China. ­These are well-­known, worldly fables, honed from the remains of history, of artistic recognition and rejection. They refute the fable of a China closed to the world u ­ ntil the post-­Mao era of economic reform and linking tracks with transnational capitalism. And they haunted the neighborhood where I lived from 2000 to 2002 during my fieldwork on Chinese con­ temporary art worlds. It was a short walk from my Xinjiekou apartment in Xicheng District to the Xu Beihong Memorial Hall, opened in 1983 ­after the original museum in the artist’s h ­ ouse was demolished for subway construction. A hush enveloped the gated museum, a grey compound of stone and concrete set back from a street bustling with commerce. A bronze statue of Xu, palette and brushes in hand, presided in front. In a glass-­encased re-­creation of his studio, a pair of vertical large-­character scrolls hung on the wall. This poetic couplet in the artist’s calligraphy echoed the words of Lu Xun, made famous by Mao in his pronouncements on art and society: “Fierce-­browed, I coolly defy a thousand pointing fin­gers, / Head bowed, like a willing ox I serve the ­children.” In the dvd shop across the street overflowing with shelves and boxes of indiscriminately mixed films from China and around the world, I bought a copy of Hua hun (A soul haunted by painting), the biopic of Pan Yuliang that brought her back from a grave in Montparnasse to the public consciousness of her home country.7 When an exhibit of her work appeared at the nearby Cultural Palace of Minorities in 2002, it was a small and short-­ lived affair. The show featured the decorative ink paintings of dancing figures she had produced t­ oward the end of her life. A nod to Orientalism, a survival tactic, or perhaps a nostalgic nod to her distant youth. Notably absent ­were the fierce-­browed self-­portraits in deft, bold strokes of oil she had painted of herself staring confrontationally at the pointing fin­gers that had driven her to a small room in Paris.



way to the dusty museum. He guided me ­under the florescent lighting of the exhibit halls and described how a hawk crouched to push off in flight represented the Chinese determined to fight Japa­nese invaders, how toiling workers moving a mountain represented the heroic feat of socialist revolution. He asked where I was from, what I did, and how I’d learned to speak Chinese. He pondered the discovery of my mixed-blood Chinese American background, the fact that my grandparents had left China, never to return, before the war and revolution. We exchanged business cards, and three days ­later, he called. He told me he found it in­ter­est­ing that as an anthropologist my job was to talk to p­ eople about their lives. He asked me to come back. He felt he had something to tell me. He sat me down in the lobby of the museum and launched into a discussion of po­liti­cal censorship of art in China. Would this happen in the United States? In a swerve that caught me off balance, he raised a rhetorical question about the high rate of divorce in the United States. He told me this was right. I’d be a fool to believe someone would love me for my ­whole life. Then he asked me if I felt more Chinese or more American. “Do you feel discriminated against, for being Chinese ­there or foreign ­here?” Not waiting for my response, he declared loudly, spittle flying, “I have always been discriminated against.” And then the story came pouring out: My parents ­were both high-­ranking cadres in an army unit. When I was young, I learned to drive and to shoot, but then my parents ­were denounced, and my ­brother and I became black ele­ments. Every­one spat upon us, and we wandered the streets with nowhere to call home. I could sing then. I could have been a “beautiful voice,” but I chose boxing instead. I wanted to fight to defend myself from attackers. My ­mother lived in a pigsty for ten years while I learned to knock ­people down. A ­ fter my parents ­were rehabilitated, I became a bodyguard. I could run fast, and I already knew how to drive and ­handle guns. I worked for gangsters, but you ­wouldn’t believe what I’ve seen if I told you. I worked for the government, but I ­can’t tell you whom I’ve protected. My initial assignment in the Cultural Bureau was to be the driver for this artist’s ­widow.

“Then how did you become a museum docent?” I asked. He lowered his voice and whispered, “I’m just hiding out h ­ ere. That’s what’s g­ reat about p­ eople in the Cultural Bureau. Lots of us, we learn to retreat from outside life and build up our strength. D ­ on’t you know what I am?”


worldly fables

I shook my head. “I am a crouching tiger, hidden dragon.” As I walked home to my apartment, rented from a w ­ oman named Art Soldier, the d­ aughter of retired Cultural Bureau workers, herself recently divorced and remarried, who had moved on from her work-­unit housing to the domestic fantasy of a new commodity apartment, I kept looking over my shoulder.

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Chinese Con­temporary Art


in the Expanded Field

At the beginning of the 1990s, no named Chinese artist had ever participated in the Venice Biennale, one of the most prestigious and longest-­running international art shows in the world.1 In 1999, twenty Chinese artists—­the most from any single country—­showed more than fifty visual artworks at the Forty-­Eighth Biennale.2 This historic shift reflected the post-1989 circulation of con­temporary art from China in Hong Kong, Japan, Eu­rope, and the United States, as well as the erratic but gradual loosening of po­ liti­cal control of art in China. By the early 2000s, Chinese cities such as Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Shanghai had a­ dopted the “biennale” model, seen as a marker of cultural cosmopolitanism, and began launching large con­temporary art exhibits of their own. During this period of change, an almost uniformly male cohort of artists, noted for their bad boy po­ liti­cal dissent, garnered attention on the international museum cir­cuit and art market. Overseas observers heralded their work as representative of reform-­era China. Their female counter­parts, many of whom had trained alongside them in state-­supported art academies, remained in the long shadow cast by this international spotlight on a masculinist avant-­garde. Several contending narratives framed this explosion of Chinese con­ temporary art on the international stage. Exhibition in the West rescued and recuperated Chinese artists suppressed by an authoritarian government. Or, this phenomenon represented a radical reversal of socialist China’s art system and new opening to “the world.” Or, it demonstrated China’s national triumph on the global cultural scene. Indeed, by 2005, China had its own national pavilion at the Venice Biennale.3 By 2011, when India or­ga­ nized its first pavilion, anxiety crept into Western reportage. The Guardian’s coverage of this moment leads with a vaguely accusatory tone: “Not content with their status as nascent economic superpowers, China and India are set to storm a very Eu­ro­pean cultural bastion, the Venice Biennale.” 4 Ai Weiwei, the most globally recognized artist to emerge from this period, gained such stature ­because he crosscut and emblematized t­hese



narrative logics. He left China in 1981 and returned over a de­cade ­later with New York art world credibility. In 2000, he cocurated Fuck Off, a satellite exhibit, shut down by authorities, to the first international Shanghai Biennale. By 2003 he was official con­sul­tant to the Swiss architecture firm Herzog and de Meuron on their design for the Beijing Olympics National “Bird’s Nest” stadium. He then flipped the state off—­through public art proj­ects critical of official hy­poc­risy and maleficence—­with such flagrant style that he landed in jail.5 He became the ultimate in bad boy po­liti­cal dissent, enabling the West to still feel edgy and ­free as exhibits like his 2014 @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz stormed a decommissioned outpost of the U.S. prison industrial complex, rejuvenating the worn tourist attraction. Sometimes it seemed he was all that was left standing ­after the boom. Experimental Beijing challenges conventional narratives of rescue, reversal, or arrival through an ethnographic account of art world transition grounded in everyday experience and strug­gle rather than landmark exhibits and events. It examines the social role of art and competing ideas of aesthetic, cultural, and market value in reform-­era China. And it does so with a feminist attentiveness to power dynamics in the work of art u ­ nder the cultural conditions of late socialism–­late liberalism that characterized China’s shifting position in the world. The conjunction of late socialism-­late liberalism signals the interrelation of ­these two social proj­ects from the 1980s on.6 ­Under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping (1978–1989), the Chinese Communist Party (ccp) advanced the ideology of “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” which espoused market economics not as an abandonment of Marxism but as a commitment to the primary stage of socialism necessary for the ­future potentiality of communism. This reform of Maoist politics rejected the former utopian belief that modernization of productive forces through the market could be bypassed. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the ccp legitimated its rule through new forms of governmentality and integration with neoliberalism as it unfolded in other parts of the world. State-­owned enterprises ­were dismantled and sold off, and new public-­private co­ali­tions increasingly managed the provision of social ser­vices from housing to health care. Official institutions disseminated a wide-­ranging discourse on suzhi (quality) in which market success came to serve as the mea­sure of individual and social value. Overall economic growth brought with it mounting material disparity and dispossession, as well as the suppression of protest in the name of social stability and the road to communism. Chinese neoliberal-


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ism provincialized the Western belief in market capitalism as linked with liberal democracy. The resulting crisis in legitimacy contributed to late liberalism, in which nations understood as liberal democracies justified their unequal distribution of livelihood through the invocation of cultural difference and need for civilizational securitization, in the name of f­ uture freedom for all. Experimental Beijing documents this historical, experimental era in China, in which cultural production came to ­matter as a means of integration, legitimation, differentiation, and contestation. Some of the aesthetic experiments this moment gave rise to have become monumental, ­others ephemeral. The global rise of Chinese con­temporary art coincided with official efforts to stage spectacular international events, such as the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, to attract the world’s attention and signal the end of a colonial first-­world, third-­world order of ­things. While often understood as distinct, mutually antagonistic realms of social activity, con­temporary art and Chinese state politics increasingly overlapped. A ­ fter the 1989 crackdown on protests in Tian­anmen Square, a censorious attitude had characterized official response to con­temporary art. During the lead-up to the Olympics, this circumspection gave way to a new market-­driven, culture industry valuation of art. Experimental artists who felt the brunt of Cultural Bureau control throughout the 1990s, when Public Security officials routinely shut down “avant-­garde” exhibits, suddenly found themselves courted to advance China’s image on the global stage.7 Exhibition spaces generating new middle-­class distinction eclipsed state-­controlled museums whose dictate had been to exhibit the art of proletarian revolutionary nationalism. State planners, frequently operating in the changing economy as semicorporate entities, began to invite artists once lauded by foreign promoters as dissident visionaries to run new museums, create work for Beijing’s new airport, and design Olympic monuments, firework displays, and ceremony spectacles. The early years of the twenty-­first c­ entury served as a turning point for Chinese con­temporary art and a moment of continual reassessment and reflection by artists caught up in the pro­cesses of cultural marketization driven by intersecting local, national, and global forces. Their activity, centered in China’s rapidly transforming “global cities,” occurred in tandem with revaluations of rural and urban space, public and private bound­aries, and masculinity and femininity.8 Through participant observation from 2000 to 2002, predominantly in Beijing, I came to understand Chinese con­temporary art not as a bounded object but a zone of



cultural encounter in which t­ hese revaluations ­were represented, worked out, and questioned. Its participants included artists, officials, urban planners, cultural con­sul­tants, and art professionals from around the world who, in repeated encounters in China and abroad, negotiated what counts as Chinese and what counts as art. In debates about ­women and art, they negotiated what counts as feminist. While the frame of encounter ostensibly characterizes this early twenty-­first-­century moment, how artists navigated shifting flows of art discourse also reveals historical encounters and contradictions in understandings of what art is meant to do. As I detail in the three parts of this book—­Art Worldings, Zones of Encounter, and Feminist Sight Lines—­artists adapted to the changing ideological context for art production but not without a strug­gle over the politics of form and how it positioned them in relation to the nation and the world, the past and the ­future.

At Large in the Global City

Wang Nengtao’s 2002 panoramic photo­graph Subversion–­Earth captures the scale of construction that permeated Beijing, as well as other Chinese megacities, at the turn of the millennium (plate 1).9 Massive yellow cranes punctuate the scene. They jut into the sky and recede in grey tones ­toward a smoggy horizon. In the expanse of worksites below, demarcated by green mesh fencing, sandbag walls, and piles of rebar, workers in yellow helmets appear miniature. The piece’s long horizontal format resembles a traditional Chinese scroll painting, but rather than inviting the viewer’s eye to meander through a natu­ral landscape, with resting spots along the way for reflection, its perspectival, photographic realism insists on a survey from above, of an anonymous multitude turning over the earth in an ideological remaking—­a re-­worlding—of Chinese social life.10 Wang’s title hints at how such monumental efforts destabilized past po­liti­cal proj­ects, of Communist Party class revolution and agrarian reform, as well as everyday existence in a city like Beijing. In my field notes from the same year, I posed a question about the relationship between con­temporary art and Beijing: Am I trying to write an ethnography about a city in which art plays a part or an ethnography about art in which the city plays a part? This book explores the questions that unfolded from that one. How do aesthetics do more than simply reflect po­liti­cal, social, and economic change? How does cultural production, as


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once theorized by Chinese Communist intellectuals, actively shape collective consciousness and social identity, perceptions of time and space, and visions of the world? What is the legacy of past forms of visual praxis on con­temporary production? How are envisioned timespaces always-­already uneven and gendered? The construction site in Subversion-­Earth provides a meta­phor for a central tension in my account of Chinese con­temporary art during the first years of the new millennium: between the power of art to represent, at large or from above, a cultural entity like Beijing or China or even the world and the potentially subversive activity of the artist, at large in its streets and alleys, monuments and ruins, lived histories and intimate interiors. As I traversed streets plastered with slogans like “New C ­ entury, New Beijing,” I practiced, in my minor and temporary way, something most residents did. I mapped the city and my relationship to it, to what had been, to what was marked for de­mo­li­tion, to what was being torn down, and to what was being built. P ­ eople talked all the time about the chaiqian (de­ mo­li­tion and relocation) politics of urban renewal ubiquitous in Chinese cities, about the logic or the injustice of it, about how favorite haunts had dis­appeared overnight or how they could no longer find their way around once familiar neighborhoods. Some artists seized the moment as an opportunity to move out of the studio—­with still and video cameras, spray paint, mirrors, bricks, fabric, ice, and their own bodies—to create site-­specific works about this epochal pro­cess. I tracked their role in China’s endeavor to “link tracks with the world” ( yu shijie jiegui). In 2001 alone, China entered the wto, Beijing won its bid to host the 2008 Olympics, and the men’s national soccer team qualified for the first time to compete in the 2002 World Cup. This sequence of events briefly gave rise to the phrase ru shi, meaning “to enter the world,” or in a pun playing on the Chinese homophones of world and city, “to enter the city.” This conflation of Beijing, China, and the world shimmered with the anticipation of having fi­nally arrived. It played off of, even as it diminished, the Maoist commitment to “enter the life” (shenru sheng­huo) of the exploited classes and rural peasantry in order to represent them. Urbanism, the privileging of city over country as site of growth, excitement, and futurity, became the mandate of the day. I followed artists and their interlocutors from art classrooms to cramped apartment studios to an expanding number of local exhibition spaces, through a city that many likened to a massive construction zone. Male rural mi­grants labored night and day on the skeletons of high-­rise buildings. Mi­grant w ­ omen worked in restaurants,



hair salons, entertainment spaces, and private homes. Urban workers laid off from “iron-­rice-­bowl” jobs in state-­owned enterprises strug­gled to survive in a new market economy. Students and strivers from the provinces, expats from Hong Kong, Taiwan, K ­ orea, Japan, and beyond entered this border zone of city and country, socialism and capitalism, nation and world, memory and dream. Dust hung in the air. Cranes swung through the sky. The chemical smell of urban renewal wafted through the streets. China’s transition from a socialist po­liti­cal economy ­toward integration with transnational capitalism affected visual art production in numerous ways. The state relaxed orthodox po­liti­cal authority over art, although this pro­cess was intermittent and not without reversal. As state stipends dwindled, artists sought new channels of support and commission. Many threw themselves into experimenting with aesthetic form and found themselves navigating emergent market forces. Chinese con­temporary art began to circulate in international and developing domestic markets, becoming subject to multiple modes of interpretation and evaluation. Art academies and exhibition spaces underwent reor­ga­ni­za­tion and semiprivatization. The artists I came to know negotiated this nexus of state cultural control, market economics, and gender politics in the attempt to earn a living and make and exhibit their work. By and large, they belonged to an in-­between generation, born between the late 1950s and early 1970s, whose experiences spanned the transition from socialism to “reform and opening.” They had some personal memory of the Cultural Revolution; some had even been sent-­down youth who spent years in the countryside. Many had trained in China’s top national art academies, in Beijing, Hangzhou, or Chongqing, where they mastered the techniques of socialist realism, even if they ­later discarded ­these for experiments in per­for­mance, installation, or video art. Some waxed nostalgic over the “culture fever” (wenhua re) years of the 1980s, when they gained access to texts, theories, and forms of art suppressed u ­ nder Mao and immersed themselves in intense debates that went on late into the night.11 They had lived through the cultural and po­liti­cal crackdown a­ fter the 1989 protests in Tian­anmen Square. They had witnessed the impact of accelerating market reforms ­after Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 Tour of the South and pronouncement that China link tracks with the world through trade. As the millennial premise of Beijing as global city came to increasingly depend on the development of a cultural economy rather than an industrial one, they got caught up, energized and conflicted by this new relationship between capital and culture. Their paths through the city traced a net-

Gender in the Global City

If Wang Nengtao’s Subversion captures the massive turning over of the urban landscape, Yin Xiuzhen’s 2001 Portable Cities–­Beijing (figure Intro.01) packs it into a suitcase. Displayed on the floor, the suitcase lies open to reveal frame-­ supported fabric, cut and engineered to resemble architectural ele­ments of the cityscape. The small, rumpled, and soft structures interject the alienating modern megacity with the domestic intimacy of ­human wear and dwelling.12 Made from clothing once worn by the artist and her f­ amily members, the piece represents Beijing as a ring of buildings circling the open green space of a stretched shirt. Pulled inward, the sleeve leads the viewer’s eye down to a macro lens that displays in miniature a map of the city circa 1949 affixed to the bottom of the suitcase. A speaker inside plays Beijing opera sung by el­derly amateurs recorded in Shichahai Park, a popu­lar public space north of the Forbidden City flooded by 2001 with trendy restaurants, bars, and bicycle rickshaw tours of old hutong alleyways. The only recognizable building is the Central Radio and tv Tower, which marks the suitcase’s outer rim as the Third Ring Road. All of central Beijing has dis­appeared in a taut expanse of green fabric pulled into a slightly off-­ center vortex with a diminishing view of the historical capital. This timehole, with its soundtrack of disembodied Beijing opera singers, eerily empties the center, a site of massive razing and rebuilding, including the soon-­to-­ be-­demolished hutong where Yin and her artist husband Song Dong lived during the creation of this piece. Within a few years, its defining monument would be outdated, surpassed in size, ambition, and international reputation by the new China Central Tele­vi­sion Headquarters designed by Rem Koolhaas as anchor to Beijing’s new Central Business District. Portable Beijing serves as a premonition of the accelerating changes to come, while also giving shelter to the tactility of memory and personal history. Portable Beijing was the first in what became a series titled Portable Cities. As Yin Xiuzhen began receiving commissions to create new works in locations around the world, she frequently found herself in transit. The


chinese con­t emporary art

work that extended in new ways to other parts of China and the world, the past and the pres­ent. Their experiences, stories, artworks, and actions mapped discrepant transnational connections across space and time. How ­these maps ­were drawn depended on social positionality, with coordinates ­shaped by gender, class, and rural-­urban identity.



INTRO.01 ​ Yin Xiuzhen, Portable Cities–­Beijing, 2001. Installation. Courtesy of the artist.

idea for Portable Cities came to her while waiting at an airport baggage claim, when she suddenly saw each suitcase as the home a traveler tries to carry with her.13 She fabricated the pieces in the series from old clothing gathered at their respective sites of creation: Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, New York, Berlin, Paris . . . . ​As t­hese portable cities accumulated, Yin began to exhibit them as an ensemble mapping her travels (figure Intro.02). On an oceanic blue wall ­behind the open suitcases, yellow buttons serve as drop pins for each city, connected by strands of yellow yarn. While Beijing now appears as one among many networked global destinations, the familial specificity of the clothing in this first in series activates a dif­ fer­ent emotional energy, linking materiality and memory. Each piece of fabric evoked personal details of wear, care, and the passage of time. Yin recalled, for example, that s­ he’d created a purple building from a shirt she once thought was very fash­ion­able when her s­ ister gave it to her.14 She has also discussed how the act of sewing so central to her artistic practice produced a connection with her ­mother, who once worked in a clothing factory and sometimes took up needle and thread to help Yin with her artwork.15 Portable Beijing as the point of origin for Portable Cities stitches together intergenerational histories of home and state: of w ­ omen’s virtue performed through needlework as emblem of domesticity, of female l­ abor mobilized into socialist industrial production, and of gendered global


chinese con­t emporary art

INTRO.02 ​ Yin

Xiuzhen, Portable Cities, 2002–­pres­ent. Installation view, Yin Xiuzhen solo exhibition, Groninger Museum, Netherlands, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

commodity chains. It vacillates between the touch and feel of home and everywhere-­nowhere market reproducibility. If Wang Nengtao’s Subversion and Yin Xiuzhen’s Portable Beijing ruminate on China’s capital as construction site and global city in the making, in which art and urbanism are articulated together, Chen Lingyang’s 25:00 continues their study of scale, with a cityscape haunted by gender politics (plate 2). In this photographic dreamspace, one in a two-­piece series, a nude giantess looms within Beijing’s built environment. The a­ ngle of perspective in the long scroll-­like photo­graph, as in Wang’s, comes from above, although h ­ ere the only vis­i­ble ­human figure miniaturizes the buildings. It is the artist’s own body at the center of the image, lying face down on top of an apartment block, her exposed spine aligned with its central axis. Her head dangles over the edge, hair hanging down like that of an ink brush. The female figure appears huge yet vulnerable, as she comes into sensuous contact with a city where new commercial buildings rise above socialist work-­unit housing. Exhibited as a transparency in an illuminated lightbox, the image glows with a dark, magic-­hour intensity. Of this series, Chen comments: “Very often, the real world and the male world get mixed up in my mind. They both come from outside me; they both exist very forcefully, with initiative, power, and aggression. Facing t­ hese two worlds, I often feel that I am weak and helpless, and d­ on’t know what to do. But



just being alive means that I cannot avoid them, not even for one day. I wish that ­every day ­there could be a certain time like 25:00, when I could become as large as I like, and do what­ever I want.”16 This larger-­than-­life figuration exists in temporal ephemerality. 25:00 raises questions about the politics of repre­sen­ta­tion in Chinese con­temporary art: about how gender m ­ atters in terms of art world access and recognition; how art shapes understandings of femininity and masculinity; and how gender and sexuality figure centrally in conceptions of China’s modernity and worldliness. While several impor­tant historical accounts document Chinese con­temporary art from the 1980s on, questions of gender and feminism in them remain an afterthought, relegated to single chapters or subsections of ­these thick volumes.17 Informed by a rich body of scholarship that has demonstrated the significance of precisely ­these questions in China’s development as a modern nation-­state, its revolutionary politics and market reform, Experimental Beijing confronts this sidelining of gender in the story of art.18 It asks what a focus on gender, as central rather than epiphenomenal, reveals about an emerging art world. In the next section, an overview of influential exhibits from the two de­cades preceding the new millennium provides historical context. The politics of repre­sen­ta­tion that played out in t­ hese exhibits, inside and outside of China, resulted in a new artistic po­liti­cal grammar.19 Avant-­garde became coded as liumang (hooligan) and masculine.20 Female artists, largely excluded from this realm of activity, found their work contained within a new domesticating and marginalizing category of nüxing yishu (feminine or ­women’s art). My feminist intent throughout this book is to deconstruct this restrictive, binaristic liumang/nüxing po­liti­cal grammar in order to make a new form of storytelling pos­si­ble.

Exhibition Politics

On February 5, 1989, China/Avant-­Garde opened in Beijing at the National Art Museum of China. Six long black banners draped down the entrance stairs announced the exhibition title and displayed the red and white insignia of a no U-­turn sign. This survey show, including 297 pieces by 186 artists, represented a culmination of the many art activities and groups that had emerged over the previous de­cade.21 In 1979, several unofficial art exhibits, building on the energy of the Beijing Spring Democracy Movement, attracted broad attention. The Stars Art Exhibition remains the best


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known of ­these efforts. Staged on the street outside of the National Art Museum, it featured work by young artists with ­little to no formal training. Art colleges had been shut throughout the Cultural Revolution and only began to readmit students in 1978. Some of the work by the Stars group explic­itly attacked Maoist ideology, and police shut the exhibit down ­after two days. Stars members responded by holding a public demonstration on October 1, the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the ­People’s Republic of China. By the mid-1980s, intellectual debates about reestablishing humanism in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution and art trends such as the normalization of nudity in painting signaled an ongoing liberalization of culture. Numerous unofficial art groups and interlocutors of Western modernist styles sprouted up around the country. This efflorescence of artistic experiments and theories eventually became known at the ’85 Art New Wave.22 By the time of the China/Avant-­Garde exhibition, interest in this burgeoning art scene had developed in China. As audience members, who had turned out on the eve of Chinese New Year, wandered through the galleries, two shots rang out. Artist Xiao Lu had drawn a handgun and fired into her piece Dialogue, shattering a mirror at the center of the installation. Police arrested her and Tang Song, another artist at the scene whom they assumed was involved, and closed the exhibit. It reopened several days ­later, only to be suspended one more time due to pieces in violation of the organizers’ contract with the museum not to exhibit per­for­mance art, as well as a false bomb threat. Nonetheless, it came to be known as an impor­tant retrospective of the artistic energies unleashed during the 1980s, and from the perspective of many I met during my fieldwork, the last in­ter­est­ing t­hing to happen at the National Art Museum of China. Just three months ­after the exhibit, the growing student protests in Tian­anmen Square captured international media attention. Following the events of June 4, 1989, authorities shut down several prominent art magazines, and artists who had participated in China/Avant-­Garde experienced difficulty showing in official venues. Some, like Xiao Lu and Tang Song, left the country. In the climate of tension and uncertainty that ensued, officials viewed Chinese art labeled “avant-­garde” as a suspect manifestation of liberal bourgeois tendencies. With equal conviction, the international art market embraced it as an emblem of re­sis­tance to authoritarian oppression.23 During the 1990s, this art toured an ever-­widening international cir­ cuit. China’s New Art, Post-1989, an exhibit featuring many of the China/ Avant-­Garde artists, opened at the Hong Kong Arts Centre and City Hall



in 1993. Co-­organized by Beijing critic and curator Li Xianting and Hong Kong art collector Chang Tsong-­zung, it ­shaped international knowledge of Chinese con­temporary art and the ­careers of a select group of almost exclusively male artists. ­After Hong Kong, a scaled-­down version traveled to London, Sydney, and Melbourne, and from 1995 to 1998 to the North American cities of Vancouver; Eugene, Oregon; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Salina, Kansas; Chicago; and San Jose, California. Other exhibitions in Europe—­China Avant-­Garde: Counter-­Currents in Art and Culture (1993) in Berlin, Reckoning with the Past (1996) in Edinburgh, and China! (1996) in Bonn—­featured many of the same artists.24 I first grew interested in Chinese con­temporary art while working in Beijing as an En­glish teacher from 1992 to 1994. Given official constraints on exhibition during this period, most of what I learned came from books, photos, and stories shared by students and friends. My earliest encounter with artworks occurred in San Francisco in 1999, when Inside Out: New Chinese Art brought the first comprehensive survey of this work to major U.S. museums.25 Gao Minglu, cocurator of China/Avant-­Garde in Beijing who had since become a Harvard PhD candidate in art history, provided the main curatorial vision for the exhibit. It included some artists from Hong Kong and Taiwan but largely represented the canon and connections forged by Gao in the formative moment of 1989. ­After opening at the Asia Society Galleries and P.S. 1 Con­temporary Art Center in New York, Inside Out traveled to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art and Asian Art Museum. On both coasts, the collaboration between institutions devoted to Asian art and modern and con­temporary art represented an effort to disrupt conventional Western ideas about Chinese art as relegated to antiquities. Gary Garrels, SFMoMA chief curator of painting and sculpture, noted in an exhibit symposium that Inside Out was the museum’s first showing of Chinese art, and aside from a few forays into postwar Japa­nese art, its first comprehensive exhibit of artwork from Asia. This inclusion of Chinese art within Western museums of modern art departed from traditional orientalist museology, yet the framing of Inside Out as an exhibit of “underground” or “unofficial” art resulted in a politicized understanding of it as dissent against an authoritarian, Communist state.26 An intended decolonizing move led to a recolonizing move, with the art still framed by an East-­West politics. The 1990s association of the Chinese avant-­garde with a liumang attitude of rebellion and spiritual malaise, expressed through styles indentified as Cynical Realism and Po­liti­cal Pop, was established not only through


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an oppositional relationship with the Chinese state, but through transnational circulation. Exhibits in pre-­handover Hong Kong, Eu­rope, and the United States and the growing interest of foreign collectors and auction ­houses contributed to the discursive production of a repressed, heroic body of art that could only be exhibited and appreciated outside of China. The lack of female artists in ­these exhibits fed assumptions about Chinese ­women as even more repressed, understood to be delayed by culture and tradition. For example, at the SFMoMA Inside Out symposium, critic and curator Britta Erickson, who moderated a panel on identity, pointed out that of the seventy artists in the exhibit, only six ­were w ­ omen. Of t­hese, she continued, the majority hailed from Hong Kong and Taiwan and had been positively influenced by Western feminism in studies abroad. In my research, I frequently heard echoes of this Western narrative of pro­gress, with Linda Nochlin’s famous question of “why have ­there been no ­great ­women artists?” reformulated as “does China have any ­great w ­ omen artists?”27 Western and Chinese art world participants alike engaged in this line of questioning, and by the mid-1990s several responses arose. In China the term nüxing yishu—­usually translated as “­women’s art” or “feminine art” but sometimes also shorthand for nüxingzhuyi yishu or “feminist art”—­ began to appear around 1995, the year Beijing hosted the United Nations Fourth World Conference on W ­ omen. While Chinese leaders intended for the conference to showcase Chinese w ­ omen’s advanced social position to the world, Western media coverage of the conference framed the Chinese state as hostile to cap­it­al­ist democracy and its definition of h ­ uman rights and insinuated that China had not yet fully freed their ­women to enjoy such rights.28 This grammar of international feminism presumes the universal similarity of w ­ omen who should seek justice through a Western model, effectively ignoring the Chinese feminist rec­ord: a w ­ omen’s liberation movement well over a c­ entury long. Nüxing yishu emerged as a response, produced e­ very bit as much through transnational encounter as its liumang analogue. In 1995, it served as the orga­nizational logic for two small-­scale exhibits: Natu­ral Feminine Art or­ga­nized by Lin Zi in Kunming; and ­Women’s Approach to Chinese Con­temporary Art curated by Liao Wen in ­ entury W ­ oman at Beijing’s National Art Museum showBeijing.29 In 1998, C cased work by seventy Chinese ­women u ­ nder the rubric of “­women’s art.” This flurry of activity brought recognition to female artists marginalized by post-1989 international art market trends, but the institutionalization of nüxing yishu also led to domesticating containment. Jia Fangzhou, cu­ entury ­Woman, delineated in his preface to the exhibit cata­logue rator of C



the “essential characteristics of w ­ omen’s art,” including among them childlike fantasy; apathy ­toward politics, history, and philosophy; and general disinterest in the male world.30 Exhibits or­ga­nized by Western curators such as Half the Sky in Bonn, Germany, also contributed to t­ hese efforts of redress. This proj­ect originated in a protest action that took place on International W ­ omen’s Day in 1996, when supporters of the city’s Frauenmuseum barricaded the China! exhibit at Bonn’s Museum of Modern Art with a sign reading: “­Today one cannot visit this museum! We are protesting against the lockout of Chinese ­women artists. It is impudent or at least foolish to claim that ­there is not a single w ­ oman artist among the Chinese population of 1.2 thousand mil­ ere lion.”31 The museum’s director responded by asserting t­ here r­ eally w no w ­ omen artists in China, and that the only in­ter­est­ing Chinese w ­ omen working in the arts lived in exile overseas.32 Half the Sky opened two years ­later, just a few months a­ fter ­Century ­Woman in Beijing, as the Frauenmuseum’s rebuttal to this spurious claim. While the consequence of locating the empowerment of Chinese ­women in a gallery outside of China was somewhat ameliorated by the German curators’ discovery of the ­Century ­Woman proj­ect, an ironic tension remains in their title based on Mao Zedong’s slogan “­Women hold up half the sky.” It clashes with Chinese feminist attempts, as part of the overall reform-­era debates about humanism, to excavate an individual female agency from the massified subject of Maoist state culture. Momentarily enabling as a response to marginalization, nüxing yishu eventually became a category that many artists who first exhibited u ­ nder its auspices disavowed, b­ ecause of how it limited their work and its impact on social life within the nation and beyond. As I began fieldwork in Beijing in 2000, some of the male artists who had enjoyed success overseas expressed anxiety over how foreign consumption foreclosed interpretation of their work and threatened to turn it into a “made in China” export, collected and displayed in the West.33 At the same time, I came to recognize that female artists had often performed support ­labor for this international circulation (as translators, teachers, wives, and ­mothers) or found their work restricted within the category of nüxing yishu. They likewise contended with the irony of their underrepre­ sen­ta­tion against a repre­sen­ta­tional backdrop replete with female figures: martyrs for and models of revolutionary nationalism and reform-­era embodiments of desire and excess. As official attitudes ­toward con­temporary art shifted in the early 2000s, many male artists got caught up in the mo-

The Expanded Field

Chinese artists who gained international recognition often found their work framed by a narrative of universalism, in which naturalized assumptions about what art is, and how it is authenticated as such, operate. The interpretation of Chinese artists in terms like “the avant-­garde” grants them member status in the global art world, but u ­ nder a label that bears the imprimatur of earlier Euro-­American movements and thus casts them as “catching up.” This universalizing story, however, c­ ounter to the best intentions of many who invoke it, fails to recognize the cultural encounters and negotiations that shape artists’ lives and the work they produce. Ethnography, as a form of research based in participant observation, provides every­ day witness to t­hese encounters as a way of theorizing about how they reflect and influence sociocultural phenomena on a larger scale. Feminist anthropologists have drawn attention to the relational epistemology of ethnography, as a form of knowledge produced through subjective relationships and ­shaped by difference and power.35 As ethnographer, I immersed myself in the zone of encounter of Chinese con­temporary art, in which aesthetic and cultural formations ­were forged through relationships across difference.36 I became intimately aware of my positioning within this zone, ­every time I served as an interpreter for a foreign curator and considered my potential influence on an artist’s ­career, e­ very time I sat in a smoke-­filled banquet room with a group of male artists and it was assumed that I was someone’s foreign girlfriend, e­ very time I sought out female artists to understand how they navigated this enervating terrain.


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ment of national recognition and entrepreneurial cosmopolitanism. Some who achieved market success even moved t­ oward a cap­it­ al­ist separation of ­mental and manual l­abor and outsourced production of their concepts.34 Most w ­ omen, however, still strug­gled for visibility, a situation that led some to develop a critical art practice marked by historiographical consciousness, in which conventional histories of art—­global, national, and feminist—­are queried and overturned from peripheral positions, of the socialist past, the rural, and the Chinese w ­ oman artist. T ­ hese w ­ omen excavated discarded female figures from the public symbology of their art training and from personal memory in order to deconstruct, remake, and revivify them. Their works do not fit neatly into canonical formations that emphasize pro­gress of one order or another.



The title of this chapter and section allude to Rosalind Krauss’s “Sculpture in the Expanded Field.” In this 1979 essay, she analyzes the historicism of postwar American art criticism, which assimilated modernist sculptural production into a universal formal category by constructing “a paternity” for it.37 She argues that sculpture understood as a universal category alienates it from its historical boundedness and premodern logic of monumentality, as “it sits in a par­tic­ul­ ar place and speaks in a symbolic tongue about the meaning or use of that place.”38 Modernist sculpture and its criticism turned the monument into abstraction, “functionally placeless and largely self-­referential.”39 This autonomous mode of production would eventually collapse, as postmodern practice rejected modernism’s repressive paternity and insisted on putting art back into place. Sculpture, put into relational antinomy or proximity with landscape and architecture, became but one pos­si­ble form in the expanded field. Krauss’s revisionist approach to the history of form suggests how a field like “Chinese con­temporary art” needs expanding beyond historicist and hegemonic constructions: as ­either belated arrival on a global scene dominated by Western genealogies, or national patrimony of a China on the rise. The historical conditions through which Chinese con­temporary art emerged necessitate an examination of aesthetics in relation to specific sites and histories, but without the presumption of national or cultural boundedness. This approach maps instead relational webs of meaning across space and time, deconstructing autonomous ideas of art as well as Eurocentric and masculinist discourses of belatedness. I label this field “Chinese con­temporary art” rather than “con­temporary Chinese art” b­ ecause the works produced in the art worlds I describe most often get classified in China as dangdai yishu, literally meaning “con­ temporary art” but generally referring to works produced in par­tic­ul­ar media—­oil painting, photography, video, installation, and per­for­mance art—­ seen as horizontally linked to con­temporary art practice in the West.40 When I began my fieldwork, many Chinese friends and acquaintances outside this domain reproached me for my interest in it, telling me that it ­didn’t ­really represent China. Art world participants I talked to w ­ ere equally vexed, about the absence of a Chinese audience able to appreciate and understand their work. They earnestly debated and proposed ways to build a viewing public. By 2002, when I left Beijing a­ fter two years of fieldwork, the number of popu­lar Chinese magazines devoted to dangdai yishu and of p­ eople beginning to frequent new con­temporary art spaces gave an indication of their success.41 This growing audience was part of


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China’s burgeoning urban ­middle class, for whom learning to appreciate dangdai yishu signified cosmopolitan distinction. This shifting ground of in/authenticity makes con­temporary art a compelling way to examine ­Chinese cultural politics. Artists as arbiters of world culture became public tastemakers and therefore inadvertent state actors. Some made the most of the moment, but many remained cagey and critical. They strug­gled over what their repre­sen­ta­tional l­ abor amounted to, and to whom it should appeal. Using Anna Tsing’s meta­phor of friction as the grip of encounter that drives global connections, close attention to the friction artists experienced and the images they produced in the pro­cess reveals how they also dig vertically into layers of history: of personal experience, of their training in institutions s­ haped by anticolonial nationalism and socialism, and of specific visual technologies and references.42 ­These excavations are mixed and erratic, compiling an inventory of traces.43 The more they “enter the world,” the more acute their efforts at inventory become. Yin Xiuzhen’s Portable Beijing, for example, conjures a life of transit and airport baggage carousels but also official visualizations of the capital city and gendered histories of needlework and factory ­labor. My analy­sis of this expanded field involves theoretical and methodological eclecticism at the intersection of anthropology, art history, and gender studies. In referring to the social realm of art production as an art world, I use a term coined by art critic Arthur Danto, who writes, “To see something as art requires something the eye cannot decry—an atmosphere of artistic theory, a knowledge of the history of art: an artworld.” 44 Sociologist Howard Becker elaborates on the term, to denote the collective activity that produces artworks and gives them aesthetic and sometimes other forms of value.45 He demystifies the romantic cult of individual creation by demonstrating the diverse and coordinated activities of multiple participants necessary for art to be made and recognized as such. I refer to “art worlds” in the plural to indicate the multiple collectivities engaged in such activities; sometimes they overlap, other times they constitute themselves through antagonistic evaluations about what does or ­doesn’t count as art. Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of a “field of cultural production” argues that the artistic field cannot be reduced to a circumscribed group of p­ eople. Rather, it is one among other hierarchically or­ga­nized, structurally homologous fields—­the economic field, the educational field, the po­liti­cal field, among ­others—­that coexist in relational play within the field of power.46 Alfred Gell advocates an anthropology of art in which art objects serve not only as mediators between p­ eople but as social agents in and of themselves.



This focus on the personhood of art objects represents a turn away from isolated studies of “ethnic art” and so­cio­log­ic­ al investigations of art institutions.47 To the analy­sis of cultural production within a larger field of power, I add global and gendered dimensions. Chinese con­temporary art is not a self-­contained art world, a necessarily bourgeois pursuit, or a nationally circumscribed field of cultural production, but one structured by discrepant global connections and gender and class relations. While my analy­sis takes into account the role of institutions in amplifying or diminishing art’s agency, it also takes seriously the agency of art objects. Their expressive enchantments are precisely what send them circulating through the world, carving shifting channels of transmission and extending object and personhood across space and time.48 As an ethnographer, I understand my field to be more a habitus, “a cluster of embodied dispositions and practices,” than a geo­graph­ic­ ally bound site.49 In Beijing I traced a network of locations that included art classrooms, artist villages, foreign-­run commercial galleries, Chinese-­run art centers in new real estate ventures, and vacated factories and ware­houses turned into guerrilla gathering spaces or renovated Soho-­style exhibit halls. This field as network also extended to a rural corner of Yunnan Province, art spaces in Shanghai and Hong Kong, and symposiums on Chinese con­temporary art in San Francisco, London, and New York. I brought to this field a feminist disposition influenced by art historians who analyze the critical field of gender within cultural production. As they have demonstrated, constructions of gender difference produce artistic hierarchies that relegate ­women to lesser categories, limit their participation in dominant practices, and when they work through t­ hese limitations to become influential innovators, marginalize their contributions.50

Feminism in the Expanded Field

Feminist analy­sis of the field of cultural production—as a zone of encounter between dif­fer­ent valuations of culture—­involves more than just paying attention to ­women. I read con­temporary art world activity through the historical Chinese feminist analytic of nannü (male/female), theorized by He-­Yin Zhen in her 1907 essay “On the Question of W ­ omen’s Liberation.”51 For He-­Yin, nannü signifies not simply gender difference but the ongoing production of social abstractions and markings that create hierarchy, in­ equality, and injustice. The conceptual mechanism of nannü youbie (male/


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female differentiation) actively produces distinction as a form of power and domination, and therefore can also assume an adjectival form, as in He-­Yin’s term nannü jie (nannü class).52 Seen through this lens, the work of art becomes implicated in the production of such abstractions, ­whether of East and West, man and ­woman, or rural and urban. It reiterates symbolic ­orders, sometimes with a radical difference, always within a relationship of past to pres­ent. The iconic female revolutionary, red, bright, and shining in her militant rebellion and quest for modernity, haunts the redomesticated, depoliticized category of nüxing yishu; just as the iconic peasant hero, liberated by Mao’s call for the countryside to surround and capture the cities, haunts Beijing as cultural capital where rural mi­grants provide the rationalized, flexibilized l­abor to build its new monuments of global achievement. While Beijing is ostensibly the national center, I analyze it as an always-­already uneven and gendered timespace that depends on the countryside, ideologically and eco­nom­ically. I trace how artists traverse this timespace of rural-­urban relationality: through their references to the socialist tradition of “representing the p­ eople”; creation of artist villages at city’s edge; down-­to-­the-­countryside pedagogical field trips; restaging of the Long March as art event; and employment and repre­sen­ta­tion of rural mi­grants in experimental art practice. Throughout Experimental Beijing, a feminist lens highlights the contradictions of an emerging art world, the dialectical tension between monumental and ephemeral visions of life during the heady new millennium conflation of Beijing, China, and the world. ­These contradictions include artists who desire and resist institutional recognition by both foreign art professionals and Chinese state entities; artists who utilize experimental art forms to document social upheaval and in­equality while also being enlisted to repress reform-­era injustices by creating art-­enhanced spaces for plea­sure and status; the simultaneous valorization of the artist as heroic, suffering cultural critic and as cosmopolitan entrepreneur; and the underrepre­sen­ta­tion of w ­ omen as artists in the face of female overrepre­sen­ ta­tion in Chinese modern and con­temporary figurative expression. While the latter is most obviously related to gender, attention to how w ­ omen have been symbolically positioned and professionally marginalized throws ­these contradictions into sharp relief. Dominant narratives have smoothed over ­these contradictions. A focus on gender thus produces a nonnormative history of Chinese con­temporary art and cultivates a differential consciousness about the shifting role of art—as ideological, institutional, and imaginative—­within vari­ous configurations of power.



As part of my habitus in the field, I conducted interviews with artists, art students and teachers, curators, and gallerists. I observed and drew and painted alongside students in art classrooms ranging from university-­level academies to the state-­run C ­ hildren’s Center. I traveled from the massive new studios built by artists who had “made it” to the dusty, cramped apartments of ­those struggling to get by, from white-­cube galleries in central Beijing or on the Bund in Shanghai to the urban enclaves of rural mi­grants working as artists’ assistants. As t­ hese interlocutors pulled me further into their worlds and visions of the world, I ended up interpreting for curators from the United States as they toured artists’ studios, translating and writing cata­logue texts, and filming a video documentary of a feminist art happening. I returned during the summers of 2004 and 2006 as the curator of a feminist art exhibit that opened in Shanghai before traveling to Beijing and eventually Hong Kong; and again during the summer of 2007 for followup research.53 ­These activities constituted my participation observation and served as collaborative interventions into art world status quos. This ethnography gradually moves t­ oward a story of feminist encounter between artist and ethnographer. The first two parts of the book provide context. Part I: Art Worldings pres­ents millennial Beijing poised to “enter the world” as a site of culture industry formation, in which art overcomes and activates a historical material dialectic with past visions of the world. It follows how vari­ous social actors rework meanings of xianfeng/avant-­ garde in assertions of Beijing as China’s cultural capital, and how in the pro­cess they build new cultural institutions. Part II: Zones of Encounter pres­ents two encounters between international curators and artists and Chinese counter­parts: one in which the politics of cultural translation led to the exclusion of female artists from potential international circulation and another that became a protracted strug­gle over contending versions of feminism: international, national, and generational. This ­middle section of the book nests the story of feminist art encounters within the story of the global-­local and East-­West encounters that shape Chinese con­temporary art. Parts I and II generate the analytic movement ­toward what I consider the book’s heart and soul. The three chapters of part III: Feminist Sight Lines each focus on an individual artist with whom I had an extended relationship. In the course of my fieldwork, I came to know female artists like Yin Xiuzhen who have achieved international recognition and circulation, but in Feminist Sight Lines I highlight the lives and works of three artists—­Li Tianpian, He Chengyao, and Lei Yan—­whose ­careers have followed less


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vis­i­ble trajectories. I interpret their work as feminist ­because of a critical historiographical consciousness cultivated by being on the periphery. My encounters with ­these artists, their stories, and their artworks shifted my understanding of feminist art. They make vis­ib­ le transnational and transhistorical connections. T ­ hese connections disrupt the frameworks that prevail in art criticism and museum curation: of Chinese con­temporary art as brand new and nation-­bound and of global feminist art as born in the West before spreading to the rest. They work to unhinge w ­ oman from the literal and figurative work she has performed for the nation in modern and con­temporary art. Feminist art thus emerges as an epistemological field of practice rather than an object, event, or proj­ect, in which thinking relationally, in terms of social hierarchies, aesthetic form, and ideology, is foundational.54 Feminist art, rather than originating in a par­tic­ul­ar time or place, has the potential to world in another way, to make vis­i­ble other worlds-­in-­becoming. It creates new sight lines of knowledge, recognition, affiliation, and alliance in which art takes on an ethical dimension, of reordering the pain and plea­sure of being in the world, of memorializing, of taking care. Using Chela Sandoval’s concept of differential oppositional consciousness, I argue that t­hese artists’ peripheral positions ­shaped the development of a critical art practice. They not only deconstruct the ideological power of past forms of image making but also meta-­ideologize, or create “new, ‘higher’ levels of signification built onto the older, dominant forms of ideology in a radical pro­cess.”55 They take, for instance, Maoist repre­ sen­ta­tions of the ­woman soldier, so prevalent in lit­er­at­ure, art, and film, and recast her in ways that question the instrumental use of her image by the state and redirect her critical potential ­toward dif­fer­ent aims. Meta-­ ideologizing is an emancipatory technology of oppositional power that “moves in, through, and then outside of dominant ideology.”56 As art practice, it reveals the long-­durée global art world encounters that have ­shaped dif­fer­ent worldings, or visions of the world, and the dependence of ­these worldings on par­tic­u­lar understandings of gender. Put another way, ­these w ­ omen are “caught up” in a dif­fer­ent way from male peers who moved from underground, “avant-­garde” activity to positions of national and international influence. They are caught by a set of interlocking double binds, generated through cultural encounter over time, regarding female talent and repre­sen­ta­tion. For example, traditional ­women of talent (cainü), cast as poetic and prone to flights of fancy, ­were seen as lacking the rationality to become disciplined national subjects, the



“good wife and wise ­mother” or “­mother of citizens” articulated by early twentieth-­century reformers, whereas traditional virtuous ­women w ­ ere seen as lacking the cultural literacy and education to likewise serve the new nation.57 By the end of the twentieth c­ entury, the catch had become: ­women who “hold up half the sky” lack individual consciousness and innovation as artists, whereas w ­ omen who identify with nüxing yishu, constrained by subjective interiority, lack public po­liti­cal consciousness. The double bind, conceived as a communication dilemma that results from two conflicting messages, sets a trap that ends in failure no m ­ atter what message one follows.58 The resulting confusion sustained through habitual experience with this splintering form of negative injunction serves as a form of control without overt coercion.59 Art can be a way of meditating on and moving beyond the dilemma, a method for confronting this form of control. The artists I focus on in part III create works that activate image worlds; their excavation and reworking of past images and ways of image making are multidirectional and meta-­ideological. They cite across space and time, not as attribution or homage, but to shift our understanding of the world-­ making power of images past and f­uture. The depth of their conceptual practice, while not usually recognized for this achievement, opens up interpretation of work by their male counter­parts in terms other than t­ hose of a universalizing story of artistic expression.

Image Worlds and Worldings

The concept of the “image world,” central to my critical praxis, emerged from my encounters with t­ hese artists and their work. Image worlds highlight the relationships among images, in which the form and meaning of one is s­ haped by o­ thers, within a complex network invoked in the pro­cess of looking and making. Any single historicist line of influence and attribution thus ruptures into a web of meaning in which past works are not hermetically sealed but open to resignification from multiple directions. Image worlds also show how par­tic­u­lar understandings of the world are made vis­i­ble by the image and how images are works that draw on and remake a world of other images.60 Image worlds take, in the words of ­Rasheed Araeen, “art as method.” It is art, as he writes, “by which modernity as an advancing force is defined by its exclusive Eu­ro­pean subjectivity; only art can confront neo-­imperialism and offer a model of decolonialism.”61 To think in terms of image worlds is to visualize the multidirectional tensions


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between colonial and decolonial forces (East-­West and male-­female) that shape the work of art enmeshed in a global network of power relations. The work of art, in “setting up a world,” emerges in my fieldwork zone of encounter from tensions between dif­fer­ent stagings of the world, or “worldings.”62 Worldings have the aura of totality, yet the continual supplanting of one by another or the coexistence of radically dif­fer­ent visions shatters any such sureness. A geneology of worlding as theoretical concept, followed by a tracing of several worldings that continually resurface in the palimpsest of Chinese con­temporary art, sets the stage for my ethnographic argument that begins with part I: Art Worldings. ­These selected worldings gesture ­toward the expansive archive of images, and the webs of meaning in which they are implicated, that artists pull from as they develop their repertoire and potential to differentially remake the world.63 The ways ­these worldings overlap with or haunt one another are foundational to the contradictions arising in the field of Chinese con­temporary art. Hong Hao’s Selected Scriptures, a series of silk-­screen prints that resemble classical maps of exploration and discovery, pres­ents interleaved, conflicting worldings. Each print’s map appears to be contained within a traditionally bound book, opened to a par­tic­u­lar page. This fictitious atlas binds together, however, not the world’s nations, but differently ­imagined organ­ izations of world space. Its maps scramble the world in any number of ways: by redrawing borders, shuffling place names, or altering the shape of geographic landmasses. In some, legends are labeled “Corrections.” Dotted-­ line routes of ancient seafaring vessels and modern fighter jets connote crisscrossing trade and military connections. For New World Order I, Hong identified nations with the names of large corporations. New Topography assigns vast tracts of land to First World countries and crowds the Third World within severely delimited bound­aries. In New Po­liti­cal World (figure Intro.03), First and Third Worlds are reversed. The shape of the United States is shaded yellow and labeled the ­People’s Republic of China. A pink landmass sprouting the head, legs, and tail of a fox, labeled Mozambique, replaces Eu­rope. The reiteration of “new” suggests a continual displacement of one world by another, although they all appear within the covers of a single book. Gayatri Spivak invokes the term worlding in her critique of imperialism and the role of lit­er­at­ure as a crucial form of cultural repre­sen­ta­tion in underwriting the imperialist proj­ect. She characterizes her notion of the “worlding of a world” as a vulgarization of Martin Heidegger’s philosophical idea of a world in relation to the earth, which shelters in its uninscribed

INTRO.03  ​Hong

Hao, Selected Scriptures–New Po­liti­cal World, 1995. Silkscreen on paper, 55 cm × 76 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

spontaneity.64 The world, as I understand Heidegger’s formulation, is the ­human abstraction of what happens on earth, an ideological construct that makes material social relations seem natu­ral, of the earth. Through her postcolonial reading of Heidegger, Spivak describes a worlding as the implicit, naturalized script that suffuses the lit­er­a­ture of Eu­ro­pean colonizing cultures in the creation of something that has come to be called “the Third World,” a narrative that organizes the world according to chronological, developmental stages. In this narrative, the colonized are robbed of the power to world, to represent their relationship to the earth. Spivak continues, “To consider the Third World as distant cultures, exploited but with rich intact literary heritages waiting to be recovered, interpreted, and curricularized in En­glish translation fosters the emergence of ‘the Third World’ as a signifier that allows us to forget that ‘worlding,’ even as it expands the empire of the literary discipline.”65 The colonized are hence consigned to the earth that shelters the colonizer worlding. The work of deconstruction becomes necessary to unforget or reveal this power­ful pro­cess of concealment, in which the world of the historical ­people of the Third World, and especially the native w ­ oman, has been repressed. This worlding persists in some of the ways Chinese art has been managed in Western art spaces, but is also disrupted by other worldings—­ those advanced by China’s successive modernity proj­ects, each of which

Gendered Worldings

Extending the idea developed by ­these thinkers, I conclude this chapter with three worldings—­semicolonial, anticolonial, and late socialist. Each is made vis­ib­ le through images and structured by gender. Taken together they provide a framework for placing Chinese con­temporary art in the expanded field. The first of t­hese, a semicolonial worlding, is characterized by a term used to signify that China was not colonized outright by a single power, but subject to multiple Euro-­American and Japa­nese imperialisms.67 Chinese con­temporary artists’ uneasy relationship with the West emerges from a frequently invoked national memory of colonial humiliation.68 As brass plaques at tourist sites in Beijing remind visitors, Western powers at the end of the nineteenth c­ entury and early twentieth c­ entury looted China’s imperial trea­sures. In “Looting Beijing: 1860, 1900,” James Hevia argues that the 1860 moment of Opium War plunder created new markets and knowledge of Chinese objets d’art, firmly situating ­things Chinese “within a global discourse on the curiosities of non-­European ­peoples, and as commodities, the common sense of cap­it­ al­ist market exchange.”69 In the forty-­year interim between 1860 and subsequent looting in 1900 when an eight-­nation foreign alliance crushed the peasant uprising of the Boxer Rebellion, systematized practices of discernment grew in sophistication as auctioned objects passed into Eu­ro­pean and American markets.70 Foreign art dealers opened shop in Beijing, and Western connoisseurs published tracts on Chinese art detailing classification schemes that guided the cata­loging of items in institutions like London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.71 ­These developments occurred si­mul­ta­neously with the birth of modern exhibition spaces funded by the nation-­state: the public museum and international exposition.


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required a rupture from the immediate past. Rebecca Karl’s work, for example, on early Chinese nationalists demonstrates how they confronted Euro-­American and Japa­nese imperialisms that had inscribed China as part of the Third World. They resisted through alternative ways of “staging the world”—­tracing connections with po­liti­cal movements such as the Philippine revolution against the United States—in order to nurture an anticolonial consciousness.66



In an essay on British institutional framings of Chinese art, Craig Clunas admits to a moment of boyhood fetishism. His f­ ather took him, at the age of fourteen, to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum. Enthralled in the “Far Eastern Room” by a carved lacquer throne of the Chinese Emperor Qianlong (figure Intro.04), he waited for the guard to look away, then knelt before it. De­cades ­later, a­ fter he has become curator of the same China collection, he unpacks the historical pro­cesses by which British public museums transferred Chinese objects from the domain of ethnography to that of “Chinese art,” in a containment of Chinese culture as something with “a glorious past, a decayed and exhausted pres­ent and no ­future,” a stage inviting theatricality.72 Within this display of China as an exhausted “lost state,” the traditional Chinese w ­ oman came to stand as symbol of its de­cadent decay, and for Chinese reformers, of what they had to overcome to build a healthy, modern nation. As plundered Chinese objects entered Western collections, so did typifying postcards such as “Canton: Chinese Small Feet Beauty” (figure Intro.05) and “Chine: Chinoise à petit pied” (figure Intro.06).73 ­These images ­were reprinted in a 2001 Beijing Youth News article. The first hand-­colored studio photo­graph stages the ­woman with her silk-­clad bound feet as one among several assembled Oriental objects. In the second photo­graph, captured in documentary black and white, the w ­ oman holds up her bare foot to the camera, exposing its bent shape to a voy­eur­is­tic, ethnographic gaze.74 The newspaper article, “Deformity beneath a Glorious Costume,” introduces a book of postcards produced during the late Qing Dynasty, explaining that ­these foreign repre­sen­ta­tions of China w ­ ill give con­temporary youth a sense of their civilization’s past “profound grief and bitterness.”75 Vanquished China became equated with exotic images exposing how Chinese culture had deformed its ­women. In China’s treaty ports, where multiple foreign powers exerted economic and po­liti­cal control, reform-­minded intellectuals sought to explain and change their world situation. As Tani Barlow details, they turned to internationally circulating evolutionary discourse informed by the male/ female binary of Victorian anthropological sex theory.76 They interpreted Chinese tradition as having unnaturally oppressed ­woman, thereby making China weak, and forged the idea of a new eroticized ­woman, nüxing, based on a theory that prioritized sexual difference and desire over Confucian protocols concerning the position of a kinswoman in the patriline. They believed that liberating ­women for sexual se­lection, to choose their own reproductive partners, would eugenically strengthen the Chinese ­people.

INTRO.04  ​Throne,

ca. 1775–80. Carved lacquer on a wood core. Taken from the Nan Yuan hunting park in 1901. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. INTRO.05 ​ “Canton:

Chinese Small Feet Beauty,” ca. 1905. French postcard.

INTRO.06  ​“Chine:

Chinoise à petit pied; Mendiant Chinois,” ca. 1905. Belgian postcard.



Chinese progressive feminism and nüxing, a neologism made up of the ideographs for “female” and “sex,” emerged from the drive to form a modern nation that could stand up to colonialism. (A forward-­looking term at the time of its coining, nüxing has since under­gone a complex history of repeated disavowal and reclamation.) This Chinese conjunction of nation building and female liberation produced w ­ omen as signifiers of modernity. This semicolonial worlding led Chinese nationalists at the turn of the ­century and ­later Marxist critics in the 1920s and 1930s to reimagine the globe through an anticolonial worlding. In contradistinction to the racialized hierarchy of more or less civilized or advanced cultures promoted by imperialist visions of the world, they drew a distinction between ­those who used cultural difference in order to legitimate violent colonial oppression and ­those who through historical consciousness strug­gled for revolutionary self-­actualization. Chinese socialist art thus images an international axis in which the p­ eople of Asia, Africa, and Latin Amer­ic­ a stand in solidarity with Mao at the center. As Julia Andrews points out, the painting Mao Zedong with the ­People of Asia, Africa, and Latin Amer­ i­ca (figure Intro.07) by Jin Shangyi and Wu Biduan contains yet another historical layer of po­liti­cal realignment.77 Both paint­ers ­were influenced by Soviet socialist realism; Jin was a gradu­ate of an impor­tant oil painting class taught in China by Soviet painter Konstantin Maksimov, and Wu had studied in Leningrad. They most likely drew on A. A. Myl’nikov’s Awakening, exhibited in China in 1957, which depicts the ­people of Africa, the ­Middle East, and the Amer­ic­ as marching together with raised fists. As the rift between China and the Soviet Union widened in the late 1950s, leading to an official split in 1960, Jin and Wu represented China at the global center of orthodox Communism. This anticolonial worlding depended on a new conception of ­woman, as the nüxing of treaty-­port reform discourse came to represent w ­ oman as bourgeois, desiring, and self-­obsessed. Chinese Communist thinkers theorized a national revolutionary female subject; and funü—­signifiying a massified subject to be mobilized for state po­liti­cal movements including class revolution—­superseded the eroticized nüxing.78 While class consciousness now eclipsed that of gender, the question of w ­ oman remained front and center in official ideology with the goal of proving a Marxist tenet fundamental to Maoist gender discourse, that “the degree of ­woman’s emancipation is the natu­ral mea­sure of the general emancipation.”79 Socialist realism depicted ­women “holding up half the sky,” in paintings such as Pan Jiajun’s 1972 I Am a “Seagull”(figure Intro.08). Iron girls repaired high-­


chinese con­t emporary art

INTRO.07 ​ Jin

Shangyi and Wu Biduan, Mao Zedong with the ­People of Asia, Africa, and Latin Amer­ic­ a, 1960. Gouache. Published on the August 1960 cover of China Reconstructs. Courtesy of Wu Biduan.

voltage wires, welded girders, operated heavy machinery, shouldered guns, and harvested crops, dressed in the same clothes as men and performing the same tasks. They appeared again and again, “red, bright, and shining” (hong guang liang) with their gazes trained upward and outward, as official art pedagogy instructed. They became a fixture of visual culture, even as the number of prominent female artists during the height of socialism paled in comparison with their pictorial multiplicity and arguably even shrank from their ranks in early twentieth-­century art circles when bourgeois ­women’s art education flourished in cities like Shanghai.80 Throughout the Cold War, Western museums limited their display of Chinese art to the antiquities of its lost empire, with the visual arts u ­ nder Mao held at bay as po­liti­cal propaganda.81 In the United States, abstract expressionism became the epitome of Western modern art’s ­will to freedom,



INTRO.08 ​ Pan Jiajun, I Am a “Seagull,” 1972. Oil painting. Courtesy of the artist and the Guangdong Museum of Art.

its ideological promotion of abstraction, coded as more advanced in the language of formal innovation, over the po­liti­cal avant-­garde.82 While the artists I met during my fieldwork had trained in the visual styles and iconography of a revolutionary socialist worlding, their movement into a global art market forced them to confront late socialist “linked-­up-­with-­ the world” worldings. China’s integration with transnational capitalism reconfigured its global imaginary to one ­shaped not through alliance with Third World comrades but by connections with Asia and Oumei (Eu­rope and Amer­i­ca). This shift in visualizing the world comes into focus in a work like Wang Qingsong’s Forum (figure Intro.09). In this 2001 photo­graph, one in a series of staged, performative self-­portraits, the artist appears as a modern-­day Chinese bureaucrat sitting before a battery of microphones and photog­raphers. The sign ­behind him announces, in Chinese and En­ glish, a fictitious “International Forum on Reestablishing Con­temporary Civilization in China.” The log­os on the sign for the event’s corporate sponsors range from Japan’s jvc to the yellow arches of McDonald’s; the micro-


chinese con­t emporary art

phones are marked with insignia for medial channels such as bbc, cnn, cctv, and Fox News, as well as national flags representing Canada, South ­Korea, and vari­ous Eu­ro­pean nations. The audience the artist addresses, with self-­mocking seriousness, is clearly a cap­it­ al­ist West with links to the developmentalist economies of East Asia. Female contemporaries Cao Fei and Huang Yin examine the commercialized and gendered aspects of this new worlding by adorning the female body with the cosmopolitan fashions of Burberry’s trademark plaid and Louis Vuitton’s signature bag, markers of luxury precisely ­because their manufacturers claim the genuine articles are not made in China, although knock-­off copies and many other Western name brands are produced by Chinese female factory l­abor. In Cao’s video Rabid Dogs (figure Intro.10), actors in Beijing opera-­style makeup perform a parody of the city’s new class of office workers as groveling “rabid dogs.” Huang’s oil painting Myth (figure Intro.11) reproduces the sleek surfaces of commercial photography, only the model’s head turned coyly t­ oward the viewer is that of a cartoonish smiling dog. They conflate the female body not only with the fashion markers of con­spic­u­ous consumption but with a commodity item signifying urbane wealth and leisure in China, the pet dog. In t­hese images, which work through China’s bid to “link tracks with the world,” ­there lurks a suspicion of how Chinese accumulation of symbolic and cultural capital ­will translate into social capital in the eyes of the “world,” as well as of the repressions entailed in ­these dressed-up embodiments of “con­temporary civilization.” The reverse anthropomorphism in Rabid Dogs and Myth resonates with the oft-­repeated story of the colonial park in Shanghai with a sign forbidding the entrance of both Chinese and dogs. Cao’s artist statement for her video exudes resignation and indignation: “We are surely poor dogs, willing to act as animals and locked in the cage of modernization. When ­will we have the courage to bite our bosses ruthlessly, taking off our masks, peeling off our fur, and becoming a group of real rabid dogs?”83 The pieces by Cao and Huang also articulate with the resurgence of ­woman as nüxing in what Tani Barlow labels market feminism and traces through Chinese thinkers like Li Xiaojiang.84 In the 1980s, Li led a critique of revolutionary modernity that sought to “recover” ­woman from the funü subject represented by state organ­izations. When Deng-­era Marxist humanist phi­los­op­ hers critiqued the destruction of individual agency ­under Mao, Li identified the h ­ uman subject they aimed to recuperate as male. In response, she theorized a female subject whose dehumanization had taken



INTRO.09 ​ Wang

Qingsong, Forum, 2001. Chromogenic print, 120 cm × 210 cm. Courtesy of the artist. INTRO.10  ​Cao

Fei, Rabid Dogs–­Hungry Dog, 2002. Chromogenic print (of video still), 60 cm × 90 cm. Courtesy of Cao Fei and Vitamin Creative Space.


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INTRO.11  ​Huang

Yin, Imitation Louis Vuitton Advertisement Series–Myth, 2004. Oil on canvas, 192 cm × 158 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

place most trenchantly at the level of the body and argued that Maoist culture had obliterated natu­ral sex difference and denaturalized ­women’s bodies by requiring conformity to a male standard. Li posited instead an essential ­woman, whose creative powers lay in her physiological difference and could be realized through the pleasures of reproduction and domestic consumption.85 Her position gained popu­lar currency, especially among a growing sector of quasi-­middle-­class ­women and influenced the rise of cultural formations like nüxing yishu. This move to recuperate feminine



subjectivity, however, also raised questions like ­those posed by the artistic repre­sen­ta­tion of grinning, groveling canine w ­ omen about commodification and containment. In her essay “A Scene in the Fog,” feminist cultural critic Dai Jinhua describes 1990s Chinese culture as a “city of mirrors.” She writes, “Con­ temporary Chinese culture resembles a scene in the fog, transfixed between orientalism and occidentalism, interpellated by dif­fer­ent, diametrically opposed power centers, existing in a proliferating, multiple, overlapping cultural space. The light optimistic boat is destined to be overloaded with the heritages of premodernity, modernity, Cold War-­era and eighties culture.”86 With this “light optimistic boat” meta­phor­ically evoking a dream vision of China achieving global parity through the ferrying of its culture into the world, Dai reads from the surface the swelling currents that pull and batter the craft. Experimental Beijing follows the historical moment of Dai’s description, as the scene explodes with the millennial fervor of Olympic fireworks, which trail into dust and smoke in the aftermath. It examines the new cultural monuments to China’s global f­ uture that appeared on the horizon, even as other visions of being in the world glimmered at their power­ful edges. It asks what can be gleaned from the ephemeral experiments that flash up from the shadows of history—­those excavations of ruins always proximate to the construction site, t­ hose inventories of traces that deconstruct and remake from the rubble. As Beijing turned itself over to “enter the world,” the work of art collaborated with and subverted this new Chinese Dream. Wang Nengtao’s Subversion–­Earth documents this worlding, as well as the uninscribed spontaneity of the earth, the possibility of subversion by t­hose on the ground. Yin Xiuzhen’s Portable Beijing shut­tles through the world while si­mul­ta­neously giving shelter to an intimate, tactile history of other forms of social organ­ization and connection. Chen Lingyang’s 25:00 glows with the magic hour fantasy of inhabiting the “real/male” world on one’s own terms. To place Chinese con­temporary art in the expanded field, in “a proliferating, multiple, overlapping cultural space,” requires a double vision that holds monumental and ephemeral together.


Art Worldings

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Xianfeng Beijing


The invitation for the now historic 1989 “no U-­turn” exhibit in Beijing at the National Art Museum of China pres­ents a translingual puzzle.1 The Chinese text at the top reads Zhongguo xiandai yishu zhan (Chinese modern art exhibit). The En­glish text at the bottom, China/Avant-­Garde, anticipates a foreign audience. It also introduces a discrepancy that reveals the prob­ lem of translation when understood as a pro­cess of producing linguistic equivalencies.2 What do we make of “modern” in Chinese versus “avant-­ garde” in En­glish? Or of the French “avant-­garde,” coined in the nineteenth ­century, in ­later Chinese and En­glish contexts? Curator Gao Minglu explains that while xiandai (modern) in 1980s China signified newness, he and the editor of the exhibit cata­logue agreed that “ ‘avant-­garde’ made more sense than ‘modern’ as a translation of the original Chinese title.”3 Modern in En­glish seemed outdated, suggesting even a period style. Avant-­ garde sounded cutting-­edge. Gao notes that Chinese artists and critics first began using qianwei (literally, forward guard) and xianfeng (literally, advance front) t­oward the end of the 1980s. It was only a­ fter 1989 that they gradually replaced “modern” as descriptors for con­temporary art practice.4 As Chinese art circulated u ­ nder the label xianfeng/avant-­garde in the 1990s, I found myself struck, at street level, by a Chinese context for the term that diverged from its cultural ­career in the West. I regularly slid money through a subway ticket win­dow u ­ nder a brass plaque engraved with the characters gongren xianfeng hao (vanguard worker designation), a distinction awarded to units demonstrating an exemplary socialist work ethic. I noticed the honorary title on red and gold placards displayed in the front win­dows of public buses. I recognized its cognate of shaonian xianfeng dui (young pioneers) on elementary school banners and in the nationalist ­children’s anthem whose lyr­ics impel young heirs of the Communist mantel to courageously advance t­oward victory. I noticed it in advertisements

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FIG 1.01  ​Gao

­Brothers, eds., Zhongguo qianwei yishu zhuangkuang (The condition of Chinese avant-­garde art), Nanjing: Jiangsu renmin chubanshe, 2002. Book cover. Cover art: Qi Zhilong, China Girl.

for electronics equipment, articles on home decorating, and public injunctions for Beijing to succeed in its bid for the Olympics, as well as on the cover of new art journals like Jinri xianfeng (Avant-­garde ­today).5 It was a term still in flux, with a past that lived on in pres­ent juxtaposition with new meanings. As a descriptor for the field I entered, xianfeng signifies the historical, po­liti­cal vanguard of Beijing as national capital and the forms of artistic activity it has fostered over time. It connotes revolutionary militarism and cultural cosmopolitanism. Only by assembling the translingual fragments of avant-­garde/qianwei/xianfeng can we make sense of their cultural encounter in the context of Chinese con­temporary art. Take for example the painting of a young ­woman in Red Guard uniform on the cover of a book titled The Condition of Chinese Avant-­Garde Art (figure 1.01). Qi Zhilong’s China Girl references a Maoist history of vanguardism, yet is infused with the soft come-­hither glow of con­temporary commodity culture. It appeals to Western desires for a Chinese avant-­garde as po­liti­cal fetish that ventriloquizes liberal freedom of expression. It represents a Chinese break from the collectivized past of Maoist modernity even while remaining influenced

Cultural Capital

The artists I interviewed lived in locations scattered throughout Beijing, a megacity at the turn of the millennium of more than 10 million p­ eople. The logistics of my research involved spending significant time on the subway, on buses, in cabs, or on carts attached to the back of three-­wheeled motorcycles. In a Shijingshan District classroom, a college art teacher painted a wall-­sized canvas crowded with popu­lar figures ranging from politicians to movie stars, in a style influenced by propaganda posters and folk art. In the semirural Western Hills, a painter-­turned-­video artist from Anhui vented about local and global cultural hierarchies in a rudimentary brick dwelling rented from a farmer. In a Chongwen District high-­rise, a painter-­turned-­ performance artist living in a concrete-­box apartment on the tenth floor took photos from her win­dow of the construction site next door. In Songzhuang artist village, a cluster of studios built on farmland in Tongzhou District, the “po­liti­cal pop” painter whose massive compound I visited with a group of curators w ­ asn’t home. Instead, a hired apprentice from the countryside worked away on one of his paintings that fetched rec­ord prices on the international market.


xianfeng beijing

by its revolutionary aesthetics. It also represents the per­sis­tence of gender politics in the confluence of avant-­garde ideologies. This chapter examines the remaking of Beijing first through an overview of cultural policy in relation to the capital city, and of avant-­garde genealogies.6 It then portrays this remaking through a montage of ethnographic fragments or­ga­nized around key art institutions—­acad­emy, palace, village, and museum—as they shift from sites of revolutionary nationalism to culture industry formation. Montage as method underlies the composition of this book, which assem­bles an account of cultural transition from closely observed ethnographic fragments and builds its argument across chapters. It is an assemblage whose theory of knowledge arises from dialectical contrasts between colliding myths of pro­gress and modernity. Its compositional aesthetics reflect ­those of the artists I focus on, whose works often represent “dialectics at a standstill.”7 Bringing gender to the analy­sis heightens awareness of the relationship between avant-­gardism and nationalism, and thus the need to deconstruct the avant-­garde myth of originality as a repressive and colonizing technology whose professed faith in renewal and innovation masks its power plays.


Beijing Olympic Green

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Yuanmingyuan Artist Village

National “Bird's Nest” Stadium

H A IDIAN DIS T R ICT to Western Hills

Central Minorities University

Xu Beihong Memorial Hall Shichahai Park

China National Children's Center

X I C HE NG D I ST RI C T China Millennium Monument World Art Museum

Palace Museum National Grand Theater of China Liulichang Street


Points of interest Areas of interest



Water areas


MAP 1.01  ​Map

of Beijing (western half). Designed by Tim Stallmann using data from author’s notes and OpenStreetMap.

In spite of their differences, ­these artists routinely reiterated Beijing’s status as China’s “cultural center” (wenhua zhongxin), although their counter­ parts in the provinces often asserted the freedom of being “far from the emperor’s eye.” This belief in Beijing’s prominence persisted through the 1990s in spite of the fact that con­temporary art exhibits in the capital ­were shut down with greater regularity than in other cities with burgeoning art scenes like Shanghai or Chengdu. The infamous reputation of the Beijing

Caochangdi Art Area

Beijing Olympic Green

Central Academy of Fine Arts (New Campus)

Beijing 798 Art District

C HAOYA NG International Exhibition Center Contemporary MOMA Real Estate Complex


One World Art Center

East Village Artist Village

DO N GC H EN G DIS T R ICT National Art Museum of China

Central Business District CCTV Tower

Palace Museum CourtYard Gallery Central Academy of Fine Arts (Old Campus)

SOHO Modern City Real Estate Complex

Tiananmen Square Red Gate Gallery

Beijing Urban Planning Museum

East Modern Art Center to Songzhuang Artist Village (Tongzhou District)

Today Art Museum


0 0

2.5 1

5 km 2 Miles

MAP 1.02 ​Map

of Beijing (eastern half). Designed by Tim Stallmann using data from author’s notes and OpenStreetMap.

Ministry of Culture led to jokes about how censorship of an exhibit guaranteed foreign attention. When I asked artists, especially ­those without Beijing residence permits, work units, or familial connections, why they wanted to live ­there, some mentioned the large number of universities, including the Central Acad­emy of Fine Arts, a historical sense of Beijing as imperial seat of culture, or even the creative tension of official opposition. ­Others responded along the lines of “­because I can meet p­ eople like you,”

xianfeng beijing

National “Bird's Nest” Stadium


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meaning a foreigner. Beijing’s embassy districts and foreign-­owned galleries catering to overseas buyers led to the development of a patronage system that attracted curators and art brokers from abroad. This magnetism eventually became a resource for the state’s remaking of Beijing. ­After the controversial closures of the China/Avant-­Garde exhibit in 1989, followed by the events of June 4, the national Ministry of Culture initially turned its sights t­ oward the south. The first China Art Exposition (Zhongguo yishu bolanhui), the nation’s largest showcase of con­temporary art, was launched in 1993 in Guangzhou’s Chinese Import-­Export Commodities Trade Center. This linkage between art and commerce occurred one year ­after Deng Xiaoping’s highly publicized tour of the south. During his visit to the special economic zones of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, he praised their commercial successes and advocated market reform as the way for China to overcome its recent domestic turmoil and open connections with the world through trade. In 1995, organizers moved the China Art Expo to Beijing, claiming its location in Guangzhou had not garnered sufficient international attention. In the early 2000s, the weeklong art exposition continued to be held e­ very summer in Beijing’s International Exhibition Center. Rows of numbered booths, rented by artists, galleries, art schools, publishing ­houses, antique dealers, and companies promoting art and culture, filled two cavernous halls. Many artists welcomed the Expo, in spite of its Ministry of Culture sponsorship, as an alternative to official exhibition spaces. ­After an initial period of enthusiasm, some dismissively likened the Expo to a hodgepodge marketplace, a maze of street stall getihu (in­de­pen­dent entrepreneurs), with no distinction between good and bad. The most disparaging had begun showing their work in Beijing’s foreign-­run galleries. Their desire for the distinction of market valuation ran c­ ounter to one of the original rationales for the Expo, a commercial twist on the socialist goal of “serving the ­people”: that offering art at affordable prices would combat elitism and make the nation’s art accessible to the general public.8 The move of the Expo also represented a symbolic strug­gle between north and south. ­After Guangzhou proved that promoting cultural festivals and programs was good for business, Beijing ­adopted the model. Jing Wang notes, “The recent hype about Beijing’s capital impact (shoudu xiaoying) was the result of an intensifying image race orchestrated and monitored closely by the Department of the Strategies of Cultural Development in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Beijing. As Shanghai and Guangzhou shifted their emphasis of urban planning from industrial to cultural economy,

Avant-­Guard Genealogies

Shi Xinning’s “Duchamp Retrospective Exhibition” in China (figure 1.02) juxtaposes iconic symbols of the avant-­garde of Western art and Chinese socialism. In a fictional encounter of “impossible real­ity”—an altered reproduction of an image taken at an official visit to an industrial exhibition by one of Mao Zedong’s official photog­raphers (figure 1.03)—­Shi depicts the chairman intently inspecting Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain.15 On the one hand, it references the ­Great Leap Forward, Mao’s campaign beginning in 1958 to transform the country through rapid industrialization, when exhibits of modern amenities became a staple of Cold War politics. A year ­after Mao’s tour of the biogas exhibition, evidence of China’s pro­gress


xianfeng beijing

Beijing followed suit.”9 In 1996, Beijing’s Municipal Po­liti­cal Consultative Committee articulated a new development strategy, “founding the capital through culture” (wenhua lidu).10 They highlighted Beijing’s historical heritage as a reserve of cultural capital that financial or commercial cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou could never attain. The city government soon began investing in the large-­scale construction of new cultural institutions, a trend that accelerated a­ fter Beijing won the bid in 2001 for the 2008 Olympics.11 This race between Beijing and other Chinese cities to develop the “tertiary sector” of culture as proof of their global arrival represented a major shift in national spatial ideology. Maoist rhe­toric celebrated the revolutionary qualities of the rural peasantry as a vanguard force in the communist nation’s pro­gress. A post-­Mao focus on urbanization made cities the new national object of desire and resignified rural ­people as backward or stuck in the past. State-­disseminated discourse on suzhi (quality) reinforced the idea that rural citizens, relative to their urban counter­parts, most needed to raise their suzhi, even as official economic strategy led to widening material disparity between city and country.12 This state redirection and investment in cities corresponded with a transformation from coercive to regulatory forms of governance.13 For example, the Ministry of Culture, once viewed as a policing body, became the sponsor of the China Art Expo. In Jing Wang’s words, “The state’s rediscovery of culture as a site where new ruling technologies can be deployed and converted si­mul­ta­ neously into economic capital constitutes one of its most innovative strategies of statecraft since the founding of the ­People’s Republic.”14

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­toward surpassing cap­it­al­ist development within fifteen years, Khrushchev and Nixon hotly debated their nations’ technological superiority in a model American kitchen on display in Moscow.16 Mao’s gaze turns a stove into a politic symbol of surpassing the ­enemy. On the other hand, Shi’s black-­and-­white painting references the avant-­garde aesthetic of Marcel Duchamp, who promoted conceptual thought over visual plea­sure. Duchamp’s idea of the readymade became the “antiart” move that secured his place of prominence in modern art history. Through a pro­cess of se­lection and alteration, he transformed ordinary manufactured objects into art. Fountain, the urinal he signed R. Mutt and first exhibited in 1917, has come to serve as a critique of the museum’s institutional power to convey artistic value. (Shi’s image collision draws the humorous connection between urinal and biogas stove: of excrement powering modernity.) Preparations for a Duchamp retrospective exhibition ­were in fact contemporaneous with the photo of Mao’s exhibition visit; it eventually opened in 1963 at the Pasadena Museum of Art. Shi makes t­hese two avant-­garde visions proximal. His documentary style of painting, based on his training in socialist realism at Shenyang’s Lu Xun Acad­emy of Fine Arts, mimics the way artists ­under Mao reworked historical paintings in response to po­liti­cal winds.17 The resulting “impossible real­ity” imbricates the masculinist chess match of Cold War politics with that of Western modernist aesthetics. The readymade in Shi Xinning’s painting—­the photo­graph he reproduces, the urinal he places in it—­becomes a symbolic fetish animated by opposing versions of historicism and surpassing the other. In my conversations with artists, they often reflected ambivalently on what it meant to be called avant-­garde. One artist had created an altar to Mao Zedong in the corner of his studio, an installation piece as he called it. He provided a revisionist history as he looped avant-­garde back to the role of culture in Maoist thought. At the center of the installation was an old dresser mirror purchased at a junk market. The slogan “to serve the ­people,” now chipped and faded, had been painted in red at the top of the mirror. Cultural Revolution images of Mao stuck in its wooden border framed the face of whoever looked into the mirror. Other propaganda images and a pair of red candles w ­ ere laid as offerings in front of the mirror. His memory of the Cultural Revolution contained scars—­police had investigated him as a teenager for allegedly writing an anti-­Mao slogan on a village wall—­but he remained in awe of the pervasiveness of its aesthetic, the everyday influence of decorated mirrors like the one he’d found discarded. He disparaged the materialistic ethos that permeated the cur-


xianfeng beijing

FIG 1.02 ​Shi

Xinning, “Duchamp Retrospective Exhibition” in China, 2001. Oil on canvas, 100 cm × 100 cm. FIG 1.03  ​Xu

Xiaobing, Mao Zedong and Wang Renzhong Visit 1958 ­Exhibition of Biogas Uses, 1958. Photo­graph.

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rent era and the professionalized cir­cuits of its so-­called avant-­garde: “In my view, if ­we’re talking about ­people who make so-­called avant-­garde art, I think Mao Zedong was the greatest avant-­garde artist. He r­ eally was unmatched. ­Under his orchestration, the clothes that ­people wore, the soldiers’ uniforms, w ­ ere all blue, every­thing was that kind of ­thing, with every­one standing together. For avant-­garde artists to do this t­oday, that would ­really be an amazing piece. My worship for Mao is as an artist. . . . ​ He was r­ eally an artist not a politician. He ­really ­couldn’t be a politician.”18 At a dinner party of exactly the kind of artists he disparaged, contradictions still came to the fore. They gathered in a paint­er’s renovated apartment, which had just been featured in an interior design magazine. ­After discussion about home decorating princi­ples, the pros and cons of ikea’s influence in Beijing, and the travails involved in securing visas for travel to overseas exhibits, the conversation turned t­ oward the position of intellectuals in Chinese society. A debate broke out about Lu Xun, the highly regarded twentieth-­century writer, social critic, and proponent of the leftist woodblock movement, canonized by the Chinese Communist Party ­after his death in 1936. One artist commented that for all their recent material accumulation and aspiration to cultural refinement, they ­couldn’t come close to Lu Xun’s lifestyle. He’d been reading Lu Xun’s diaries and was struck by the resources he had. Converting Lu Xun’s reported income into modern currency, he claimed it would be tens of thousands of yuan a month. In his assessment, Lu Xun spent most of his f­ree time buying ­things—­books, paintings, antiques, even old courtyard homes. O ­ thers joked that Lu Xun had become such an acerbic social critic ­because ­every morning he would bargain with art and antique dealers on Liulichang Street. Angry at being cheated out of a good price, he would return home and use his pen to curse p­ eople. As they debated w ­ hether this information about Lu Xun made him a cultural connoisseur to emulate or a leisured and thus hypocritical social critic, I realized that this literary gossip was about trying to figure out, via a reevaluation of a symbol like Lu Xun, their place in the national order of ­things. The images that many of t­ hese artists produced are cultural signs that point in dif­fer­ent directions, a characteristic that emerges from and interrupts a Communist past. Tani Barlow observes, “All signs in a Maoist culture regime would, by definition, always have two potential referents. In theory, all national forms pointed backward to the national (and thus feudal) past and si­mul­ta­neously forward to the bright potential of socialism. The Maoist framing of culture institutionalized this instability.”19 As Chinese


xianfeng beijing

con­temporary artists wrangled with what it meant to be avant-­garde, they continued to embrace the instability of the Maoist cultural sign, even as they worked in a space of encounter like that of Shi Xinning’s painting, where “avant-­garde” sparks dif­fer­ent chains of genealogical signification. The term’s French origins date to the nineteenth c­ entury, when it connoted a close association between culture and socialist politics. Baudelaire used it in the 1860s as a term of contempt for leftist writers. Renato Poggioli traces how, a­ fter the 1871 suppression of the Paris Commune, the term came to refer to a separate artistic movement. The avant-­garde, in his description, maintained an autonomous but parallel existence with the po­liti­cal left. Its prac­ti­tion­ers ­were bohemian iconoclasts devoted to innovation and futurity. Poggioli further argues that the avant-­garde could only flourish in a liberal society: “Avant-­garde art is by nature incapable of surviving not only the persecution but even the protection or the official patronage of a totalitarian state and a collective society, whereas the hostility of public opinion can be useful to it.”20 It thus depends on, even if through opposition to, free-­market liberalism. Peter Bürger further argues that the embrace of the avant-­garde by the very establishment institutions it opposed led to its death. When museums absorbed avant-­garde art into a system complicit with capitalism, they neutralized its critical function.21 “Avant-­garde” entered Chinese through neologisms produced by early-­ twentieth-­century translations of French, Japa­nese, and Rus­sian sources. Chinese intellectuals working ­under the conditions of semicolonialism produced an era of furious translingual practice, as they brought concepts from foreign sources to bear on their strug­gle for national sovereignty. Art and politics in this context could not be understood as separate, as Gao Minglu argues in his theorization of China’s “total modernity,” marking its cultural and historical difference from the autonomous conception of the avant-­garde in the West.22 An early use of the term appears in Lin Wenzheng’s review of the first Capital Fine Arts Exhibition, held in Nanjing in 1928. He praises the work by several artists as “the avant-­garde [qianfeng] of modern China’s art world,” and advocates an art of the ­people, supported by public institutions, that ­will raise their spiritual consciousness and national sensibility to a level equivalent with Eu­ro­pean society.23 In Japan, the term appeared in formations such as Sasaki Takamaru’s Avant-­Garde Theater and Kurahara Korehito’s Alliance of Avant-­Garde Artists. Chinese dramatist Tian Han met both during his 1927 visit to Tokyo, during which Sasaki warned him against the empty rhe­toric of artistic autonomy.24 Kurahara had recently

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returned from the Soviet Union and became the leading Marxist theoretician during the Japa­nese proletarian art movement of the late 1920s and early 1930s. The kanji they used for avant-­garde traveled back to China as qianwei.25 Other versions emerged in usages by the Guomin­dang, as well as by critics like Lu Xun. In 1930, the Guomin­dang government promoted a nationalist literary movement to c­ ounter the rise of revolutionary lit­er­a­ture. New journals such as Qianfeng zhoubao (Avant-­garde weekly) and Qianfeng yuebao (Avant-­garde monthly) published patriotic stories featuring heroic ­battle scenes. Lu Xun attacked one of ­these writers for his comparison of Chinese nationalists fighting warlords with French colonists fighting native Arabs in the African desert, as a telling identification with imperial masters.26 One year ­later, he published a commemorative issue of the underground magazine Qianshao (Vanguard or Frontline) mourning the Guomin­dang execution of five left-­wing writers. Through his support of the 1930s woodcut movement, Lu Xun advocated an avant-­garde aesthetic that publicly called for a collective po­liti­cal strug­gle. A ­ fter the Communist defeat of the Guomin­dang in 1949, the party codified this association in its claim to be the vanguard (xianfeng) of the proletariat, a term that in 1989 would be resignified once again by Chinese art world participants, through and in relation to previous histories. In her critique of modernist art discourse, Rosalind Krauss argues that the notion of the avant-­garde depends on a discourse of originality, even though “the ­actual practice of vanguard art tends to reveal that ‘originality’ is a working assumption that itself emerges from a ground of repetition and recurrence.”27 Promoters of Western modernism as an advancing force produce the avant-­garde doctrine of newness, in part, by casting artists from other parts of the world as belated and derivative, closing off a history of the Western canon as itself a series of borrowings.28 The rise of artistic modernism coincided with a period of rapid decolonization when Eu­ro­ pean powers established l­egal agreements such as the Berne Convention to protect their owner­ship of works developed in colonial contexts and through non-­Western influences.29 Modern intellectual property regimes define and protect innovation, granting individual creators rights vis-­à-­vis the nation-­state. The repressions of avant-­gardism are deeply linked to the development of the modern militant nation-­state and ideologies of surpassing. Introducing gender into the picture makes the act of deconstruction even more imperative.


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In Take Hold of the Brush, Strug­gle to the End (1997; plate 3), Wang Qingsong reworks a widely circulated propaganda poster from the end of the Cultural Revolution (plate 4). Xiao Zhenya and Liu Enbin’s work reproduces in the background a well-­known 1972 portrait of Lu Xun by Tang Xiaoming, Never Give Up the Strug­gle. The two lines of calligraphy on the right are a couplet from a poem by Lu Xun: “Fierce-­browed, I coolly defy a thousand pointing fin­gers, / Head bowed, like a willing ox I serve the c­ hildren.” In 1942, Mao Zedong ended his talks on art and lit­er­a­ture at the Communist guerrilla base in Yan’an with this couplet. The talks, which came to serve as party doctrine, compelled cultural workers to “enter life” (shenru sheng­huo), meaning that of workers and peasants, to learn from the ­people in order to create revolutionary, consciousness-­raising works. Mao’s thinking reversed the Marxist understanding of culture as superstructure reflecting the economic base and instead envisaged culture as leading the base. He interpreted Lu Xun’s couplet in the following way: “The ‘thousand pointing fin­gers’ are our enemies, and we ­will never yield to them, no ­matter how ferocious. The ‘­children’ h ­ ere symbolize the proletariat and the masses. All Communists, all revolutionaries, all revolutionary literary and art workers should learn from the example of Lu Xun and be ‘oxen’ for the proletariat and the masses, bending their backs to the task ­until their ­dying day.”30 With this history as backdrop, a female young pioneer (a member of the shaonian xianfeng dui) stands with a calligraphy brush poised over a blank sheet of paper. In 1958, Mao had exhorted the nation’s citizens to use calligraphy to express their demands through big-­character posters: “Apart from their other characteristics, the outstanding t­ hing about China’s 600 million ­people is that they are ‘poor and blank.’ This may seem a bad t­ hing, but in real­ity it is a good ­thing. Poverty gives rise to the desire for change, the desire for action and the desire for revolution. On a blank sheet of paper ­free from any mark, the freshest and most beautiful characters can be written, the freshest and most beautiful pictures can be painted.”31 In 1974, Xiao and Liu’s poster advocated a leftist line that upheld calligraphy over the practice of romanizing Chinese, seen as subservient to the West. Their inclusion of Lu Xun as a historical force overseeing a yet unwritten ­future also pres­ents an incongruence, since he had proposed abandoning characters for an alphabet.32 In Wang Qingsong’s 1997 restaging of the poster, one of his earliest experiments in conceptual photography, the artist himself replaces the “red, bright, and shining” girl. A male entrepreneurial subject represents the

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new vanguard poised to compete on the international cultural market. His raised hand holds an oil painting brush, the tool that facilitated his entry into that market. While he remains caught in the m ­ iddle ground of the picture plane, the ­future before him is no longer “poor and blank” but filled with cultural trappings of wealth: traditional gold ingots symbolizing prosperity, preparatory textbooks for the national university entrance exam, and a fan of foreign currency. In place of Mao’s ­little red book in the lower left-­hand corner lies a thin publication. Wang’s reworked version of the poster appears on the cover, harking back to the ubiquity of Cultural Revolution propaganda while also alluding to the artist’s image as a form of currency that enables the spatiotemporal extension of his personhood, a sign of having entered the world. Incongruous now is the Lu Xun couplet, which begs the question of what the “thousand pointing fin­gers,” the “­children,” and the “oxen” symbolize in the current era. In visual exchanges over space and time, Chinese con­temporary artists negotiated dif­fer­ent systems of artistic evaluation. They complained about intermittent Chinese state cultural control, but also their management by Western gallerists. Wang Qingsong, for example, worked as an oil painter u ­ ntil 1997 and was represented by a London gallery specializing in Chinese con­temporary art. A series of his paintings titled Speechless, depicting distorted f­aces and bodies trapped in plastic sheets, sold well to their clientele. When he informed the gallery man­ag­ers of his plan to move into conceptual photography, they advised him to stick with his established style of painting, which guaranteed a predictable return value. Surprised by this lack of support for creative innovation, he began to question the purported freedom of the market system.33 On the other side of the equation, Western gallerists complained that Chinese artists undermined themselves by not following established market rules. They alluded to instances of artists placing their work with more than one gallery, selling work directly out of their studios, or printing additional images on demand of what they once claimed was a limited run.34 At a 2002 symposium at the Asia Society in New York, a major collector announced that Chinese con­temporary art had lost its international allure b­ ecause Chinese artists had failed to fully embrace the dealer system.35 Curators affiliated with Western museums described the difficulty of convincing their boards to acquire Chinese artwork without a gallery to guarantee its limited edition status. This discourse characterized Chinese artists as market primitives. Yet as ­these artists experimented with the international market, they sent into the world images haunted by temporalities forged


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in previous cultural encounters. Their failure to conform could also be understood as a critique of how Western institutions confer value on art; or of the Chinese state’s narrative of global capitalism as the desired ­future of Maoist socialism. Placing ­these Take Hold of the Brush images, produced two de­cades apart, alongside each other creates a stereoscopic vision that cuts into historical shadows. It makes vis­ib­ le a disappearing act, in which the female artist whose command of the brush once symbolized national pro­gress vanishes from the scene. No longer pictured as vanguard producer of images, she has become instead the soft-­glow cover girl of a masculinist avant-­garde preoccupied with its place in the nation and the world. The girl with the brush was once a stock image of socialist liberation; a return to her early appearance reveals the per­sis­tent presence of a patriarchal figure hovering in the background. In Wang Huaiqing’s 1964 woodblock print Revolution, a young girl sits at a ­table, pencil in hand. An older man in military uniform sits ­behind her, folds his hand over hers, and guides the pencil to write geming (revolution) on the sheet of paper before them. If the woodblock movement of the early twentieth ­century represents, as Tang Xiaobing argues, the origins of the Chinese avant-­garde, the gendered evolution of its imagery in the post-1989 encounter with Western ideologies of the avant-­ garde dis­appears w ­ omen. The repressive effects of this collusion include a hidden aspect of the China/Avant-­Garde exhibit that came to light years ­after the fact. All historical accounts of that seminal 1989 moment mention Xiao Lu’s installation piece Dialogue, which she fired into, causing the exhibit’s first closure. Some even retrospectively called it “the first shots of Tian­ anmen.”36 All of ­these accounts name Tang Song, a classmate pres­ent at the time and arrested together with Xiao, as cocreator of the work. This version of history dominated, to the exclusion of a nuanced interpretation of a piece dealing so obviously with gender relations. Two public telephone booths stand several feet apart. The black-­and-­white image of a w ­ oman’s back appears in one, with that of a male counterpart in the other. Receivers pressed to their ears, they seem engaged in dialogue. On a white plinth between the booths rests a red telephone, whose receiver dangles from its cord over the side. A mirror the size and shape of the booths is positioned ­behind the telephone, with the lines of a red cross dividing it like a windowpane. This became the target that Xiao Lu stood before and fired into. Tang Song never denied the attribution of authorship he was granted, and he and Xiao became a ­couple a­ fter the incident, spending years together

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FIG 1.04  ​Xiao Lu, Fifteen Shots: 1989–­2003 (detail), October 19, 2003. Fifteen framed photo­graphs (each 100 cm × 45 cm), fifteen bullets. Courtesy of the artist.

in Australia. ­After their break up and Xiao’s return to China in 1997, she attempted to reclaim authorship of the piece, only to meet with general art world disdain and dismissal. She responded by creating Fifteen Shots: 1989–­2003 (figure 1.04), which consists of fifteen panels, one for each of the intervening years. Life-­size photo­graphs of her grimly taking aim fade in a progression from dark intensity to washed-­out grays. At a Beijing shooting range, she fired through each glass-­covered panel. The bullet holes inflicted on her own image mark her injury as well as her reassertion of agency in the scene. Xiao also wrote an autobiographical novel titled Dialogue, which provides a dif­fer­ent history for the piece. She had grown up the well-­connected ­daughter of respected socialist realist artists. Her ­father became the president of Hangzhou’s China Acad­emy of Art. As a teenager she attended the attached high school of Beijing’s Central Acad­ emy of Fine Arts. During her se­nior year, she endured sexual abuse by one of her parents’ best friends, a painter her ­father had studied with in the Soviet Union, into whose care they had entrusted her. Xiao writes that before his final violation, he stood over the bed where she lay and said, “I’d like to paint a nude portrait of you.”37 Her controversial shots intended to shatter this personal but also institutional art history. Her arrest-­worthy

offence represented not just a rebellion against academic style but against patriarchal power perpetuated by the acad­emy system.

Although a number of private art schools existed in early twentieth-­century China, including several focused on female education, the Shanghai Art School is often credited as China’s first modern art acad­emy.38 Founded in 1912 as a response to a new market for commercial art, it offered tutorials in Western painting, photography, and copperplate art.39 The young oil painter Liu Haisu, who signed his work “Art Renegade,” became its most famous teacher. He a­ dopted the Western technique of painting from a nude studio model or from nature en plein air. His defense of nude figure painting as essential to modern art education drew ongoing criticism. Accused of corrupting Chinese morality, he resisted personal attacks and bans on the practice.40 During the May Fourth Movement (1917–21), when Chinese reformers upheld science, democracy, new culture, and w ­ omen’s emancipation as the path to modern nationhood, the school’s situation stabilized.41 By 1919, it received government funding and became integrated in an emerging system of national art academies that included the China Acad­emy of Art, founded in 1928, and culminated in the 1950 establishment of the Central Acad­emy of Fine Arts (cafa) in Beijing.42 In 2000, a gradu­ate from the cafa oil painting department drew a chart for me of what she considered the three main groups involved in con­ temporary art production: (1) t­hose from the huangjia (imperial f­amily), artists who had trained in China’s national academies, especially cafa, and continued to benefit from t­hese connections; (2) qianwei (avant-­garde) artists who went through the acad­emy system but then produced experimental works that departed significantly from the styles of their training; and (3) waidi (outside) artists who migrated to urban art centers and tried to make a name for themselves. An art history gradu­ate student at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute produced a more rigid mapping for me: ­those inside the system (tizhi nei) and ­those outside the system (tizhi wai). “The system” included the eight main national art academies and the Chinese Artists Association. She characterized t­ hose inside the system as having social position, stability, and the security to pursue their art. In her view, ­those outside it felt unrecognized by Chinese society and had to appeal to foreigners for ac­cep­tance.

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Most of the artists I met ­were well trained in the types of drawing and painting—­referred to by some as men piao (admissions tickets)—­required in the rigorous art acad­emy entrance examination. Prospective students gathered each year at testing centers around the country for several days. They jockeyed in crowded classrooms for the best ­angle and completed exercises in still life, figure drawing, charcoal and watercolor technique, and creative expression. This emphasis on technical fa­cil­it­y reveals the influence of Eu­ro­pean pedagogy, brought back by Chinese overseas students and transmitted by Soviet advisors. Rigorous testing through set, timed exercises was a hallmark of France’s nineteenth-­century École des Beaux-­Arts, itself modeled a­ fter the first Western art acad­emy, established in 1563 in Florence.43 Chinese visual arts curricula combined this Euro-­Soviet academic tradition with Maoist practices, such as the adaptation of open-­air painting to the socialist dictum of art for and of the p­ eople. During summer shixi (practicum) trips, art students shenru sheng­huo (entered life) in rural locations. Their sketches and paintings focused on landscapes, traditional architecture, or local ­people. In the reform era, as domestic tourism replaced the po­liti­cal mandate to go “down to the countryside,” many teachers and students talked to me about t­hese trips with excitement, which allowed them to visit historic cultural sites, such as the Dunhuang caves.44 Favored locations for t­ hese trips, usually arranged by the teacher assigned to accompany the students, included the northwest and southwest, hinterland areas that ­were also often ethnic minority regions. I learned about Chinese art education by spending time in classrooms, ranging from elementary to university level. For several weeks in 2001, I drew alongside students in classes taught by Li Tianpian and He Chengyao, two of the artists I write about in part III: Feminist Sight Lines. Li Tianpian was a member of the painting faculty at Beijing’s Central Minorities University, the top-­tier institution for students belonging to China’s fifty-­five officially recognized ethnic minorities (xiaoshu minzu). Like Xiao Lu, she had tested as a teenager into the high school attached to cafa. She studied ­there for three years before attending the China Acad­emy of Art in Hangzhou, where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in oil painting. Two years into her teaching position, she moved around her classroom of wooden easels and painting props with assurance, instructing models on poses, looking over the shoulders of her students, and occasionally picking up a brush to give instruction by adding marks to their canvases.


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He Chengyao, a gradu­ate of the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in Chongqing, had come to Beijing to take a course in con­temporary art offered at cafa for the first time in 2001. To help cover expenses, she picked up several temporary jobs, including teaching a figure drawing class to ­vocational school teachers required to refresh their skills ­every few years. Gathering on weekend mornings in a chilly, anonymous classroom, the students respected He Chengyao’s acad­emy credentials and eagerly asked her to correct their drawings. Although trained as an oil painter, she had begun experimenting with per­for­mance art, and her use of her own nude body had drawn criticism from many quarters. She confided in me that she wanted to share this work with her students but feared what most of them would think. Instead, she ­gently refused to draw on top of their work and urged them to explore their own styles of expression. To their disbelief, she held up my loose, untutored drawing of the head of David as an example. In He Chengyao’s class, I practiced the academic tradition of drawing from plaster casts. Students began by copying print reproductions of famous classical sculptures, before moving on to drawing from plaster casts of them. Only a­ fter mastering this skill could they advance to drawing from a live model. Almost e­ very Chinese art classroom I visited had a plaster head of Michelangelo’s David. My first attempt to draw it led me to realize the limitations of my life drawing classes in the United States, which had emphasized the gestural quality of line over precise, three-­dimensional rendering of volume, light, and shadow. Many Chinese students complained about the rigidity of academic training but respected ­those who had mastered its rigors. During an interview, a cafa student who worked mainly in conceptual photography surprised me by talking about an artist who had graduated several years earlier. She admired her, not for the success she had achieved in China and abroad as an oil painter, but for her student-­era plaster cast drawings. She exclaimed, “Her sketch of the head of David is still legendary among cafa students!” 45 When I first visited cafa in 2001 at its new Wangjing location, northeast of Beijing’s fourth ring road, the foreign affairs officer gave me a tour. One highlight was an exhibit hall of full-­size plaster casts of sculptures by Re­nais­sance masters. Xu Beihong, the first president of cafa, brought back a set of plaster casts when he returned to China from France. I was told that all casts ­later used in China for teaching w ­ ere copied from t­ hese “originals.” I also received a set of eight commemorative photo­graphs depicting key moments in cafa’s history. One shows a 1960 lecture in the

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FIG 1.05  ​Drawing

lecture in the Central Acad­emy of Fine Arts oil painting department, 1960. Reproduced in 1998 for a commemorative set of photo­graphs marking the eightieth anniversary of the acad­emy’s founding.

oil painting department (figure 1.05). Students and teachers face a plaster cast of Michelangelo’s Rebellious Slave. The figure twists, straining to break from chains binding his hands b­ ehind his back, a meta­phor in China for revolutionary nationalism. Below a big character slogan imploring students to “work hard,” the instructor stands before an anatomical chart showing the muscular and skeletal structure of the figure’s posture. The only w ­ oman in the room sits hunched over, recording the lecture in a notebook.46 cafa’s original location near Tian­anmen Square drew its students into another lesson in sculpture’s po­liti­cal uses. Foreign coverage of the “Goddess of Democracy,” which appeared in the Square on May 30, 1989, reported it to be a replica of the Statue of Liberty. It can also be read as a multilayered history of Chinese art acad­emy practice.47 When cafa sculpture students agreed to a request from protesting students to replicate the iconic statue, they had to work quickly to complete it. They constructed a model from a preexisting clay sculpture of a man grasping a pole with two raised hands, an academic study done by one of the sculpture department’s studio collectives. They cut off the lower part of the pole and added a torch on top. They changed the figure from a man to a w ­ oman, modeling the face ­after the female figure in Soviet sculptor Vera Mukhina’s A Worker and Collective Farm ­Woman, which stood atop the Soviet Pavilion at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair. With this altered clay figure as their model, they


In my interviews with artists I discovered that many had attended art classes as c­ hildren in the state-­run system of Young Pioneer Palaces (shaonian gong) or Palaces of Culture (wenhua gong). Some of them, especially ­those from provincial cities, rather than the centrally administered municipalities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin, told me that in their youth the classes had been f­ree and open to anyone interested. One artist explained the classes had served as childcare, especially when her parents ­were occupied with work or mandatory po­liti­cal meetings. ­Others described the system as extremely competitive, with students required to test into the classes, which would prepare them to eventually test into an art acad­emy. The Soviet state had developed Palaces of Culture for its workers and ­children, enabling them to pursue hobbies, sports, arts, and continuing education. They represented a utopian vision of Communist


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enlarged it, carving and wiring together blocks of styrofoam, then coating them with plaster. The ten-­meter-­high statue, which stood for five days opposite the portrait of Mao Zedong, combines po­liti­cal symbols from opposite sides of the Cold War. Liberty gazed over the tumultuous square with the face of Collective Farm ­Woman. In Mukhina’s original, she holds the Communist sickle in her raised arm. Many mentioned this high-­profile contribution to the student protests as a f­actor ­behind cafa’s relocation away from the city center. The move also corresponded with the 1990s development of the Malls at Oriental Plaza (Dongfang xin tiandi), a massive Hong Kong-­financed shopping complex that took over the area of the acad­emy’s historical location. Faculty and students w ­ ere temporarily displaced in former factory buildings to the northeast. By the time the acad­emy opened in its expanded, thirty-­three-­ acre Wangjing campus, Beijing’s culture industry model of joining tracks with the world was gaining momentum. The Folk Art Department, which once trained artists in traditional arts of the peasantry, was phased out just as a new School of City Design began providing coursework in urban information, image, fashion, and video design. School leadership succeeded in luring back prominent figures who had moved overseas, such as conceptual artist Xu Bing. In 2008, as vice president of international relations, Xu announced, “China is the most avant-­garde and experimental site in the world. Every­thing h ­ ere is new.” 48

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society, whose collectivized ­labor could support cultural activities for all its citizens. This model spread to other parts of the Communist world, including China. To learn more about this history, I sought a palace where I could observe art classes. I networked my way to Teacher Zhao, who taught at the China National ­Children’s Center (Zhongguo ertong zhongxin). Unlike Beijing’s Young Pioneer Palaces, which fall u ­ nder the authority of the municipal government, the C ­ hildren’s Center is administered by the All-­China ­Women’s Federation but provides very similar educational programs and activities. Located in Beijing’s Xicheng District ­behind a gray brick wall surrounding its perimeter, the expansive campus included green lawns, colorful play equipment, a science and technology hall, art complex, gymnasium, and cinema. Glass cases lining the central walkway contained photos of model students and per­for­mances by young dancers, musicians, and thespians, as well as announcements about the center’s contributions to the reform-­era goal of suzhi jiaoyu (quality education/education in quality).” 49 On my way to Saturday morning classes, I passed a bronze sculpture of a waifish child with a young pioneer scarf tied around his neck, climbing a ladder in pursuit of a bird. The accompanying plaque told the story of ­Little Turnip Head, a boy whose body ­hadn’t developed properly ­because of malnourishment ­under the Guomingdang. He died at the age of ten, shortly before the 1949 founding of the prc, a model of deprivation and martyrdom incongruous with the aims of the parents who now brought their ­children to the center. The students in Teacher Zhao’s class d­ idn’t have to test in, but they did pay a class and materials fee. As a result, most of the students ­were ­children of educators and professionals from Xicheng District. Compared to the other rather austere art classrooms I’d visited, each overseen by a plaster head of David, the classroom I entered in the summer of 2001 at the C ­ hildren’s Center overflowed with color, visually stimulating decorations, student-­teacher banter, and m ­ usic. Paintings and drawings—­ students’ work as well as printed pictures from ­children’s books—­hung on three of the walls. Sunlight shone through large win­dows that extended the length of the fourth wall, illuminating brightly colored pieces of tissue paper taped to the glass. A ledge beneath the win­dow supported a profusion of potted plants. A stuffed hare and birds of prey perched on tree branches nestled amid the green leaves and vines. Small easels w ­ ere lined up below the win­dows. A bin of toys for young c­ hildren to play with when they lost concentration stood in the corner. Along the wall opposite the win­dows, a massive wooden chest painted light blue held rows of small drawers, each


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carefully labeled with its contents—­watercolor boxes, black ink, acrylic paint, brushes, plates, glasses, crayons, pencils, erasers, clay tools, e­ tc. On top of the chest, goldfish with bulging eyes swam around a big glass bowl. Students ranging in age from five to ten sat around ­tables pushed into a large rectangle at the center of the room. Teen­agers who had once studied with Teacher Zhao occasionally came back, especially during school holidays, to work on proj­ects. Parents who wanted to stay and watch sat in chairs along two of the walls. Teacher Zhao bounded around the classroom. She knelt next to young students to view drawings from their vantage point. When older students grew tired with their work, she imitated them by whining like a teenager, making light of their complaints. She jumped up on top of the ­tables with her camera to take photos of the students, which she announced she would “keep as souvenirs.” She played tapes of classical and jazz ­music, and sometimes the Beatles, from a boom box on top of a bookshelf. But she also ­didn’t hesitate to keep order in a way that reinforced a link between “culture” and “quality.” When ­children started to talk too loudly or make a mess, she reprimanded them by asking, “­Don’t you have any culture? How can you act like that? Does your ­family have culture or not?” Teacher Zhao’s investment in the development of young artists ­didn’t preclude disciplining their parents. If the adults started to talk among themselves, she shushed them as if they w ­ ere ­children. During a field trip to a foreign-­managed con­temporary art gallery, she insisted that it was already too late to teach parent chaperones how to properly view art. She made them wait outside the gallery while she instructed the ­children how to behave—­they should stand, not squat, and quietly discuss the paintings from a distance without touching them—­ and then took them in to tour the exhibit. ­After I had attended her class for several months, Teacher Zhao fi­nally found time in her busy schedule to talk with me about her teaching philosophy. During the conversation, she emphasized the need to cultivate ­children’s creativity and imagination, by exposing them to as many dif­fer­ ent styles and ways of making art as pos­si­ble, instead of subjecting them to a rigid, test-­based model of education. In her classes, she taught traditional Chinese arts, such as mask painting, the folk art of dough sculpture, seal carving, and calligraphy, as well as introducing Western techniques and “­great works.” She credited her pedagogical openness to opportunities to travel abroad, many arranged in conjunction with exhibits of work by her husband, a painter represented by the gallery her students had visited on their field trip. During ­these trips, she tried to learn as much as pos­si­ble

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about art, design, architecture, and educational methods outside of China. She stressed, however, that Chinese students ­were subjected to greater discipline, ­because of crowded classroom conditions, and therefore knew how to work harder than the American students she had observed. She insisted, for example, that the practice of copying from models (linmo) was essential to Chinese art education. She then told me, with ­great enthusiasm, about a new teaching method ­she’d been developing and would soon implement in her classroom. It would combine the Communist file (dang’an) system of tracking citizens’ backgrounds with what she called American mba management style, referring to the growing popularity in China of programs that trained students in international business strategies and norms. Similar to dang’an—­the closed rec­ords kept by work units on their members’ po­liti­cal standing, work and f­amily history, achievements, and failings—­files would be created for all of her students. Over the years, she would add examples of their work as a rec­ord of their artistic pro­gress. Her classroom archives, unlike ­those maintained by work unit officials, would be open, making the system akin to mba-­style management, with its techniques of self-­ discipline and governance.50 Students would be able to evaluate their own work over time but also look at the files of other students in order to compare and monitor their pro­gress. In February 2002, I attended another field trip arranged by Teacher Zhao, a visit to linmo at an exhibit of prints by Pablo Picasso. I arrived on a cold, sunny Sunday morning at the China Millennium Monument, an imposing concrete structure, built next to the Military Museum to commemorate China’s entry into the twenty-­first c­ entury. A wide stone walkway gradually ascended almost three hundred meters along a north-­south axis from the street to the museum’s main entrance. Inscriptions on a ribbon of bronze, r­ unning down the m ­ iddle of the walkway, rec­ord historical events from five thousand years of Chinese history. The monument itself is a circular construction modeled a­ fter the shape of an ancient sundial. On the night that Jiang Zemin announced Beijing had won its bid to host the 2008 Olympics, he addressed the nation on tele­vi­sion from the steps of the Millennium Monument. I walked ­under a huge banner featuring a black-­ and-­white photo­graph of Picasso’s leathery face and entered the museum. In the lobby, ­children’s linmo drawings of prints in the exhibit covered the walls. At a sales booth, parents could buy large sheets of drawing paper printed with the motto of the exhibit: “The master paints, I also paint.” ­Children filled the large gallery space, where they sat on small stools and


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FIG 1.06  ​Dongfeng

Citroën Picasso car advertisement, Nanfang zhoumo (Southern Weekend), November 8, 2001. The slogan reads: “Create a new life: use inspiration as your material, use your imagination to make it.”

carefully copied Picasso drawings of animals, bullfights, and opera scenes. ­After Teacher Zhao’s students had finished several drawings, she gathered them around a diorama of Picasso at a ­table filled with printmaking tools. A green compact car stood on a raised pedestal b­ ehind the display. Only at this point did I realize that the French carmaker Citroën was the main sponsor of the exhibit. Citroën and Dongfeng Motor, a Chinese auto com­ pany, had recently launched a new car for the Chinese market, the Picasso, a four-­door hatchback with the artist’s signature emblazoned on its side (figure 1.06). Teacher Zhao explained to her students how to use the dif­ fer­ent printmaking tools laid out on the ­table. She then instructed the students, as well as their parents, in the business of art. She stressed the point that art is pur­chas­able, a recurring theme in her classroom (figure 1.07). To become a collector, one could start small and learn through practice how to evaluate the worth of a work. She distributed a handout with questions about the exhibit for the students to fill out. One question asked how much they would be willing to spend for one of the Picasso prints. She had asked them a similar question during their field trip to the foreign-­ managed commercial art gallery several months earlier and was dismayed

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FIG 1.07 ​Painting by one of Teacher Zhao’s students in a 2000 cata­logue of student work published with financial contributions from parents. The painter, aged seven, created this self-­portrait from a photo­graph his parents had taken of him sitting with a Ronald McDonald statue at the popu­lar chain restaurant in Beijing. He had, on his own initiative, evaluated his work by painting a price on it.

when they gave unreasonably low prices. When the students handed in their papers this time, she smiled at their pro­gress. Most of them had listed amounts in the one thousand to ten thousand yuan range. As the students and their parents dispersed, Teacher Zhao’s husband arrived and said, “Let’s go drive one of the cars!” In a large paved area outside the museum, Dongfeng Citroën employees ran a test-­drive center. Zhao’s husband left his driver’s license at the registration t­able, and we climbed into a Picasso. As we slowly circled the monument, Teacher Zhao commented that the car was too expensive for the general market, but nonetheless would be g­ reat for driving students around b­ ecause it had three seats across in the back. She then launched into a description of a kindergarten she hoped to open using the German Waldorf method that incorporates art and ­music in all aspects of the curriculum. I laughed, noting how Picasso had become such a profitable commodity. Teacher Zhao looked over her shoulder from the front seat with an incredulous look and


Chinese artists who w ­ ere once xianfeng by traveling to rural and ethnic minority hinterlands to represent village life gradually became avant-­garde by participation in international art exhibitions. This transition occurred si­mul­ta­neously with an increased flow of rural mi­grants to the city, leading to crossings and comparisons between the two groups. In the 1990s, rural mi­grants from Anhui, Henan, Xinjiang, and Zhejiang Provinces set up “villages” (cun), places of long-­term residence and often manufacturing and commercial businesses, in outlying areas of Beijing.51 In a smaller-­ scale movement, hundreds of artists flocked to the capital and developed what became known as the Yuanmingyuan artist village. In an area near the imperial summer palace to the city’s northwest, they found living and working spaces cheap and easy to rent without a Beijing residence permit. ­Those who likened their circumstances to mi­grant workers or whose art


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said, “Of course, that’s exactly what he was. He painted too many paintings over the course of his life, so none of them are ­really very precious!” I often heard Teacher Zhao speak disapprovingly of students’ parents who drove expensive foreign cars or invited her out to elaborate meals but never considered purchasing art. Over time, some parents took her criticism to heart. One ­mother told me, without a hint of irony, that since ­she’d grown up during the Cultural Revolution she had never learned what culture ­really was. Even though she had succeeded financially in recent years, she feared this deficit would hold her back. As a result, she was determined to invest in her ­daughter’s cultural education; she believed it would provide their f­amily an entrée to the world that money alone c­ ouldn’t buy. Teacher Zhao’s enthusiasm for the Picasso car differed from the con­spic­u­ ous consumption she criticized ­because she framed it in terms of how she would use the car to further her ideal of art education. Linmo exercises at the Millennium Monument Picasso exhibit educated Chinese c­ hildren in the internationally recognized artwork of a modern Western master, while also teaching them art is a commodity, but one requiring specialized knowledge in order to properly evaluate it. The ­Little Turnip Head statue at the C ­ hildren’s Center once modeled a culture of socialist sacrifice; transvalued through suzhi jiaoyu, he now climbed the cultural ladder in order to guarantee the nation’s global ­future.

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began to focus on this new social group sometimes referred to themselves as mangliu (blind floaters), the often derogatory term used for rural mi­ grants.52 Or they invoked the romantic term jianghu, the wandering bandits from martial arts genres, who live by a code of loyalty to their sworn ­brothers and commitment to helping the needy. While some who took up residence in Yuanmingyuan came from Beijing, many migrated from other provinces, attracted by stories t­ hey’d heard about the artist village. The community attracted increasing attention from foreign art collectors and reporters, and Chinese authorities grew wary of this activity and its proximity to key universities as a threat to state cultural control. During a “clean up and reordering” campaign that hit Beijing in 1995, rural mi­grant and artist villages both experienced police surveillance and eviction. Shi Tou, one of the few female artists at Yuanmingyuan, connected the crackdown to Beijing’s preparation to host the UN Fourth World Conference on ­Women that September. In a documentary film on China’s emerging lesbian community and its intertwining with transnational feminist and queer activism, she recounts: “At that time, Yuanmingyuan was an art village with a f­ ree atmosphere, it had connections with p­ eople from all over the world and represented the most pioneering [xianfeng] part of that era. Maybe they w ­ ere afraid artists from Yuanmingyuan would contact international attendees. . . . ​Yuanmingyuan was turbulent and restless in 1995. T ­ here w ­ ere armed police from the security department patrol around all the time, from day to night.”53 Bulldozers hit rural mi­ grant compounds, reducing thriving neighborhoods to rubble. While the Yuanmingyuan village was spared physical destruction, artists caught in the sweep t­ here w ­ ere arrested and fined for illegal residence. Police took ­those unable to pay the fines to rural locations to do road repairs or other physical ­labor to work off their debt. The police had already disbanded another artist village east of Beijing’s third ring road the year before. Residents had dubbed it East Village, suggesting a comparison with New York’s lower east side.54 Their activities, especially nude per­for­mance pieces by artists Ma Liuming and Zhang Huan, quickly attracted official scrutiny. Artists began moving further east to Tongzhou, a rural county of Hebei Province annexed in 1997 to the Beijing municipal area. Artists lived throughout the county in a variety of housing, ranging from apartment blocks to basic rural courtyard ­houses to walled compounds with con­temporary interiors. The largest group congregated in Songzhuang, where they rented h ­ ouses and land from famers and transformed the area. Ten years a­ fter the police sweep of Yuanmingyuan,


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the official website for Tongzhou District prominently featured the Songzhuang Artist Village. It boasted that with over five hundred artists, the village constituted the world’s largest art community.55 The first annual Songzhuang Art Festival began in 2005, followed a year l­ ater by the opening of the Songzhuang Art Museum. State surveillance of artist villages shifted to culture industry incorporation of them. In 2012, the Tongzhou District government commissioned Sasaki Associates, an architectural firm headquartered in Boston, to create a four-­thousand-­hectare plan for the Songzhuang Arts and Agricultural City.56 During the early 2000s, the financial circumstances of artists in this and other semirural border areas of Beijing diverged to extremes of wealth and poverty. Many nonetheless felt they had escaped regimented city life for a more carefree and collective existence in the countryside. As they educated themselves about international art trends and worked to cultivate connections and or­ga­nize exhibits in the city, they expressed nostalgic attachment to a pastoral way of life on the verge of vanishing. Some criticized the environmental impact of rapid urbanization, especially as real estate developments encroached on the fields and outdoor markets of Tongzhou, and sympathized with the treatment of rural mi­grants working in the city. An artist from Shaanxi Province, who was involved with environmental protection groups, told me the saddest moment in recent history for him occurred in 1999 when the government evicted mi­grant workers in another mass sweep before the official cele­bration of the prc’s fiftieth anniversary. Cultural critic Wang Min’an describes this identification with country folk in a way that reveals gendered assumptions about this bohemian ideal: “The group of artists in Songzhuang reside mixed together with peasants. . . . ​In appearance, they resemble each other: long messy hair, shiny shaved heads, unkempt beards, and long khaki pants.”57 Wang hints at the false promise that such mingling w ­ ill provide escape from urban commercialism, remarking that t­ hese artists often spend their eve­nings in the city: “They turn the wheels of their cars in the opposite direction of the rest of the city, and for a handful of coins, the backdrop of their nights often includes large quantities of wine, one or two fash­ion­able girls, and the dim lights of a bar.”58 The artists’ challenge to the city as the new national object of desire also slid into romanticization of the rural. The countryside became a commodified form of urban leisure, an “artistic lifestyle” urbanites strove to emulate as Tongzhou artists’ ­houses began appearing in home decorating magazines. During this reconfiguration of rural-­urban relations, a number of Beijing artists began making pieces focused on male mi­grant workers (mingong)

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employed in the city’s many construction sites. When I interviewed ten artists involved in such proj­ects, several told me ­they’d first come in contact with mingong while remodeling their homes and l­ater hired them to appear in or assist with artworks. As they attempted to collaborate with and represent mi­grant workers in sculptural, photographic, and per­for­mance works, they saw them as emblematic of new forms of social in­equality. A piece by the Gao ­Brothers that staged nude workers embracing against a concrete urban landscape incited criticism in Meishu (Fine arts), the official publication of the Chinese Artists Association.59 An article in an issue commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of Mao’s “Talks at the Yan’an Conference on Art and Lit­er­a­ture” lambasted this trend: “­These so-­called avant-­ garde artists not only long ago completely dispensed with the lofty aim of serving the ­people, but they have started to turn it utterly upside down, using workers and peasants as art’s ‘new material’ or ‘new medium’ so that the ‘­people’ pay out their flesh to serve their ‘avant-­garde’ art.”60 I also interviewed a mi­grant worker who had served as artist assistant for Zhang Dali’s 100 Chinese (figure 1.08), a sculptural installation of busts cast from the heads of mi­grant workers.61 When Wang arrived in Beijing from Henan Province, he worked for several sculptors, as a handyman, model, and eventually apprentice. He learned the technical skills of the trade and had executed conceptual ideas by several successful con­temporary artists. For 100 Chinese, he recruited friends, relatives, and neighbors in the rural mi­grant enclave where he lived and helped develop the pro­cess of casting their heads in plaster. Sitters kept their eyes shut and breathed through straws inserted into their nostrils for the ten minutes the plaster took to harden. The resin heads then created from ­these original casts bear the individual features of each sitter, as well as the frozen, closed-­eye, pinched-­ lip facial expressions exacted by the pro­cess. Zhang Dali exhibited them in piles, lined up on shelves, or stacked in individual plexiglass boxes, a mute collection of severed heads. A cata­logue of Zhang’s work produced by a British gallery contains the following description: “His latest work is a documentation of f­aces—­faces of the mi­grant workers who flock to the big cities in search of a job. ­These ­people are desperately poor and are usually seeking only to survive. They are not part of the official register of inhabitants and thus have no right to state education, health care or other benefits. ­There are the fringes of society. They live on the outskirts of major cities, making meager homes in abandoned buildings.”62 Zhang emphasized in the interview I conducted with him the collective striving of mingong and society’s callous disregard for them as something he iden-


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FIG 1.08 ​Zhang

Dali, 100 Chinese, 2001. Resin sculptures. Exhibit view, Chinese Con­temporary Gallery, London, 2002. Photo­graph by author.

tified with as an artist who had lived in Yuanmingyuan and floated around the city in the 1990s as a graffiti artist.63 As Wang and two other friends whose heads had been cast for Zhang’s piece chatted about the pro­cess, they shared stories and examples of their own artistic endeavors. Their small, two-­room flat in a low one-­story brick building with a metal roof was filled with landscape paintings in oil and watercolor, as well as small abstract and figurative sculptures. Wang’s girlfriend who worked at an advertising com­pany used her spare time and money to take art classes in design and painting. She spoke of how art provided her with a space of focus, challenge, and creative energy but also of the pain of being judged by p­ eople in the city, even by her painting teacher, as someone simply from the countryside. Describing it as feeling caught between two existences, she ran to the other room and pulled a piece of paper off the wall. The quote copied on it came from a book, translated from En­glish, she had recently read: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-­ consciousness, that only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-­consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of ­others, of mea­sur­ing one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”64 ­These words, written by W. E. B. Du Bois almost a c­ entury earlier,


helped her navigate the splintering condition of daily life in Beijing. They spoke of art as decolonial method: a means of becoming, in Du Bois’s words, “co-­creators in the kingdom of culture.”65

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By the turn of the twentieth c­ entury, the museum had become a worldly emblem of national modernity. In the West, public institutions assumed the art of exhibition as a form of civilizational distinction. World’s Fairs in Euro-­ American metropoles staged the world for the viewing public, displaying it in a way that naturalized a hierarchy of nations and races. Chinese reformers, in their encounters with such expositions, learned their exhibitory logic and potential to develop a modern, national consciousness and achieve international recognition. With t­ hese goals in mind, an official from Jiangsu Province began building the first Chinese museum in 1905. He aimed to transform the small town of Nantong, between Nanjing and Shanghai, into a model of modernity and self-­governance. When the Nantong Museum opened in 1912 its buildings and gardens presented a range of objects—­paintings, plants, skeletons, tools, industrial machines, furniture, and animals—­displayed and classified u ­ nder the categories of nature, history, and art.66 The national and global legacy of exhibitory politics took on a new millennial life as China bid to host the 2008 Olympics and 2010 World Expo. Museum politics also structured the experiences of Chinese con­ temporary artists as they exhibited work abroad and at home. The artist Zhu Jia expressed with unsettling candor the dissonance he felt with being put on display. I first met Zhu while helping translate for a U.S.-­based curator during his research visit to Beijing for an exhibit of non-­Western con­temporary art. Zhu Jia worked as a design editor at Beijing Youth News, the job assignment he received ­after graduating from the Central Acad­emy of Fine Arts in 1988. Trained as an oil painter, he moved into photography and video. For Passage, a video installation just completed when we met in 2001, he pedaled a video camera strapped to the bed of worker’s bicycle-­drawn cart to film vari­ous routes through the city.67 He projected ­these journeys onto three long vertical panels, the size and shape of traditional Chinese scrolls. The resulting montage of partial and disjunctive movement refuses a singular view of the city. Since the late 1990s, his work had been included in several international exhibits, but Zhu expressed misgivings about this attention. He told the visiting curator he sus-


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pected his nationality mattered more than his art, as curators sought third-­world tokens. He described with chagrin a sense of alienation from Chinese audiences. China’s underdeveloped museum system for con­ temporary art had pushed him to “go global,” but the foreign narrative of surprise and discovery framing Chinese avant-­garde art had become tiring. It accentuated the condition of being cut off from audiences who shared similar experiences of passage through Beijing’s social and historical landscape. When I met with Zhu Jia several months ­later, the situation and his assessment of it had shifted.68 He had recently returned from trips to Berlin and New York, where his work had showed in separate exhibits. Living in Time at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof Museum featured twenty-­ nine Chinese con­temporary artists as part of China Fest, a showcase of Chinese culture sponsored by the Berlin Senate Administration for Science, Research and Culture and the State Council Information Office of the ­People’s Republic of China. Zhu explained that the Chinese Ministry of Culture had originally suggested a show of early twentieth-­century ink paint­ers. Their German counter­parts, however, insisted on con­temporary art by young artists. The Chinese conceded, according to Zhu, b­ ecause with their application to join the WTO still pending, they wanted to pres­ent a modern and moderate face. The curators chosen for the show included Hou Hanru, a Chinese specialist in con­temporary art living in Paris, and Fan Di’an, the vice president of the Central Acad­emy of Fine Arts.69 Of the artists they selected, roughly one-­third had exhibited the previous year in a controversial show staged by Ai Weiwei to coincide with the 2000 Shanghai Biennale. The exhibit title in En­glish, Fuck Off, reflected more blatantly Ai’s in-­your-­face attitude than the Chinese title, Bu hezuo fangshi (Uncooperative approach).70 The exhibit, together with several o­ thers containing artworks that used animals, blood, or ­human corpses, prompted the Ministry of Culture to issue a public memorandum about the illegality of artworks that “violate state laws, upset social order and damage p­ eople’s m ­ ental and physical health.”71 Association with Fuck Off did not, however, prevent nine of its artists from being sponsored by the Ministry of Culture for an exhibition in Beijing’s German ­sister city.72 Zhu Jia described experiencing profoundly mixed emotions during his trip to Berlin. He felt satisfaction that, for the first time ever, the Chinese government paid for his travel to an exhibit abroad. As the artists installed their pieces in the museum, Ministry of Culture officials came by to

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congratulate them on a successful show. With a sardonic smile, embarrassed by his own plea­sure at the moment, Zhu said he had fi­nally received the national recognition the patriotic education of his youth had taught him to desire. When the same officials spoke at a banquet ­after the opening about bringing the exhibit back to a museum in Beijing, Zhu judged their talk as a per­for­mance well suited for the moment. Not long a­ fter our conversation, however, two other Living in Time participants told a dinner gathering of artists that ­they’d heard it would open at the Millennium Monument in 2002. While they viewed this possibility as a good opportunity, they questioned their embrace of state institutionalization and launched into a discussion of the shifting cultural milieu. As they ate and drank, they narrated a diagram of triangulation. In the immediate post-1989 geography of Chinese avant-­garde art, the receiving or buying end was generally xifang (the West). Beijing buzzed with energy generated by the tension between a desiring West and an image-­anxious Chinese state. The interplay between guanfang (Chinese officialdom) and xifang allowed for what they called minjian (popu­lar or folk) activities.73 As they held onto an idea of minjian as nonstate forms of social critique, they si­mul­ta­neously strug­gled with anx­i­eties of co-­optation by increasing collaborations between xifang and guanfang, as in the Living in Time exhibit. While some believed in the development of local museums to bring Chinese con­temporary art home, ­others worried that state institutionalization would limit their ability to creatively play xifang and guanfang off of each other, thereby shutting down cultural critique of both. Another twist on the museum in Beijing appeared as real estate developers ­adopted the cultural capital of “world-­class” art districts and museums as a branding strategy. soho China led the trend, becoming Beijing’s largest real estate com­pany and making its chairman Pan Shiyi and ceo Zhang Xin one of the nation’s wealthiest power c­ ouples. The moma Modern Land Group cultivated an even more obvious connection between cosmopolitan art, architecture, and privatized housing by naming successive developments ­after New York’s Museum of Modern Art. New York architect Steven Holl designed their ­Grand moma proj­ect, an award-­winning complex of eight mixed-­use towers linked by a sky ring completed in 2009.74 When I visited the site in 2007, a sales associate took me on a “virtual” tour that included a pre­sen­ta­tion in front of an illuminated city map; passage through a corridor of vitrines displaying architectural models of the proj­ect; and a walk through a sample unit appointed with modernist furniture. At the end, I received a bag full of promotional materials.


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A cata­logue titled A City within a City opens by placing ­future architectural renderings of Beijing on par with other global cities.75 An accompanying DVD features Steven Holl introducing the proj­ect. During a segment in which a Matisse painting cross-­dissolves into a watercolor sketch of his Linked Hybrid design, Holl describes its location on the northeast corner of Beijing’s Second Ring Road: “A place that, I say, is analogous to being on Fifth Ave­nue and Sixtieth Street at Central Park. We envision an open proj­ect, which is created in the spirit of a pedestrian community, being able to walk to all the functions of the base. But not only that, on the twentieth floor ­there is a ring, a sky ring, of additional functions that r­ eally create something utopian in a way, where one i­ sn’t just inhabiting an apartment. It’s like inhabiting a new world.”76 The formal analogy of Holl’s design sketch with Matisse’s La Danse reinforces the global city and art image presented by the moma Modern Land Group (plate 5).77 It also highlights the architectural qualities—­movement, porosity, and luminosity—­Holl discusses as central to his aesthetic. Holl explains the caption written at the top of the watercolor, “filmic urban space beijing”: cinema serves “as an emblem” of his design. He describes the sky ring functioning like a film loop, and his design places a movie theater, ­imagined as a community gathering point, at its center. The animated rendering of this theater proj­ects a scene from the 1934 Chinese ­silent film Goddess on its screen. The cinema design includes a porous wall so that the iconic face of the film’s star Ruan Lingyu shines through to the building’s exterior and reflects in the pool of w ­ ater surrounding it. This invocation of Goddess as marketing device alienates the film from its roots in nascent socialist realism. Ruan Lingyu, herself a working-­class girl catapulted to silver screen fame and scandal who committed suicide at the age of twenty-­four, plays a prostitute consumed by predatory ele­ments in colonial-­era cap­i­tal­ist Shanghai. When rage borne of injustice drives her to murder, her glamorous façade, like that of the city, glimmers with revolutionary potential. In an analy­sis of the relationship between architecture and cinema in Holl’s proj­ect James Tweedie writes, “But flickering on its walls and screen are several potentially conflicting conceptions of cinema, ranging from the age-­old dream of a medium to document the po­liti­cal realities of the pres­ ent to the desire for a museum-­like medium that preserves the national past in all its spectacle and splendor.”78 Many artists at the turn of the millennium viewed state-­controlled institutions like the National Art Museum of China as retrograde and actively explored alternative exhibition venues. New art centers within commodity

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apartment real estate developments offered one possibility. They served as a medium ground between public and private within construction sites of dream and upheaval. Xing Danwen, Central Acad­emy of Fine Arts gradu­ate and photographer of the East Village art scene in the mid-1990s, examined conflicting conceptions of display in her series Backstage and Urban Fiction. Taken together, they probe the linkage between state commissioning of international star architects to design Beijing’s capital monuments, the ubiquitous visual imagery of architectural models, and the l­abor and lived experience ­behind the aesthetics of China’s new urbanism. The color photo­ graphs of Backstage rec­ord in documentary detail the construction site of the National ­Grand Theater designed by Paul Andreu. An image from above surveys the scale of the proj­ect, with the G ­ reat Hall of the P ­ eople pushed to its edge, while o­ thers focus on the life of rural mi­grant workers on site: rows of portable toilets, a metal rice bowl on dirt ground. Urban Fiction captures instead the gendered alienation, ennui, and vio­lence of new privatized forms of dwelling. For this series, created from 2004 to 2009, Xing photographed architectural scale models created for real estate developments. She then digitally edited the photo­graphs to add isolated scenes so small the viewer has to search to find them. The characters in the scenes are all Xing dressed in dif­fer­ent roles: an office worker on the phone gazing out the win­dow, a w ­ oman floating alone in a villa swimming pool, a ­woman about to jump from the roof of a high-­rise, a fleeing bride in the plaza of a planned community. Within the soho China scale model a ­woman in a purple wig and sunglasses stands with her hands raised in shock. Her top has been ripped open. On the pristine white floor before her lie a bloody cleaver, the body of a white male in a pool of blood, and a scattered bouquet of flowers (plates 6 and 7). In the ­Grand moma model, a ­woman walking two daschunds through the sky ring is about to collide with a female win­dow washer in a blue uniform. That Xing herself embodies both characters highlights the contradictory role of Chinese con­temporary artists caught between historical registers, as cultural workers who endeavor to represent “the p­ eople” or the nation’s arrival as a cosmopolitan player. The replication and manipulation of the artist’s own image highlight how vanguard visions of inhabiting a new world depend on gendered imagery. The dancing nude, the treaty-­port prostitute, the rosy-­cheeked young pioneer, the market-­reform lady of leisure pile up at the doors to the kingdom of culture.

Showcase Beijing


At dusk on August 23, 2001, a mi­grant worker’s voice echoed through the expansive space of a textile factory recently converted into Beijing’s East Modern Art Center (Yuanyang yishu zhongxin). The center served as a point of attraction within Ocean Paradise, a real estate development of high-­rise apartment buildings still u ­ nder construction. Lao Wei belted out the opening lines of a folk song from his village in Sichuan Province: “Flowers are covering the branches. . . . ​I am the only one alone.”1 As he sang, he wandered through an audience of art world cognoscenti, real estate publicists, and print and tele­vi­sion reporters. The crowd had first gathered outside in the humid summer air, as a thunderstorm brewed. ­After entering the long interior space, they stood expectantly. On cue, dancers perched atop steel support beams began to descend. When the lights ­were thrown on, their bodies appeared in silhouette against the art center’s translucent glass walls. They picked up the refrain of Lao Wei’s tune as they dropped to the floor and began their per­for­mance against a backdrop of industrial salvage architecture and installation art: clusters of metal barrels, dangling fluo­rescent tube lighting, a row of manual sewing machines, piles of bricks, and architectural scale models half-­buried in sand on the concrete floor. In the weeks that followed, diverse news outlets reported what tran­spired that eve­ning with headlines like “A Difficult-­to-­ Define Per­for­mance” and “Dancing with Another Kind of Body.”2 The art journal Next Wave stated matter-­of-­factly, “The per­for­mance astonished the audience, not only b­ ecause it took place in this kind of real environment, but also b­ ecause the performers unexpectedly included thirty rural mi­grant construction workers.”3 The review in the Guangzhou newspaper Southern Weekly opened with a more evocative description: “Two clusters of p­ eople: one whose posture resembled that of prisoners squatted in the distance, some wore no shirts, revealing dark, gleaming skin; another group wore cheap clothing, so that at a glance one could ascertain their identity—­ mi­grant worker [mingong]. They started to move, horizontally, pushing

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close to one another. Then ­those clothed and bare-­chested interwove, two heterogeneous ele­ments mixing freely together.” 4 A rare shower of hail fell as audience members ­later dispersed, punctuating the eve­ning’s drama. Dancing with Mingong marked the opening and eventual demise of the East Modern Art Center, which would be torn down just over two years ­later.5 This multimedia happening—­produced by a choreographer, Chinese and foreign modern dancers, a documentary filmmaker, a photographer, and two visual artists—­pres­ents a conundrum. What do we make of ­so-­called avant-­gardes working together with mi­grant construction workers, aged sixteen to forty-­five, and real estate entrepreneurs from the spin-­off corporation of a state-­owned enterprise, attended by a full press of Beijing’s cultural elite and media outlets? How did a factory building in the ­middle of a commodity apartment development, the only remnant of an enormous socialist work unit that once provided workers with housing, become an art center? The brief efflorescence of the East Modern Art Center represents a turning point in the role of art museums in China. The reform-­era co­ali­tion of government and private interests invested in remaking Beijing created new opportunities for con­temporary artists. It altered their relationship to a previously censorious state and broadened domestic viewership of their work. The intersection of urban planning, real estate, and art s­ haped their lives and sometimes became the subject of their art. Market-­reform exhibition spaces gradually surpassed state-­ controlled museums exhibiting the art of proletarian revolutionary nationalism. Museums, increasingly supported by private funds, si­mul­ta­neously became a model for real estate proj­ects premised on a “desiring China,” Lisa Rofel’s characterization of a postsocialist reimagination of social life prioritizing “the individual who operates through sexual, material, and affective self-­interest.”6 ­These proj­ects capitalized on the desire for a worldly cultural milieu, in which the cosmopolitan art museum served as a modernizing, elevating brand. Art centers created as part of commodity apartment enterprises emerged as a trend during the first years of new millennium Beijing. In ventures such as the East Modern Art Center, Left Bank Gallery, One World Art Center, X-­Ray Art Center, and T ­ oday Art Gallery, urban planners and real estate developers became collaborators with artists and curators. Many of ­these experiments w ­ ere ephemeral. Ten years l­ ater, only the T ­ oday Art Gallery remained. Their fleeting existence highlights conflicting ideas about the purpose of art exhibition in China’s capital as global showcase. Was art


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meant to express social critique, display national modernity, create class distinction, or maximize the value of newly commodified property? ­These experiments also reflected large-­scale social restructuring throughout the 1980s and 1990s, in which urban housing reform contributed to increasing privatization of real estate and dismantling of socialist public housing and land management.7 Intensive de­mo­li­tion and relocation schemes turned the city over. Appropriated land was largely used for commercial development, including new commodity apartments (shangpin fang), leading to property speculation and skyrocketing prices. Bulldozers and construction cranes, as well as residents’ complaints and protests, pervaded Beijing and set the scene for con­temporary art production. In the intertwining of public and private characteristic of late socialist China, real estate developers who ventured into art center construction and management represented one unexpected outcome, an externality of the nationwide reform of state-­owned enterprises (soes). As soes developed into quasi-­private, semi-­independent entities, their leaders took land from downsized or shuttered factories and entered the expanding commercial property market. Members of the emergent real estate profession explored vari­ous marketing strategies; ­those who incorporated art galleries into their plans saw the promotion of con­temporary art as a marker of taste that could attract potential homebuyers. An ironic situation arose for con­temporary art. Critics and curators from the West understood Chinese officials to be repressive and disapproving of local con­temporary art; they often found this belief confirmed by Chinese artists who complained about the dearth of domestic exhibition space for avant-­garde expression. At the same time, new exhibition spaces for con­temporary art, some created by branches of China’s largest and most influential soes, began opening. For example, within the same year that “Canceled”: Exhibiting Experimental Art in China was shown at the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago, one of its featured artists, Song Dong, participated in the large-­scale experimental art proj­ect Dancing with Mingong at the East Modern Art Center, developed in Beijing by the state-­owned China Ocean Shipping Com­pany (cosco).8 Part of artists’ distinction as interlocutors of cosmopolitan culture included engagement with globally circulating forms such as site-­specific art, with its goal of exploring physical and social space outside museum walls. This marked a significant shift from the 1990s, during which official hostility to avant-­garde art, particularly the unpredictable mediums of installation and per­for­mance art, prevailed. During that period, some

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artists turned to site-­specific art in reaction to the conservatism of official exhibit spaces, and more importantly as a way of responding to the massive changes wrought by urban renewal.9 They moved out of the studio to engage their social environment in new ways. They roved the streets with spray paint can, camera, or camcorder in hand. They created installation and per­for­mance pieces in apartments, courtyards, and alleyways as well as in public spaces—­parks, factories, and historical locations like the G ­ reat Wall. Documentary photo­graphs and videos of per­for­mance pieces sometimes ended up in museums, but gallery exhibition was not necessarily originally intended. This situation changed as display in new quasi-­public, quasi-­private art spaces presented artists with opportunities for increased exposure to local audiences, as well as international art world observers. The practice of site-­specific art then ran the risk of becoming tamed and commercialized as artists created pieces in and specifically for t­ hese new spaces. The story of the East Modern Art Center demonstrates how artists got caught up in the nexus of urban planning, real estate, and art. ­After the center opened in August 2001, it quickly became a hotspot for con­temporary art exhibition, although a short-­lived one. Its rise and fall reflects tensions over the role of art: to highlight growing forms of in­equality and alienation in showcase Beijing; or to smooth them over in the promotion of commodity value, cultural capital, and middle-­class sensibility as a form of global achievement.10 To provide the larger context for this case study, this chapter first pres­ ents an analy­sis of the nested relationship of state-­led urban renewal, privatized real estate, art exhibition spaces, and art. Zooming in from the level of the city to Ocean Paradise to the East Modern Art Center to individual artworks exhibited ­there illuminates the vari­ous interests involved in the redefinition of what a museum is meant to do. Thinking about the linkages between t­ hese dif­fer­ent scales sets up questions about how they influence one another in top-­down or bottom-up ways. I begin, on the macro level, with how Beijing itself became a showcase in the city’s Olympic bid to go global, with spectacular urban planning initiatives meant to symbolize China’s cosmopolitan modernity and widespread de­mo­li­tion of historical neighborhoods leading to pseudo-­preservation and museumification. I turn next to the reform-­era phenomenon in China of commodity housing as part of a “growth-­machine” ethic and an overall increase in consumption, and examine developers’ leveraging of art as a civilizing commodity. T ­ hese sections culminate in an exploration of the historical

layers, classed and gendered social relations, and ways of thinking that came together in the East Modern Art Center.

­ fter Beijing won the 2008 Olympic bid on July 13, 2001, a second wave A of urban renewal, even more intense than that of the 1990s, engulfed the city.11 In addition to large-­scale de­mo­li­tion and relocation, the government hired star international architects to design key monuments: Paul Andreu’s National G ­ rand Theater, Rem Koolhaas’s China Central Tele­vi­sion headquarters, and Herzog and de Meuron’s Beijing National Stadium.12 Capital development led to a new place of prominence for the architectural scale model, as officials and residents alike debated monumental designs and ­future projections of the city’s layout. ­These three-­dimensional visualizations became part of everyday life, displayed as works of art and commodities in new museums and real estate offices, and in advertisements that filled newspapers and appeared plastered on walls and billboards throughout the city.13 This obsession with planning and the symbolic importance of the capital’s built environment can be traced to the premodern era. The legacy of imperial city planning persists in the conflict between spatial expressions of power and functionality.14 The Beijing Urban Planning Museum, which opened in 2004 on the southeast corner of Tian­anmen Square, celebrates planning as a legitimizing act, underwritten in part by new real estate development companies, including Sino-­Ocean (cosco’s subsidiary) and soho China. Its spectacular projections of the city’s ­future elided social hierarchies intensified by urban renewal: the displacement of long-­term residents from the city center to less desirable, peripheral locations and the temporary l­abor force of rural mi­grants brought in to build the city’s new buildings. The architectural model on display became a fetish object on which audiences ­were mobilized to proj­ect collective dreamworlds—of the private, aestheticized space of the commodity apartment and of China’s global arrival. In Susan Buck-­Morss’s formulation, such dreamworlds of modernity “are expressions of a utopian desire for social arrangements that transcend existing forms,” but that become dangerous “when their enormous energy is used instrumentally by structures of power, mobilized as an instrument of force that turns against the very masses who w ­ ere sup15 posed to benefit.”

showcase beijing

Beijing as Museum


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FIG 2.01 ​Visitors

taking a photo­graph with a to-­scale, three-­dimensional map of Beijing. The Olympic Green, whose north-­south axis aligns with the traditional imperial meridian line of the capital, is pictured in the foreground. Beijing Urban Planning Museum, 2007. Photo­graph by author.

In 2007, the four stories of the exposed steel beam and glass-­encased Beijing Urban Planning Museum presented an orchestrated chronology of the city from its founding in the Yuan Dynasty to its Olympic triumph. From a ground-­floor reception area, visitors proceeded to second-­floor exhibits of Beijing’s eigh­teen districts and counties and a third-­floor narrative of the capital’s development through the Yuan, Ming, Qing, and Republican periods, with socialist planning by and large skipped over. History then gave way to the museum’s largest and most popu­lar exhibit: a scale map of the con­temporary city that spread across the floor u ­ nder dramatic lighting. Three-­dimensional architectural models represented the urban core surrounding the Forbidden City. This area was cordoned off, but the map continued well beyond with aerial photo­graphs, ­under glass and illuminated from below, which visitors walked over as they searched for familiar locations (figure 2.01). Side exhibits displayed areas of architectural distinction, such Beijing’s new high-­rise-­filled Central Business District (cbd). The fourth floor included models of Beijing’s Olympic sports


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facilities, illuminated maps of global cities such as Paris, Tokyo, London, Moscow, and New York, and a multimedia hall where visitors could watch a double feature of The Immortal City and The New Beijing. The second 3-­D animation offered a visual ­ride through a vertiginous cityscape that mixed together existing buildings with ­future designs, such as the Rem Koolhaas cctv tower.16 If the museum encouraged visitors to understand Beijing as a world metropolis that represented the past and ­future grandeur of China, with its socialist history strategically erased, it also linked this vision to a progrowth, commercialized mode of urban dwelling. Nestled next to the third-­floor historical exhibits, a model commodity apartment half-­hidden ­behind white plastic walls beckoned visitors to enter a space of modern domestic fantasy, in which they could aspire to become part of, to inhabit on a personal level, the museum showcase of Beijing. Oversize, ornate, vaguely Victorian chairs dominated the living room. A mannequin of a young girl lay on a velvet-­draped bed in a darkened room on whose walls a dreamy, flowery projection flickered. Mod red café stools in a living room looked out on a picture window/screen that showed a video-­loop view of the Olympic Green with fireworks exploding over it to a syncopated soundtrack. Discrete white raised characters on the outside wall of the exhibit informed visitors that it was “donated by soho China.” A corollary of the move to turn the city into a site of display was the growth of museums. The widespread de­mo­li­tion caused by urban planning spurred efforts to preserve the cultural heritage of quickly disappearing historic neighborhoods. Museumlike spaces displayed protected fragments or theme-­park-­like re-­creations, ranging from the Red Gate Gallery’s exhibiting of con­temporary art in the Dongbianmen watchtower of the old city wall to rickshaw alleyway tours of the Houhai neighborhood to the shopping mall re-­creation of the Qing Dynasty Qianmen commercial district. The development of museums became an impor­tant sector of China’s growing culture industry. From 2001 to 2010, the number of registered museums in Beijing grew from 110 to 156, a 42 ­percent increase.17 ­These numbers include private museums, the first of which was registered in Beijing in 1996, and large state proj­ects such as the China Millennium Monument (2000), Beijing Urban Planning Museum (2004), China ­National Film Museum (2005), and the new Capital Museum (2006). In Beijing, the temporal and ideological relationship between urban renewal and museum development conferred on museums a double mandate of

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memorializing certain pasts and imagining certain f­utures, thereby muting debate over the catastrophic effects of the Communist dreamworld or of the market-­reform dreamworld rapidly replacing it. Museum display practices create frames for understanding and interacting with the world that extend beyond institutional walls. Barbara Kirshenblatt-­Gimblett describes this “museum effect”: “Not only do ordinary t­ hings become special when placed in museum settings, but also the museum experience itself becomes a model for experiencing life outside its walls. . . . ​An ethnographic bell jar drops over the terrain. A neighborhood, village, or region becomes for all intents and purposes a living museum in situ.”18 The “museum effect” was at work in con­temporary Beijing, to the extent that visiting foreigners or Chinese whose own lives w ­ ere sufficiently buffered from the material and social ruptures of urban renewal could explore the city as a museum of a disappearing past. A form of what Marilyn Ivy calls “discourses of the vanishing,” leisured consumption of a suspended past held on the verge of disappearing assuaged anx­i­eties about the loss of cultural identity while also demonstrating the achievement of global modernity.19 In Beijing, the museum effect also encouraged residents who aspired to cosmopolitan parity with global cities like New York and Paris to see new commodity homes as modern art objects, a f­uture ­under construction in which China is recognized as a place in the pro­cess of accumulating widely acknowledged forms of privilege and beauty. The museum could be as much a dreamy snow globe as an ethnographic bell jar.

Apartment Art

State urban planning initiatives coincided with a new housing regime. City residents once received affordable housing through the socialist work unit, but beginning in the 1990s this basic resource became commoditized, with new apartments built and sold by progrowth co­ali­tions of private and public entities.20 Scholars of Chinese urban planning have taken up the “growth machine” as a comparative heuristic for thinking about China’s rapid urbanization during economic reform. This concept theorizes the value transactions that drive urban redevelopment: the everyday use value of a par­tic­u­lar site—­community cohesion, everyday sociality, local history, small-­scale commerce—is usurped by a quest for exchange value in which land is commoditized for wealth accumulation. In the city as growth machine, “the pursuit of exchange values so permeates the life of localities


showcase beijing

that cities become or­ga­nized as enterprises devoted to the increase of aggregate rent levels through the intensification of land use.”21 This pro­ cess, while often protested by residents in the neighborhoods it threatens to obliterate, “pervades virtually all aspects of local life, including the po­ liti­cal system, the agenda for economic development, and even cultural organ­izations like baseball teams and museums.”22 In an article titled “Is History Repeating Itself?” Yan Zhang and Ke Fang compare the U.S. federal urban redevelopment program of the 1950s and 1960s with con­temporary Chinese efforts and conclude that a city like Beijing is a “growth machine in the making.”23 They point out many similarities between the two cases, including destruction of tradition and tricks employed by elite co­ali­tions of government and business interests that turn the stated beneficiaries of development into victims. They also identify ways in which the Chinese case reflects a dif­fer­ent po­liti­cal and socioeconomic context. ­Under market reform, increased decentralization of government conferred to local government much of the power to control the exchange value of once publically held land; and their business dealings included involvement with both domestic and foreign partners. The unclear line between public and private in entities like local soes and their spin-­off companies facilitated the tight networking of government and business elites in redevelopment schemes; ­these networks, with the power to enact ideological visions of spatial modernity and to accumulate disproportionate wealth for ­those at the top, constitute late-­socialist progrowth co­ali­tions.24 Fi­nally, in contrast with sporadic success in the United States of grassroots activism to protect neighborhoods from being bulldozed, tight social control in China meant that in spite of isolated, often well-­publicized protests, popu­lar re­sis­tance did l­ittle to change the course of urban renewal. Beijing as a growth machine in the making opens up questions about the tenuous interpellation of artists by progrowth co­ali­tions. On the one hand, with state stipends for artists a ­thing of the socialist past, they sought new ways to survive in an increasingly market-­driven environment: through sales of artwork, patronage by wealthy individuals, participation in primarily overseas artist residencies, design work, teaching, or other jobs that supported their ability to make art. On the other hand, not all artists fully embraced the commoditization of their work. In fact, ­doing so could conflict with their own philosophies of art as a form of social observation and critique. The counterpractices developed by artists like ­those who created Dancing with Mingong at the East Modern Art Center destabilized visions

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of growth-­machine cities as inevitable or desirable.25 At the same time, the difficulty they experienced in integrating public involvement in their site-­ specific experiments drew attention to the social context of weak community power detailed by urban planning scholars. A genealogy of the term apartment art demonstrates the turn in Chinese con­temporary art from a subversive underground activity to a form of cultural capital with new domestic market value. Gao Minglu coined this term while writing about Chinese avant-­garde art in the 1990s: Facing many difficulties during the nineties—­such as a lack of ac­cep­tance of the avant-­garde by both official and commercial galleries in China, being ignored by the media, lack of attention by the organizers of some Chinese avant-­garde exhibitions overseas, and a paucity of financial resources—­ conceptual artists have had to retreat to confined spaces. They have been forced to do or keep their work at home; to employ inexpensive materials in small-­scale work that can be displayed in a private space; and to communicate only with a small audience of artists and interested persons. Thus I call this phenomenon Apartment Art (Gongyu yishu).26

Just a few years ­later, this definition would come to seem outdated as some of the very artists Gao named as exemplary of the category began to exhibit their work in a widening ambit of domestic and international contexts. By the early 2000s, the term could be repurposed to describe a new traffic between art and commodity apartment that pulled artists into its sphere of influence. As an emerging urban m ­ iddle class in China embraced the privatization of property and lifestyle, they sought ways to establish their class distinction, against the historical backdrop of a once putatively classless society.27 As real estate developers advertised their new private housing proj­ects, they circulated images marketing dif­fer­ent types of middle-­class distinction. One popu­lar strategy in Beijing was an association with art, not for social revolution but for art’s sake. ­These images promoted art as a desired form of cosmopolitan leisure. They asserted the following proposition: one starts with an empty apartment and learns to design and decorate this private space as an expression of personal aesthetics that can be developed through the proper art of consumption. A campaign for the Beautiful Garden housing estate incorporated imagery drawn from Western masterpieces, works that would have been declared bourgeois and de­cadent during the height of Chinese socialism. Half-­page newspaper ads featured a rendering of the apartment complex in vari­ous Eu­ro­pean styles of modernist painting. Paul Gaugin’s 1894 Nave


showcase beijing

FIG 2.02  ​Beautiful

Garden real estate advertisement, Beijing Youth News, Novem-

ber 15, 2000.

Nave Moe (Sacred Spring) inspires their nod to postimpressionist symbolism. In an ingenious reworking of the original (figure 2.02), the foreground features an almost exact copy of two Tahitian ­women seated on the ground, while the m ­ iddle ground turns two bathers into apartment residents clad in white, and the background replaces totemic stone sculptures with an apartment block. The accompanying slogan, “Return to Beautiful Garden,” plays on the double meaning of coming home to one’s private oasis and achieving a position of worldly privilege in which one can recognize this art historical reference and appreciate Gaugin’s primitivizing, feminizing exoticism as an expression of one’s own pro­gress. Beautiful Garden residents, the ad promises, wander through a lush, color-­drenched landscape (a figment of the imagination in the polluted megacity of Beijing) like tourists from the developed world while g­ oing to and from a modern luxury apartment on the horizon. The traffic between art and commodity apartment exerted a pull on artists as they forged paths for themselves in an emerging market economy, but it also became a prob­lem for them to explore through the medium of art. I examine the encounters that ensued when artists discovered in Ocean Paradise’s East Modern Art Center an intriguing opportunity for creating and exhibiting work. My mode of investigation is archaeological to the extent that I describe the substrata—­ways of thinking, forms of sociopo­liti­cal organ­ization, and ele­ments of the built environment—­that made up this par­tic­u­lar Beijing location. ­These substrata structured what could be expressed artistically. They did not, however, exist in discrete

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layers that could be easily isolated. Instead they impinged on one another. What appears as a radical shift—­the socialist factory razed to make way for the commodity apartments of globalization—­also harbored shared qualities of vision. The art created and exhibited in this nested context of Showcase Beijing–­Ocean Paradise–­East Modern Art Center mixes and plays on the mass utopian grandiosity of socialism and capitalism, participating in but also calling into question the bankruptcy of the dreams they trade on.

Ocean Paradise’s East Modern Art Center

At the turn of the twenty-­first c­ entury, Ocean Paradise developers broke ground just outside Ciyun T ­ emple Bridge on Beijing’s East Fourth Ring Road. Although the location would soon adjoin the cbd, at the time it remained on the city’s edge. The border zone between rural and urban represents a long twentieth-­century Chinese history of social debate, in which the city and the country have served as po­liti­cally demarcated spaces, temporalities, and ideologies. This debate played out in the layers of change made to the site as it was cleared, constructed, razed, gutted, and eventually remade as Ocean Paradise. In 1919, Li Dazhao, the intellectual who two years l­ater cofounded the Chinese Communist Party, denounced the corrupting influence of China’s semicolonial cities: “My young friends drifting about in the cities! You should know that the cities are full of crime, and that g­ reat contentment is to be found in the villages; that life in the city is more or less the life of a ghost, but that the work g­ oing on in the villages is the work of p­ eople; that the air in the city is foul and the air in the villages is pure.”28 Thirty years ­later, Mao Zedong, ­Great Helmsman of the new state, announced a vision that would stand in tension with Communist commitment to the peasantry for de­cades to come. He stood atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace and expressed his hope that one day this vantage point would afford a view of hundreds of smokestacks symbolizing China’s industrial modernization.29 On a 1950 street map of Beijing, the area outside of the Second Ring Road remained virtually blank. That would soon change. The rhetorical revolutionary potential of the peasantry laid the ground for the rise of the state industrial sector, with ­those officially classified as rural citizens provided less access to public goods, such as education and health care, than the urban proletariat. Central planners collectivized land owner­ship and enacted the hukou (house­hold registration) system that bound farm-


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ers to agricultural areas. They si­mul­ta­neously incorporated key tracts of farmland, once empty spaces on the margins of the city map, into their vision of a factory-­studded urban landscape. To the southeast of Ciyun ­Temple, work teams cleared agricultural fields and traced the ground with the lines of a modernist grid. Foundations w ­ ere poured for spinning and weaving workshops and worker dormitories of what would become China’s three largest state-­run textile factories, the No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 Cotton Mills. At the height of production, each factory employed approximately eight thousand workers, more than 80 ­percent of whom w ­ ere female. In “Talking of ­Women’s Liberation,” a correspondent for Peking Review, an official foreign-­language weekly, recounts a 1973 visit to the No. 3 Cotton Mill. Deputy Secretary Wang, a veteran cadre and member of her work unit’s party standing committee, proudly stated that in 1955 she had helped build the factory.30 Some three de­cades l­ ater, China Textile News reported the financial challenges faced by the Beijing Cotton Textile Group, the conglomerate name assigned to the three mills ­after their incorporation in the 1990s.31 When Deng Xiaoping advocated for opening and reform to chuang shijie (break a path to the world), the related phrase xia hai ( jump into the ocean) emerged as a 1990s buzzword. Figuratively meaning to abandon socialist work affiliations and go into private business, it became the organ­izing logic of the Ocean Paradise brand. The land u ­ nder the No. 3 Cotton Mill was sold to the state-­owned cosco, whose containers fill cargo ships in ports worldwide and whose leaders had diversified into real estate. cosco’s commercial real estate ventures, which began in the port cities of Shanghai, Dalian, Qingdao, Guangzhou, and Nantong, expanded and joined forces with Sinochem, one of China’s four major state-­owned oil companies. This merger gave rise to cosred (cosco Real Estate Development), eventually known as Sino-­Ocean Land Limited, and in 2000 they received permission to begin construction in the capital. A policy enacted ­after Beijing won its Olympic bid in 2001 mandated that all industrial enterprises move outside of the Fifth Ring Road, in part to control air pollution. The No. 3 Cotton Mill workers w ­ ere laid off or transferred to other units, and bulldozers quickly reduced rows of workshops and dormitories to rubble. The Ocean Paradise developers hired hok (Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum), a transnational architecture firm based in St. Louis, to design the new commodity apartment complex. One of the proj­ect architects explained that their commissioned work never went beyond the conceptual stage: “hok produced marketing brochures including images and text,

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and eventually they ­will do what they want with it.” She confessed to a personal moral crisis a­ fter it became apparent the client simply wanted to buy “a picture or an ideology of American-­ness.”32 Ocean Paradise advertisements in the Beijing subway stated that the “famous U.S. architecture firm hok” had designed their plans. In 2002, a billboard next to the Ocean Paradise sales office announced in En­glish: “Built on Lifestyle.” Slogans on the walls around the construction site included: “We like the floating life. We enter this city at any time, and depart at any time. We like to be surrounded by art. We like the s­ imple life.”33 B ­ ehind t­ hese walls, rural mi­ grants, members of the “floating population,” worked around the clock on apartment structures rising ­toward the sky. The marketing team faced the challenge of attracting homebuyers to an area still considered the city’s industrial outskirts. The cosred assistant general man­ag­er in charge of marketing, Xu Qian, had started out as an architect and interior designer. On an early visit to the Ocean Paradise site, Xu took photo­graphs as bulldozers knocked over factory walls. He was moved by the emotional response of female textile workers witnessing the de­mo­li­tion: “I felt that perhaps this history was in our hands, at least that this piece of land would be rewritten by us.”34 This transformation was necessary, Xu explained. The fabric produced in the No. 3 Cotton Mill was too coarse and had no market value. “We must now link tracks again with the world and participate in global competition. With the contradictions that unfold, many in­ter­est­ing t­ hings also emerge.” He thought about filming a documentary or scripting a tele­vi­sion drama based on the social change he oversaw or continuing his photographic documentation as a study in contrasts. Believing in the necessity of economic readjustment, he yet pondered what cultural or humanizing ele­ments might come out of the pro­cess. He harbored an affective attachment to past forms of sociality, but even more so to the epic melodrama of inevitability. On a tour of the United States, Xu Qian and his colleagues had been impressed by New York’s soho and other urban industrial zones turned into art districts. Standing in front of the remaining shell of the No. 3 Cotton Mill’s New G ­ reat Factory, Xu had the vision to preserve it as a cultural attraction. He considered the possibility of public works proj­ects such as a textile factory museum or a school for the ­children of laid-­off workers, but ­these proved too complicated in terms of government bureaucracy. His team also had to convince cosred leaders, who saw only a dilapidated factory building, of its value. They debated transforming it into a restaurant, disco, supermarket, dance school, or


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furniture showroom.35 Xu’s vision of cultural cultivation as an indirect benefit won out. They deci­ded to create the East Modern Art Center, which would provide space to Chinese con­temporary artists for large-­scale exhibitions of the sort that traditional museums did not support. Generating audiences for their work would increase the artists’ visibility and value of their work. The center would also elevate the cultural milieu surrounding Ocean Paradise. In their logic, it would be a boon to both new homeowners and laid-­off factory workers still residing in the area by providing them with an opportunity to learn about art and thereby raise their quality (suzhi). An expansive spirit of idealism s­ haped the guiding princi­ples they outlined for a noncommercial organ­ization: they would take and make no money from artists, and they would set no limits on the style of art exhibited. They even attempted to set up a cross-­cultural exchange with MoMA in New York. They admired the fiscal management, channeling of corporate sponsorship, and international programming of the museum, although the complexity of MoMA’s inspection and oversight guidelines and the high rate of insurance they required prevented any collaboration.36 As excitement about the idea grew, city officials informed them of traffic codes requiring the Ocean Paradise entrance road to cut through the location of the New ­Great Factory. Yung Ho Chang, the internationally recognized Chinese architect who had already created a preliminary design for the art center, came up with a solution (figure 2.03): “An art center and a real estate office are to be located in an old textile factory building. However, a newly planned road slices right through the structure. The only way to avoid total de­mo­li­tion was to cut off half the existing building. As a consequence, a section of the industrial architecture is revealed as the elevation on the south side. To emphasize this explicit real­ity the rugged edge of the ­water drill surgery is left as it is; in other words the pro­cess of mutilation is preserved.”37 The Ocean Paradise marketing staff invited artists and reporters to a “salon” to generate ideas for the East Modern Art Center. Living Dance Studio choreographer Wen Hui proposed a dance per­for­mance for the center’s opening. She initially thought about using female dancers dressed as textile workers. Artists Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen, who are husband and wife, also attended the gathering. Wen Hui phoned them afterward to ask if they wanted to work together with her and her husband, documentary filmmaker Wu Wenguang. As the four of them discussed ideas, Song Dong thought of involving mingong from the Ocean Paradise construction

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FIG 2.03 ​Ocean

Paradise sales offices (first floor), East Modern Art Center (second floor), 2002. Photo­graph by author.

site. He wanted to set up an encounter between rural mi­grants and urban art enthusiasts, in which the line between audience and spectacle was unclear. Thinking about this idea in terms of a choreographic response to Beijing’s transformation, Wen Hui deci­ded she wanted to bring its cultural and manual workers into physical contact.38 Dancing with Mingong, the multimedia event that evolved from their collaboration, represents a momentary crystallization of t­ hese artists’ ongoing thought pro­cesses and experiments with par­tic­u­lar media. It also represents a shift in logics of display. Once exemplary creators of what Gao Minglu termed “apartment art,” Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen now found themselves creating pieces specifically for the site of a real estate development, in a way that involved critical reflection on their part but also supported developers’ marketing need for a media spectacle. The East Modern Art Center supplied the four artists with funds for materials and wages to hire thirty construction workers at thirty yuan per day, to rehearse for one week with Wen Hui’s dancers, six Chinese and three foreign. They ­were told that the workers on the Ocean Paradise site ­were too busy, so Wu Wenguang contacted photographer Mao Ran, who had once worked as a subcontractor, and he found a group of mingong for hire. ­These men, largely from rural counties across Sichuan, stripped off their shirts and, following direction in improvisational exercises,


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FIG 2.04  ​Dancing with Mingong rehearsal at Beijing’s East Modern Art Center in the Ocean Paradise real estate development, 2001. The line of sewing machines at the bottom of the image are for Yin Xiuzhen’s installation; the line of brick piles in back mark where an installation piece by Song Dong ­will be placed. Wu Wenguang, Dance with Farm Workers, 2001. Film still.

moved through an empty space once filled with female textile workers (figure 2.04). Yin Xiuzhen assembled an installation piece that consisted of hanging lights and foot-­pedal sewing machines, each sewing through one of Beijing’s daily newspapers. Song Dong brought in piles of sand, on top of which he arranged architectural models borrowed from the Ocean Paradise sales office to create a miragelike diorama.39 He photographed the workers’ identity cards and temporary residence permits for a projection on the night of the per­for­mance.40 Wu Wenguang filmed the rehearsals and final per­for­mance.41 The resulting documentary rec­ords the demand of a worker on the first day: “Why are we ­here?” Wen Hui responded with a speech about how they, as artists, ­were interested in the former factory space as emblematic of a changing urban environment. On camera, she asserted that Beijing was being built by mingong, but very few Beijingers had a chance to actually talk to them. “You are at the very bottom of the social hierarchy, but Beijing has been built by you. You can give us advice. This per­for­mance gives you a chance

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to express your experience.” The workers had a lot to express: “We came to Beijing to work, to make money, but sometimes p­ eople in Beijing hire us and then refuse to pay up ­after w ­ e’ve done the work. ­Will this per­for­ mance help us get back t­ hese unpaid wages or get us residence permits or stop the police from arresting us? Since Beijing has gotten the Olympics, you ­really need us, but how ­will this per­for­mance help?” Flustered, Wen Hui turned to her assistants, “Is someone taking notes on this? I ­can’t solve ­these prob­lems.” When cosred officials learned about the details of the per­for­mance, they feared it would bring the wrong kind of attention to Ocean Paradise. They tried to get t­ hose involved to remove mingong from the title, but it had already been publicized to the media.42 When the per­for­mance took place, on August 23, 2001, several hundred ­people turned out to join the divergent energies and intentions that intermingled that eve­ning. As the performers, thirty rural mi­grant men joined by nine professional dancers, moved through the space, audience members ebbed and flowed around them. The dancers ran sporadically through the space, as if g­ oing through the paces of frenetic urban life. They came to a halt en masse. As a recording announced the arrival of a subway train, their heads slowly lifted together as they gazed upward. They formed two long parallel lines and threw bricks back and forth up the length of the building. They noisily rolled metal barrels across the concrete floor and over other dancers who had fallen to the ground.43 Slides taken by Mao Ran of the messages of hope and despair that mi­grant workers write on construction site walls ­were projected on a column. Song Dong’s video Broken Mirror (1999) was screened on a corner wall. Each segment of this piece opens with a Beijing street scene—an old alleyway, local market, or park. As a hammer hits the surface, the viewer realizes it is a reflection in a mirror. With each strike of the hammer, the scene r­ ipples ­until the mirror fi­nally shatters, revealing what lies across the street, or ­behind the mirror: the high-­rise buildings of a rapidly modernizing Beijing. In another corner, the shirtless mingong formed a ­human screen with their bodies onto which Song Dong’s video of their identity documents was projected. They formed ­human chains, each with hands on the back of the person in front of them, with the lead person pushing a newspaper through one of the sewing machines in Yin Xiuzhen’s installation. Their interaction with ­these material objects conveyed a sense of history in the making, and the destruction and displacement involved in the pro­cess. The predominantly male corporeality of the per­for­mance reinforced the marginalization of demobilized ­women

The Limits of Art Center Site Specificity

In coverage of the East Modern Art Center’s inaugural event, reporters strug­gled to describe its overall effect, even as the messy chaos of it captured the oversized, hardscrabble ethos of con­temporary Beijing; they described the mingong as earnest and moving; they lauded the status artists had granted them, while recognizing it would be as ephemeral as the hail that fell that night.45 The physical contact between worldly urbanites and exploited mi­grant workers disrupted any easy romanticization of rural folk. The responses of vari­ous stakeholders in the proj­ect revealed tensions over the purpose of art exhibition in showcase Beijing. Xu Qian conceded that the per­for­mance expressed contradictions between p­ eople from dif­fer­ent classes and backgrounds but concluded, “What effect did it have? It d­ idn’t make me feel relaxed or happy.” 46 Song Dong reflected on the limits of artists to effect social change: “Although you could say that we employed mingong and also touched, moved, and mixed with mingong, ­we’re certainly no saviors. . . . ​I felt that ­after it was over, they still had their lives, and we had ours. It’s not like what a lot of the media reported, that we had given mingong dignity, or raised them to that level. They already had dignity.” 47 Xu Qian’s assistant in charge of art center logistics quit her job two months ­after Dancing with Mingong. She compared her departure, to work for a transnational software com­pany, to breaking up with a lover who had laid waste to her passion. If she had it all to do over, she would focus more on the relationship between art and economics, in terms of cultivating sustainable patronage, instead of using the center simply as a means of generating publicity.48 Graphic designer Wei Lai, a principal con­sul­tant on the proj­ect, placed blame on the artists who failed to thank or even mention Ocean Paradise Real Estate in their press interviews: “In the com­pany we w ­ ere suddenly seen as having bad judgment. The voices of every­one’s criticism flew. Why did you want to preserve that factory? Why did you want to create an art center in that factory? Why did you create this kind of per­for­mance in that art center?” 49


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whose ­labor had once built and run the factory.44 The event ended with the sung call and response of Lao Wei’s village tune: “Flowers are covering the branches. . . . ​I am the only one alone.” The mingong presented bricks to random members of the audience, who received them with a mixture of laughter, puzzlement, graciousness, and discomfort.

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Was the goal for art to foster a humanizing aura of culture that would confer commodity value to real estate, and in the pro­cess to Chinese con­ temporary artworks? To dissolve museum walls and call into question their power to create and conflate economic and aesthetic value? Or to incite debate and change related to issues of social in­equality and segregation created by urban renewal proj­ects? In the aftermath of Dancing with Mingong, cosred leaders refused to fund any more art activities. They simply rented the space to interested parties. Eight subsequent exhibitions and per­for­mances took place at the East Modern Art Center: Trip to Kunlun, a per­for­mance by the Beijing Modern Dance Group; Fantasia, an exhibit of con­temporary art from China, Japan, and K ­ orea; What a Wonderful World, an exhibit and per­for­mance created by artist Wang Nengtao; Run, Jump, Crawl, Walk, an exhibit of Chinese con­temporary art; Witness to Growth, a solo exhibit of paintings by Yu Hong; DV Life, a youth digital video exhibit; The New M ­ iddle Class: Germany 1989–2000, an exhibit of photo­graphs by Regina Schmeken sponsored by the Goethe Institute in Beijing; and Synthetic Real­ity, an exhibit of Chinese video art. None of t­ hese exhibits w ­ ere site-­specific in the way Dancing with Mingong had been, with the artists creating work that responded directly to the physical and historical space. The East Modern Art Center did, however, attract ambitious in­de­pen­dent curators b­ ecause it provided them with a large, museumlike space where experimental artworks could be displayed without the official imprimatur or level of oversight associated with staid institutions like the National Art Museum of China Art. A primary goal for Zhang Li, curator of Run, Jump, Crawl, Walk, was to develop a local audience for Chinese con­temporary artists’ embodied explorations of their social environment.50 It would be an oversimplification of the many f­ actors involved in curatorial decision-­making to claim the space alone influenced the se­lection of artwork exhibited t­ here, but the mixed nature of the site, the mutilated and unfinished feel of the center’s architecture, the layers of its history still exposed and being strug­gled over, heightened the repre­sen­ ta­tional politics explored by many of the works shown. I highlight a few of t­hese pieces to demonstrate how the intersection of urban planning, real estate, and art in new millennium Beijing s­ haped the lives of artists and sometimes became the subject of their art. ­These works reflect the encounter of socialist and market aesthetics, as well as the positions and desires within them of urbanites, the historical proletariat, and rural mi­ grants. Several of ­these pieces have been exhibited in other locations, from commercial galleries to international museums, but in the East Modern


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Art Center they resonated with the space in a par­tic­u­lar way. Not yet assigned a price or a place in an authorized narrative of China, poised at the edge of critique and co-­optation, they contextualized the space as much as it contextualized the art. Artist Wang Nengtao’s What a Wonderful World staged a larger-­than-­life party over the weekend of April 20–22, 2002. Through a cacophonous assemblage of p­ eople and materials, Wang explored the market-­era maxim of material indulgence: chi he wan le (eat, drink, play, enjoy). The spectacle consisted of sixteen dif­fer­ent sections—­theater and ­music per­for­mances, on-­the-­spot food preparation, installations, documentary films, photo­ graphs, and paintings—­arranged as a maze of excess through which audience members could wander.51 For What a Wonderful Life, roast duck chefs carved meat for partygoers to enjoy. The discarded carcasses placed atop a mound of construction rubble mimicked Prospect Hill in central Beijing’s Jingshan Park. A 360-­degree, grey-­toned pa­norama of the urban landscape, pieced together from photo­graphs taken on Prospect Hill, surrounded the mountain of consumed ducks. In another scene, female performers in gold robes stood on ­tables draped in white and pumped their fists around a king in metallic pink. B ­ ehind them hung large digitally altered reproductions of propaganda posters from the G ­ reat Leap Forward. A young female collective farm worker grasps a stalk of wheat and smiles above the slogan “Circle the globe to take root, sprout, blossom, yield fruit.” The steely sweat-­ beaded face of a male factory worker is paired with the slogan “We ­will certainly surpass Amer­i­ca.”52 In an installation titled Met Old Chap Marx in Paris, a poster of Karl Marx, an old camera, spilled wine, a student desk, a burned out hearth, and a poster with the lyr­ics to the Internationale sets a scene of cosmopolitanism dif­fer­ent from that epitomized by Ocean Paradise. The bedroom scene in Wang’s Dream World ­Music (figure 2.05) installation provides a similarly striking contrast with that in the soho model apartment at Urban Planning Museum. The clutter of old photo­graphs, advertising images from the 1920s, socialist propaganda posters, work unit merit certificates, toys, and musical instruments that surround the plain white mattress on the floor pres­ents a historical archive of dreams and emotions antithetical to the con­temporary commodity apartment advertising image. The installation’s affective pull on a certain generation of viewers accentuates the hollowness of the wonderful world of pursuing material plea­sure. The other Chinese solo show held at the East Modern Art Center was Yu Hong’s Witness to Growth, a series of thirty-­four oil paintings, all

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FIG 2.05  ​Wang

Nengtao, Dream World ­Music, 2002. Installation view, What a Wonderful World, East Modern Art Center, April 2002. Courtesy of the artist.

self-­portraits or intimate scenes with ­family and friends, one and sometimes two painted for each year of her life. While individual paintings from the series had appeared in group exhibits, this marked the first time they ­were exhibited as a complete series and with each painting juxtaposed with a media repre­sen­ta­tion from the same year. For 1966, Yu pairs China Pictorial color photo­graphs of Chairman Mao waving to soldiers in Tian­anmen Square at the start of the Cultural Revolution with a painting a­ fter a black-­ and-­white photo­graph of herself at six months, bundled and lying asleep in a pram outside in the sun. Twelve years ­later, the chosen China Pictorial photo­graph features Yu herself, sketching outside with three other students from the Beijing C ­ hildren’s Palace; in the paired painting, she poses in a park with her parents and younger s­ ister for a f­amily photo­graph. In 1996, Thirty Years Old (figure 2.06), the China Pictorial image has shifted to a dreamscape of mass consumer prosperity, a grid of identical new villas in suburban Beijing. In the accompanying paintings, the artist sits lost in thought in her studio, her two-­year-­old ­daughter napping on the sofa next to her; or just her d­ aughter slumped asleep in an office chair in front of a large-­than-­life but seemingly inconsequential Mao portrait hanging on the

FIG 2.06  ​Yu

Hong, 1996, Thirty Years Old, 2002. Acrylic on canvas, 100 cm × 100 cm × 2 cm. Paintings exhibited with photo­graph of China Pictorial 6 (1996) clipped open to a two-­page spread of a photo­graph by Hu Dunzhi of urban housing construction, Banbidian villa blocks in Daxing County, Beijing, 66 cm × 100 cm. All images © Yu Hong 2016, Courtesy of Long March Space. Photo­graphs © Gu Xiaobo/Yu Hong 2016.

studio wall. Yu’s technically deft yet loose brushwork reflects her acad­emy training in socialist realist painting. (She is the artist whose sketch of the head of David remained legendary among the next generation of cafa students.) Her paintings, however, depict melancholic introspection rather than idealized working class-­struggle or hagiographic hero worship. They also pres­ent a contrast to the crisp media images, challenging the realism of photographic repre­sen­ta­tion. The overall series represents historical reflection and interjects individual subjectivity into collective history and fantasy. The ­woman in ­these paintings does not, in heroic worker, ­mother, or consumer pose, represent the nation or promote a real estate developer’s vision of domestic bliss. She conveys the philosophical ambivalence of a witness. Her auratic presence is heightened by the layers of history overturned and memorialized in the very architecture of the East Modern Art Center. Several pieces in Zhang’s Run, Jump, Crawl, Walk pres­ent explorations of a rapidly changing social environment amplified by the history of the exhibition site, its embodied l­abor, fantasies, and wounds. The digital photo­ graphs in Chen Lingyang’s 25:00 lightbox series illuminate an oversize female nude, the artist’s own body, in panoramic Beijing nightscapes (plate 2). She harbors an interior realm of possibility that looms within the “real” world, while also exposing ­human vulnerability on a monumental scale. In Zhuang Hui’s June 25th, Cha Shan Town, an arresting scene appears amid a dramatically lit, life-­size diorama. Artificial grass and flowers

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sprout from the ground. Against a backdrop of white clouds and blue sky, a thick pink cotton cloud hovers. Framed by a grove of bamboo, a brightly dressed female mannequin stumbles forward with a hand to her face. Her eyes are closed and fake blood drips from them, down her fin­gers, and onto her orange top. Zhuang created this installation based on a story he read in a tabloid newspaper from southern China, where factories produce transnational consumer goods. Gang members had gouged out the eyes of a female rural mi­grant factory worker to sell on the black market for ­human body parts. The technicolor promise of the city produces surreal extremes of stratification and commodification. All of t­ hese pieces contain holdover socialist sentiments, embedded in the artists’ archival materials, stylistic predispositions, and subject m ­ atter, yet ­were exhibited within the reform-­era logic of display in a city where planners and developers strove to command world attention. In contrast with the marketing mission that justified cosred investment in the art center, ­these artists found in the unfinished, layered aspects of the site a space of imagination. It opened an optical unconscious, inspiring theatrical scenario. Their pieces work through the contradictions embodied in the site’s comingled collectivist and privatized ideologies. Cosmopolitan middle-­class lifestyle was built on but also haunted by the displacement of a female urban proletariat and the exploitation of a floating population of rural mi­grants. This type of site-­specific artistic rumination did not align with the vision of Ocean Paradise developers. Their decision to rent out the art center was an interim step t­ oward their next more definitive move. Just over two years a­ fter the East Modern Art Center was inaugurated with a per­for­mance that involved brick throwing, a bulldozer tore into its glass-­box renovation of the New ­Great Factory. Lumbering machines methodically reduced it to the same fate No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 Cotton Mills had met, and then hauled away the rubble of bricks, concrete, and rebar. In its first phase, the Ocean International Center built on the site included four glassy high-­rise towers, the tallest of which ­rose to thirty-­ three floors. The towers ­housed several major Chinese banks, a conference and business center, ser­vice apartments, and office space leased by companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Hewlett-­Packard, and Fujitsu. The second phase added two more office buildings connected by a retail mall.53 In my interviews with vari­ous participants in the East Modern Art Center experiment, I heard dif­fer­ent stories. Some told me that if it reaped enough success, it would survive into the ­future. O ­ thers told me that it was

Art as Investment or Public Aesthetics

The ­Today Art Museum, conceived as part of the Pingod real estate development on the southern side of the cbd, appeared not long a­ fter the East Modern Art Center met its end.59 The developers hired the same architect, Yung Ho Chang, to convert a heating plant on the site into a mixed-­use


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always intended to be temporary. It eventually became a kind of installation or per­for­mance piece in and of itself. The East Modern Art Center preceded new art districts like 798, a Bauhaus-­style electronics complex originally built in the 1950s with East German assistance.54 When artists and gallerists began renting studio and exhibition space in factories ­there, it became Beijing’s next center of con­ temporary art activity, and just as soon was embroiled in debates about art’s commercial cooptation, as well as plans to demolish the factory buildings and develop a high-­tech zone. A ­ fter a protracted strug­gle between artists and leaders of the landholding com­pany, the area received official designation as the Dashanzi Art District just before the 2008 Olympics.55 Dancing with Mingong likewise marked another trend in the Beijing con­temporary art world: in 2001–2, a number of artists produced work focused on rural mi­grant workers.56 Several of ­these artists described an initial identification with mingong, as they also lived in relatively poor and disenfranchised conditions on the margins of showcase Beijing.57 Then as new exhibition and market opportunities arose, they gained new cultural capital and sometimes financial security. Their artistic repre­sen­ta­tion of mingong as emblematic of new forms of social in­equality often led to conflicts over ethics or fair compensation. A 2003 group show titled Together with Mi­grants, curated by Yang Xinyi and featuring the work of fifteen artists, epitomized this phenomenon. Or­ga­nized in conjunction with a unesco proj­ect for rural poverty reduction, the exhibit ran for one week in the newly opened ­Today Art Museum. The disjuncture between social justice work and con­ temporary art exhibited in a space like the T ­ oday Art Museum emerged in a comment by Huang Ping, a sociologist affiliated with the Chinese Acad­ emy of Social Sciences and a collaborating member of the unesco proj­ ect. He bluntly stated, “We are not that happy with the exhibit. We want to show what the mi­grants contribute to society, but the artists have only depicted their poverty and desperation.”58

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sales center and art museum. His studio’s approach to the renovation took into account the structure’s planned obsolesce: “The mix of commercial and cultural activities is strategic although not entirely unique in Beijing. The fa­cil­i­ty’s temporality means a very quick and low bud­get job.”60 Yet, over a de­cade l­ ater, the museum still stood, and was flourishing. If the East Modern Art Center left itself open to site-­specific experimentation or resonance, the ­Today Art Museum found­ers cultivated a progrowth culture industry scheme, in which the creation of commodity value for real estate and for con­temporary art works ­were closely intertwined. The design of the museum’s galleries followed the international white cube standard. The museum had a gift center, bookstore, and café, as well as membership and educational outreach programs. It offered storage space to con­temporary art collectors. In 2009, it counted Mercedes-­Benz, Montblanc, and Shanghai Tang among its many corporate sponsors. In 2010, Credit Suisse underwrote a T ­ oday Art Award. Several art magazines ­were published ­under the T ­ oday imprint, including Dajia (Master) and Caijing (Finance). The former identified and featured the work of “master” artists, often ­those included in the museum’s collection. The latter provided market analy­sis, including recent auction statistics for dif­fer­ent categories ranging from porcelain to classical ink painting to con­temporary art. It might be argued that the success of the T ­ oday Art Museum represents the maturing of con­temporary art institutions in China. It certainly demonstrates Chinese adoption of the globalizing model of corporate art intervention analyzed in Britain and the United States by Chin-­tao Wu.61 ­Under Thatcher and Reagan in the 1980s, public arts funding was increasingly transferred to the corporate sector, which in return was able to raise its public image by trading in cultural respectability. Pingod leaders sent several of the ­Today Art Museum staff on a research tour of Western museums to study exactly this management model.62 The museum they created succeeded in laying claim to a smooth story of bourgeois arrival that contained unruly histories. It did not threaten or invite critique of Beijing as a growth machine in the making. The East Modern Art Center circa 2001 represented a moment in a landscape of museum transformation. It provides a win­dow onto the messy, nascent relationship of state-­led urban renewal, privatized real estate, and art. Its embodiment of other ways of being in the city and in the world eventually became part of the wreckage left in the Ocean Paradise wake. Draw into this nexus, artists grappled with how to respond, aesthetically and practically, to the social changes reflected in the art world politics of

The party and its ­people have suffered disaster. Is it ­legal for CCTV officials to steal the ­people’s property? De­mo­li­tion and relocation results from the co­ali­tion of government and business. The Olympics are ­here, I have no home.

The layers of paint u ­ nder the large white characters indicated the ongoing b­ attle to speak and to silence. The next day, August 13, 2007, all of the slogans had been painted over in black, including the one declaring: “The darkness of cctv.”64


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their everyday lives. They adapted to the new ideological context of cultural industry development in Beijing but not without a strug­gle over the politics of form. Aesthetics have material consequences ­because they have the power to promote or puncture par­tic­ul­ar visions, and artists work at precisely this juncture. The frequency with which Chinese con­temporary artists inserted themselves into their own work seems in part a meditation on the question of how their ­labor and skills fit into this changing landscape. At the T ­ oday Art Museum, art was recognized as worth collecting as a financial investment. It contributed to creating a distinct middle-­class cultural sensibility for the Pingod real estate development. A 2007 billboard outside of the construction site announced: “cbd • Art Gallery Street • ­Hotel Lifestyle • Home. T ­ oday Art Museum, Asia’s largest Chinese con­ temporary art gallery, is uniquely linked with the world.” When artists whose engagement with site-­specific art once led them out of the studio and into public spaces began to create installations and per­for­mances specifically for privatized museum sites like this one, they moved away from a public counteraesthetics. In 2007, in the shadow of the partially constructed Koolhaas-­designed cctv Headquarters, preparations ­were underway to demolish the only socialist-­era apartment building still standing on the site. Most of the residents had already moved out, but several families refused to leave. With property-­based activism on the rise, protest strategies aimed to delay de­mo­ li­tion and gain better relocation compensation.63 Holdouts became known as “nail ­house­holds” ­because they stood out in their re­sis­tance to being hammered down into submission. T ­ hose in the cctv case had painted graffiti on an exterior wall facing the traffic-­congested Third Ring Road. Their slogans, whose aesthetics draw on Chinese traditions of big character posters and socialist murals, included:

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FIG 2.07 ​Baohu (protect) graffitied over chai (demolish) designation, outside the cctv site, 2007. Photo­graph by James Tweedie.

Adam Chau has analyzed the painting of the big character chai (demolish) on the walls of buildings slated for de­mo­li­tion as a text act, a visual form of expression shot through with power.65 The formal characteristics of the sign do not just communicate; they act on their audience. This is visual symbolism of a most site-­specific nature, as are protests that use the same socialist form of big-­character painting against the authorita­ rian power of urban renewal. On a wall outside the cctv site, blue graffiti painted over a white chai sign spilled outside the circle surrounding the character and declared, “protect!” (figure 2.07). While observers of ­these emerging forms of activism, which also include protests by laid-­off workers seeking more just compensation, see them as a hopeful trend in making growth machine social costs more vis­i­ble, they also acknowledge that communities often have few resources to rely on in the face of development backed by the government.66 When artists explored new opportunities for display created by real estate developers, they ran up against limitations to represent in any po­liti­ cally effective way the inherent in­equality of showcase Beijing. As Song Dong reflected, “­We’re no saviors.” When city residents attempted to resist the imprint of urban development plans on their homes and communities,


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their protests had l­ittle efficacy due to the relative weakness of community power. In terms of China’s booming museum system, this situation translated into few display opportunities in­de­pen­dent from progrowth co­ali­tion development. Chinese urban planners concerned with the way ­these co­ali­tions victimize the very p­ eople they claim to represent resist the channeling of their l­ abor according to growth machine logic. Their call for planners to recognize the po­liti­cal nature of their work and to “link aesthetic imagination with the public interest” is one that like-­minded artists might also heed.67 How might artists attuned to site-­specificity develop a paradigm of community collaboration, on a deeper level than hiring mingong, as part of their practice? Remembering the “failure” of the East Modern Art Center enables historical consciousness about the changing role of museums in China’s capital and how they implicate artists, influence their practice, and frame their artwork. Its history smashed and buried on many levels, what remains is a museum that is neither snow globe nor bell jar, but an archive of alternative possibilities. Scale models of Beijing seductively promise a dreamworld of leisure, culture, and cosmopolitan distinction. They train sight lines in power­ful ways, organ­izing mi­grant and aesthetic ­labor alike in their realization. How they meet the ground, however, can also set into motion other arcs of the imagination. The afterimage of a brick hurtling through space shatters their smooth surface into pieces.

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Zones of Encounter

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The Besieged City


From late 2000 to 2002, I lived in a socialist-­era, five-­story brick building in Xicheng District. I rented my one-­bedroom apartment from a ­woman named Art Soldier, who worked in the state film bureau. She and her husband had moved into a new commodity apartment in a nearby high-­rise development. Meanwhile many of her former neighbors, who remained in the older work-­unit housing, launched a variety of zhuangxiu proj­ects. Zhuangxiu means to fix up or redecorate and became a craze that besieged the city. The sounds of the neighborhood permeated my reprieve from Beijing’s streets: vendors’ calls from the vegetable market outside the enclosed balcony where I hung laundry to dry; wind banging screens and hissing its way around win­dow frames; the grunts of sex on the other side of my bedroom wall; the lonely tune of someone whistling in the dim, concrete stairwell. But more than any other sound, I awoke to that of drilling, hammering, and sawing. Entrepreneurs on the nearby thoroughfare renovated their shops and restaurants. Some boasted bright lights, shiny glass and metal, and synthetic color schemes. ­Others cultivated a more pastoral aesthetic, such as the restaurants whose man­ag­ers hired folk artists to paint landscape murals on their exteriors. The character chai (demolish) showed up in broad swaths, its white paint dripping down walls, like a command for the city to translate its old appearance into something new. Aspirational dramas unfolded on the tele­vi­sion screen in my darkened apartment, where I retreated a­ fter long days of commuting around the city for classes, interviews, and meetings. Amid Hong Kong soap operas of the rich and famous, South Korean ­family sagas, and Mainland dynastic costume dramas, I caught episodes of Wei Cheng when the ten-­part series reran on China Central tv. Based on a 1947 novel by Qian Zhongshu, the adaptation first aired in 1991, gaining wide viewership and popularity. The title of the novel, translated as The Besieged City or Fortress Besieged, entered 1990s Chinese lexicon along with words like “stock market,” “privacy,” and

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“mba.” It became a popu­lar meta­phor referring to marriage, feeling stuck, striving ­under false pretenses, and ­human dissatisfaction.1 Qian’s satirical novel, whose depiction of bourgeois life fell out of print u ­ nder Mao, tells the story of urban middle-­class Fang Hongjian. A ­ fter frittering years away in Eu­rope ­under the pretext of advanced study, he runs out of money, buys a fake doctoral diploma from the United States (the name of the granting institution transliterated into Chinese is Charlatan University), and returns to Shanghai in 1937 on the eve of World War II. Fang enters into one ­after another of failed relationships with w ­ omen, who range from a fiancée in an arranged marriage to a female classmate who earned a Ph.D. in Eu­rope before getting caught as a plagiarist. His continual longing for what he does not currently possess turns into an everyday tragicomedy of ­human isolation likened to the Chinese condition of Shanghai in the late 1930s, an extraterritorial city of surreptitious freedoms but one governed by foreign concessions and beset by the Japa­nese. The opening sequence of each tele­vi­sion episode shows the original edition of Qian’s book, followed by translations published in the United States, Soviet Union, France, Germany, Japan, and Taiwan. A voiceover intones, “­People surrounded inside the city want to flee out, ­people outside of the city want to rush in; in the face of marriage or occupation, such is ­human desire.” This series tag­line alludes to the French proverb Qian used as epigraph to his novel: “Marriage is like a fortress besieged: ­those who are outside want to get in, and t­ hose who are inside want to get out.”2 Lost in this itinerary of translation is the uncanny way that Qian’s title in Chinese provides a meta­phor that resonates into both past and f­uture. A literal translation of wei cheng is “surrounded cities,” evoking images of the old walled imperial capital, the colonial city besieged by Western powers during the Opium Wars, the war­time city u ­ nder Japa­nese control, the revolutionary city surrounded as in Mao’s injunction by the purifying countryside, and the new millennial city rife with construction attempting to overcome this siege of history by “linking tracks with the world.”3 Marriage enters the meta­phorical conceit in relation to questions of fidelity and modernity. What should one believe in and remain loyal to: tradition, ­family, romance, revolution, socialism, capitalism, nation, or world? In the words of the docent in my neighborhood museum whose logic jumped from censorship to divorce to discrimination to immigration: you’d be a fool to believe someone would love you for your w ­ hole life. Wei cheng captures a sense of caution about the promise of any ideological arrangement.


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As I was pulled into serving as a Chinese-­English interpreter in several transnational encounters between Chinese artists and curators from abroad, the phrase wei cheng wound its way into our discussions. Artists invoked it to describe their relationship with the international art market. Precariously balanced against their desire to “get out” was that of returning and gaining re­spect at home. As translators of Chinese and Western aesthetics, they might serve as exemplars of cosmopolitanism or become susceptible to accusations of excessive fidelity to one or another artistic tradition. Serving as an interpreter put a new spin on the perennial if falsely dichotomous insider-­outsider dilemma of ethnographers.4 Did I share greater insider status with curators from the United States or with Chinese artists I’d spent nominally more time with? What w ­ ere the ethics of translation that became part of curatorial se­lection?5 Who might I betray in the exchange, given the disciplinary tension between art and anthropology, in which an anthropologist might be called on to interpret linguistic and cultural nuance but not artistic value? The more I became involved in ­these zones of cultural encounter, the more aware I grew of the transnational, nannü rules of the game and resulting exclusion of par­tic­u­lar kinds of artists.6 Participants in t­hese encounters strug­gled with the constraints of a world or­ga­nized according to a nation-­state system. This framework structured the institutions they represented, as well as the ones they aspired to be accepted by, or the ones they had trained in. ­These institutions included museums, cultural organ­izations, international exhibitions, and art academies, as well as embassies that supported cultural exchange proj­ects and issued or denied visas for artists to travel. The curators and artists I interpreted for readily apprehended and passionately debated the legacy of colonialism and racism within t­ hese institutions. They articulated visions of minority cosmopolitanism, even as they silently reiterated other power­ ful social distinctions in making art worthy of the world stage. Taking on the task of the translator presented a unique opportunity for ethnographic participant-­observation but also implicated me in the behind-­the-­scenes of cultural production. Within the circles of male artists who dominated the Chinese con­temporary art scene, I learned about the girlfriends, Chinese and foreign, who had served as translators and cultural brokers. One artist had gone through so many that o­ thers jokingly referred to him as Lianhe Guo, or United Nations. At one point, in my weariness with the sexual innuendo that was part of the scene, I fantasized about creating a per­for­mance piece

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in a photography studio where I would invite male artists to take wedding photo­graphs with me. T ­ hese m ­ ental theatrics provided an outlet for my own aggravation but more importantly revealed multidirectional anx­ie­ ties produced by striving to be of the world: a wariness of being used, of being someone’s ticket in or out, of being judged inauthentic.

Authorship and Originality

In the besieged city of zhuangxiu, efforts to make Beijing global and of foreign curators to find Chinese artists who would globalize their institutions, the artwork of Wang Yin highlights tensions in the debate about what counts as art. It translated styles like the folk murals outside restaurants near my apartment into global con­temporary art. His experiments with authorship and originality also reflected post-­Mao rearrangements of social relations and subjectivities around notions of l­abor, property, and community. In 2000, Wang Yin began working with a village artist from Henan Province. He hired the painter, who specialized in colorful motifs common in rural decorative murals, to work in his Tongzhou studio. The painter executed scenes from his craftsman’s repertoire on stretched canvas or black flannel. In 2000, No. 7, his landscape combines mist-­shrouded mountains, green valleys, lotus flowers, and modern high-­rise buildings in the verdant distance. On top of this landscape, Wang Yin painted in broad, expressionist brushstrokes a large, grey-­toned figure. His muscular mass reclines barefoot against the pine tree in the foreground, head jutting forward at an awkward ­angle. His body remains incompletely realized, with parts of the background, a spot of red and blotch of green, showing through a forearm and thigh. The painting pres­ents an encounter of idioms from differently or­ga­nized art worlds—­decorative mural and modernist oil painting—­each of which take away part of the other, in a pastiche recognized by the con­temporary art market as the conceptual work of Wang Yin, not the anonymous painter who “prepared” his canvases.7 The base layer of Sandstorm (plate 8) pres­ents a brightly pigmented tableau of traditional Chinese imagery: rushing waterfalls, a junk sailing down a river, a pagoda in the distance, soaring cranes symbolizing longevity. Wang has then obliterated the scene with blunt, thickly applied repetitive strokes in muted shades of brown that cover the entire canvas. The painting’s title alludes to the massive sandstorm that enveloped Beijing in March 2002, the result of increasing desertification in China’s northwest,


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FIG 3.01 ​Wang

Yin, Flower, 2001. Oil on canvas, 200 cm × 300 cm. Courtesy of the


obliquely referencing fraught relations between city and country and the politics of reduced visibility. A reverse layering seems to occur in Flower (figure 3.01), as peonies blossom over an abstract color field, although small details of drips and washes over the flowers suggest multiple, successive overpaintings. For this piece, Wang asked his village counterpart to execute a design of flowers receding to the horizon, creating a sense of deep perspectival space. The peony flickers between folk symbol of wealth and minimalist motif in dialogue with modernist ideas of abstraction, replication, and alienation. The hierarchical separation of manual and m ­ ental, rural and urban l­ abor becomes manifest in a painting largely in the hand of one painter but u ­ nder the direction and bearing the name of another. I first met Wang Yin while interpreting for a group of curators from the United States as they toured Beijing artists’ studios. As Wang discussed his work, he spoke consciously about disrupting the myth of the autonomous artist, undermining notions of originality, and even making obvious the social economy of art by hiring a painter to work for him. The reassertion of the autonomous artist over the anonymous folk painter in his meeting with the curators remained a ­silent subtext. Wang’s hand or conceptual input altered the paintings in a way that transformed them into globally recognized art, while the portability of works on canvas rather than walls enabled them to enter this system of exchange. In his 1942 “Talks at the

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Yan’an Conference on Lit­er­a­ture and Art,” Mao Zedong exhorted the nation’s “cultural army” to stand with the ­people, to get to know them in order to represent China in its revolutionary strug­gle: “We must use what belongs to workers, peasants, and soldiers themselves, and therefore, the task of learning from workers, peasants, and soldiers comes before the task of educating them.”8 Wang reversed Mao’s call that artists go to the countryside to learn from the ­people, hiring the ­people instead to come to his studio. This mode of cultural production drew on and painted over a socialist understanding of art as communal effort. In her study of the translated modernity of early twentieth-­century Chinese lit­er­a­ture, Lydia Liu writes, “Strictly speaking, comparative scholarship that aims to cross cultures can do nothing but translate. . . . ​But leaving aside the marital trope of fidelity and the logocentric notion of truth—­ concepts that readily lend themselves to deconstructionist criticism—­what ­else do we know or can we say about translation and its implications for cross-­cultural understanding?”9 This chapter considers her question in relation to Chinese con­temporary art as a dialogic construction. The work of Wang Yin and the hired folk painter provides a visual meta­phor for the formal, linguistic, and cultural mediations that occur in artistic production and valuation. It demonstrates the making of art as a pro­cess that involves multiple social actors but also the superimpositions, alterations, and erasures that result from their exchange. In the encounters I interpreted for, the curators looked at the work shown to them and dialogically, through statement and question, tried to frame the images in terms of their developing exhibit ideas. The artists, in turn, provided personal, historical, and cultural context for their work. In this interplay of linguistic and pictorial, a precursor to the relationship of art and wall text in a museum exhibit, the curators and artists looked and talked and mutually interpreted the art at hand. They also depended on my Chinese-­English interpretation, and my subjectivity entered the discussion, innocuously in moments of “good” translation and disruptively in moments of “bad” translation. In the most egregious case of the latter, I expressed (in En­glish only) frustration with an artist’s use of sexualized female figures. My fatigue with the abundance of this type of imagery, exacerbated by recognition of very few female artists, wore through. The curators responded to my remark by pushing the artist to explain his use of this imagery. He gave short, elusive replies about sexual repression ­under Communism and desire unleashed in its aftermath. L ­ ater, one of the curators chastised me, saying that my tone of voice had caused the artist to shut

down. When I ­later ran into the artist at exhibit openings, his antagonist stance made it clear that he too blamed me for interfering.

I was first drawn into the role of interpreter in April 2001, a­ fter asking an in­de­pen­dent Chinese curator if I could follow along on the studio tours he often arranged for curators visiting from abroad. Frequently called on as a con­sul­tant on Chinese avant-­garde art, Huang Du had recently served on advisory committees for biennials in the United States, Cuba, Argentina, and Italy.10 For him, this work represented an impor­tant sideline to his decade-­ long employment as an editor at Meishu (Fine arts), the official journal of the Chinese Association of Artists. In a juggling act of professional identities, Huang promoted to his international colleagues the kind of art that Meishu had denounced in a series of articles that year criticizing nudity in per­for­ mance art and other “immoral” forms of art. He enthusiastically spoke the language of Eu­ro­pean cultural theory, often dropping words in En­glish like postmodern, simulacra, implosion, and intersubjectivity into conversations in Chinese. Huang Du invited me to join him and Philippe Vergne, curator of visual arts for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, through long days of Beijing studio visits. Vergne, originally from France, was on his first visit to China. He had four days to do initial research for a 2003 exhibit to feature artwork from Brazil, China, India, Japan, South Africa, and Turkey, part of a global initiative launched by the Walker in 1998. Huang managed conversation in En­glish quite well, but as the first day progressed, he encouraged me to take on the task of interpreting between Vergne and the artists. Huang continued to weigh in on both sides, in En­glish and Chinese. Philippe Vergne introduced the ­future Walker show to the artists he met as one that would feature “non-­Western” artists. In ­later cata­logue texts, he and contributing colleagues refer to their organ­izing princi­ple in terms of globality or globalization, citing theoretical influences ranging from Arjun Appadarai to Saskia Sassen, Homi Bhabha to Stuart Hall. Vergne balanced ideas developed by ­these scholars of modernity, urbanism, postcolonialism, and cultural studies with the concerns of the institution he represented in China and elsewhere in his research travels. The Walker Art Center, one of many foreign art institutions to send curators to China to learn more about its con­temporary art scene, had a par­tic­ul­ ar rationale for the exhibit that became How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age (February–­May  2003).

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Art in a Global Age


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Museum staff and con­sul­tants, involved in their own discussion of what it meant to be a global city, wanted to better represent the diversity of Minneapolis. Kathy Halbreich, director of the Walker Art Center, writes: “Minneapolis is one of the nation’s most rapidly changing cities and is now more culturally, ethnically, and eco­nom­ically diverse than ever before. . . . ​ To be a more locally engaged institution, we need to become more sensitive to the increasingly inter-­connected world reflected in the demographics of our own community.”11 Huang Du and the artists with whom we met could converse fluently about international con­temporary art trends. Philippe Vergne spoke easily about their work in relation to par­tic­u­lar schools, movements, and forms, but he also strove to understand historical, cultural details less familiar to him but relevant to the artwork he encountered. Early in his visit, he asked an artist about his use of the color red by noting pos­si­ble associations of it with objects like Mao’s ­Little Red Book. The artist purposefully ignored the po­liti­cal implications of the question by giving a strictly formal answer. I also found myself rephrasing in En­glish expressions of frustration by artists like Zhu Jia, who remained suspicious of being chosen for international exhibitions simply for their nationality. I tried to provide context, ranging from decades-­old debates about urban planning in Beijing to the po­liti­cal history of cabbage distribution, in relation to the works of art we viewed. Over dinner one eve­ning, I translated the shared desire of Huang and Vergne for global art as a stage for artistic exchange where it was no longer necessary to flag artists by their national identities. At this point, I broke into the conversation to argue for the importance of cultural specificity in the midst of this hopeful vision. I reminded them of the years of training in Chinese language, history, and culture that had come into play as I interpreted the ground that helped them place vari­ ous artworks into curatorial discourses of globalization, appropriation, or modernity, to draw attention to the complex pro­cesses under­lying this translation effort of fitting “original” intentions together with their complements. In the equation of Chinese X = En­glish Y, the trick of the equal sign (the more forgettable, the job better done) makes the passage to formal synonymy seem smooth and transparent when it also contains histories of in­equality. What, for example, the director of the Walker Art Center and the director of the World Art Museum at Beijing’s Millennium Monument might mean by reference to “global art/shijie yishu” emerges from specific, nonequivalent understandings about the role of art in the global system and its modern nation-­state components. While ­there may be an “interna-

tional language of art” that crosses national borders, t­ hose who speak it do so from dif­fer­ent subject positions and fields of reference, some of which have more canonical power in the world than ­others.12

In her analy­sis of lit­er­at­ure, national culture, and translated modernity in semicolonial China, Lydia Liu challenges conventional understandings of translation with her concept of translingual practice. This practice, which she traces through neologisms introduced into Chinese from Japa­nese and Eu­ro­pean languages, accounts for the meaningful alterations that occur when words travel through time and cultural-­linguistic space. As Liu explains, she “examines the pro­cess by which new words, new meanings, discourses, and modes of repre­sen­ta­tion arise, circulate, and acquire legitimacy within the host language due to, or in spite of, the latter’s contact/collision with the guest language.”13 For example, the con­temporary Chinese term for “art” ( yishu) is as a return graphic loan. The two pictographs for yi and shu once formed a classical Chinese-­character compound that signified the broad range of skills—in social rites, ­music, archery, chariotry, lit­er­at­ure, and mathe­matics—­Confucian scholars w ­ ere expected to master. The character compound was then borrowed by the Japa­nese to translate the modern Eu­ro­pean meaning of “art” and then reintroduced through Japan into mod­ ere interchangeable, ern Chinese.14 I translated “art” as yishu as if they w yet a long history of travel, profound anxiety about the f­ uture of Asia in the world, and Western and Japa­nese colonial incursions preceded my ability to do so. Related twentieth-­century ideological building blocks include wenhua/ culture (return graphic loan), xiandai/modern (Sino-­Japanese-­European loanword), and bowuguan/museum (neologism derived from missionary-­ Chinese texts). In the period of Liu’s analy­sis of Chinese lit­er­a­ture, 1900–37, Chinese writers participated in a multitude of translingual practices ­because of the conditions of imperialism. In order to resist, they turned to words and ideas borrowed from the West, often via Japan as the major interpreter of Western modernity for China. They relentlessly translated Eu­ro­pean texts into Chinese, carving a largely one-­way channel. Liu asks of this passionate, sometimes desperate engagement, “Is t­here a difference b­ etween colonization and self-­colonization? If so, what does the difference tell us about the meaning of agency?”15 She also argues that while Chinese more often

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The Language of Art/Yishu


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serves as host language to a Western guest (curators in the case at hand) than the other way around, it is nonetheless a host that does not simply receive, but changes the guest language through approximate translation and insertion into Chinese texts and contexts. A long history of cultural encounter has s­ haped this biculturality, linguistic copresence of East and West, or coauthorship performed through everyday language use. Liu’s analy­sis of Goethe’s term Weltliteratur (world lit­er­a­ture), coined in 1827 and taken up by early twentieth-­century writers in China, pres­ents the Chinese problematic in a way that remains insightful for discussions of “global art.” She cites a passage from Goethe in which the term first appears: “He who understands and studies the German language finds himself on the market where all nations offer their merchandise, he plays the interpreter in proportion as he enriches himself. And thus e­ very translator should be considered a mediator striving to promote this universal spiritual exchange and taking it upon himself to make this generalized trade go forward. For what­ever may be said of the inadequacy of translation, it remains one of the most essential and most worthy activities in the general traffic of the world (italics added by Liu).”16 In her discussion of the Chinese translation, shijie wenxue (world lit­er­a­ture), Liu describes its burden of justifying China’s seat at the ­table of a modern international community: “As it happens, Chinese writers do not share the optimistic outlook that characterizes Goethe’s confidence about the German language and lit­er­at­ure. Unlike the latter, who saw himself presiding over a world market wherein all nations offer their merchandise to him while he plays the translator magnanimously as he enriches himself, May Fourth writers turn to Eu­ro­pean lit­er­at­ ure largely with the intention of learning how to produce a national canon worthy of being accepted by world lit­er­at­ ure and being valued by the West.”17 As ethnographer-­interpreter, I examine the complex intentionalities embodied in the objects that pass through art institutions and the translingual practices that frame them. To speak of dangdai yishu/contemporary art ­under the weight of proving China’s current place in the world is also to insist on cultural specificity alongside appeals for artistic universality.

Asia and Our Moment

My second stint as interpreter occurred seven months l­ater, when three curators from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (ybca) in San Francisco arrived in Beijing. They had shared notes and ideas with Philippe


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Vergne as part of their preparation and contacted Huang Du, who again served as a local guide. This time I actively prearranged my role in their visit, with every­one’s understanding that it would be part of my fieldwork. When the visiting curators asked me beforehand for input on artists who fell outside the usual cir­cuit, I mentioned the privileging of a largely male avant-­garde. At their request, I made arrangements for them to meet with several female artists. In Beijing, René de Guzman, Doryun Chong, and Eungie Joo began a multicity tour of the region that also included Chengdu, Tokyo, Osaka, and Taipei. This trip constituted first-­stage research for an exhibition to feature emerging or mid-­career Asian artists in China, Japan, ­Korea, and Taiwan. They ­later deci­ded to include artists from Thailand as the exhibit took shape u ­ nder the title Time A ­ fter Time: Asia and Our Moment (2003). They conceptualized it as an Asian cities show connecting Asia to the location of the museum they represented, the Pacific Rim city of San Francisco with its history of Asian immigration. As Visual Arts Curator of the ybca, René de Guzman had hired Doryun Chong and Eungie Joo as collaborating con­sul­tants on the proj­ect. He l­ ater mentioned that differentiating between their individual interests as curators would “add to the poignancy of what is invariably lost in translation,” noting that his curatorial concerns ­were largely defined by the goals of the ybca as an institution: “The proj­ect for me signifies an attempt at defining an international program that grows out of geo-­centric motives.”18 With a doctoral degree in Ethnic Studies, Eungie Joo brought to the conversation a commitment to increasing the visibility of U.S. artists of color and challenging institutional rubrics that limit understanding of their work. Doryun Chong’s involvement in the exhibit planning emerged from his training as an art historian of con­temporary art in East Asia. On their first night in Beijing, we met in their ­hotel bar, where de Guzman gave Huang Du and me some background to the ybca and its goals of serving a city that “has been the primary gateway for infusing Asian p­ eoples into the fabric of Amer­ic­ a and this region.”19 As part of this introduction he mentioned that the San Francisco “South of Market” urban renewal proj­ect, where the larger Yerba Buena Center is located, had previously displaced several minority and immigrant communities. I l­ater gained a fuller picture of this proj­ect, originally envisioned ­after World War II as a large-­scale commercial convention-­sports-­office complex that would secure San Francisco’s international importance. Over the years, city business leaders, corporate councils, and elected officials pushed to have the “South of Market” area declared blighted, appropriated from its current

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residents, and bulldozed to make way for their redevelopment scheme. De­cades of neighborhood and u ­ nion protest, l­egal wrangling, and po­liti­ cal conflict stalled this land-­grab u ­ ntil the late 1970s when construction began.20 The displaced population included migratory workingmen, dockworkers, ware­house and factory workers, and immigrants—­African Americans from the South, Germans, Irish, Greeks, Japa­nese, and Filipinos.21 At the beginning of the twenty-­first c­ entury, the ybca as a public museum in the center of the redeveloped area was charged with a new mandate to culturally connect the city back to ­these previously displaced communities. The ybca curators, like Philippe Vergne, came to China informed by par­ tic­u­lar institutional motivations that arose, in their case, from San Francisco’s history of striving to become a global city. Its story of dispossession and then attempt at redress pres­ents a picture of complicity between culture and commerce similar to that of “New Beijing.” The curators also informally discussed their personal links to Asia as an additional rationale for their involvement in the exhibition proj­ect. René de Guzman and Eungie Joo are second-­generation Filipino and Korean Americans, respectively; and Doryun Chong left South K ­ orea in his late teens to pursue higher education in the United States. They narrated abbreviated life histories of immigration and experience as ethnic Americans, as did I, emphasizing a difference in their art world position as Asian American interlocutors.

Are You Among ­Those Invited?

This intersection of institutional and personal stakes informed the conversations that unfolded during the ybca curators’ visit to Beijing. Per­sis­tent themes in ­these conversations included the strug­gle for artistic recognition and repre­sen­ta­tion, the role of the nation-­state in t­ hese strug­gles, and ambivalence on the part of artists and curators about national identifications. On the one hand, artists may not see themselves and their work as aligned with national ideology. On the other hand, the notions of artist as soldier and artist as dissident are both structured by a modern system of nation-­state governance, as are the art institutions that produce artists, curators, and exhibitions. On their first day of studio tours, Huang Du accommodated multiple demands on his schedule by bringing along another visiting curator. Ute Meta Bauer, a professor at the Institute for Con­temporary Art at the


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Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna, was in town through programming arrangements made by the Beijing branch of the German Goethe Institut. On the previous eve­ning, many Chinese artists I knew had attended the lecture she gave at the institute about her role as cocurator in Documenta 11. The Documenta exhibitions, presented once ­every five years in Kassel, Germany, since 1955, serve as surveys of international con­ temporary art, each distinguished by the programmatic vision of the curator selected to direct the show. Okwui Enwezor, Nigerian by birth, headed Documenta 11 as the first non-­Western curator to hold the directorship, and in an unpre­ce­dented move, he selected six cocurators to help orchestrate an expanded exhibition concept, consisting of five platforms to take place between March 2001 and September 2002 in locations including Vienna, Berlin, New Delhi, St. Lucia, Lagos, and Kassel.22 From what I ­later heard about Bauer’s talk, many in the audience had pressed her for information about what the curatorial team sought in submissions and ­whether Chinese work would be represented. The Goethe Institut, whose mission is to promote German language and culture overseas, as the venue for this conversation provides a reminder of the ongoing history of culture and power. Huang Du took us that morning to the apartment studio of Hong Hao, who four and half years earlier had perpetrated an elaborate art hoax as a challenge to the Euro-­American centrism of international art and Chinese desire to be recognized by it. In May 1997, he and fellow artist Yan Lei sent out fake Documenta 10 letters, typed in German on letterhead they had meticulously reproduced by silk-­screen print, inviting artists across China to participate in a special show called From the Other World—­Chinese Avant-­ garde (Aus der anderen Welt—­chinesische Avantgarde). The letter, which was signed Ielnay Oahgnoh (the two artists’ names in pinyin spelled backwards), gave a local contact number to call for more information. When artists rushed to call it, they discovered it connected them to a public telephone booth. The anger of t­ hose fooled by the invitations reached such a level that Hong and Yan issued an apology letter in the Jiangsu Pictorial art journal. Their prank letter made obvious the host-­guest power dynamics at work in the translation of Chinese con­temporary art into the “world market” of art. The title of their fake exhibit plays on a Western framing of China as part of a distant, foreign world, not yet coeval with the one into which they send their art. The letter’s signature, a neologistic pun contrived of names spelled backwards, imitates the authorial aura of the foreign word, even if incomprehensible, within a Chinese context. In Hong Hao’s cramped apartment, Bauer handed him a business card. (Huang had

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briefed her before the meeting about Hong’s history as fake Documenta representative.) Grasping her card in both hands as a gesture of re­spect, Hong impishly stated that it would now be easier for him to duplicate the logo and start issuing his own Documenta business cards. In the after­noon, the curators headed for the second-­floor cafe of Beijing’s Sanlian Bookstore, where the editors of Du shu (Reading), a well-­known journal of culture and politics, had or­ga­nized a roundtable discussion with Ute Meta Bauer and local artists and art scholars.23 Daisy Yiyou Wang, a Chinese-­born art historian who at the time was pursuing a PhD at Ohio University, served as the Chinese-­English interpreter. Bauer began by giving a brief history of Documenta. ­After World War II, at a time when many German artists had emigrated or been killed, Arnold Bode, a painter and professor from Kassel, hoped to reestablish Germany’s place as a participant in world cultural discourse and international art developments. In 1955, he or­ga­nized a retrospective of twentieth-­century art and presented work that the Nazis had declared degenerate, including artists such as Picasso, Ernst, Arp, Matisse, Kandinsky, and Moore. This vision of cultural exchange on the global level focused, in the first ten exhibits, mainly on Eu­rope and North Amer­ic­ a. The se­lection of Enwezor to direct the eleventh exhibition in 2001–2 placed high expectations on his ability to globalize the event. The Du shu roundtable conversation gradually turned to the difficulty of organ­izing shows that claim to be global in reach, since an immediate impulse usually arises to demonstrate adequate repre­sen­ta­tion from all “significant” geographic regions; and artists then begin to suspect curators of basing their se­lections more on where artists live than on their work. Bauer explained that she had frequently run into this dilemma, for example, at her talk the night before, when she fielded questions about ­whether or not Documenta 11 would include Latin American or Asian artists. She responded that this identification by geographic lumping ­doesn’t seem impor­tant to most artists, who d­ on’t want to act as national representatives. Philippe Vergne would express a similar sentiment several months ­later, in March 2002, during a roundtable or­ga­nized for the opening of the Walker’s How Latitudes Become Forms exhibit: What does it mean when you enter a studio in Johannesburg or in São Paulo or in Beijing and say, “I’m ­here b ­ ecause I’m d ­ oing a global show and ­you’re a global artist”? . . . ​Should we conceive of the show as a global show, or should we find a theme around globalization, or should we talk

about something ­else? Is the show about art and practices? I also have the


feeling when entering the studios that artists ­really want to be included in exhibitions about something ­else. They ­don’t want to be in a global show.


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Bauer continued by saying she sometimes wished, as a curator, that artists would say no more often if they felt a national or any other ideological framework being imposed on them. Eungie Joo then broke into the discussion to say that for artists marginalized by art world politics, where the odds are already stacked against them, it’s hard to say no. They d­ on’t know when they might get another chance and feel compelled to take what­ever they get, even if it’s not ideal.25 She also brought up another potential danger for the global ambitions of the Enwezor-­directed Documenta 11 by comparing its pos­si­ble long-­term impact to the backlash that occurred a­ fter the 1993 Whitney Biennial in New York, labeled by critics as the “po­liti­cally correct” biennial. Curator Elisabeth Sussman selected artwork that she felt would reach groups not usually drawn to the museum and that reflected debates about multiculturalism, particularly its critiques of mainstream repre­sen­ta­tion and institutional framing. An unpre­ce­dented number of artists of color as well as female and gay and lesbian artists exhibited work. Pieces included in the show took on po­liti­cal issues, ranging from the aids crisis to police vio­lence against Rodney King. Attacks against the show, calling it didactic moralizing, lacking in aesthetic and formal value, and even “worthless junk,” came from within and without the art establishment, including a broadside by 60 Minutes.26 Joo characterized this biennial as an antidote used to counteract previous institutional denial on the part of the Whitney, but in a tokenistic way that enabled critics to characterize “minority art” as “bad art.” Once it was all said and done, guilt had been expunged; a commitment to racial or gender justice could be checked off and forgotten; and artists marginalized by the U.S. art mainstream stood in no better position than before. Bauer replied that opportunities to get a foot in the door and gain symbolic capital must be embraced as one way of trying to wedge to door open wider. I drew in my notes a schematic of the three discourses that came into conflict in the conversation that after­noon (figure 3.02). While interrelated, t­ hese discourses also bear the traces of their historical formation, and tensions remain among them. The Documenta position arises from a German historical moment of skepticism with regard to national politics but a simultaneous desire for Germany to regain a position of world


United States

Global Cultural Exchange

Diversity Politics

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China Bid for World Recognition FIG 3.02 ​Conflicting

inter/national discourses of culture.

prominence by serving as a Weltliteraturlike platform for cross-­cultural exchange between nations. The position articulated by Joo through her example of the 1993 Whitney Biennial pres­ents a kind of diversity nationalism, in which marginalized artists in the United States seek to expand the definition of American cultural citizenship, and thereby make vis­i­ble the imperialist links between the United States and other parts of the world. The significance of China’s positioning below Eu­rope and the United States hinges on Chinese artists’ ready acknowledgement that no exhibits in China garnered the international attention that Documenta and the Whitney Biennial did. Their desire to emerge on the global stage as a culture capable of commanding the world’s attention represented a conflicted nationalism, of which they w ­ ere sometimes deeply critical, but that was sustained nonetheless by an art system structured by national institutions. Yan Lei, Hong Hao’s collaborator in the Documenta 10 letter hoax, created that same year a piece titled Are You Among ­Those Invited to the German Exhibition? (plate 9). This painting features a Chinese fencer ready to begin a match: one hand poised to pull down a face mask, the other brandishing a sword. An arc of red flags cuts a dramatic diagonal against the blue sky ­behind her. The symbol repeated on the flag, a lower case “d” with an “x” superimposed over it, is the logo for Documenta 10. At the top, Yan painted the title question in Chinese characters and pinyin, in a style reminiscent of socialist propaganda posters. He conflates the competition of Chinese artists for invitations to international art exhibits with the desire to compete for one’s country in the Olympic Games. His choice of a female fencer to represent the nation also references the “iron girl” attitude of socialist gender formations, a striking contrast with the overwhelmingly male repre­sen­ta­tion in Chinese con­temporary art worlds and a reminder of the

Saying No

On November 30, 2001, the ybca curators’ second full day of meeting artists, we drove east of the city center ­toward the mixed rural-­urban Tongzhou District. A ­ fter three studio visits in the morning, we stopped for lunch at a new two-­story restaurant on the side of a dusty road. Around our t­ able sat the three ybca curators, Huang Du, Wang Yin, two other artists from the morning’s agenda, the driver of our car, and myself. I sat stuffing steamed dumplings into my mouth, enjoying a reprieve from my role as interpreter. The beginnings of a lively debate about exactly what I momentarily hoped to escape grumbled in our smoke-­filled banquet room. In discussing the unequal par­ameters of the international art world, in which Chinese artists gained success by inclusion in exhibits in the West but not the other way around, the Chinese artists launched into a complaint about the dominance of En­glish. They described how they often feel misinterpreted or misunderstood when participating in international exhibits but cannot express themselves well enough in En­glish to enter into meaningful conversation. Eungie Joo agreed that a formidable communication gap pres­ents itself at such events and that they as artists have to make certain demands. Drawing on the conversation with Ute Meta Bauer the day before, she said she understood not having the luxury to “say no,” even if the opportunity taken ­under t­ hese conditions might entail inevitable miscommunication, but that they should demand professional interpreters as part of a contractual agreement to participate. She emphasized that con­temporary art


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gender politics also at play in determining who is among t­ hose invited.27 Although the ybca curators had requested that I make arrangements for them to meet with several female artists in Beijing, Huang Du disagreed with my recommendations and convinced them not to waste their time on ­these meetings. A ­ fter the first one, the ybca curators collectively agreed and asked me to cancel the rest. In his research on professionalization of the arts in post-­Mao China, Richard Kraus observes that this pro­cess did not as a ­matter of course lead to liberalization or greater equality. Rather the building of shared structures created exclusionary practices. He cites as example the statistics for Writers Association membership, which show a sharp decline between 1981 and 1988 in the number of w ­ omen and ethnic minority members, with the male-­to-­female ratio increasing by a ­factor of almost seven.28

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requires more explanation and contextualization than other forms of art, making adequate translation more imperative than ever. Her foregrounding of a demand to be recognized—to have a voice—is rooted in the U.S. diversity politics strategy of claiming collective injustice in order to lobby for equal repre­sen­ta­tion in the nation and its institutions. But the Chinese artists at the t­able wanted not just to be included more equally in a U.S. museum but to have the power to produce and interpret con­ temporary art on their own home ground. For them, more translation does not necessarily change the rules of the game, if the “general traffic of the world” is still directed ­toward the West. Joo’s use of the phrase “say no” signified having the power to refuse ­others’ framings, an idea that arose repeatedly in the ybca curators’ conversations. At our lunch t­ able, I translated “say no” in the most literal word-­to-­ word fashion of shuo bu rather than the more “native” term jujue, meaning “to refuse.” Through this choice, I made tongue-­in-­cheek reference to an anti-­U.S. bestseller called China Can Say No.29 While I did not have time to explain the linguistic genealogy of t­ hese two syllables to the curators, the artists at the ­table recognized it with a knowing laugh. Many Chinese intellectuals critiqued this book as inflammatory nationalist rhe­toric, but its mid-1990s popularity represented ambivalence about increased economic and cultural ties between China and the West. The book’s cover depicts the ­Great Wall guarded by a composite figure with the head of the Statue of Liberty affixed to the body of a military police officer. At the top, the copy reads, “China says no, not to seek confrontation, but for a more equal dialogue.” This book introduced the translated phrase shuo bu into everyday Chinese lexicon. It followed a trend of books in Asia about “saying no,” beginning with The Japan That Can Say No in 1989. The high sales of this book in Japan received so much attention in the U.S. Congress, where some used it as justification for trade sanctions against Japan, that it was translated into En­glish.30 The phrase “say no” in Japa­nese is a­ dopted from En­glish, with the “no” untranslated. By turning around American depictions of Japa­nese social relations as not transparent enough, especially in business negotiations—­ insinuating that Japa­nese needed to learn the American practice of “saying no when you mean no”—­Sony chairman Akio Mo­rita and politician Shintaro Ishihara critiqued U.S. business practices and advocated greater Japa­ nese in­de­pen­dence. The Japan That Can Say No then led to The Asia That Can Say No, coauthored by Ishihara and the prime minister of Malaysia.31 The book’s title in En­glish, The Voice of Asia: Two Leaders Discuss the Com-

Wei Cheng

Wang Yin nodded at my summary in Chinese of Joo’s comments, but then noted with an exhalation of cigarette smoke and raised eyebrows that ­things ­were not so easy. Recruiting his teacup as explanatory tool, he laid out his working meta­phor for translation as a pro­cess that always exceeds the standard tropes of fidelity or natu­ral equivalency that can be discovered between languages, suggesting that more translation may not solve their dilemma. Pointing to his teacup, Wang described any object of translation as a boat, which—he slid the teacup from one spot on the ­table to another—­ crosses a river. When tethered to one shore the boat means something dif­ fer­ent than when docked on the other shore. Even though the materiality of the teacup/boat remains the same, p­ eople view it differently, just as Chinese and Western audiences w ­ ill inevitably “place” his paintings through dif­fer­ent conceptual and experiential frameworks.32 What the boat means changes ­because of the journey. He concluded, “It’s like Wei Cheng,” indicating for me to explain this reference to the 1947 novel by Qian Zhongshu pop­ul­ar­ized by the 1991 tele­vi­sion adaptation. In Wang’s invocation of this novel, he reached back to China’s semicolonial past. His besieged city is early-2000s Beijing, with its embassy districts and art galleries catering to expatriate clients, where artists at the t­ able with curators from the United States sought international recognition while remaining wary of inevitable misreadings and accusations of selling out. The artist at his side further explained, “It’s like the saying about marriage at the beginning of Wei Cheng. Unmarried ­people want to get married. Married ­people want to get divorced.” In Wei Cheng, Qian Zhongshu uses marriage as a symbol of kinship or fidelity doomed to failure. His female characters embody in turn moribund tradition; whorish, superficial treaty-­port culture; and corrupt, materialistic class-­based society. The protagonist Fang Hongjian is the bewildered, satirized, individual hero who bounces between them, with the novel’s ­women in the supporting roles


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ing ­Century, toned down its claim to sovereignty and rejection of the West. The translation of “saying no” into Chinese represents what linguists call a Sino-­Japanese-­English loanword. Uncertainty about where and how cultural and po­liti­cal nationalism overlap, which caused the laughter at my use of the loan word, troubled the artists’ response to Joo’s insistence on more translators at the ­table of international art over simply “saying no.”

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of representing China in all its pos­si­ble failed incarnations. The gendered logic under­lying this extended meta­phor is that con­temporary (male) artists identify with the protagonist of Wei Cheng. In our banquet room, someone returned to the teacup, stating that if it represented Chinese artwork in international circulation, then Huang Du was the boatman. Huang protested this comparison of him to a middleman, as if it might reduce him to the pidgin of treaty-­port compradors like Jimmy Chang in Wei Cheng, who sprinkles his speech with foreign words. When asked, for example, if he collects porcelain, Jimmy responds: “Sure! Have a look-­see. . . . ​Sure! Worth quite a lot of money, plenty of dough. Besides, ­these ­things ­aren’t like calligraphy or paintings. If you can buy calligraphy or paintings which turn out to be fakes, they a­ ren’t worth a cent. They just amount to wastepaper. If the porcelain is fake, at least it can hold food” (italics are in En­glish in the original).33 For Huang Du, the cultural capital of his cosmopolitan profession resided in the vocabulary of foreign theory: discourse, hybridity, performativity. ­After so much talk of meta­phorical boats and movement of porcelain across the t­ able, Joo asserted that as Asian American curators, she and her colleagues represented a new West, intent on resisting the orientalism she felt their comments suggested. Pointing at her face, she said, “The West looks like this now too.” The Chinese artists did not respond; this suggestion of racial alliance or minority cosmopolitanism did not bridge the gap for them. Doryun Chong, the one curator born and educated in Asia before attending university in the United States, interjected to express hesitancy over the idea of being somehow more au­then­tic culture brokers: “In the United States, I’m called upon as a native expert of ­Korea or Asia. In K ­ orea, I’m granted certain re­spect or privilege ­because of my education in the United States. Can I r­ eally exploit both situations and stay honest with myself?”

Insides and Outsides

All of the arts professionals pres­ent at lunch that day w ­ ere bicultural in their own right. In everyday experience they drew on cultural vocabularies of both Asia and the West and could do so with relative ease. As a group, they arguably had more in common with each other—­the global culture of con­temporary art and access to its cosmopolitan resources—­than with most citizens of their respective nations.34 They w ­ ere all invested in think-


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ing outside the ideological categories of the nation-­state. The artists often felt at odds with the Chinese state and its vacillating policies of censorship and sponsorship. The Asian American curators strug­gled against U.S. institutions of citizenship and national identity framing them as the “unassimilable alien” and worked to create sites of cultural production that remind the nation of its historical ties with Asia in economics, l­abor, and war.35 Yet the dif­fer­ent discourses of cultural nationalism that informed their participation in global art led to a subtle polarization over the course of the conversation so that the two sides seemed more in tension than sympathy. The conversation had entered uncertain terrain, where the borders of Asia (as a geopo­liti­cal and cultural region) and Asian Amer­ic­ a (as a geo­ graph­i­cally based po­liti­cal co­ali­tion that deploys notions of a common culture) abraded one other, and where the translation of identity could only be uttered haltingly. For Huang Du, Wang Yin, and the other artists, a sense of fidelity to or kinship with China grew out of a shared language and historical experience of being Third World in relation to the United States or even other parts of Asia such as Japan; theirs was a heroic liumang (hooligan) nationalism apropos the international stage, where they felt they must prove China worthy of inclusion and by ­doing so might increase the opportunities currently available to them as culture workers at home. They became comrades in discomfort with their de­pen­dency on the West (and its interpreters) for this recognition, even if it is a West with an Asian face. Eungie Joo, Doryun Chong, and René de Guzman, however, might be said to advocate a Pan-­Asian fidelity or kinship born of the racialized politics of the United States, where they too felt besieged in relation to a con­ temporary art world whose exclusivity they challenged. T ­ hese dif­fer­ent versions of who is inside or outside, speaking nearby, represent a moment of coauthorship, but also of fractious claims to oppositionality that strain to recognize one another. In my blurred role as ethnographer-­interpreter, I found myself positioned in dif­fer­ent contextual ways: as an imperfect speaker of Chinese who had spent enough time in China to get cultural references like Wei Cheng; as an Asian American intimately aware of racial hierarchies and the fraught politics of inclusion; as a feminist critic of power dynamics in the art world; and as an anthropologist of cultural translations of value. I was aware from the start of disciplinary tensions between art and anthropology. I often tried to reinforce this divide b­ ecause I did not want to be seen within my research community as an arbiter of aesthetic distinction

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with the power to provide entrée to Western art spaces. I frequently felt called on by artists to attempt this role, but I resisted it ­because I lacked institutional art world connections and for fear of seeming partisan to certain individuals. My one attempt to breach this divide, by advocating for more ­women to be included in the curators’ studio visits, had backfired. The ybca curators’ proj­ect description seemed to equate anthropology with orientalism in the following statement: “Wary of the limiting effects of anthropological approaches to con­temporary art, we want to disrupt our complicity in the neo-­orientalist gaze.” I understood this wariness as emerging from an ethnic studies demand that art be read as art in a universal sense rather than ethnography, for other­wise the Asian in Amer­ic­ a remains the “unassimilable alien,” a case study in foreign culture rather than cocreator in the kingdom of culture. As an ethnographer of the cultural encounters that produce what is recognized as global con­temporary art, and of the aesthetic conventions that shape how t­ hose encounters unfold, my goal is not to provide a more historically or culturally accurate way to interpret artworks, but to examine the encounter of conventions as producing art world practices of meaning-­making, evaluation, se­lection, and re­sis­tance.36 I also remain compelled to account for t­hose art world participants who fell out of the picture. Transnational efforts to speak a shared language of art produce exclusions, the anonymous folk painter in Wang Yin’s studio or the virtually invisible Chinese w ­ oman artist.37

One World Art Center

­ fter the curators departed, they proceeded to select artists, develop exhibit A themes, and arrange for artwork to be shipped to their gallery spaces. The conversation also continued on the other side of the Pacific, where their hosts transformed the interaction into global assertions of their own. Huang Du, for example, published a series of dialogues between curators—­himself and colleagues from Cuba, Germany, Japan, and the United States—in the Chinese journal Jinri xianfeng (Avant-­garde ­today). His introduction to the published interviews asserts that curatorial work necessitates nothing less than the globe as its playing field: “In fact, prominent art curators, no ­matter ­whether they work from theory to realization, or from realization to theory, must have a macroscopic and global visual field. . . . ​Curators play a bridge-­like role of enabling dialogue and exchange between artist, the exhibit, and its audience.”38


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Beijing u ­ nder the mandate to become a global city that would attract the world’s attention also suggests one final translation. The urban redevelopment model that led to the creation of the Yerba Buena Center, in which art symbolizes a city’s urbane distinction but also critiques the wreckage created in the attainment of this goal, was transplanted across the Pacific to sites like the East Modern Art Center described in chapter 2. Some months before Time ­After Time: Asia and Our Moment opened at the ybca, Wang Yin became curator for the first exhibit held at Beijing’s One World Art Center, ­housed within a commodity apartment complex of the same name. I had gone to the center to meet another artist for an interview, but we got waylaid by a group of Belgian university students who had arranged to talk to Wang and several of the artists from his exhibit. The students had funding from their national ministry of culture to investigate con­temporary art in China and develop cultural contacts between the two countries but had sparse language skills to do so. I was cajoled into interpreting what was, by now, a fairly familiar conversation. One of the first questions asked by the Belgians was why Chinese con­ temporary art borrowed so much from the West. The question, in the same breath that it expressed a Western desire for art untainted by the traffic of the world, waiting only to be discovered, also framed Chinese con­temporary art as lacking in originality. In the midst of the ensuing discussion, in which several artists took the students to task for their naïve assumption of overwhelming Western influence and Chinese derivativeness, a latecomer, the artist He An, walked in and was brought up to speed. He immediately replied, with a deadpan expression on his face, “I ­don’t ­really know anything about Belgium except that you make good guns and now you sell them to the Chinese military.” The students ­were completely thrown by this display of willful disdain for their country’s culture, which is what they thought t­ hey’d come to exchange in the One World Art Center, and the seeming accusation that their nation’s military industry fueled Chinese nationalism. He An’s form of “saying no” underlined the historical legacy that lurks b­ ehind Chinese-­Western cultural and economic exchange. As the Belgian students scrambled to defend the peaceful ambitions of their small country and the good ­will ­behind their visit, He An watched his work of reversals unfold, with a complex intentionality of its own that also had the artists feinting with the shadow of a question that still lingered: Is t­ here a difference between colonization and self-­colonization? They had, ­after all, consented to

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spend their after­noon hosting a group of curious but uninformed students sent by the Belgian Ministry of Culture. In a 1957 speech addressed to China’s youth, Mao Zedong declared, “The world is yours, but it is also ours.” His use of “the world” in relation to who defines it marks a distinction between generations, between the revolutionary found­ers of the nation and the youthful inheritors of this vision. As a phrase appropriated by con­temporary artists, it also registers the difference between world visions, and of what art represents within them, held by vari­ous art world participants.39 In the next chapter, a monumental art proj­ect following the historical route of the Red Army’s Long March demonstrates an ongoing preoccupation with this discrepancy between art worldings. Its curators resurrected Mao Zedong’s revolutionary nationalism to reverse the status quo directionality of art translation efforts. Instead of sending Chinese artists into the Western world, they attempted to draw global attention to Chinese con­temporary art by hosting well-­known Western artists in China, within the cultural context of world communism. This reconfiguration of global-­local relations also nested feminist art encounters within the global-­local and East-­West encounters that s­ haped Chinese con­temporary art. Again, I found myself drawn in as an interpreter and witness, this time to Chinese female artists finding their own way of “saying no.”

The Hinterlands of Feminist Art


A revolution is not a dinner party. MAO ZEDONG, 1927

The Long March is the first of its kind. It is a manifesto, a propaganda force, a seeding machine. MAO ZEDONG, 1935

On July 28, 2002, fourteen Chinese artists traveled on foot and in cars along a rain-­washed dirt and gravel road from the village of Luoshui to a new wooden guest­house on the shore of Lugu Lake. Upon arriving, the artists gathered in the courtyard of the two-­story inn, built to resemble a traditional Mosuo dwelling, and examined the art proposals hung on the walls of the first floor. Two camera crews set up their equipment beneath flimsy hand-­held umbrellas and began filming the artists as they heatedly discussed the whereabouts of Judy Chicago, icon of the U.S. feminist art movement, with whom they ­were to meet that morning. They had traveled to this remote corner of Yunnan Province in southwestern China in response to an online call issued by Chicago three months earlier (figure 4.01). Her proposal, or­ga­nized around the theme “What If ­Women Ruled the World,” suggested a feminist art gathering in this location of renown among anthropologists, Lonely Planet backpackers, and tourists seeking ­either sexual titillation or feminist inspiration, all attracted by the matrilineal culture of the Mosuo, a Chinese ethnic minority. Chicago had been invited by Lu Jie, chief curator of The Long March: A Walking Visual Display, to serve as guest curator for this site, one of twenty planned for an art proj­ect following the route of the Communist Red Army’s 1934 Long March. Once all participants fi­nally converged at Lugu Lake, any utopian

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FIG 4.01  ​Artists

at the Lugu Lake site of The Long March, on the road between Luoshui and Judy Chicago’s guest­house, proposed site for a Chinese Woman­house. From left to right, first row: Song Yanping, Lei Yan; second row: Su Yabi, Huang Yin, Sasha Welland, Sun Guojuan, Pang Xuan, Huang Ru, Zhang Lun, Fu Liya, Shen Yu, Su Ruya. Photo­graph by James Tweedie.

expectation of transnational feminist collaboration quickly faded. A ­ fter a group meeting with Chicago, many of the Chinese artists worried their work would be appropriated. Hours of internal debate led them to issue a manifesto, and on that morning in the guest­house courtyard, they waited for her to emerge and respond. Lu Jie and Qiu Zhijie, the chief and assistant curators of The Long March, conceived of the Lugu Lake exhibit as site six on an ambitious five-­ month traveling art show to follow the route of the original Long March. In 1934, the Communist Red Army, u ­ nder attack by the Guomin­dang in the southeast, began a six-­thousand-­mile trek to the northwest. They abandoned prior attempts to revolutionize the urban proletariat and shifted their propaganda efforts t­oward a rural population, lecturing to peasants and garnering support for their guerrilla tactics as they marched through the interior to an eventual base in Yan’an, Shaanxi Province. This grueling yearlong ordeal serves as a foundational story about the consolidation of the Chinese Communist Party and its maxim “to serve the ­people” through teaching and learning from them. This tenet of Maoist praxis rejected colonial stagist history.1 The peasantry, rather than relegated to a period of


hinterlands of feminist art

development before they could become new citizen-­subjects, w ­ ere called on to play a vital and immediate role in shaping national revolutionary consciousness. In his 1942 “Talks at the Yan’an Conference on Lit­er­a­ture and Art,” Mao Zedong cemented this mode of po­liti­cal consciousness-­raising to cultural production. He borrowed Lenin’s phrase to describe art and lit­er­a­ture as “a screw in the w ­ hole machine” of proletarian revolution and asserted their goals of exposing imperialist and class enemies, reaching a wider audience, and raising standards. He declared that cultural workers must prioritize “the task of understanding p­ eople and getting to know them properly,” in order to create lit­er­at­ ure and art that would be the result of “the revolutionary’s mind reflecting and pro­cessing popu­lar life.”2 With Yan’an planned as the final site for the 2002 “walking visual display,” Lu Jie, who holds a master’s degree in curatorial studies from Goldsmiths College, University of London, revisited this moment of artistic manifesto-­making in the sixtieth anniversary year of Mao’s “Talks,” not with the aim of advocating world revolutionary socialism but of integrating China with the global art system. His self-­professed goals w ­ ere to introduce international con­temporary art to China’s “peripheral population” and to draw international attention to Chinese con­temporary art. Financed by a foundation set up in New York and headquartered in Beijing, The Long March was launched in Ruijin, Jiangxi Province, starting point of the original Long March and host now to “red tourism” pilgrims. His curatorial team or­ga­nized several events ­here, including a screening of La Chinoise in Mixi village, site of the first Red Army headquarters. The projection of Jean Luc-­Godard’s 1967 film about young Maoist revolutionaries in Paris on a makeshift fabric screen hung in a village ancestral hall emblematized Lu’s overall effort to revisit and instigate cross-­cultural artistic dialogue. His restaging of the march was partial, highly interpretive, and designed to provoke. The “comrades” he mobilized traveled with a media entourage of camera p­ eople by plane, train, and bus. They did not become involved in any sustained learning from rural communities, but their strategic resuscitation of the Long March as po­liti­cal praxis demanded recognition of Chinese cultural production as worth learning from, as innovative rather than derivative. Lu Jie invited and funded Western artists to join their endeavor, to work and learn alongside Chinese artists. This promotion of cosmopolitan Chinese culture via a return to the socialist past demonstrates the hybrid hallmarks of the reform-­era culture industry. Its promoters aimed to integrate with global capitalism but in a way that drew on culturally specific legacies and differentiated them from

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the West.3 Lu Jie played on the cultural distinction of the Long March, while si­mul­ta­neously loosening it from its socialist referent and rejection of individual authorship. His Long March intermingled dif­fer­ent ­orders of worldliness—­the global 1960s circulation of Maoism and the neo­co­lo­ nial hierarchies of con­temporary global art—to chart an art worlding in which Chinese socialist modernity serves as a living historical resource, in which China is not catching up, but was already avant-­garde. This embrace of Maoist culture highlighted the instability of one of its key signs, that of “­woman.” What was it, is it to be a ­woman, a Chinese ­woman, or a new ­woman? Who has the power to author her? What resources do female cultural producers draw on in their strug­gle to be recognized as authors of their own sign? Responses to ­these questions arose in dissonant ways at site six of the Long March. Although none of the Red Army troops actually reached Lugu Lake, Lu and his assistant curator Qiu Zhijie, a well-­known conceptual artist based in Beijing, deemed it close enough to the original Long March route to include on their itinerary. With its well-­documented matrilineal Mosuo culture, Lugu Lake seemed the perfect locale for a feminist theme. Their original prospectus for site six ranged broadly: it proposed proj­ects on the lives of Grandma Xiao, a Mosuo supporter of the Red Army in the 1930s, and Yang Erche Namu, a Mosuo pop sensation who transformed a brief ­music ­career into a industry of self-­promotion that has included the publication of nine memoirs; as well as public on-­site readings of Julia Kristeva’s About Chinese ­Women and Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex.4 Of t­hese two French feminists, Kristeva in par­tic­ul­ar provided a conceptual bridge; in 1974, she had traveled to China with editorial members of the literary journal Tel Quel, which for several years embraced Maoism. In spite of stated curatorial plans to include Mosuo ­women in the proj­ect, the necessary work of building local connections was never carried out. Over a year in advance, however, Lu convinced Chicago to join the proj­ ect. Excited by what she learned about the Mosuo from materials Lu sent her, Chicago felt compelled to spread the word about their alternative sexual and kinship practices, especially to Chinese w ­ omen who might not know of this culture within their own national borders. Lu translated her call for submissions of artworks to exhibit or create at Lugu Lake and posted it on a popu­lar Chinese art website. Chicago asked artists to consider Mosuo society as a feminist inspiration: “Just like in the Lugu Lake area, ‘if w ­ omen ruled the world,’ what would the world be like?”5 The announcement suggested that Chicago, twelve selected artists, and twelve


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local Mosuo w ­ omen would convene at Lugu Lake to explore the history, imaginary, myth, and real­ity of matriarchal society through an art exhibition. This alteration of the original curatorial plan presaged what would become a continually evolving art happening. My participation began in Beijing, with meetings and phone calls with Lu Jie, Qiu Zhijie, and Beijing-­based artists. Many of t­hese artists eventually deci­ded not to become involved, but a­ fter communicating with artists in Sichuan and Yunnan, two of them chose to go to Lugu Lake. They convinced me to join them ­because they knew I had a video camera. Lu Jie had arranged for a tele­vi­sion crew to follow The Long March, and the artists who planned to meet with Judy Chicago at Lugu Lake worried that ­these “official” cameras w ­ ouldn’t rec­ord what­ever might transpire from their perspective. They pulled me in as an ethnographer of the proj­ect, although at the moment I became witness to it, I also mediated it: through how I wielded my camera, weighed in on erupting debates, and served as interpreter for their interactions with Judy Chicago. This chapter tells several stories, or a story of several layers. The first is one of emergent worlds, which argues for the role of ethnography in understanding art as more than a collection of stable objects reflecting the world. On the shore of Lugu Lake, visions of the world collided. The artworks created out of the encounter represent momentary crystallizations of artists’ ongoing thought pro­cesses and material experiments with par­ tic­u­lar media, technologies of image making, and the gendered histories of both. The next layer of the story explores this encounter in relation to questions about cultural globalization. It demonstrates the unstable relations between “global” and “local” and how sociocultural forms labeled global and considered universal, like con­temporary art or feminism, are multiply produced through uneven global encounters. The impulse to craft a common or even a shared narrative can instead create fractures. Another layer of the story asks how this fracturing or decentering of globality necessitates a reassessment of institutionalized narratives of global feminist art. What it means for Chinese con­temporary art to go global demands feminist attention to questions of gender, power, and aesthetic form immanent in social worlds of visual production. The nesting of feminist art encounters within global–­local and East–­West encounters forces a rethinking of conventional center-­periphery relations and therefore of discourses about global art and global feminism. The strug­gles that occurred at Lugu Lake revolved around the question of feminism in Chinese con­ temporary art repeatedly raised in the capital. In this off-­center location,

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female artists asserted a demand for equity often lost or overshadowed in Beijing’s race for recognition. Fi­nally, this is a story of rural–­urban relations in China, the flipside of artists depicting rural mi­grants in Beijing, in which artists go down to the countryside, a longstanding socialist practice. While the road espoused by Mao Zedong beginning with the Long March envisioned the countryside as the foundation of Communist China that would encircle and revolutionize the semicolonial, parasitic city, the rapid urbanization of the economic-­reform era reversed this ideological geography. The development of a postsocialist urban aesthetics, what Robin Visser describes as “cities surround the countryside,” was deeply part of emerging Chinese art worlds in which cities w ­ ere understood as the motor of culture even as affective attachments often still lay in past socialist privileging of rural ­people and places.6

Long March as Seeding Machine

Lei Yan’s curiosity was sparked when she read Judy Chicago’s online call for proposals on her home computer in Kunming one day ­after it was posted on April 28, 2002. A former soldier, she was intimately acquainted with the story of the Red Army’s Long March. Questions about gender difference raised by her experience in a male-­dominated military f­amily also made Chicago’s thematic proposition intriguing. That night Lei Yan called her friend Sun Guojuan, an artist who splits her time between Beijing and her hometown of Kunming, and told her that she wanted to join this activity. Although Sun did not feel the same inherent interest in the proposal, she agreed to accompany her friend on an advance scouting trip to Lugu Lake. Before their departure on May 3, their discussion of pos­si­ble pieces turned to the idea of leaving something at Lugu Lake to return to l­ater. Suddenly a famous historical dictum popped out of Lei’s mouth: “The Long March is a manifesto, a propaganda force, a seeding machine.” They deci­ ded to take hempseed to scatter on the bank of Lugu Lake. The action of scattering, conceived of as a per­for­mance piece, drew on the history of the Long March as means of ideological dissemination and suggested symbolic possibilities. The first was the potential of the artworks produced as part of The Long March Lugu Lake exhibit to spread out and transmit new ideas about art and gender. The second conceptualized hemp or marijuana seeds as symbolic of capitalism’s bourgeois way of life and conjectured that when scattered in a field of “plain, modest, proletarian” corn, the two


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FIG 4.02  ​Lei

Yan, Long March Battlefront Report, Issue #1, May 10, 2002. Pen and ink on paper, 27 cm × 38.7 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

plants would grow strong together as in “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Both artists kept journals of their trip in the form of battlefield reports (figure 4.02), decorated with drawings by Lei Yan that referenced hand-­produced military unit newspapers. A side column declared, “By recording our ideas for participating in the Long March plan, we employ the most primary propaganda tactic of the Red Army’s Long March. We use the idea of sowing seeds to transmit the beliefs and ideas of our creative work.”7 Their avant-­garde, in the literal sense, action provides a meta­phor for the larger encounter that took place almost three months l­ ater. Along with Lei and Sun, artists from around China, to whom Chicago was generally well known, began to submit proposals. Sowing Hempseed might also represent the vari­ous individuals and aspirations set in motion by the Long March proj­ect: a seeding machine that mixed dif­fer­ent ele­ments in a strategically chosen field, yielding unpredictable results. Judy Chicago, originally Judy Cohen, changed her surname to the city of her birth as a protest against patriarchal naming traditions. The reputation of the artist as icon of 1970s feminist art in the United States rests most solidly on her piece The Dinner Party (1975–79). Both attacked and celebrated, this large-­scale installation has “long been thought of as the

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feminist art manifesto, par excellence.”8 In collaboration with historians and other artists, Chicago created a t­able in the shape of an equilateral triangle with place settings for thirty-­nine w ­ omen of mythical or historical significance, from the Primordial Goddess to Sojourner Truth to Georgia O’Keefe. The opening in the ­table’s center reveals a white tile floor painted with the names of 999 additional ­women. The identity of each w ­ oman at the ­table is crafted through intricately stitched ­table runners and porcelain plates painted with vulvar motifs, some sculpted in three-­dimensional relief.9 Chicago rooted this monumental effort to reclaim w ­ omen’s role in history and art in her belief in premodern matriarchal culture.10 While Chicago’s online proposal piqued the interest of many Chinese artists, disputes arose around how to interpret the proj­ect’s direction. ­Were they to consider the largely forgotten history of the some two thousand ­women who participated in the original Long March; the relationship between the Han majority of China and the southwestern ethnic minority group of the Mosuo; or the power dynamics of an international art world still largely driven by the West and by men? Why w ­ ere so few w ­ omen invited to participate in the rest of Lu’s The Long March, with Lugu Lake a seeming push to segregate them in a single location? And, why was such a large portion of the bud­get allocated to host Judy Chicago’s travels in China, when the same amount could support the cost of materials and travel for numerous Chinese ­women to participate in the exhibit? When questioned about this last executive decision, which the artists had correctly inferred, Lu Jie insisted the presence of such a prominent figure would set the stage for greater debate. He tacked on the statement that he wished to “re-­educate Judy Chicago.” In this ambiguous addendum, Lu possibly got carried away with his tongue-­in-­cheek adoption of Communist po­liti­cal language, or registered the internal contradictions of his own role. He stood aware of the necessity for a big name and a big issue (enter Chicago and her controversial feminism) to garner international attention, yet this need was exactly what he hoped to overturn in the art world. Ill w ­ ill began to surface when several Beijing-­based artists withdrew ­after being told the organizers would not help pay their expenses to Lugu Lake, something they asserted had been verbally promised to them when Lu Jie had solicited their participation. They had also grown uncomfortable with what they saw as a male curatorial effort to partition the majority of The Long March female participants to a single, marginal site. Three other Beijing ­women with rising art world profiles—­Jiang Jie, Lin Tianmiao, and Yin Xiuzhen—­had been invited to display pieces along with male peers at


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other sites, and the slight felt by the w ­ omen relegated to the Lugu Lake activity contributed to their eventual boycott. As debate about site six of the proj­ect flared, I met in Beijing with Lu Jie and Qiu Zhijie to pursue more information about it. Upon hearing of my research interests in feminist art, they similarly sounded me out and suggested that I should come along as an ethnographic collaborator.11 Meanwhile, Lu revised the curatorial plan again. Overwhelmed by the number of submitted proposals and not wanting to reject any of the artists who had responded, he changed the format to a “proposals exhibit.” He informed artists that all proposals would be displayed at Lugu Lake. If they wanted to travel t­ here to exhibit or create original works, they would have to cover their own expenses. When artists tried to clarify how the event would be or­ga­nized, they w ­ ere told to just show up with art in hand. When o­ thers complained about the financial difficulty of making the journey, they w ­ ere told that the comrades of the original Long March knew how to “eat bitterness.” In Beijing, word traveled quickly about how the proj­ect represented an attempt to exploit Chinese ­women artists for the international reputation of its male curators. Some promoted boycotting the event as the reproduction of a male power structure unsurprisingly similar to that of the original march. Their criticisms recognized the hierarchies of both global con­temporary art and historical Chinese socialism, even as they failed to call into question Lugu Lake as a site for the encounter of ­these issues. Except for an artist from Sichuan, Zhang Lun, who traveled in advance to Mosuo territory to learn about the issues that mattered to ­people t­ here, they seemed uncharacteristically uncritical in their consumption of conventional repre­sen­ta­tions of Mosuo. When Judy Chicago fi­nally arrived in China, stopping first in Beijing to pres­ent a slide lecture, frustrated artists greeted her with their questions. She tried to make the best of the situation by insisting on the importance of a joint pilgrimage to a place she described as a kind of feminist utopia, a still existing matriarchal society. She declared that she ­hadn’t come from so far away to not cooperate with Chinese ­women, but if she had to, she would travel to Lugu Lake and exhibit her work in a solo stand for w ­ omen’s right to make art as part of The Long March. With me as Chinese-­English interpreter, she explained to skeptical artists in Beijing that she had also harbored the suspicion that “this was like just this ­little ­women’s ­thing.” But she continued, “I figured that if we all got together we could make so much trou­ble that they would wish they had never done this. So you know that’s what I was hoping. And for them to boycott it is like the absolute opposite of what should have happened.”12

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Judy Chicago’s attempt to collaborate with ­those Chinese counter­parts who did make their way to Lugu Lake continued to be a vexed encounter. I interpret this re­sis­tance to solidarity not as failure but a form of feminist practice that incites debate over who or what is the subject of feminism and over how dif­fer­ent styles of activism interpellate or alienate. The focus on gender at Lugu Lake highlighted contradictions inherent in the proj­ect, and the Chinese con­temporary art world, which I unravel by exploring the proliferating ironies they produced. I then turn to the events that led Chinese artists to issue a manifesto to Chicago and to the range of art works exhibited and created at Lugu Lake. T ­ hese works reflect a larger question regarding feminism in Chinese con­temporary art and the terminological trou­ble it created in curatorial practice. Through a review of t­ hese politics, I argue that a set of interlocking double binds arises from the art world encounter of Chinese and Western feminisms.

Proliferating Ironies

In The Long March: A Walking Visual Display, “­women’s art” became subject to exclusionary partition, literally outside of time as the only exhibit site that detoured from the historical route. The conjoining of the Long March and feminism in Mosuo territory was fantastical on multiple levels. ­Women’s liberation as part of the Chinese Communist Party’s revolutionary platform arguably experienced a step backward at the time of the Long March. While female activists played an impor­tant role in early po­liti­cal mobilization, especially in urban factories, they became a liability as the Communists, in their war with the Guomin­dang, retreated from urban centers and turned ­toward revolutionizing a rural population.13 Party leaders backed off f­ amily and marriage reform for fear of alienating what they viewed now as their most impor­tant membership, the disenfranchised male peasantry who sought a return to an idealized past of control over ­family stability and its uninterrupted production of male lineages.14 Once the Red Army had established their guerrilla base at Yan’an, one of the female comrades, well-­known writer Ding Ling, published an article in 1942 in the Liberation Daily entitled “Thoughts on March 8.”15 On the occasion of International W ­ omen’s Day, she exposed and satirized the internal nannü class system of Communist life at Yan’an. She opens, “When w ­ ill it no longer be necessary to attach special weight to the word ‘­woman’ and raise it specially?” She raises the Communist double bind for ­women mobilized


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on the one hand to serve the party and on the other to serve f­amily: they are criticized as ­either irresponsible for not sacrificing their c­ areers for ­family, or if they do, as po­liti­cally backward. On marriage, Ding writes with sarcastic humor: “But ­women invariably want to get married. (It’s even more of a sin not to be married, and single w ­ omen are even more of a target for rumors and slanderous gossip.) So they c­ an’t afford to be choosy, anyone w ­ ill do: ­whether he rides ­horses or wears straw sandals, ­whether he’s an artist or a supervisor.”16 In response, party leaders attacked her as an internal dissenter and her views as an expression of “narrow feminism.” Three months l­ ater, she published a self-­criticism not of her original charges but of the ideological method she had used in “Thoughts on March 8,” declaring, “This article is a bad article.”17 Likewise, for the Mosuo, the Long March effort of ccp consolidation, as prehistory to the party state of the P ­ eople’s Republic of China, would pose an eventual threat to their matrilineal kinship system and custom of sese, “walking marriage.” The ideal-­type of Mosuo f­ amily differs significantly from that of the traditional Han lineage or modern nuclear ­family. C ­ hildren live in their m ­ other’s h ­ ouse­hold, even as adults. Men make night visits to female partners, with sexual relations initiated and continued voluntarily. Some c­ ouples form life-­long relationships but continue to live separately by day, with ­children raised by their ­mothers and maternal ­uncles.18 ­After the founding of the PRC, state ethnographers in the 1950s used Stalin’s criteria for defining a nation to develop an ethnic classification system that grouped more than four hundred reported ethnic identities into fifty-­five officially recognized minority nationalities, or minzu. Thomas Mullaney describes this proj­ect as “an inventive pro­cess of social engineering, not simply an attempt at neutrally reflecting primordial qualities of the non-­ Han social sphere.”19 The Mosuo did not receive recognition as an in­de­ pen­dent ethnic group—­something they have protested to varying degrees over time—­and w ­ ere divided according to provincial borders, with t­ hose in Yunnan classified as Naxi, and ­those in Sichuan as Mongolian. As part of the official classification, ethnographers staged ethnic groups along a scale of classical Marxist evolution characterized by five major production modes: primitive (or primordial communist), slave, feudal, cap­it­ al­ist, and socialist. They placed groups with matrilineal f­ amily systems at the primitive end of an evolutionary timeline. Viewed as a “living fossils” who had to be disciplined into modern national norms, the Mosuo ­were subjected in the late 1960s and early 1970s to an official “one husband, one wife” policy that broke up families, forced them into married ­house­hold units,

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and regulated their sexuality and reproduction.20 Since economic reform, repre­sen­ta­tions of the Mosuo circulated by domestic and foreign travel writers, journalists, and filmmakers have depicted them as matriarchal and sexually liberated from the strictures of modern life. As Eileen Walsh notes, “In an ironic reversal, the cultural characteristics the Maoist government tried to change became celebrated as markers of Mosuo cultural uniqueness and value.”21 State-­sponsored primitivizing and subsequent exotic commodification of the Mosuo ­were the twin poles that enabled consumers of ­these repre­ sen­ta­tions, including Judy Chicago and Han Chinese artists, to proj­ect utopian visions on Luoshui.22 ­After the height of Maoist social engineering passed, Mosuo communities attempted to revive suppressed cultural traditions within a context of marketization. In places like Luoshui, where the primary tourist destination is Lugu Lake, locals capitalized on outsiders’ romanticization of them as a “kingdom of ­daughters” to develop an economy based primarily on tourism.23 While represented as a place on the margins of con­temporary life, Luoshui was incredibly cosmopolitan. The descent on the village of Lu Jie, Judy Chicago, a group of Chinese artists, and the camera crews following them represented a regular occurrence, with such interactions core to local livelihood actively influencing what it meant to be Mosuo. Walsh argues that a romanticized idea of a traditional Mosuo past, re-­created for tourism, affected the local division of ­labor between men and w ­ omen.24 Young men i­ magined a past in which it was not customary for men to do farm work and explained that ­doing h ­ ouse­hold chores would detract from the image of Mosuo w ­ omen as strong and capable. Luoshui w ­ omen trapped in a “myth of matriarchy” shouldered a greater burden, while also becoming the sexualized object of visitors’ desires to experience “walking marriage.” Tami Blumenfield emphasizes that Mosuo is a state construction, whose essentialized and mediated characteristics do not reflect the historical complexity of ethnic identity in the region.25 Mosuo is a Chinese term; the indigenous Tibetan-­Burmese term of self-­ identification is Na. Furthermore, members from other ethnic groups sometimes performed as Mosuo as part of the new tourist economy. When Judy Chicago staged at Luoshui an artwork reflecting her own U.S. second-­wave feminist preoccupation with an idea of essential womanhood and universal sisterhood, she privileged the local to promote a universal that then effectively erased local historical and cultural specificity. During her Beijing slide lecture, Chicago introduced the piece she created for The Long March. What If ­Women Ruled the World consists of


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prayer flags (the Mosuo practice a variant of Tibetan Buddhism), each posing a rhetorical question about how the world might be dif­fer­ent if ­women ruled, paired with black and white drawings of scenes suggesting positive responses: Would god be female? Would men and ­women be equal? Would sexual freedom prevail? Would ­there be jealousy? Would ­there be equal parenting? Would ­children go hungry? Would old ­women be revered? Would buildings resemble wombs? Would t­here be private property? Would t­here be war? T ­ hese questions in Chinese appeared on the reverse side of the flags. This piece would eventually be hung at the entrance to the Lugu Lake guest­house where Chicago stayed. A photo­graph of it on The Long March website archive was captioned, “The local Mosuo ­people pass through the entry­way with Judy Chicago’s work,” introducing another irony.26 The w ­ omen hired to perform a dance in the courtyard of Chicago’s guest­house ­were dressed as Yi, another of the twelve ethnic minority groups who live in the region but whose system of kinship organ­ ization is patrilineal. This Western feminist use of ­women from elsewhere to argue that patriarchy is a monolithic, cross-­cultural phenomenon produces “third world difference,” which in Chandra Mohanty’s critique effectively appropriates and colonizes “the constitutive complexities which characterize the lives of w ­ omen in ­these countries.27 The twist of Judy Chicago at Lugu Lake is that she represents an interpretation of Western feminist art practice as more advanced, but through a search for primordial matriarchy presumed to still exist in China’s hinterlands. Once at Lugu Lake, Lu Jie would set her up as a pedagogue to Chinese feminist artists by assigning her the task of offering a personal critique of each of their works (figure 4.03). This framework positioned Chicago as spokeswoman for what Tani Barlow calls “international U.S. feminism,” the discursive formation in which U.S. ­women’s achievement of self-­enlightenment becomes a sign of their advanced pro­gress to then be shared with the rest of the world’s ­women.28 Chicago proposed to educate Chinese w ­ omen on how to be feminist artists by instructing them in the utopian society of the Mosuo within their own nation’s borders. This instance is one in a history of encounters between Chinese and Western feminisms. While the original plan for site six participants to discuss excerpts of Julia Kristeva’s About Chinese ­Women was jettisoned, Kristeva serves as a cross-­cultural precursor to Chicago.29 For Lu Jie, the invocation of Kristeva provided twofold symbolic capital: she is a canonical name in Western feminist theory, who was aligned during the global

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FIG 4.03  ​Artists

Bai Chongmin (left) and Wu Weihe (center) in conversation with Judy Chicago (right) about their piece at Lugu Lake, being filmed by The Long March crew. Photo­graph by James Tweedie.

1960s with French Maoists. In the early 1970s, she traveled to China with other Tel Quel deconstructionist writers, and her text based on this experience identifies a Chinese feminine difference that helps her imagine an alternative outside to the patriarchal symbolic order she had critiqued in France. In Kristeva’s psychoanalytic theorization, Western culture puts ­women in a double bind: if they enter the symbolic system of language, politics, time, and culture, they must identify as men, but if they inhabit the w ­ oman’s body, they remain ­silent, outside of the symbolic order. Her concept of écriture féminine proposes a way of writing that would disrupt phallic language and lead readers to experience jouissance, a blissful break from previously held subject positions. In About Chinese ­Women, Kristeva suggests that Chinese ­women retain a premodern symbolic power that places “­mother at the centre” and provides an escape from the position in which Western ­women find themselves;30 furthermore, Chinese Communism liberated this archaic matriarchal order from a repressive Confucian tradition, enabling feminine jouissance.31 If Kristeva’s investment in a vision of matriarchy enabled her Maoist critique of the Western linguistic-­symbolic system, Chicago’s was more universalizing: patriarchy everywhere has suppressed a primordial matriarchy everywhere. She


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understood Mosuo matriarchy as having survived in spite of Chinese Communism. Both of t­ hese preoccupations short-­circuit attention to the rich history of feminist politics in modern China. The symbolic mobilization of ­these Western figures to generate international interest in The Long March silences the lives and voices of ­women who participated in the ­actual Long March—­activists such as Cai Chang, Chen Congying, Deng Yingchao, Kang Keqing, and Wang Quanyuan, as well as writer and thinker Ding Ling, who joined them at Yan’an. Their experience as early members of the Chinese Communist Party ranged from work and study in France and the Soviet Union to leadership in w ­ omen’s rights movements, from factory workers’ education and organ­ization to combat and espionage.32 While Judy Chicago’s positioning in The Long March centered her as an authoritative representative of Western feminist art, this framing obscures her history. In the United States she has long fought for recognition of her work. The Feminist Art Program that she and Miriam Shapiro founded at the California Institute of the Arts in 1971 constituted an institutional critique of ­women’s marginalization by the art system. Their first collaborative proj­ect, Woman­house (1972), brought together twenty-­eight w ­ omen who transformed a deserted mansion into a site-­specific art installation/happening that confronted restrictive social norms of female domesticity. Chicago’s The Dinner Party, which attracted popu­lar attention when first exhibited in 1979, incited a wide range of critics to praise and disparage it. High art theorists dismissed its use of female craft traditions and vaginal imagery as a kitschy degradation of artistic standards. In the 1980s, poststructuralist feminists critiqued Chicago’s artistic manifesto for its essentialization of ­woman as a singular, universal category. ­Women of color feminists pointed out the exclusions enacted by her seating of primarily white ­women at the ­table.33 In 1990, when the trustees of the federally supported University of the District of Columbia voted to purchase the piece for their collection, conservative members of Congress attacked The Dinner Party as obscene and pornographic, and their public outcry brought an end to ­these acquisition plans. A proliferation of ironies set the stage for the encounter at Lugu Lake. Judy Chicago in The Long March represented a Western center, although her position in the West vis-­à-­vis art world and feminist politics remained the subject of contention. Western feminists in the 1960s and 1970s, like Kristeva, looked to socialism in China as a response to patriarchy in their own socie­ties, even as they emerged as more predominant

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world theoretical voices than their Chinese peers. Chinese feminists in the late twentieth and early twenty-­first c­ entury attempted to decenter state-­socialist feminism through a critique of how it failed them, while also rejecting the patronizing interventions of international U.S. feminism, such as ­those represented by Hillary Clinton in her 1995 speech on ­human rights at the UN Fourth World Conference on W ­ omen in Beijing.34 The Mosuo, ­imagined to exist at the margins of the Chinese state and modern world, serve as a cosmopolitan site for utopian reassessment of modern sexuality and gender relations, while contending with the imaginaries visited on their villages by outsiders from around the world. The historical Long March shifted its revolutionary center from east coast cities to the rural inland headquarters of Yan’an; and once the revolution was won, the peasantry remained a rhetorical center of the party, even as its leadership installed itself in the capital of Beijing. The Long March: A Walking Visual Display attempted to decenter the West as the primary location for con­ temporary art through a strategic return to the cultural praxis of a socialist past. The proj­ect, however, eventually fell apart before reaching Yan’an, and its main institutional outcome was a commercial gallery space in Beijing. Center-­periphery relations are often theorized in colonial terms, in which power exercised in the imperial metropole pulls colonies into its orbit of control and influence, or in international economic and geopo­ liti­cal terms, in which nations with the greatest wealth and power constitute a center that peripheral nations strive to displace or join. The cultural politics that emerged at Lugu Lake refute such a centripetal model. They reveal instead entangled histories, of gender produced through historical intersections with race, ethnicity, class, and nationality, in which interactions at the periphery might ignore, resist, undo, or reeducate the center.

Woman­house Undone

Fourteen artists, largely from the southwestern provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan but also from as far away as Inner Mongolia, eventually chose to make the trip to Lugu Lake. While ­those affiliated with the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in Chongqing or the Upriver Loft studio collective in Kunming, Yunnan, belonged to preexisting networks, the overall group represented a range of artistic commitments and generational perspectives. Their collectivity alone, assembled in a bus from Kunming to Lugu Lake, was rife with potential fault lines. They w ­ ere joined by Shen Yu, the young and


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idealistic director of a self-­initiated Chinese W ­ omen’s Art Research Center in Chongqing. I traveled with them, together with my partner who came along to help with filming. Judy Chicago and her husband, photographer Donald Woodman, traveled separately to Lugu Lake, together with Lu Jie, Qiu Zhijie, their curatorial assistant Lisa Horikawa, and Megan Connolly, another participant-­observer from the United States. A professional film crew accompanied them. Even before ­these two groups converged on the village of Luoshui, questions and tensions mixed with excitement and anticipation. On the bus from Kunming to Lijiang, the first leg of the trip, artists Fu Liya and Wu Weihe discussed what they understood of Chicago’s proposed piece. When Fu said ­she’d heard it would be an installation of the one hundred art proposals Chicago had received from Chinese ­women, Wu responded that this sounded like a plan for an impressive conceptual artwork that unfairly relied on their efforts, while also detracting from their individual ideas. They guessed at the thinking ­behind Lu Jie’s decision to invite Judy Chicago. If he or­ga­nized a Long March but ­didn’t include any ­women, it would be deemed backward instead of attracting international attention. Inviting someone famous like Judy Chicago would inspire a lot of female artists to participate. Wu c­ ouldn’t help but continue to ask, “But this exhibit is about China’s Long March, why did he invite a Western feminist?” “Beautiful Lugu Lake—­Mysterious Land of D ­ aughters” read the tickets we purchased at the entrance to the Lugu Lake Nature Preserve ­after a second day of travel from Lijiang on narrow roads, switching back and forth through spectacular mountainous terrain. As the bus dodged rocks from recent landslides, heated discussion about the exhibition’s organ­ization continued. Upon arriving in Luoshui, a line of hewn-­log and tile-­roof guest­houses and restaurants along the lakefront, the artists began scouting out locations for per­for­mance and installation pieces and making connections with locals whose cooperation they sought. That eve­ning, the first group meeting between Judy Chicago and all of the participating artists took place in a Luoshui restaurant. The electricity had gone out, and as dusk dimmed the lakefront win­dows, white candle stubs lit the room. Color posters, their gloss weathered, of scenic landscapes, flower arrangements, European-­style ­table settings, and pop stars, hung on the whitewashed walls. Through a translator, Chicago asked the artists to sit in a circle, which they did awkwardly around the perimeter of several round ­tables that had been pushed together. A ­ fter they had introduced themselves, Chicago stood and presented her idea of how they

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might work together. Lisa Horikawa provided interpretation, with Lu Jie occasionally jumping in to clarify a point. Chicago began, “Thirty years ago, in the United States, I did a proj­ect with a number of ­women called Woman­house. Some of you have heard of it. Have any of you heard of it? Yes. Ok! Some of y­ ou’ve heard of it, right? Well, it became very famous. Since I did that, other w ­ omen have done Woman­houses all over the world.” She then described the inn where she was staying, separate from the artists’ lodging and some distance from the village, as so beautiful that she and Lu Jie had deci­ded to spend their own money to rent out the entire place. She suggested that they all hang or stage their works ­there, following the model of the Woman­house installation she, Miriam Schapiro, and their students had created in 1972. She implied that the location provided safety to exhibit without the interference of local officials, a concern passed on to her by Lu Jie, who had heard of official concern about his activity in Lijiang. When she asked ­those assembled for their opinion, the room fell ­silent. Eventually a few artists explained they had already chosen spots for their pieces and would have to assess the layout of her guest­house before they could decide. Chicago departed a­ fter they agreed to meet the next morning at the site of her proposed Woman­house. The Chinese artists continued with their activities, with discussions ­going into the early morning. One group rushed to meet the new village chief, with whom they had arranged a tentative appointment. They needed local participants for their per­for­mances and spent hours around a fire explaining to him the relation of their pieces to local culture. The chief, in turn, explained for them in practiced detail the workings of Mosuo f­amily structure. This earnest man in a cowboy hat was the one to describe for the outsiders their system of matrilineal descent; and it was he, not a w ­ oman, who could grant them the help they needed, but only a­ fter he returned from a trip to help dig a well and repair a road. Around midnight, most of the artists crowded into a room at their guest­house and debated the pros and cons of accepting Chicago’s proposal. Objections ­were raised about a framework associated with a dif­fer­ ent feminist time and place—­the 1970s in the United States, rather than one developed out of a Chinese historical context. Many expressed concern over ­whether the final proj­ect would be attributed to Chicago alone—­ the main prob­lem many had with The Dinner Party—­with the names of her Chinese collaborators erased.35 While some advocated for splitting from The Long March organ­ization to proceed on their own, they reached a compromise the next morning in the form of their manifesto. As they worked

1 Chinese ­women artists wish to replace the concept of “Woman­house” with the title “Dialogue with Lugu Lake” or “Dialogue with Judy Chicago at Lugu Lake.” 2 All participants in the entire Lugu Lake art activity assert the moral and ­legal rights to works in their own names. 3 Each artist/participant ­will maintain the copyright to her own work. 4 The artists wish to have a clearly defined written agreement. The contents of the agreement ­will be agreed on by both sides, with signatures constituting a binding contract.

Although some of the artists chose to abstain, a majority signed this terse and circumspect document, couched in the language of international copyright law and individual possession. This instance of “saying no” took place less than one year a­ fter China’s official entry to the wto, at a time when Western critics bashed China as a pirate nation whose acts of copying marked them as culturally inferior. When the artists arrived that rainy morning at Chicago’s guest­house, Lu Jie announced that she lay sick in bed on the second floor and would not be able to meet with them, so they presented their signed list of demands to Lu Jie. Several artists added to the critique what they saw as the hierarchical pre­sen­ta­tion of the “proposals exhibit,” hung earlier that morning ­under the direction of Lu and Qiu. Chicago’s What If W ­ omen Ruled the World prayer flags flew from the guest­house entranceway, whereas the Chinese artists’ proposals ­were displayed on the walls of the courtyard inside. Lu took their manifesto and comments upstairs to Chicago’s room. As they waited, Lei Yan mused, “Even though we are in the Lugu Lake area, we have no discursive power.” Sun Guojuan responded, “Right, we w ­ ere inserted into someone ­else’s work. Moreover, before that, we d­ idn’t even discuss this, I mean, nobody told us ­there would be a Woman­house, we ­didn’t know ­until yesterday. That’s to say, when we enter into Woman­house, it’s someone ­else’s, we become someone e­ lse’s work.” Lu Jie returned to report that although upset, Chicago had agreed to all four of their points. Rather than taking her concession as a victory,


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on the wording, Fu Liya asserted, “Give us something unambiguous. If, in the end, it’s ‘Woman­house,’ a piece by Judy Chicago and twenty Chinese female artists, ­we’re screwed, that’s absolutely not allowed! Authorship rights wanted!” The short text, which I translated into En­glish, listed four demands:

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they continued to debate the differences that had brought them to a head. Anger mixed with remorse, exhaustion, and cigarette smoke. Lu lectured the artists about his responsibilities as a curator to their foreign guest and thanked them in a strained tone for their efforts. A primary complaint to emerge from the artists’ side was that they h ­ adn’t had enough time with Chicago to communicate their ideas, let alone come to a consensus about an overall plan. Lu again went upstairs to update Chicago, and this time she emerged and was helped downstairs, to uncertain applause from her audience. She sat with the artists and through Horikawa tearfully described how hurt she felt by their criticism: “I wanted to try to offer my strength to serve their art. And it hurts me that they seem to have taken that in the wrong spirit. . . . ​I came ­here to make art. I d­ on’t want to talk forever. We ­don’t have that much time. I came to make art.”36 While she interpreted their manifesto as hurtful criticism impeding their ability to make art, the manifesto itself could also be understood as a work of situational art, already months in the conceptualization, the final form of which emerged from hours of intense discussion at Lugu Lake. Over the next two days, several artists displayed photo­graphs, paintings, and installations at Chicago’s inn. Due to its remove from nearby village and tourist activity, the audience for t­hese pieces consisted of artists, camera crews, and guest­house employees. Other artists who required local participation or dif­fer­ent environmental settings staged their pieces in the village or on its southern lakeshore. They attracted slightly more varied audiences. Judy Chicago continued, as planned, to do a critique of each Chinese artist’s work. T ­ hese conversations, although asymmetrical in their presumption of a student-­teacher relationship, involved at least a focused, two-­way discussion of individual pieces.

The Politics of Site Specificity

The artworks exhibited as a result of ­these collective activities explored the limits of site-­specific art practice, while fissures between what the site meant to vari­ous participants challenged monolithic understandings of what is feminist or what is Chinese. For Judy Chicago, Lugu Lake represented, in part, the internationalization of Woman­house, a feminist instance of site-­specific art fundamental to her own history as an artist. The dilapidated mansion that she, Miriam Shapiro, and their Feminist Art Program students chose for Woman­house provided a physical space


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for exploring gendered norms in terms of domesticity. The difference between a bourgeois urban home and a rural guest­house built as tourist lodging seemed lost in translation. For the Chinese artists who refused to “be inserted into someone e­ lse’s work,” the site specificity of this 1970s U.S. feminist proj­ect, and its white, middle-­class preoccupations did not translate to Lugu Lake or their own experiences in a socialist society that since the 1950s had actively mobilized ­women as part of the public ­labor force. The extent of this gap became apparent in the multiplicity of their responses to the siting of The Long March at Lugu Lake. Site specificity as a form of anti-­institutional art praxis located outside of the museum/gallery system has developed since the late 1960s in dif­fer­ ent directions. Key paradigms have explored a site’s physical, materialist characteristics; the ideological network of social spaces and economies that structure it; and the public concerns, such as community identity and politics, that extend it beyond an art context.37 ­These experiments broke down borders governing artistic production and reception, even as museums and galleries si­mul­ta­neously attempted to embrace site-­specific art. Lu Jie’s The Long March is positioned precisely at the crux of this conundrum. His orchestration of artistic explorations of vari­ous sites along the historical Long March route moved art out of metropolitan museum and gallery spaces, but was also meant to attract international institutional attention, which it did. Documentary photo­graphs and video, exhibited alongside Lu’s curatorial précis, ­were included in Art and China’s Revolution (2008– 9) at the Asia Society in New York. While the The Long March in New York pres­ents an opportunity for resiting Chinese revolutionary art and politics as impor­tant world historical events, it also smooths over the complexity of how artists engaged the original site of creation. Their pieces respond to the physical terrain of Lugu Lake, imaginaries of alternative Mosuo sociality, the growing influence of tourism on ethnic minority groups, Chinese socialist image making practices, and even the institutional power of Judy Chicago. Li Shurui, a student in 2002 in the painting department at the Sichuan Acad­emy of Fine Art, described her decision to join The Long March as accidental and her contribution to the exhibit as outside the theme proposed by Judy Chicago. She and two classmates, among the youn­gest participants in the proj­ect, maintained the most distance from the tensions brewing between artists, Lu, and Chicago. Li’s installation, Seeing Mountains, Seeing W ­ ater, consisted of twenty box-­shaped tents fashioned out of mosquito netting and bamboo poles. She staked them in the lake in an arc echoing

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the shoreline (plate 10). This minimalist tracing of Lugu Lake’s geographic contour places the white cube of gallery display within the landscape, a mark of artistic intervention on the environment. The juxtaposition of the tents with the mountainous backdrop also references the Chinese literati tradition of painting, in which an amateur artist wandered through a landscape, committing the journey to memory, before returning to a small studio or pavilion to paint it. Li spoke of the interior space demarcated by each tent and her feeling that the walls, while porous, framed the ­water in a way that differentiated inside from outside. As ­water lapped through the airy spaces, she also noted that they create a sense of voyeurism, of being compelled to peer inside, just as tourists to Lugu Lake desire an inner glance at the Mosuo system of sexual relations. The site-­specific investigations of Lei Yan focused on the gendered history of the Long March. As with the “seeding machine” symbolism she and Sun Guojuan explored as preparation for their participation, Lei drew on her experience in the military, a socialist institution that championed female soldiers’ mobilization even while continuing to treat them as dif­ fer­ent from and less than male counter­parts. Her deployment of historical photo­graphs of male and female Long March comrades probes the internal power dynamics of the original historical event, as well as the art experiment ­under the same name to follow sixty years l­ater. She responded to Chicago’s “what if” fantasy with a pair of digitally altered black-­and-­white photo­graphs asking linked, retrospective questions: What If the Long March Had Been a ­Women’s Rights Movement? (figure 4.04) and What If They Had Been ­Women? (figure 4.05). She shifts the subjunctive mood of Chicago’s verbal construction to the past unreal conditional, which roots dreams for ­future justice in historically, culturally specific conditions. The first photo­ graph features prominent female activists, including Cai Chang, Deng Yingchao, and Kang Keqing, who joined the Red Army on its 1934 trek. The second photo­graph features male party leaders, Mao at the center, standing on the same patch of ground, adorned with 1930s female hairstyles. In each photo a regiment of female soldiers marches in the background, but in opposite directions, as if t­oward the ­future, as if ­toward the past. Lei intended for the photo­graphs to be hung side by side, stereoscopic images that ­don’t quite match up. The same miniature, camouflage-­dressed figure of the artist herself, peering through binoculars at her historical pre­de­ces­ sors, appears in the bottom right corner of each. Lei Yan proposed hanging her photo­graphs on two large win­dows facing the courtyard of the guest­ house where Chicago was staying. Lu Jie worried her Mao Zedong in drag


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might attract official criticism of the overall exhibit, so the images ­were hung back-­to-­back, with the one of male leaders facing inward. This decision, which Lu himself reflected on as a form of self-­censorship, provided one response to Lei’s questions: while it is a fait accompli for socialism to garb ­women in the image of men as part of its politics of liberatory revolution, the reverse remains dangerous and hidden. Sun Guojuan’s installation piece, also displayed at Chicago’s guest­house, explored the dynamics of tourism in Luoshui. In Stuck to You, Sun continued her use of sugar, a material integral to her photographic series Sweetness Forever, which paired nude images of the artist’s body covered in sugar with still-­life arrangements of similarly coated beauty products. Sun extended her depiction of the saccharine surface of market reform from the realm of femininity to touristic consumption of ethnic difference. She staged her installation in a room with a traditional Mosuo hearth, with stools for female ­family members on the right and male ­family members on the left. On the walls she hung photo­graphs and explanatory passages about Mosuo culture collected from tourist publications. On the floor, she scattered chunks of sticky candy and strips of paper printed with Mosuo lineage names. As ­people walked through the room, candy and paper stuck to the bottom of their shoes, and they had to scrap off the sticky mess upon exiting. Stuck to You implicated tourists seeking escape and titillation in the pro­cess of social disruption they leave ­behind. Huang Ru, Li Shurui’s classmate at the Sichuan Acad­emy of Fine Art, focused like Lei Yan on gender in socialist visual culture, through an exploration of the ccp tradition of open-­air cinema (lutian dianying). The party employed cinema as a form of po­liti­cal consciousness-­raising, through development of state-­directed production studios and circulation of films to rural populations. Mobile open-­air cinemas, with a screen and projector temporarily set up in villages, projected images of the new nation throughout the countryside. For Open-­Air Cinema, Huang Ru arranged for old thirty-­ five-­millimeter prints of classic Chinese movies, all featuring ­women in lead roles, to be projected in the courtyard of a Luoshui guest­house. She explained that as a member of the generation born ­toward the end of high socialism, the piece involved learning how to navigate the official institutional channels necessary to rent the projector, screen, speakers, and film prints. Of all the pieces created at Lugu Lake, Huang’s drew the largest audience in spite of rainy weather. Local villa­gers, including ­those in costume who had wandered over from their eve­ning per­for­mance at the Mosuo Cultural Museum, mingled together with Chinese and foreign tourists u ­ nder umbrellas and

FIG 4.04  ​Lei

Yan, What If the Long March Had Been a ­Women’s Rights Movement? 2002. Digital photo­graph. Courtesy of the artist. FIG 4.05  ​Lei

Yan, What If They Had Been ­Women? 2002. Digital photo­graph. Courtesy of the artist.


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roof eaves as they watched films such as S­ ister Jiang. This 1978 film adaptation of an opera pop­u­lar­ized in the 1960s tells the story of an underground Communist who in 1948 strug­gles valiantly against the Guomin­dang.38 On the way to deliver an impor­tant directive to troops in northern Sichuan, S­ ister Jiang learns her husband has been killed and joins the peasant commander Double-­Gun Grandma as leader of the guerrilla forces. When a traitor betrays her, Guomin­dang officers imprison ­Sister Jiang on the site of the former Sino-­American Cooperative Association (saco). Before her execution on the eve of Chongqing’s liberation, she sings a climatic number “I Sacrifice My Youth for Communism” amid chains and torture instruments.39 Huang’s Open-­Air Cinema not only pres­ents a popu­lar 1970s female image radically dif­fer­ent from that assumed by the original Woman­ house artists, but also raises questions about the rural-­urban traffic of images in China especially relevant in Lugu Lake, a community repeatedly imaged by outsiders in vari­ous myth-­making proj­ects. In their interpretation of the Lugu Lake site, Su Ruya and Song Yanping embraced the romanticized portrait of Mosuo sexual emancipation highlighted in repre­sen­ta­tions by outsiders. Both staged critical reflections on the Han nation-­state, and its disciplining of citizens’ sexual relations through marriage and reproduction, on the ground of an ­imagined Mosuo cultural landscape of f­ree love. For Goddess Mountain—­Eternal W ­ oman (plate 11), Su Ruya stood at the edge of the lake in a wind-­billowed, flowered nightgown and flung roses—­the imported, cosmopolitan symbol of romantic love—­into the ­water: an offering to Gamu Mountain, central in local iconography as protective site for the Mosuo ­mother goddess. Su described herself as an eternal bride devoted to the dream of unfettered passion, the open boat in which a lover could ply his charms but never possess her. In contrast with this romantic oblation, Song Yanping’s nearby installation Fire Extinguisher (figure 4.06) presented a stark triangular arrangement of tripods made of tree branches stuck into the gravely beach. They resembled rudimentary domestic structures. From the center of each tripod hung a frilly white cloth bag, symbolizing the promise of marital happiness, filled with ­either rice or sand. She lit a fire beneath each, but the wind and lack of sufficient kindling kept the flames from reaching the bottom of each bag, as Song had intended. Instead, she poked a hole in the cloth, so that the contents of the womb-­shaped bags steadily poured out and extinguished the flames beneath: a pro­cess of depletion dramatically staged against the alternative “nature” of Lugu Lake. The empty bags swung limply in the wind. In ­these artworks, Chinese ­women used a cosmopolitan

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FIG 4.06  ​Song

Yanping, Fire Extinguisher, 2002. Installation. Photo­graph by author.

art activity to revision the Chinese nation-­state, but in the pro­cess Mosuo ­women became the silenced ground for their reconfiguration of gendered subject-­object relations.40 Zhang Lun’s Lugu Lake—­Happy Existence (plates 12 and 13) represents a multilayered approach to its site, which takes on the institutions of tourism, so­cio­log­ic­ al research, ethnic classification, and Judy Chicago herself. It is part of a larger i­magined series documenting the impact of China’s economic reforms on personal circumstances and desires. In locations around the country, including shopping malls and automobile showrooms, Zhang would ask individuals to fill out short surveys with information such as age, gender, hero, and personal aspirations, to accompany photo­graphs taken on-­site.41 In Luoshui, Zhang staged her piece at the Mosuo Cultural Museum. In order to raise revenue to build and maintain museum exhibits, its found­ers encouraged commercial activity, and each eve­ning a ticketed per­for­mance took place in its central courtyard, with tourists joining a song-­and-­dance circle led by Luoshui residents dressed in Mosuo costume. Zhang transformed the display of a Mosuo ­family hearth into a photography studio. She covered the walls with a pink-­toned print of one of her oil-­painted flower photo­graphs and affixed a Lugu Lake tourist map to the center of the back wall. This backdrop accentuated the artificial repre­sen­ta­tion of Mosuo life consumed by tour-


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ists. With the aid of the village chief, Zhang arranged for fifty villa­gers to take turns being photographed with Judy Chicago, turning the t­ables by making her into the tourist attraction. One by one, they stepped out of the per­for­mance in the courtyard to fill out a survey and be photographed with the visiting feminist dignitary. The survey adapted for Lugu Lake asked if participants had heard of the “feminist master Judy Chicago” and if they thought the Mosuo should be recognized as an in­de­pen­dent ethnic nationality; most answered “no” to the first and “yes” to the second. Zhang requested that Chicago, who had hesitantly agreed to participate, sit in the place reserved for female elders and pour tea for each Mosuo person as they entered and sat down. The first person to pose with Chicago was the Luoshui village chief. A ­ fter the twelfth cup of tea, Chicago appeared fed up with her role in the piece. She exclaimed, “No one in Amer­ic­ a would believe I’d poured tea for anyone!” and left the scene. In an angry outburst of her own, Zhang Lun raged over the ­music from the courtyard about Chicago’s intransigence, which had disrupted her plans. Suddenly her face lit up, and she declared, “The Mosuo w ­ ill pour tea for the Mosuo!” She continued taking photos as each following Mosuo person poured a cup of tea for him or herself. This moment of breakdown, marked by the disappearance of Chicago in Zhang’s images, is indicative of the “dialogue” that occurred at Lugu Lake. Just as some of the artists, including Chicago, used imaginaries of the Mosuo as the basis for their participation in art world, feminist, and nation-­state debates, Zhang used Judy Chicago. She flattened Chicago as an individual artist with a complex subjectivity into an institution to be challenged, thus calling attention to Chicago’s own flattening (or Lu Jie’s positioning of her in this role) of her Chinese peers. Turned into the cardboard-­cutout doyenne of a Western-­centered narrative of feminist art, Chicago responded by boycotting, which in her words is “the absolute opposite of what should have happened.” The divergent responses of ­these artists to the fantastical siting of the Long March at Lugu Lake demonstrate the instability of the sign “­woman.” The resources they drew on to be recognized as authors of their own sign—to undo the homogenization and colonization of complex female subjectivities—­ came from historically and culturally specific archives of theorizing about ­women and social justice. Their undoing of “woman­house” demonstrates vigorous and ongoing inquiry into how to dismantle symbolic systems that catch w ­ omen in double binds. In their site-­specific attempts at collaboration with a local community, they also demonstrated the risk of what Hal Foster calls “the artist as ethnographer,” in which “the quasi-­anthropological role

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set up for the artist can promote a presuming as much as a questioning of ethnographic authority.” 42 The art sited at Lugu Lake opened debates about the assumption of female artists as a “community” but held l­ittle meaning for local residents. A Mosuo teenage boy observing one of the lakeside per­ for­mance pieces commented, “It’s no dif­fer­ent from all the films and tele­ vi­sion dramas filmed h ­ ere. They come, we d­ on’t r­eally know what t­hey’re ­doing, and then they leave and we never see them again.”

The Question of Feminism in Chinese Con­temporary Art

What was being worked out at Lugu Lake had ­little to do with, in Mao’s terms, “learning from the ­people.” It had much more to do with a question of feminism in Chinese con­temporary art. In transnational encounters, artists, curators, and critics repeatedly asked ­whether “feminist art” existed in China. Variations included “does China have any ­great w ­ omen artists?” or “why have t­here been no ­great Chinese feminist artists?” The latter arose in consideration of ­whether t­here was anything feminist about the work assembled ­under the label nüxing yishu (­women’s art), such as site six of The Long March at Lugu Lake. Descriptions of exhibits or­ga­nized around the topic defined the work as e­ ither feminist or feminine or both, blurring the terms in the categorical creation of nüxing yishu, which sometimes refers to art by ­women and sometimes serves as shorthand for nüxingzhuyi yishu, or feminist art. An overview of responses to this line of questioning demonstrates the contradictions involved in discussions of feminism and Chinese con­temporary art, highlighting the contradictions that fissure this art world in general. Beijing-­based curator and critic Liao Wen recalls the first time she heard the question, her immediate ironic response, and how the encounter led her to curate one of the first exhibits to grapple with the issue: In 1992, a curator from a British national museum traveled to China to investigate the new art being produced. Perhaps ­because she discovered that most artists ­were men she was particularly excited to meet me, a female colleague. She asked me if feminist art existed in China. I responded that since China had not resolved its ­human rights issues, it was hardly pos­si­ble to talk about w ­ omen’s rights, not to mention feminist art. We both dismissed the topic with a laugh. I did not realize at the time that this acted as a catalyst for some profound thinking.43


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In 1995, Liao curated an exhibit titled ­Women’s Approach to Chinese Con­ temporary Art, which featured twelve female artists whose work demonstrated for her the “embryonic” state of a Chinese ­women’s art on the verge of developing a distinct formal language.44 She then published an art his­ omen’s Art, which surveys both torical survey titled Feminism as Method: W the repre­sen­ta­tion and role of w ­ omen in premodern, Maoist, and reform-­ era Chinese art.45 In it, she inserts a section on Western female artists, ranging from Berth Morisot to Cindy Sherman, right before her discussion of 1990s art in China. This sequencing sets up a ­century of Western art history as the road out (chulu) of the past for con­temporary Chinese ­women. Liao thus became an impor­tant translator of Western feminist art history into China, and in 1999–2000, she deepened this research through six months of fieldwork in the United States. Her interviews with influential artists of the 1970s feminist movement such as Judy Chicago, Miriam Shapiro, and Carolee Schneemann ran as a regular feature of the new art magazine Next Wave (Xin chao) in 2001. Beijing-­based artist Feng Jiali’s response to the question in 2000, as posed by U.S.-­based curator Britta Erickson and published in Art AsiaPacific, laments the lack of feminist theoretical reflection in the sudden burst of exhibits featuring art by Chinese w ­ omen: “In the 1990s and 2000 ­there have been more exhibitions of w ­ omen’s art than at any other time in China’s history. . . . ​This marks a significant change, a change that does not necessarily represent a progression or liberation of the creative powers of ­women in China. For the most part, so-­called ‘­women’s art’ in China is based purely on the sex of the artist, and not necessarily on recognition of the life-­experience differences created by gender.” 46 In her accompanying article, Erickson notes the “rise of a feminist spirit in con­temporary Chinese art” driven by “an increasing awareness of the extent to which ­women have been marginalized by the art system.” 47 In 2008, New York Times art critic Holland Cotter interviewed another Beijing-­based artist, Lin Tianmiao. Of their conversation, he writes, “Yet she is cautious about applying the term feminist to herself or her work. Why? The concept is too Western. It is too vague. China is not ready for feminism. China has its own brand of feminism.” 48 This ambiguous characterization fails to account for Lin’s own nüxing yishu history in the preceding de­cade. Lin’s work was included in many of the early exhibits of work by female artists, such as Liao Wen’s ­Women’s Approach to Chinese Con­temporary Art. Initially ­these efforts challenged institutional marginalization and brought recognition to artists like Lin Tianmiao. However, as

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the category congealed and underwent institutionalization, nüxing yishu became another form of containment, in for example the patronizing list of “essential characteristics of ­women’s art” (including childlike fantasy; apathy ­toward politics, history, and philosophy; and general disinterest in the male world) produced by Jia Fangzhou, curator of the 1998 survey ­ entury ­Woman.49 For Lin Tianmiao, experimentation with the opexhibit C portunities afforded by nüxing yishu as a way of theorizing the relationship between art politics and practice quickly led to disappointment and disavowal of the term. ­These responses to the question of feminism in Chinese con­temporary art reveal two tendencies. First, the term feminist is invoked without specifying what it references: an intentional mode of artistic expression, a methodology for interpreting visual forms of repre­sen­ta­tion, or an analytic for examining the politics and social relations of art worlds. Second, the transnationalism permeating the field of Chinese con­temporary art provides the context for the questioning. If Chinese con­temporary art is a zone of cultural encounter, the same might be said of feminism, as a field of thought, practice, and social mobilization. Even claims of difference, as for example that between Chinese and Western feminism, do not precede but are made and consolidated through the pro­cess of encounter. As Chinese con­temporary art emerged on the international stage during the 1990s and early 2000s, a minor strain of criticism per­sis­tently noted the relative invisibility of female artists. Holland Cotter’s article “China’s Female Artists Quietly Emerge” provides a footnote to the art market phenomenon of Chinese artists suddenly selling work for rec­ord prices at Sotheby’s and elsewhere. Briefly surveying artwork by Chinese ­women, Cotter calls it some of the most innovative around, even though it ­doesn’t garner the same attention as that of their male peers. He concludes, “Con­temporary art in China is a man’s world. While the art market, all but non­ex­is­tent in 1989, has become a power­house industry and produced a pantheon of multimillionaire artist-­celebrities, t­ here are no ­women in that pantheon.”50 He was not the first to notice. Ever since the first major exhibits of Chinese avant-­garde art appeared, largely in Western art spaces, critics attentive to gender engaged in a counting game that asked where the w ­ omen w ­ ere. Britta Erickson gives the following count for early overseas shows: of the sixteen artists in China Avant-­ Garde in Berlin in 1993 only one was female; China’s New Art, Post-1989


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in Hong Kong also in 1993 included fifty-­two men and two w ­ omen; and China! in Bonn in 1996 exhibited the work of thirty-­one artists, none of whom ­were female.51 The outrage of German ­women over this exclusion motivated the curation of Half of the Sky: Con­temporary Chinese W ­ omen Artists at Bonn’s Frauenmuseum in 1998. Melissa Chiu provides a similar count for international exhibitions of Chinese con­temporary art in 1997: “­Women accounted for only three of the eigh­teen artists in Another Long March in Japan, one of seven artists in Immutability and Fashion in ­ orea.”52 Holland, and none of the ten artists in In Between Limits in K She notes the same trend in major exhibitions within China: only two out of thirty-­nine artists in the First Academic Exhibition of Chinese Con­ temporary Art (1996–97) w ­ ere female, and four of twenty-­nine in the 1996 Shanghai Biennale. This numbers game arose from a palpable lack of gender parity, yet the “counting who counts” mode of protest rarely goes further to theorize about why this situation persists. The response instead has largely been the organ­ization of exhibits, such as Half of the Sky, inside and outside of China, devoted to the equalizing task of representing Chinese ­women artists, sometimes as a national subcategory of Asian ­women artists. Their organizers do not invoke specific feminist theories or platforms. They do, however, contribute to conflicting theorizations of “­woman.” To speak of “­woman” is always a theoretical proposition, b­ ecause to do so conceives of a group of individuals as bound by some commonality, and such conceptions are never po­liti­cally innocent. The critical and curatorial proj­ects that consolidated nüxing yishu often relied on an archive of Western feminist art praxis as a frame of reference, such that inviting Judy Chicago to Lugu Lake seemed an imperative for recognition. The marginalization of ­women is not solely the result of Chinese “traditional culture,” although some make this reductionist claim, but at least in part the way in which Chinese con­ temporary art has gone global. Its troubled relationship with feminism lies in the assumption of a universal understanding of what the term means, when in fact it harbors multiple histories of thought, action, critique, and re­sis­tance. At odds with one another, ­these histories create an interlocking set of double binds, generated through cultural encounter over time, regarding female talent and repre­sen­ta­tion.

Interlocking Double Binds

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Two questions gave rise to my use of the double bind as an interpretive move. First, why has the increasingly rich and sophisticated scholarship (Chinese and Western) on gender, ­women’s movements, and feminism in China proven to be a blind spot for art curators and critics? They reference other bodies of theory as a form of cosmopolitan art world participation but rarely turn to feminist scholars of China. Even when turning to feminist theory, Lu Jie proposed that Long March participants at Lugu Lake read Julia Kristeva rather than prominent Chinese feminist theorists, such as Marxist humanist Li Xiaojiang or literary critics Dai Jinhua and Meng Yue, who adapted Kristeva to develop their theory of Chinese écriture féminine. The second question concerns Chinese art critics and curators who resist Western frames that interpret Chinese con­temporary art as derivative or belated. Given that stance, why do they then accept and even promote the idea that nüxing yishu is in a protodevelopmental stage compared to Western feminist art, seemingly displacing a fear of China’s backwardness on the global stage onto its ­women? The double bind describes a communication dilemma resulting from two conflicting messages, which trap their recipient in “unresolvable sequences of experiences,” a no-­win situation of inevitable failure.53 It also provides a feminist analytic that seeks a way out, in which the double bind can be viewed as zen koan. Only by deconstructing the double bind as an insidious form of control does release from it become pos­si­ble. The production and interpretation of art in a meta-­ideological mode pres­ent power­ful means of ­doing so. Interlocking double binds arising from the art world encounter of Chinese and Western feminisms structured the schizo­ phre­nia of mutual recognition and rejection experienced by Judy Chicago and her Chinese “collaborators.” The artists at Lugu Lake actively strug­gled through one or several of ­these double binds. Laying them out is the first step in moving beyond the trap they set. 1) The first double bind provides a historical basis for con­temporary trou­ bles. It returns to the efforts of early twentieth-­century reformers to create a modern Chinese nation capable of standing up to colonialism.54 One foundational influence was Victorian sex theory, which they ­adopted to displace Confucian kinship protocols with the neologism of nüxing (literally, female sex). Nüxing recast ­woman as a sexed, biological entity requiring liberation from arranged marriages for sexual se­lection, which would lead


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FIG 4.07  ​Pan

Yuliang, Nude in Front of Win­dow, 1940. Oil on canvas, 24 cm × 44 cm.

to the eugenic strengthening of the Chinese ­people. Communist thinkers ­later jettisoned nüxing as the bourgeois and individualist w ­ oman, replacing her with their theorization of funü (­women as a collectivity), a massified revolutionary subject to mobilization for state po­liti­cal movements. The Chinese archive of visual art that corresponds with ­these changing conceptualizations of ­woman reflects the radical difference between repre­ sen­ta­tions of nüxing and funü. Paintings such as Nude in Front of Win­dow (figure 4.07) by Pan Yuliang, who left Shanghai in 1937 to spend the rest of her life in Paris, demonstrate a nüxing sensibility. Her departure from China corresponded with the rise of funü as the Chinese Marxist category of po­liti­cal praxis that replaced nüxing in images like Shan Lianxiao’s 1971 propaganda poster To Be an Upright Person, Be This Kind of Person (figure 4.08). Shan, a painter employed by the Dalian Electronic Ceramics Factory, pairs the heroine from The Red Lantern revolutionary opera with a female Red Guard, exhorting viewers to identify with collective funü subjecthood, to “be this kind of person.” Herein lies the bind: Embracing ­these new theorizations of ­woman as nüxing or funü enabled ­women to actively participate in the public realm of cultural production. But embracing the subject positions of erotic or massified ­woman also cast them as lesser ­human beings, as needing liberation, such

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FIG 4.08 ​Shan Lianxiao, To Be an Upright Person, Be This Kind of Person, 1971. Propaganda poster.

that to be active in cultural production was seen as exceptional rather than normative for ­women. ­These successive articulations of theoretical ­woman—­the active and layered history of thinking about gender and ­women’s liberation in China—­also led to the difficulty of translating the term feminist. Within China gender studies, it is commonplace to comment on the many coinages in Chinese over the twentieth ­century to refer to the singular term feminism in En­glish: nüquan zhuyi, nüxing zhuyi, nannü pingdeng zhuyi, nüquang yundong, funü yundong.55 Of this linguistic disquiet, Barlow notes, “It is significant that the historical flexibility of colloquial Chinese has allowed for so many ways to phrase the word feminism or the movement to center female subjects.”56 She emphasizes that this ongoing linguistic reworking is a constitutive part of feminist practice in Sinophone criticism. Indeed, the phrasing of ­women’s or feminist art as nüxing yishu signals another reworked understanding of “­woman.” It represents reform-­era rejection of the Maoist, statist formulation of funü through the humanistic

argument that it suppressed female subjectivity in the attempt to remake ­women in the image of men. A new nüxing, bearing residues of it


­conceptual pre­de­ces­sor, appeared in accounts such as the following by art Chinese art, bringing to an end the relentless collectivist symbolism of previous years. ­Women’s consciousness began to emerge and ­women began to explore their own experience and find an appropriate form of expression. Most female artists sought to define the nature of w ­ omen’s consciousness or affirm ­women’s consciousness itself.”57 Yang Li, curator of The Metamorphosing Female (Zhuanbian zhong de nüxing), a 2008 exhibit in Shanghai, writes in a similar vein: “Compared with their pre­de­ces­sors, the female artists of the new generation are more in­de­pen­dent and more aware of their female consciousness. Based on their instincts and rich emotions, they create artworks from their unique female perspectives, depicting their real experiences, and forming in this pro­cess their highly individualized artistic languages.”58 This emphasis on the artistic development of ­women’s consciousness based on embodied female experience pervades work such as Liu Hong’s paintings from the 1990s. The isolated figures in her Soliloquy series (figure 4.09) are hybrids that combine the nüxing nude and the collective red funü visage/blindfold and engage in an introspective discourse, as if on the verge of emerging from past constraints. Liu, a member of the painting faculty at the Sichuan Acad­emy of Fine Art who became emblematic of nüxing yishu in accounts such as Liao Wen’s Feminism as Method: ­Women’s Art, traveled together with students and friends to Lugu Lake as an observer. The trap of female exceptionality persists in the nominal rejection of feminism by Chinese artists whose work, nonetheless, reflects complex forms of gender consciousness. The recuperation of w ­ omen marginalized by the international art market system through the currency of nüxing yishu reveals a freighted relationship with the history of feminist praxis in China. Nüxing yishu often ended up feeling like a restrictive category, as in site six at Lugu Lake or art history chapters that partition w ­ omen to the side. 2) If Chinese ­women strug­gle to be added to the canon of Chinese con­ temporary art, and through engagement with it, to change the pos­si­ble options of what this art can be, then they hazard being seen as outside or derivative of the male-­dominated avant-­garde that has defined it so far. If Chinese ­women strug­gle to be added to the canon of feminist art, and

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critic Xu Hong: “­After 1989 individual experimentation began to emerge in

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FIG 4.09  ​Liu

Hong, Soliloquy, No. 10, 1997. Oil on canvas, 150 cm × 150 cm. Courtesy

of the artist.

through engagement with it, to change the pos­si­ble options of what this art can be, then they hazard being seen as derivative of or just a local branch of international (Western) feminist art. This double bind reveals a parallel between how the international market conferred value on a male avant-­garde in China ­after 1989 and the emergence of nüxing yishu around 1995, the year Beijing hosted the UN Fourth World Conference on W ­ omen. In the Western critique surrounding the conference of the Chinese state’s hostility to h ­ uman and therefore ­women’s rights, the art corollary was to ask why China d ­ oesn’t have the kind of feminist art that the West does. Artists like Lin Tianmiao, whose work appeared in several of ­these 1990s shows, concludes however, “In the end, all the exhibitions seemed to achieve was to simply demonstrate that Chinese

­women could produce art.”59 In her 2008 interview with Holland Cotter, she disavows any feminist identification. She was also one of the only female


artists to participate in the Long March outside of the Lugu Lake “­women’s

3) If con­temporary artists in China attempt to redefine their feminism by critiquing or distancing themselves from the Maoist approach to w ­ omen’s liberation, then they cut themselves off from the historical resources of China’s long twentieth-­century of feminist activism. If con­temporary artists in China attempt to redefine their feminism by drawing on China’s historical resources, then international feminists view them as too statist or too socialist. This double bind reveals the poverty of an international feminist rhe­toric that erases the influence of Chinese Marxist feminism on the thinking of Western feminist theories of the 1960s and 1970s. Take, for example, Julia Kristeva’s About Chinese ­Women and the zest with which she describes her feminist interlocutors: “­These girls who brandish pistols and paintbrushes, who liberate themselves from their husbands and ­fathers u ­ nder the portrait of Mao, and leave their ­children, their calligraphy, their exploits in the field of production, science, or the current ideological campaign, as the sole evidence of their jouissance.”60 Visual art in the mode of “­these girls who brandish pistols and paintbrushes” is now so abject, propaganda not art or recuperable only through parody, in its international art market status that it must be eradicated as precursor to con­temporary feminist art practices. At Lugu Lake, Lei Yan and Huang Ru drew on precisely ­these historical resources, in comic, sincere, and critical ways, yet work such as theirs rarely circulates outside of China. 4) If Chinese female artists continue to work in socialist genres, such as socialist realist painting, then they identify with the patriarchal order of the state, which liberated them in name but not in action. If Chinese female artists attempt to redefine their art practice through dialogue with the Western archive of feminist art from the 1960s and 1970s, then they are seen as latecomers, less advanced, in need of feminist tutelage or rescue by the West. Unlike the reworking of socialist image making practices by Lei and Huang, the site-­specific installation and per­for­mance pieces at Lugu Lake by Li Shurui, Su Ruya, and Song Yangping draw on transnationally circulating, postmodern modes of art making. This generic engagement with the cosmopolitan sphere of art, even though grounded in resolutely local concerns and aesthetics, opens them up to being labeled as belated, of

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modeling themselves ­after the site-­specificity of Chicago’s Woman­house


thirty years ­later.

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This double bind opens the door to instances in which Western curators have or­ga­nized exhibits of Chinese “­women’s art” that locates the empowerment of Chinese ­women in gallery and publication spaces outside of China, often ­under statements such as “­there has been no feminist movement in China comparable to that in the West.”61 An example of the extreme end of this phenomenon is the following gloss from the 2002 exhibit Femininity in Con­temporary Asian Art, curated by Patricia Karetzky for galleries at City College of New York and Bard College: “In communication as well, ­women in Asia are set apart from ­those in Western society in their general reticence to interact in mixed com­pany. . . . ​ Their conversation is mea­sured, their voices childlike in pitch and s­ imple in verbal expression. ­These cultural restraints on female social be­hav­ ior are the result of traditional Asian values. The ­women in this exhibition have experienced Western style freedom of expression and as a result are aware of the varied cultural paradigms of feminine be­hav­ior and ideas of femininity.”62 5) If Chinese feminist art is posited as something with local roots and concerns and resistant to Western interpretation, then it does not circulate overseas and accrue the value conferred by international recognition, such as exhibition in “world-­class” Western museums or auction at Sotheby’s. If Chinese feminist art is posited as an outgrowth of cross-­border artistic and intellectual exchange, then it tends to be seen as simply a local, par­tic­u­lar instantiation of the “universal” Western model. The depth of local knowledge—­regarding ethnic classification in China, the development of tourist economies as part of post-­Mao market reform, and Han imaginaries of the nation’s ethnic nationalities—­fundamental to a nuanced understanding of pieces such as Sun Guojuan’s Stuck to You or Zhang Lun’s Lugu Lake–­Happy Existence may pres­ent a challenge for international audiences. But ­these cosmopolitan art experiments, which started, ­after all, from their own nuanced understanding of local knowledge such as “who is Judy Chicago” and “what is Woman­house,” also challenge a Western-­centered version of cosmopolitanism. Being seen as simply a local, par­tic­u­lar instantiation of the “universal” Western model is exactly what the Chinese artists at Lugu Lake resisted in their use of copyright as a situational art piece. Their manifesto responded to and attempted to undo this last double bind.

Copyright as Situational Art, as Feminist Intervention 173

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The manifesto presented via Lu Jie to Judy Chicago on the artists’ second day in Lugu Lake represents debates that had been brewing long before Chicago arrived in China. The document’s final form, distilled in hours of contentious, late-­night discussion, likewise represents a momentary crystallization of the artists’ ongoing thought pro­cesses and experiments with materials at hand, in this case, the language of copyright, authorship, and intellectual property circulating widely in China at the time. The manifesto as contract, requiring that all parties become signatories, served as a means of channeling grievances against the interlocking double binds that positioned Chinese ­women artists at the margins of Chinese con­ temporary art and global feminist art. Through their pre­sen­ta­tion of it to Lu and Chicago, they subverted the smooth unfolding of the curatorial plan envisioned by e­ ither figure. Although Lu Jie returned to the historical event of the Long March to assert the originality of Chinese cultural production and its cosmopolitan influence, he did so through the assumption of a leadership position that rankled ­those whom he rallied to the cause. In his negotiation with the artists about the issues they raised, he ended up lecturing them about his responsibilities as a curator. His ironic adoption of Communist po­liti­cal language slid into the register of hardened official rhe­toric. Judy Chicago performed her assigned role of pedagogical feminist authority, which aligned with the teaching style she developed in the early 1970s as an instructor in the Feminist Art Programs at Fresno State College and California Institute of the Arts.63 Her encounter with Chinese artists at Lugu Lake, however, was not one with students, but w ­ omen who saw themselves as peers with dif­fer­ent yet valuable knowledge. They, in turn, enacted an oppositional politics, a radical questioning of authority that drew on Maoist revolutionary tradition. Yet, in the moment of China’s linkage with transnational capitalism, their challenge to authority came in a claim to authorship rights. They issued their manifesto approximately one de­cade ­after Deng Xiaoping’s “tour of the south” in January 1992, an official turn t­oward accelerated marketization and privatization. Shortly a­ fter, China became a signatory to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. As Ariana Hernández-­Reguant describes in her work on the late socialist art industry in Cuba, Eu­ro­pean powers established this convention in 1886 during an initial stage of decolonization, especially of the Spanish empire, to protect owner­ship of scientific and artistic works developed in a

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colonial context.64 Indigenous knowledge had contributed significantly to “Western” products ranging from phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to painting styles, yet the modernist regime of intellectual property erased ­these non-­Western linkages and the role of copying in innovation and creativity. Cultural borders ­were inscribed u ­ nder the philosophical banners of civilization and possessive individualism, with citizens invested with rights and duties ­under the nation-­state. Modern, Western jurisprudence also uniquely privileged intellectual l­abor over manual l­abor by granting creative workers property rights over their ideas, a practice antithetical to socialism’s commitment to collectivism and rejected by countries like the ­People’s Republic of China ­until post-1992 market integration. At the end of the millennium, as China prepared to enter the World Trade Organ­ization, officials revised national laws, including t­hose concerning copyright enforcement, to conform to WTO regulations. The encounter between Judy Chicago and Chinese artists took place less than one year ­after China’s official entry to the WTO. Of the per­sis­tent criticism of China as pirate nation, Laikwan Pang observes that the international property rights regime fosters culturalist myths of original and counterfeit: “The legitimate commodity has an author, while the pirated product does not. If China is seen as world pirate, the country then lacks an author/subject position in the international community proper.”65 The prominence of copyright discourse in public debate about China’s global status seeped into the Lugu Lake manifesto assertion of a Chinese author/subject position in relation to Judy Chicago as stand-in for global feminist art. Lisa Rofel has argued that the quest of the Chinese state to “fold economic reform into neoliberal institutions such as the WTO” creates an environment in which individuals learn to desire the possession of one’s self and the intellectual l­ abor associated with that self, thus leading to self-­ regulation of the subject.66 While the Chinese artists at Lugu Lake ­were invested in the neoliberal idea of laying claim to the product of their own knowledge and ­labor, they also worked from a Long March–­inspired tradition of revolutionary, oppositional politics to defend a collective desire for recognition as artists who are not exploited as symbolic resources but who themselves act as authors of symbols. They do not take up copyright itself as something to defend or attack; rather, it becomes a rich semiotic form that helps them address the prob­lem of the interlocking double binds that constrain them. It is as a collective, in a collaboratively produced document, that they assert possession of an individual self. They do so to resist being subsumed ­under someone ­else’s authority, one they be-


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lieve does not have their collective interest at heart. Their adoption of the global language of copyright serves as a critical response to versions of feminism imposed on them by ­others—by Judy Chicago, Lu Jie, or the Chinese state. Their efforts against being authoritatively framed by someone ­else included persuading me to document their activities in a way they believed would be more on their terms than what Lu Jie and his team recorded. In the same guerrilla fashion, they also documented and presented their interpretation of the encounter that had taken place in Luoshui. Upon returning from Lugu Lake, Kunming-­based artists Fu Liya and Sun Guojuan or­ga­nized an exhibition at the Yunnan Art Acad­emy, where they displayed written and photographic rec­ords of the journey to Lugu Lake, the events that tran­spired, and artworks completed on site. The exhibit ran from August 4–8, 2002, and an estimated four hundred ­people came to view it. Judy Chicago at Lugu Lake was not a unique phenomenon. As she asserted ­there, “Other w ­ omen have done Woman­houses all over the world.” She has served as an inspiration to female artists around the world, yet the way she is brought into “other” locations often positions her as central to a canon of feminist art that starts with the West and then attempts to fold non-­Western artists into its narrative. Artists involved in t­ hese proj­ects have similarly resisted this after-­the-­fact, enfolding move, in ways that draw on culturally specific histories of art, gender, and feminism. For example, Judy Chicago joined Taiwanese, Korean, and Japa­nese w ­ omen artists in the 1997–1998 Lord of the Rim: In Herself/For Herself exhibit, held in the small northern Taiwanese city of Hsin Chuang. In a more polite politics of acknowledgement and detachment, the participating Asian artists carried out their own site-­specific work focusing on local w ­ omen laborers in this industrial textile city, exploring gender, class, and ethnicity in the context of Pacific Rim industrialization, militarism/imperialism, and transnational trade. In Ying-­Ying Chien’s analy­sis of the exhibit, the “minor” transnational networks explored by the artists involved did not need to be mediated by or disseminated through the metropolitan West. Their work instead made Chicago’s inclusion in the exhibit peripheral: “In one corner of the Lord of the Rim exhibit space ­there runs continuously a video about Judy Chicago called ‘­Women’s House,’ which takes its inspiration from concepts and imagery of a w ­ oman’s art that Chicago developed in the 1970s; this quiet full flowering in 1990s Taiwan-­Hsin Chuang may well have exceeded what Chicago expected to find h ­ ere.”67 The artists who participated in site six of The Long March similarly attest to the need for radi-

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cal reformation of what constitutes the “global” feminist art canon, so that it allows for the multiple historical contingencies through which feminist artists and artwork come into being.68 Disavowing a unifying proj­ect of feminism is not a sign of failure but of the ongoing debate and critical reflection at the heart of feminist thought and intervention. The artists in the Feminist Sight Lines chapters to follow exhibit exactly this kind of ongoing reflection. They excavate, in their work and life histories, the institutions and sociohistorical pro­cesses that made them as artists and ­women. Their critical historiographical consciousness, cultivated by being on art world peripheries, unhinges ­woman from the literal and figurative work she has performed for the nation in modern and con­temporary art. Their attempts to move in, through, and outside of dominant ideologies about w ­ omen respond to the control exerted by interlocking double binds. My encounters with them likewise shifted my understanding of feminist art, from a label for a par­tic­ul­ar object, event, or proj­ect to an epistemological field of practice. Their aesthetics respond to the state socialist legacy of monumentality in Chinese con­temporary art through an emphasis on ephemerality: of life, of art, of archival fact. They address the problematic of art as monument, through explorations of a genre like large-­scale history painting, of a cultural symbol like the ­Great Wall, or of an event like the Long March. They remember loss and erasure and call into question an impulse to monumentality, on the scale of the nation, premised on disappearance.


Feminist Sight Lines

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Red Detachment


The story of a rebellious maidservant on Hainan Island who was liberated by a Communist ­women’s militia became a revolutionary classic in socialist China. At the turn of the millennium, just as her fierce female attitude seemed poised to make a final exit, she leapt—­fists clenched and long braid flying—­across the surface of a large, four-­canvas oil painting by Li Tianpian. Although she held impeccable acad­emy credentials and a teaching position at Beijing’s Central Minorities University, Li strug­gled to find a way forward. As a young oil painter trained in socialist realism, she found herself wedged between female repre­sen­ta­tional modes of dif­fer­ent eras. She had submitted this painting in 1999 as one of two graduation pieces for her Master’s degree from the Hangzhou China Acad­emy of Art. It depicts varied repre­sen­ta­tions of an early Communist w ­ omen’s detachment formed in the 1930s. Their rebellious posture provides a dramatic contrast with Li’s own delicately rendered appearance within the piece. The Red Detachment of ­Women (Hongse niangzi jun), a film based on a novel based on a­ ctual historical events, was originally released on July 1, 1961, to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. In the de­cade that followed, the film became a revolutionary ballet and a revolutionary model opera, both of which ­were then turned back into films.1 During the Cultural Revolution, it was one of only eight model plays permitted for public per­for­mance. Many in post-­Mao China criticize this doctrinaire control of culture, which required performers to enact the same revolutionary plays again and again. Nonetheless ­these socialist realist dramas ­were inextricably linked with a twentieth-­century Chinese desire to be modern, a desire for social relations that would transcend existing forms. They expressed what Susan Buck-­Morss calls the “dreamworld of mass utopia,” a vision shared by ­those in both the East and West during the Cold War.2 While the dream of socialist realism as an emancipatory aesthetic now hung in shreds, this abject form contained a message about the promise and danger of ethnographic

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detachment and typification, about attempting to convey complex subjectivities through a singular, commanding repre­sen­ta­tion. I gleaned my lesson from encounters with this painting and its painter. While Li Tianpian is not particularly well known in China or abroad, her story reveals tensions that many Chinese artists negotiated as the organ­ ization of the arts and social life underwent millennial transitions. Occasionally caught up in the excitement of reform-­era China’s promise of burgeoning individuality, Li yet remained unwilling to dismiss the propaganda imagery of the Cultural Revolution as national kitsch from a period when time stood still. She provides a lesson in how not to typify or commodify the past, but to reopen its potential and revolutionary promise to extend the range of what it is pos­si­ble for a w ­ oman to do.

Red Souvenir

When I first met Li Tianpian in 2001 she was thirty-­one. She had been teaching in the studio art department of the Central Minorities University for two years.3 One of her colleagues, Yuan Yaomin, had arranged for me to attend classes in their department. A ­ fter spending the morning in a first-­ year oil painting materials class (a lecture that covered in technical detail vari­ous forms of canvas preparation: animal glues, gesso, and tempera), I met Yuan Yaomin and Li Tianpian for lunch. They ­were the only ­women in the department and spent much of their ­free time together. We walked together to a restaurant on campus. A warm spell of mid-­April weather had just hit Beijing, and the poplar trees lining the campus walkways had begun to shed fuzzy catkins. The fluff floated through the air like snow and blew into drifts along the sidewalks. We sneezed and laughed as we sat down at our ­table and picked the downy seeds out of our hair. ­After lunch, we went back to Yuan Yaomin’s small apartment in the married teachers’ campus dormitory. Her husband worked outside of the university, and her ­daughter was at school. As we drank tea and chatted, she pulled out some batik wrap-­around skirts s­ he’d bought on a recent trip to the south, telling us how cheaply s­ he’d gotten them. We all took turns trying them on. Li Tianpian, who enjoyed dressing up and following the latest fashions, giggled as she strutted back and forth in the tight entry­way of the two-­room apartment crowded with books, paintings, and furniture. This lighthearted moment distracted from larger worries. During her short experience as a teacher, she began wondering if art ­really constituted much


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of a profession anymore. In the current economic climate, she mused, the type of painting ­she’d been trained in ­didn’t bring many rewards. She felt stuck in the work-­unit existence of a previous era. Before I left that day, she gave me several postcards printed with works she had completed as a gradu­ate student. The largest, most ambitious of the works was a painting titled Red Souvenir (plate 14). In the three main canvases of Red Souvenir, each almost two meters tall, the original members of the historic w ­ omen’s military detachment stand in the background. Their somber, determined f­aces emerge in slightly blurred gray and black tones. Fragments of historical photo­graphs and a book about the “red w ­ omen” are layered in a collagelike composition on top of this backdrop. In the immediate foreground, characters from the film ­ omen appear in full color. and ballet versions of The Red Detachment of W Painted with more detailed strokes and in greater three-­dimensional relief, the ballerina soldier-­to-be leaps in the left-­hand canvas, frozen in her iconic pose of escape from an evil tyrant. On the opposite side, her enlisted compatriot, dressed in uniform, strikes a confident stance with one hand resting at a belted waist. Li Tianpian appears in a narrower canvas, second from the left, that opens a brief space between contending versions of the historical and the legendary. In this self-­portrait, she sits ­behind an easel with three paintbrushes in her right hand, which also gracefully holds out the outer edge of her skirt. Head cocked to the side, she looks out from ­behind a large canvas whose back ­faces the viewer.4 She includes herself within the painting in the pro­cess of its painting, staring at the viewer in way that creates a triangle between the painter, official repre­sen­ta­tion, and ghostly, layered images of the original w ­ omen. Like the dramatic performers, she is painted in color, but instead of floating on the surface plane of the painting, she recedes into the perspectival space of the studio classroom where she paints. Warm light floods the background of this personal moment, the peak of her rise through the Chinese art acad­emy system. She chose the subject ­matter for Red Souvenir ­after a trip during gradu­ ate school to Hainan Island, south of Guangdong Province, to xiesheng (paint from life). In a ­later conversation, she talked about what she had hoped to express in the painting. Of her time in Hainan, which in the 1990s developed into a tropical resort destination for urban Chinese tourists, she described ongoing conditions of poverty, as well as local knowledge she gained ­there about the original female soldiers who became legendary in the ­later years of Communist artistic repertoire. She spoke quickly in a


casual way, punctuating her comments with laughter, even when talking about serious topics.

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The story of the Red Detachment of ­Women is like this . . . ​at the time, they ­were ordinary ­people on the island who w ­ ere oppressed by local landlords and by the Guomin­dang. The oppression was pretty severe. They lived ­under cruel conditions. When I went ­there, I also found that some ­people still have very difficult lives. Their ­houses only have three walls. On the other side, t­ here is no wall. When I was ­there, I read some history that I thought was laughable. Back then, when the ­women joined this female troop, this anti-­oppression military detachment, they entered enthusiastically with a kind of revolutionary, romantic zeal. It’s just like a fashion, a trend, I think. What’s laughable is that ­after it was all said and done, then a lot of them married some minor officials of the Guomin­dang. (Laughs.) Now, in real­ity, if we say they ­were revolutionaries, then this was a betrayal of their ideals. So afterward, in a ­later era, when their story was propagandized, this aspect had to be hidden below, it ­wasn’t talked about. (Laughs.) Just the beginning was told, not the end. Of course, that ­couldn’t be mentioned. They had this period of achievement, of the detachment’s re­sis­tance. The troop had soldiers, had female commanders, all of them ­were female soldiers. Then this achievement was changed by the Cultural Revolution into . . . ​­there was a ballet, as well as an opera . . . ​­there w ­ ere films, many artistic forms. Many artistic repre­sen­ta­tions came out. That painting of mine portrays the imagery of ­these kinds of artistic forms. This is from the ballet . . . ​and ­these are original photo­graphs of them on the road at the revolutionary dawn . . . ​and as they ­were sworn in. (Laughs.) The photo­graphs are from their memorial hall on Hainan Island. I just wanted to put ­these artistic repre­sen­ta­tions side by side, and then add historical real­ity to the picture. To put them all together like this . . . ​ Think about it, ­these original w ­ omen when they started out w ­ ere so beautiful, wearing military uniforms, with straps and supply bags crisscrossing their chests, wearing ­these kinds of clothes, some in dresses. They have such a valiant and heroic bearing. Then ­after they ­were captured . . . ​this picture was taken when they ­were in jail . . . ​­they’re wearing old clothes. It ­wasn’t long ­after their release that they married the e ­ nemy.5

She ­wasn’t happy with the final result of her painting and said she wanted to paint it over again.

I think that when I painted it, my technique was limited, my visual range was relatively shallow, so I ­wasn’t able to effectively express my idea . . . ​I ­wasn’t


able to find a more suitable means of expression. My application of color and every­thing . . . ​the imagery could have been painted in a more individualistic style, with more paint­erly flavor, with more paint­erly feeling. Some places are too realistic, and then speaking of realism, other places are not realistic enough, so I’m still not very satisfied, even a ­ fter completing this big painting.6

Shuang nü ti

Li Tianpian explained that she chose to major in oil painting as an undergraduate at the art acad­emy ­because of the technical difficulty. And the colors attracted her. Chinese ink painting seemed too loose and easy compared with the rigor, objectivity, and precision required for realistic oil painting. She said Soviet-­style academic realism had exerted a strong influence on Chinese oil painting over the last ­century. Paint­ers who studied abroad in the Soviet Union brought this style, as well as dominant subject m ­ atter and compositional conventions, back to China.7 She told me that the brushstrokes of this style differed from Eu­ro­pean classicism, that they ­were broader and blunter, more suited to propaganda needs of bold, straightforward communication. Many of her high school and university teachers subscribed to the Soviet School of painting and followed its teaching methodology. When I first glanced over the spring 2001 semester course schedule for the oil painting department at the Central Minorities University, where Li Tianpian and Yuan Yaomin taught, none of the offerings struck me as that dif­fer­ent from the studio art classes I had attended as an undergraduate in the United States: materials, oil painting, sketching, figure drawing, and painting. The only surprise was that male and female figure work ­were divided into separate sections, as if emphasizing specialized skills needed to render anatomical difference, and the female figure section was further subdivided into “single female figure” and “double female figure” (shuang nü ti). When I expressed curiosity about t­hese categories, Li and Yuan ­didn’t understand why I found them so unusual. They explained that painting two figures together added another level of difficulty. When

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was no good. I think it should be brighter and clearer, the red accents

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I pushed them on why “double female figure” did not have a “double male figure” equivalent on the teaching schedule, they laughed, saying t­hey’d never thought about this question before. The only explanation they could come up with was that p­ eople preferred to look at female nudes; they w ­ ere more beautiful. Several of the paintings Li Tianpian completed in her final year as a gradu­ate student depict two female nudes, lying or sitting together. When I ­later asked her more about the rationale b­ ehind studio studies of this shuang nü ti type, she described a pedagogical method of challenging students with increasing levels of difficulty. The ­human figure already represents an advance beyond still life studies. Only upper level students can paint the nude figure. In the beginning, students first work at mastering the h ­ uman head, often from plaster casts. Students then advance to head and torso studies, usually working from a clothed model, and then to the full figure. During their third year, they can fi­nally sketch and paint nudes. They begin with single figures, and eventually teachers pres­ent them with studio poses involving two nude models together. Li Tianpian explained to me that the subtlety required for accurate depiction of the ­human form is doubled with two figures contained within a single frame. Students must also learn to deal with the tonal, spatial, and compositional relationship between the two figures: “Every­thing becomes more complex.” She believed that this teaching method of progressively heightened levels of technical difficulty came from the Soviet Union, as did the convention of double figure exercises. She remembered seeing some “double male figure” studies in Chinese reproductions of Soviet textbooks, and while she had also painted some of ­these over the course of her studies, the shuang nü ti remained the favored form. This classroom exercise emphasized technical proficiency over individual modes of expression. The female bodies represented academic mastery of anatomical correctness, coloration, space, and composition. Shuang nü ti showed up in the work of several other paint­ers I interviewed. Even for ­those who a­ fter graduation explored styles of painting other than realism, double female figures remained an occasional part of their vocabulary. When I asked one of ­these paint­ers about her painting of two ­women lying together on a bed—­a bold expressionist composition with bright colors and thick, loose brushstrokes—­she anticipated the motivation b­ ehind my question. “Foreigners often think this series is of lesbians,” she laughed. “That’s what they see. To me, they are just shuang nü ti.”


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FIG 5.01  ​Li Tianpian, Classic Beauty, 1998. Oil on canvas, 146 cm × 114 cm.

Li Tianpian’s Classic Beauty (figure 5.01), a shuang nü ti painted one year before she completed Red Souvenir, depicts two ­women lying diagonally across bunched swaths of cloth on the floor. One w ­ oman, fully nude, lies on her side, with her back to the second w ­ omen, clad in black bra, underwear, and stockings, who lies on her stomach. Both ­women have their eyes closed. Both wear watches (the models have shed their clothes, but not the time pieces that ­will allow them to gauge how much longer they must hold the pose; both have their arms positioned so they may easily glance at their watches). At the top of the painting, two potted ferns, placed close enough for their leaves to touch, echo the relationship of the two models. When I asked Li Tianpian about the subject m ­ atter in this painting, she mentioned only how difficult the folds in the draperies had been to render. She continued, “As a gradu­ate student, I wanted to depart from extremely classical or traditional styles, ­because they have no individuality, but I ­don’t think I’ve succeeded.” She laughed, and then became momentarily serious and introspective. “I continually think about this prob­lem. This issue of mine, the challenge of painting, it’s a lifelong ­thing, I think . . .” “­There’s still time,” I said, and we both laughed.

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FIG 5.02  ​Title

sequence art, The Red Detachment of ­Women, directed by Xie Jin, 1961. Introductory text and credits appear superimposed over this woodcut print.


The opening image of the Shanghai film production of The Red Detachment of ­Women is a graphically striking woodcut print in tones of red, black, and gray (figure 5.02).8 It depicts ­women in army uniform on the battlefield. They wear caps with red stars and carry red flags, pitchforks, ­rifles, and sickles in silhouette against a pale red sky. In a triangular composition reminiscent of Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the P­ eople, a single ­woman rises higher than the rest on the horizon with one arm raised.9 The following text, accompanied by a dramatic voice-­over rendition of it, then appears on top of this image: “This b­ attle story of a heroic d­ aughter took place on Hainan Island in the south of the Motherland in 1930. That was an era of extreme suffering for Chinese ­people, as well as the era in which the Red Army of young workers and peasants was established.” At the beginning of the film, the heroine Wu Qionghua runs away from a ­house­hold in Guomindang-­controlled Coconut Village, where she serves as a slave girl. The henchmen of the tyrannical landlord Nan Batian quickly capture her. They chain her wrists to the ceiling in a basement prison and whip her, ­until the sympathetic eyes of a Communist spy, the dashing Hong

Soldier Commander

Reporting that two commoners have arrived. (Walks over to Qionghua and Honglian) What are you ­doing ­here?


We’ve come to be ­woman soldiers.


Right, when we w ­ ere reviewing the troops, you came in. That was very daring.


Daring, yes, I can do anything.


Proletariat class?


(Looks around) What?


Do you have any status?


I am a slave girl. I ­don’t have anything.


Good, ­you’re fine. (Looks at Honglian) And you?


I also ­don’t know if I have any status. I was sold to someone when I was ten years old.

Commander Soldiers

Of course that’s proletariat, fine. (Giggling to each other) What a pity to have them . . . ​do you think their marriages have already been arranged . . . ​ ­really!


(Shushing them) Quiet down! ­Really! (To Qionghua and Honglian) You two go take care of formalities.

Qionghua ­Aren’t you the commander? Commander Yes. Qionghua Commander

Then if you say w ­ e’re in, w ­ e’re in. (Quiets down the laughing soldiers again) A ­little more order! You need to go apply and say why you want to join.


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Changqing disguised as a wealthy Overseas Chinese merchant, fall on her tortured body. He tells Nan Batian that he needs a servant and convinces the landlord to give him the troublesome Qionghua. ­After leaving the estate, he ­frees Qionghua, gives her some money for the road, and directs her ­toward Red Stone County, where she’s heard a revolutionary ­women’s detachment is stationed. On the way, she meets Honglian, another ­woman equally determined to join the detachment, and together they arrive in Red Stone Country, where the female troops perform a military review for a group of high-­ranking male officials assembled on a stage above the field. As the troops file off screen, Qionghua and Honglian break through the barricade and run a­ fter them. In the next scene, a female soldier introduces them to the commanding officer of her troop.



Why I want to join . . . ​(marches over to the commander) . . . ​you have to ask why! (She rips open the

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collar of her blouse to show the lash marks on her chest.) For this! To protest! To get revenge! To kill ­those tyrants! Cannibals! Skin them alive! I . . . ​I . . . ​(She stops speaking and covers her chest back up as the uniformed male leader Hong Changqing, no longer in his merchant disguise, walks into the scene.)

In response to the female commander’s instructions to apply for entry by explaining why she wants to join the Communist army, Qionghua exposes her wounds (figure 5.03). An audible ripping accompanies the visual image. In this classic cinematic take on a revolutionary moment of “speaking bitterness,” the ­woman’s body bears the marks of patriarchal feudal oppression. Her politics of exposure become pedagogical; they move the viewer to sympathy but also demonstrate Qionghua’s need for po­liti­cal training. ­Under the tutelage of party leaders in the military, particularly the handsome male officer Hong Changqing, Qionghua learns through error to transform personal rage against her former master into class solidarity. A ­ fter being shown a map of China and realizing that she is part of a larger, collective strug­gle, she devotes herself to the party. Shortly before Changqing dies a martyr to the cause, he informs Qionghua that her application to the party has been accepted. ­After his death, she carries his accouterments of authority—­document case and pocket watch—­and takes up his role as party representative. Film scholar Shuqin Cui describes Hong Changqing as a heroic, transcendent figure who “exemplifies not an individual identity but rather the sociopo­liti­cal and cinematic criteria for art production.”10 Socialist realism, a variant of modernist realism, attempted to document the experience of a collectivity, a class of p­ eople, rather than that of an individual. In its utopian ambitions, to create through cultural production a society that did not yet exist, this revolutionary class does not recognize itself as such. That was the goal of artistic creation, to generate this sense of identification and fold it into po­liti­cal ideology. The male communist Changqing serves as this figure for Qionghua (and viewers of the film), u­ ntil she eventually learns to speak through his voice and, clothed in the gender-­ neutral uniform of the party, transcendently replaces him. In Cui’s analy­ sis, “­Because of her dual identities as social victim and po­liti­cal alien, the repressed female subaltern is a signifying subject unable to speak up for


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FIG 5.03  ​Qionghua

exposes her wounds, The Red Detachment of ­Women, directed by

Xie Jin, 1961.

herself, yet she embodies sociocultural meanings. As the sublime and the subaltern enter into a gendered relation, sexual difference is reduced to rhetorical indoctrination, for the task of the sublime is to teach the subaltern how to speak.”11 With each new technological development, of perspectival painting, photography, and cinema, proponents of realism have lauded their fidelity to life and fa­cil­it­ y at recording the real. (The same might be said about ethnographic data collection methods.) Postmodern theorists have, in turn, shown the lie of realism: how authoritative modes of repre­sen­ta­tion interpret, persuade, and discipline. The theory of Soviet Realism ­adopted in China through the arts did not purport to represent the real, but rather to create the “typical” for heightened po­liti­cal effect. The premier issue of Meishu (Fine arts), an official art journal founded in January 1954, published the first of many monthly translations of essays on Soviet art theory. “On the Prob­lem of the Typical in Painting” defines the “typical” as “not only the frequently seen t­hings but ­those with substance which most completely and most keenly express a certain social power.” The author continues, “According to Marxist-­Leninism, the typical is not a sort of statistical average. The typical is the same as the substance of a certain

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socio-­historical phenomenon; it is not simply the most common, frequently occurring, and ordinary phenomenon. Intentional exaggeration or emphasis on a phenomenon does not exclude the typical; it is a more complete exploration of it. . . . ​The question of the typical is ­under all circumstances a po­liti­cal question.”12 While the oppression of subaltern ­women on Hainan might have been “a sort of statistical average,” embodying sociocultural meaning and revolutionary potential, they gain voice only through the typification of Qionghua’s po­liti­cal transformation in the likeness of Changqing—an act of ventriloquism combined with a costume change. At the film’s end, Qionghua glances down at her inherited pocket watch, and the Red Detachment of ­Women march into the ­future. They sing: “March on and march on. We shoulder serious responsibilities as soldiers and embody deep enmity as w ­ omen. In the past, Hua Mulan joined the army in the name of her f­ather; t­oday ­women of the detachment fight for the ­people.” In the same line that celebrates w ­ omen marching in the same uniform as men, gender difference is also reinscribed. Soldiers, joined by class grievance, shoulder serious responsibilities; ­women, vessel-­like, embody deep enmity. Cross-­dressing, in the generic mode of Hua Mulan from the mythic Chinese past, is not liberatory in a personal sense but a socially acceptable and even publicly mandated form of gender transgression for the greater social good, w ­ hether that be f­amily or nation. The body of the w ­ oman beneath the soldier’s uniform (a dialectical tension between official discourses ­ omen are the same”) inspires the about nannü distinction and “men and w revolutionary imperative of revenge, blood debts that must be paid in kind. She knowingly concealed, a relinquishment rather than expression of individual subjectivity, becomes a cultural symbol of establishing a new moral order. Yet at the same time, in this transgression she extends the range of what is pos­si­ble, even thinkable, for ­women to aspire to, as revolutionaries, paint­ers, and authors of their own image. Li Tianpian, as she sits in the drag of a new era, delicately holding out the edge of her skirt, admires ­these discarded ­women in a way that jostles con­temporary presumptions about what is “naturally” feminine or masculine: “Think about it, ­these original w ­ omen when they started out w ­ ere so beautiful, wearing military uniforms, with straps and supply bags crisscrossing their chests . . .” The Red Detachment does not represent a fixed point in time, but a shifting point of reference to critique the 1990s Chinese notion of men and ­women as essences that c­ an’t be changed but only

Revolutionary Theater

In the early 1960s, Mao Zedong’s wife Jiang Qing began her campaign to revolutionize the performing arts of opera, m ­ usic, dance, and film. She reached the height of her influence during the Cultural Revolution by turning her attention to a realm from which she had once tried to distance herself. In 1930s Shanghai she had worked as a rising stage and screen actress at the same time as her involvement in the Communist underground as a cultural worker. In ­later years, critics questioned her early commitment to the party by pointing to the fame she had sought as a film star; she claimed in response that capitalistic film companies had forced her to sign exploitative contracts with them.13 Her personal history also included ­bitter


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played with, bought and sold on a market that demands sexed bodies to fulfill commodified forms of desire. For the painter, a dif­fer­ent order of difficulty arises at the point of learning to translate “life drawing or painting” studies (in which nudes represent the height of technical difficulty) into the “typical” of socialist or reform-­era po­liti­cal imagery. The models in Li Tianpian’s Classic Beauty painting have been stripped of soldier uniform and appear nearly nude in another manifestation of “liberatory,” titillating feminine drag: sheer black stockings, pan­ties, and brassiere. But this image also contains a punctum, a mundane detail that unravels its bland fantasy. The wristwatches worn by the models appear as an accident of the paint­er’s careful attention to the detail of what exists before her eye in the studio; they signal the tedium of the pres­ent, as the models wait for their next break and their bodies grow stiff in the pose they must hold for the painter to capture. They remind us that they have been hired to lie still, but that time does not stand still. Instead it warps in a disconcerting way, past folding into f­uture, amplifying sacrifice, failure, reversal. The pocket watch inherited by Wu Qionghua ­ omen from Hong Changqing in the filmic version of Red Detachment of W signaled the time for coordinated military advance, ­toward a teleologically determined ­future. The wounds lashed into the ­woman’s flesh ­were covered up by a soldier’s uniform, to create a valiant bearing that made her beautiful in a typological way. Now the whitening creams of reform-­era feminine beauty, or oil pigments of titanium white mixed with yellow ochre and a hint of cadmium red, smooth the wrinkles from flesh laid bare again.

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memories of her ­father’s abuse of her ­mother, which led her ­mother to flee with her as a child into the position of servant in a number of h ­ ouse­holds. As Jiang dedicated herself to a theater of revolutionary heroism, she explained that her focus on the arts emerged from a belief that the superstructure had fallen out of step with the economic base: it lagged b­ ehind, creating a social vulnerability that made a “cap­it­ al­ist restoration” pos­si­ble. Jiang aimed to push the superstructure ahead, advocating ongoing class strug­gle through a transformation of cultural forms. This tenet of her po­ liti­cal theorizing, adapted from Mao, that the superstructure could lead the base, reversed the usual temporality forced by orthodox analysts on ­these meta­phorical concepts in Marx’s writings. In the abstraction of base and superstructure into separate, observable segments of ­human activity, they ­were most often described as sequential, “first material production, then consciousness, then politics and culture.”14 The avant-­gardism of Jiang’s activism did not attempt to dissolve the bound­aries between art and the everyday, as did con­temporary Western theories of the avant-­garde, but to propel culture to the forefront of a bid to make China the center of world revolutionary socialism. In 1963, she began her preparations for a revolutionary model ballet based on the story of the famous Hainan Island Communist ­Women’s Detachment. When she first spoke to the dancers at the Beijing Dance Institute, she told them that the 1961 film had been flawed but she believed in her ability to mold the narrative to express true revolutionary princi­ples. The stage production would eventually be lauded as a realization of Mao’s concept to “make the old serve the new and t­ hings foreign serve t­ hings Chinese.” Jiang Qing’s English-­language biographer Roxanne Witke claims that this and her other model dramas also created a theater based on the theme of revenge, an emotional substratum largely ignored in doctrinaire Marxist-­Leninist po­liti­cal theory.15 Mao, in his “Talks at the Yan’an Conference on Lit­er­a­ ture and Art,” had called for cultural workers to provoke love for the peasantry and hatred for their enemies—­tyrannical landlords, Guomin­dang rulers, and Japa­nese imperialists. Jiang’s theater purified vengeance, directing how and against whom it could be unleashed, replacing the terror of history’s uncertainty with the inevitability of bright and shining heroics for the masses to emulate. In the ballet version of Red Detachment of ­Women, the heroine Qionghua (“Jade Flower”) becomes Qinghua (“Clear China”). She flees on her own from the tyrant’s dungeon, but his guards chase her down and whip and


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beat her viciously. They leave her for dead. A violent rainstorm wakes Qinghua from her stupor. She rises to dance before fainting again. The Red Army officer Hong Changqing finds her and points her on the road to revolution. When she arrives at the Red Army base, she runs forward to press her face to the flag. The members of the detachment are identified as ­women of the Li ethnic nationality, to further accentuate the oppression of old China against minorities. The soldiers welcome Qinghua, and she pours out her story of suffering in a dance that reenacts how she was almost beaten to death. She joins the unit and learns with the o­ thers sitting before a blackboard on which the following lesson has been written: “Only by emancipating all mankind can the proletariat achieve its own final emancipation.” They overthrow the tyrant, liberate the ­people of Coconut Grove, and ­after Hong Changqing dies a defiant martyr to the cause, Qinghua declares: “Oh, Party, you rescued me from an abyss of bitterness. You raised me to maturity in the flames of class strug­gle. I pledge to model myself a­ fter Comrade Hong. I ­shall be a revolutionary and never leave the battlefield ­until the red flag waves over the Five Continents and Four Seas!” The choreography drew ele­ments from classical ballet as it had been introduced to China in the 1950s by Rus­sian ballet instructors and from Chinese opera. This synthesis of movements drawn from two bourgeois repertoires was used to advocate proletariat heroes. In par­tic­u­lar, female dancers made a sharp break from the fragile, feminine movements of the past, and the poor, working classes w ­ ere represented as strong and positive rather than vulgar. Jiang Qing attended to details as fine as the art of patching. Worn work clothes of proletarian characters could not appear plain or shabby through “plain realism” or sloppy patches. Jiang directed the com­pany tailors to craft beautiful costumes that represented hardship artistically. In Red Detachment of W ­ omen (figure 5.04), long black whip lashes are painted across the legs, arms, chest, and back of the red silk outfit worn by Qinghua when she flees from the tyrant. They no longer mark the flesh. In 1972, the Foreign Languages Press in Beijing produced an En­glish version of the collectively revised script for The Red Detachment of ­Women.16 This publication intended for foreign circulation is covered in brilliant red silk. Since 1963, the China Ballet Troupe had performed this ballet and this ballet alone. The script for the scene in which Qinghua tells her story of suffering to the Red Detachment pres­ents the action as follows.

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FIG 5.04  ​China

Ballet Troupe, Red Detachment of ­Women, 1970.

The com­pany Commander notices the welts on her arms and asks her about herself. For generations Qinghua’s ­family suffered bloody oppression. Fury wells up in her heart. She pours out the story of the crimes of the Tyrant of the South. (Solo dance.) She pulls up her sleeves and reveals the whip marks covered with blood. (She does “ce shen xi tui,” “zhan chi dun zhuan” and “bei shen gui bu.”)17 She tells of the tortures she endured in the Tyrant’s dungeon. (From “pang yue bu—­jeté fermé” she turns to “zu jian bing li—­soutenu en tournant.” In the “zao xing” she shows how she was chained in the Tyrant’s dungeon.) She tells how she was nearly beaten to death by the Tyrant in the coconut grove. (She does “tan hai fan she” and expresses her fury in “liang xiang.”)18 Hong points out the cruelties inflicted on Qinghua’s ­family for generations as a lesson to the soldiers and peasants, saying: “Her suffering is ours. Her hatred is ours. Slaves must arise. But only by taking up guns and waging revolution u ­ nder the guidance of our ­great leader Chairman Mao and the Chinese Communist Party can we win a new world and liberate hundreds of millions of suffering p ­ eople.” (He does “xi tui da tiao,” and “kong zhuan—­tour en l’air” and performs “liang xiang” with an arm extended.)


A month ­after we first met, Li Tianpian and I chatted in her small room at the Central Minorities University. I’d gone that morning to her life drawing class to sketch together with her students. She had also set up an easel in the classroom to work on a study of the model. She lived in an older two-­story dormitory in a forgotten corner of campus, b­ ehind a dusty cordoned-­off site where workers ­were constructing a new classroom building. As we sat on her mattress on the floor, leaning our backs against the cool plaster wall, she told me about her youth. She grew up in the large northern industrial city of Shenyang in Liaoning Province. During the 1970s and 1980s, her f­ ather worked as a designer for a synthetic textile factory. It was a large light industry enterprise, like one of the many state-­owned enterprises in the northeast region, each of which could employ up to tens of thousands of ­people. Her ­father designed advertisements, trade show materials, clothing, and brand log­os. As early


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On February 22, 1972, President Richard Nixon viewed a per­for­mance of The Red Detachment of W ­ omen in Beijing. When he asked Jiang Qing to tell him the name of the director, she replied that it had been created by the masses. The follow day, the New York Times ran a commentary on the ballet. The reviewer noted the accomplished achievement of ballet in China since it was first imported twenty years earlier when the Minister of Culture Mao Dun arranged for some of the best Bolshoi teachers to teach in Beijing. “What­ever the Chinese may feel t­oward the Rus­sians nowadays, one debt of gratitude (two, if you include the atomic bomb) remains. It was the Rus­sians who made it pos­si­ble for the Chinese to combine toe slippers and r­ ifles, and with splendid effect.”19 The National Broadcasting Com­pany aired a film version of the revolutionary model ballet on U.S. tele­vi­sion on March 12, 1972. Qinghua steps out to take her bow in a new incarnation as international ambassador. Did Nixon grasp the symbolic importance of Hainan, an island nearly the size of Taiwan, which the Communists had liberated only in April 1950, ­after the Americans chose not to back the Nationalists in their claim to the territory? Amid Cold War tongue-­in-­cheek rhe­ toric about bombs and ballet slippers, Qinghua’s leap onto U.S. tele­vi­sion screens signaled the f­ uture transfer of diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, ­under Jimmy Car­ter in 1979.

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as the 1980s, when his work unit ­really prospered, he wore white dress shirts and flew on planes for business trips, especially to the south, where he served as a textile factory technical con­sul­tant. She remembered the gifts—­rationed meat and fruit and piles of books—he brought back from his trips. And the benefits provided by the work unit w ­ ere undeniably good. She liked drawing from a very young age. The kindergarten attached to the work unit had dedicated teachers who encouraged her to draw and paint, and she produced pictures—of Tian­anmen Square, chickens, cars, and jeeps, she especially liked jeeps—to gain their praise. She attended a key elementary school, where the teachers entered her in all sorts of contests and exhibits. Her ­mother taught En­glish at a ­middle school, and she asked one of the art teachers ­there to tutor Tianpian and her younger ­sister at his home, which he did for ­free. Comparing socialist ethics of communality with ­today’s market-­driven social relations, Li Tianpian noted, “­People ­were just like that back then. ­Today ­things are dif­fer­ent. If I ­were to tutor you, we’d discuss how much for each class session, it’s very clear, one class, eighty, one hundred, what­ever. Back then if a teacher saw you ­were a good kid, even if you w ­ eren’t in his class or school, just a friend’s child . . . ​well, he had a feeling of responsibility and would want to teach you. Teachers then ­were like that, they ­really d­ idn’t think in terms of remuneration, but would just let you go to their ­house ­every day to paint.” This teacher eventually took her to the local government-­run Young Pioneer Palace, which provided ­free art classes with expert teachers. She attended classes t­ here ­every weekend with students of many dif­fer­ent ages. During winter and summer vacations, they took trips out of the city to draw from life. Her ­mother spent all of her money so that Tianpian could take trips to places like Mount Tai. She entered more contests and exhibits and started winning prizes. She laughed, “I had a big pile of awards. . . . ​I was ­really proud of myself, thought I was ­really something.” She tested effortlessly into a key m ­ iddle school and also started attending after-­school classes at the Lu Xun Acad­emy of Fine Arts, located near her home in Shenyang. T ­ hese classes offered university entrance exam coaching for students who wanted to test into art academies. At twelve years old, she was one of the youn­gest students, and she watched as the older students—­ some from technical or art schools—­tried to pass the fiercely competitive entrance exam. Many tried year ­after year without passing before they fi­nally gave up. Some did very well on the art section, but ­couldn’t get high enough scores on the general humanities exam. In her second year of


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­ iddle school, she met a girl who had tested into the attached high school m of the Central Acad­emy in Beijing and gave her the idea to register for the exam the following year. She passed it easily. In 1985, she moved to Beijing, where she spent three years at the high school run by the Central Acad­emy of Fine Arts. When she first arrived, the be­hav­ior and dress of some of the older students shocked her. In contrast with the neat school uniform ­she’d grown up wearing, they dressed casually in the latest city fashions. They danced disco, listened to Michael Jackson and Madonna, and had multiple boyfriends. Gradually she adapted to life at the school, where most of them also lived, but about certain t­ hings, especially romance and sex, she felt she had a deep-­rooted traditionalism. Their schedule was divided into half days of regular subjects and half days of art classes. In the beginning, she ­really liked sculpture, but eventually deci­ded to specialize in oil painting. It was one of the most difficult courses to test into at an art acad­emy. In her third year, she registered for the university exam, and again easily tested into the China Acad­emy of Art in Hangzhou. She entered the acad­emy in the fall of 1988 as the youn­gest of thirteen students in the first-­year oil painting class. New ideas, trends, and exhibits had begun to explode onto the art scene; suddenly every­one seemed to have their own styles. She recalled that she and her classmates spent all of their time enthusiastically reading, thinking, discussing. When the student movement in the spring of 1989 began gaining nationwide momentum, she joined other students in the streets. But she was young; she said she ­didn’t ­really understand the po­liti­cal situation and just went along like a child ­going to see the excitement, like an observer of a theatrical production. Classes had come to a standstill. Her parents urged her not to participate in the protests. ­After June 4, when the central government shut down communication and transportation lines between north and south, she grew frightened. She thought if regular travel w ­ eren’t resumed, she ­wouldn’t be able to see her ­family. If a war broke out, her life would be ruined. “Let’s not talk about this anymore,” she told me. “My life in university was ­really ideal.” She graduated a­ fter four years, one of the eight students left in their original class of thirteen and one of only two ­women. A few had dropped out. Two had gone to Rus­sia. She moved back to Shenyang where she had been assigned to the city’s Cultural Center (wenhua guan). She ­didn’t like this unstructured lifestyle; she felt aimless, with no pressure or inspiration. She received assignments to teach master classes at vari­ous places around the city. She painted on her own, but soon she deci­ded she

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wanted to continue her studies. A national rule stipulated that a­ fter two years of work, one could apply to gradu­ate school. But a­ fter two years the director of the Cultural Center refused to give her permission. What­ever he said stood, and she felt confused and para­lyzed. She panicked, thinking she would spend her life buried in a place surrounded by p­ eople who came to work to read the newspaper and drink tea. She took on some work at an advertising agency, but this lifestyle did not appeal to her e­ ither. Her bosses and customers treated her like a girl rather than a talented designer. They expected her to stay out late at night to accompany them at banquets. She described her repulsion at having to greet new clients who held onto her hand for too long. She quit. A ­ fter four years at the Cultural Center, the director retired, and she immediately registered for the gradu­ate school exam. Again, she passed all of the hurdles smoothly and returned to Hangzhou. Since receiving her master’s degree and moving to Beijing to teach at the Central Minorities University, she tried, unsuccessfully in her own opinion, to leave b­ ehind the classical, realist style that enabled her to test into progressively advanced levels of the official art education system. But she also strug­gled with a sense that oil painting d­ idn’t r­eally m ­ atter in the new economy. She reflected on a spiritual reversal, in which material practicality now mattered more than anything e­ lse, with t­hose in the arts privileging design. She lamented, “In the past some poets r­ eally gained ­people’s worship, poets, writers, paint­ers. But not anymore. Now they worship ­people who are financially successful, who have high social and economic standing. . . . ​Sometimes I think about what my function in society is. For example, I have continued to teach students, to teach them to follow the road I’ve taken. When I educate them, when I guide them, it’s not with the same lofty ideals I used to have. I can no longer tell them that to be a painter, to be an artist, to devote oneself to art is ­really worth pursuing.” Laughing with resignation, she concluded, “I used to think I was more accomplished than other p­ eople, I wanted to take the hardest tests and go to the best schools. But suddenly I realized that society had stealthily changed. I already w ­ asn’t so remarkable. I’d become that kind of person on the margins of society, a paint­er.” A parallel runs between the way she narrated her life as an art student and teacher and how she reflected on the life course of her parents. She described the feeling of success and accomplishment her ­father had when his factory reached the height of its production. Eventually his position (ironically, he was a designer, but for a state-­run com­pany) fell victim to


We sat again on Li Tianpian’s mattress on the floor t­ oward the end of that summer. The lights w ­ ere turned off to keep the room cooler. Sweat beaded our ­faces as we ate popsicles and watched a line of ants crawling up the wall. She told me it w ­ asn’t worth trying to stop their invasion. I asked


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the privatization drive of the 1990s. She told the denouement of their story, “But now, the national enterprises have all gone u ­ nder, every­one is laid off, and his heart often cannot bear it. In fact, when ­things first started to turn bad, he got sick for a while. He ­can’t accept this real­ity psychologically. The two of them, my f­ ather and m ­ other’s generation, night and day, they offered up their lives. Sometimes I ­really think about it, I ­don’t want to do the same.” In an attempt to find a way out of her current situation, she frequently turned to the topic of marriage. She longed to leave ­behind her cramped teacher’s dorm room, without its own kitchen or bathroom, where painted canvases rested against bookshelves and bars covered the sole win­dow. At thirty-­one, she felt like she was getting too old to stay single. Three of her friends from school all got married around the same time a few years ago. She ­really envied them at the time, but now all of them are divorced. One of them had a husband who drank and gambled and beat her, but they got to the United States before she divorced him. The husband of another often left home for long business trips, and they gradually grew apart. The third left her husband for one of his friends who helped her apply to study abroad in ­England. If she got married, she would have better housing, but she still harbored the ideal of finding someone she would want to stay with for life. Her other option for attaining a more comfortable life was learning to paint the kinds of paintings that sell well. She had sold a few paintings, studio still life and figure paintings, through a Taiwanese gallery. She planned to look around galleries more to try to understand what did well on the market. She claimed that she had grown up and realized the significant difference between men and ­women. She felt she ­didn’t have enough physical strength to do the work required, to do enough research, to paint large paintings without wearing herself out. Even though she used to be able to do all ­these ­things without a prob­lem, she convinced herself now that it was men’s work.

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about the man she was dating when I last saw her. She looked a ­little annoyed and told me she no longer seemed able to attract him. When she called him, he ­didn’t answer. When he fi­nally returned her call a few days ­later, he gave a vague excuse. She sighed and said he ­didn’t seem serious about her. He only wanted to hang out in her room, talking or holding her. She thought they should go out sometimes. It was weird that he only wanted to come to her room, like he ­didn’t want to be seen in public together. She felt self-­conscious. Most p­ eople thought she should be married at her age, but she ­didn’t want to get married just for better housing. If she remained single and a teacher at the university, her quality of life would not improve significantly. She said she ­didn’t want much, just an apartment big enough for her parents to come stay with her and enjoy life in Beijing when they wanted. “Are Americans like this,” she asked me, “do they think about repaying their parents ­later in life? I d­ on’t want much.” She had asked me to come over that day b­ ecause she wanted to talk about what it would take to study in the United States. We discussed the need for her to improve her En­glish skills. She had been accepted for a two-­month artist residency at the well-­known Vermont Studio Center, where she had also been given a fellowship to cover studio and living expenses. I translated the information they sent her and helped her fill out vari­ous forms. She asked what museums she should go to see in New York if her visa for the trip came through. A few of her classmates now lived in New York, where they got by painting portraits for hire. ­They’d told her that in a good month, they could make two to three thousand dollars. I watched her calculate the figures in her head. She concluded that if she scrimped and could save a thousand dollars a month, she would have to work for three years like this to accumulate enough for an apartment in Beijing.


Although I kept the postcard of Li Tianpian’s painting Red Souvenir taped to the wall over my desk, I was never able to see the four large canvases of the original work. With no space to keep it in her room, she had stored it away in a school ware­house. Reduced from its monumental size to an easily circulated postcard, the ­women it depicted might be privately viewed


I had just emerged from the subway at the end of October 2001 when I got a call from Li Tianpian on my cell phone. Amid the noise of the street, I heard her bright laughter on the other end as she asked me if I knew that it was the American holiday Halloween. She invited me to go to a disco with her that night. Some of her friends who went to the Halloween party the previous year had a ­great time. They dressed up in crazy outfits and danced with all of the foreigners ­there. I begged off saying I’d been feeling tired lately. Since our last meeting, I’d gone back to the United States for a short trip. I suggested we get together soon ­because I had something I wanted to give her. I’d brought back a small pres­ent for her, a map of art museums in New York. She said something about still not having enough money for her plane ticket, but we’d talk more soon. I promised to call, and then we hung up. Her Halloween phone call reminded me of the funny story she told me about first arriving in Beijing from Shenyang to attend high school. The class above hers had or­ga­nized a welcome party. They held it at night in one of the classrooms. They put on m ­ usic and started d­ oing what she called “disco dance.” Then they turned the lights off and continued dancing. She stood ­there in her old school uniform thinking, “What are they ­doing?” When she got back to her room, she wrote in her diary that t­ hese students ­were a “host of demons dancing wildly.” I called her several times that winter and spring, whenever I noticed the plastic-­coated Artwise Manhattan map on my bookshelf, but no one ever answered.


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and easily forgotten. However, over the months I gradually got to know Li Tianpian better, its layered imagery stuck in my mind. It contained within its frame a history of Chinese art acad­emy oil painting, discontinuities between real­ity and repre­sen­ta­tion, and Li Tianpian’s place in a national history signified and resignified through practices of visualizing ­women’s bodies. How could the Red Detachment ­women have married the ­enemy? How laughable, this revolutionary romance thrown off like an old set of clothes. How could she now feel that, as a ­woman, she ­didn’t have enough physical strength to paint large paintings without wearing herself out, and yet consider painting foreigners’ portraits for three years?


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Several months ­later, just over a year since I’d first met Li Tianpian, I bumped into Yuan Yaomin at an exhibit opening. She asked if I’d heard. I shook my head, not understanding the question. She pulled me aside and said, “She’s gone.” Li Tianpian had successfully gotten a visa to the United States, but ­hadn’t been able to get together the money for a plane ticket. She managed to reschedule her residency at the Vermont Studio Center for a ­later time. In late November, she went out with a male friend. She was worried about still being unmarried in her thirties, and many friends had started setting up dates for her. Her date was driving. They left Beijing for the nearby countryside to take photos. T ­ here was an accident. They both died in the crash on November 24. Yuan Yaomin whispered to me that this was the date of her original visa for the United States. ­After I heard this news, I walked around in a daze for an hour or more. The gallery I’d gone to for the exhibition stood in section of Beijing that, like many o­ thers, was in the ­middle of being razed. I walked along the ruins of what had once been the southern edge of the old city wall. I could already see more of the ruined wall than a few months before. The ramshackle one-­story dwellings that had once butted up three deep against the wall had been reduced to piles of bricks, garbage, and dry dirt. When I had walked along this stretch of road a year or half a year earlier, I’d watched ­people hanging their clothes out to dry on wire lines strung between trees and noticed the even spacing of the bricks weighing down tar paper on the roofs. The remaining rubble now struck me as one of the city’s many open wounds, an injury made temporarily manifest, that would soon be covered up with shiny glass and chrome, like the high-­rise office and shopping complexes across the street. My mind turned to a traffic accident I had recently witnessed near my apartment. A ­woman lay on the inclined side of an exit ramp from the second ring road, with a crumpled bicycle next to her. She lay on her back, with the glasses on her face bumped at an awkward ­angle. Vomit ran from her half-­open mouth across her cheek and onto her chest. The police had begun drawing a white line around her body. It was hot and dusty. The sky was heavy with clouds and pollution. It ­wouldn’t start raining for several more hours. All I had w ­ ere my rambling questions on tape and her cheerful voice trying to respond to my inquiry into her ­career as an artist.

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When I first explained my research to Li Tianpian, she told me my study would possess objectivity; I would recognize t­hings that she could not. All I have are small fragments, symbols of outdated, bankrupt glory and idealism, and her hopeful laughter. The latter, her story, resists the social scientist’s task of analy­sis. I want only to do justice, to memorialize in a tableau vivant of costumed figures, each in the drag of its own era, the failed heroics of history, which layered together may communicate something about what gets suppressed at the moment of repre­sen­ta­tion. What remains unrepresentable in heroic figuration. Picking her way through a ruined landscape of repre­sen­ta­tion, Li Tianpian painted the Red Detachment in the wake of their rise and fall, recuperating their image even though it must be read through every­thing that has happened since: the po­liti­cal excesses of the Cultural Revolution; China’s bid to “link tracks” not with world socialism but transnational capitalism; the transformation of the state art system that trained her; and the emergence of a postsocialist allegory about how socialism repressed “natu­ral” gender with its androgynous repre­sen­ta­tions. Meanwhile, Li Tianpian strug­gled with the revaluation of art in China according to an international market, in which her repre­sen­ta­tional skills had become marginal. She calculated how she might get by in a rapidly changing society: by ­either attracting an entrepreneur as a marriage partner or learning to paint the kinds of paintings that would sell well. She was bothered not necessarily by how art misrepresents, but by how mundane real­ity is when you slip ­behind the scenes of the typical and end up marrying the e­ nemy. The narrow addition of her self-­portrait, dividing a space between ­those red ­women of the past, salvages them from a fate of becoming discardable national kitsch, the kind especially enjoyed by foreign tourists, and turns their twentieth-­century pageant into a play of sorrow rather than nostalgia. Her presence within turns the image into something doubled-­edged: an intensified collection of ideals passionately pursued, a repository of utopian dream, inevitably flattened into heart-­breaking two-­dimensionality. The cult of individual authorship steps out in the guise of privatization and market economics. Her style slides sideways out of time. The superstructure again appears to lag b­ ehind the base. Naturalized gender competes with class as a meaningful social category. Art and marriage alike shimmer like commodities and promise access to the world.

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FIG 5.05  ​China

Ballet Troupe, Red Detachment of ­Women, 1970; Li Tianpian, Red Souvenir (detail), 1999. Composite by author.

A congratulatory reviewer of Jiang Qing’s Red Detachment of W ­ omen ballet wrote of Wu Qinghua’s liang xiang as she leapt from the tiger’s mouth of Coconut Grove that it was “fleeting but impressive, like a flash of lightning.”20 He also exclaimed: “How can this tremendous leap fail to scare world reaction out of its wits!”21 In his “­Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Walter Benjamin wrote of how the past is charged with the time of the pres­ent: “Fashion has a flair for the topical, no ­matter where it stirs in the thickets of long ago; it is a tiger’s leap into the past. This jump, however, takes place in an arena where the ruling class gives the commands. The same leap in the open air of history is the dialectical one, which is how Marx understood the revolution.”22 For many months ­after I learned of Li Tianpian’s death, I ­couldn’t listen to our taped conversations, let alone contemplate constraining her life with my interpretation. But her painting, once stored in a school ware­house,


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dis­appeared. Reduced from its monumental size to a fading postcard, the ­women it depicted stood ­little chance of being remembered. So I began to write in order to not forget. For the sake of the w ­ omen buried in oblivion, whose bodies have been overwritten by male and national desire, I want to remember.23 Red Souvenir remains full of mytho-­historical symbols frozen in time. It teems with images of unrealized potential. It ­will not be recognized in the current climate as a ­great or even a good painting, but this is exactly what infuses it with historical meaning. It is a shuang nü ti over time, a double-­ figured dialectic of w ­ omen attempting escape who force us to question the relationship between the repre­sen­ta­tion and the real.

Opening the ­Great Wall


On May 17, 2001, several busloads of art enthusiasts and journalists arrived at Jinshanling, a site on the G ­ reat Wall 140 kilo­meters northeast of Beijing. They proceeded to climb the wall to view an installation created by a German artist named H. A. Schult. His piece consisted of one thousand life-­size figures constructed from recycled consumer waste. Before China, he had displayed ­these trash ­people—­which he has described as “­silent witnesses to a consumer age that has created an ecological imbalance worldwide”—at a re-­created Roman village in Germany, the Arc de la Defence in Paris, and Moscow’s Red Square.1 As the assembled audience wandered through his installation, a ­woman suddenly emerged from their midst. Chinese artist He Chengyao had spontaneously stripped off her red shirt. Marching half-­nude between the columns of Schult’s figures, she quickly diverted media attention and cameras ­toward her exposed torso. He Chengyao called her action per­for­mance art and retrospectively titled it Opening the G ­ reat Wall (Kaifang changcheng) (plate 15). Photo­graphs taken that day by reporters appeared on numerous websites. Popu­lar and art circle reactions ensued. Was what she had done art? This moment proved to be a turning point in He Chengyao’s c­ areer. It also served as a turning point in how I understood my role as anthropologist in the field. Through my ongoing conversations with He Chengyao, which began before Opening the ­Great Wall and continued ­after, I came to appreciate how my participation in Chinese con­temporary art worlds led to the production of ethnographic knowledge that, in Fred Myers’s words, “be­ hether comes inescapably part of what it represents.”2 In consideration of w or not what He Chengyao did was art, I pres­ent several of the public responses to her per­for­mance on the ­Great Wall—as proliferating, conflicting interpretations of what it means for a ­woman to take off her clothes. The multiple discourses that it activated demonstrate the instability of a cultural object called art and what is at stake for ­those invested in how it represents China. I then turn to He Chengyao’s story, but at a moment before Opening

Interpreting He Chengyao’s Opening the ­Great Wall

I was not t­ here when He Chengyao stripped off her shirt, diverting media attention and cameras away from Schult, but within days I began to hear stories of what had happened. Chinese friends of mine with no connection to the art world had seen photos of the event on the web and questioned ­whether any of it was art, Schult’s installation or He Chengyao’s public nudity. I also found myself puzzling over the news. I had known He Chengyao for several years and thought of her primarily as an oil painter, although she had recently moved to Beijing from Chongqing to take a one-­ year course on con­temporary art at the Central Acad­emy of Fine Arts. When He Chengyao called me a few weeks l­ater, she was anxious and upset, on the verge of tears. She asked if I’d heard about her first attempt at per­for­mance art. She had come ­under attack by critics, including art commentators and fellow artists, who disparaged her action as immoral and profiteering. During a ­later conversation at her apartment, she asked me if I believed in spirit possession. What did I know, as an anthropologist, about this phenomenon? A ­ fter being repeatedly questioned about her motivation that day, it seemed to her the most plausible explanation for what she had done. Some of the critics who lambasted her per­for­mance expressed their opinions anonymously through website postings, but in her hometown of Chongqing, her husband’s art acad­emy colleagues criticized him for letting her leave home to pursue an art ­career in Beijing. While certainly a response to her public exposure, their criticism was not necessarily directed at the question of female nude as art. Nude paintings w ­ ere first publicly shown in the prc in 1979, and Yin Guangzhong’s G ­ reat Wall (figure 6.01) was shown that spring on Democracy Wall, where artists openly criticized the Cultural Revolution. Over two de­cades before He Chengyao, he conjoined the nude and this national symbol, in the depiction of a ­couple, the female nude


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the ­Great Wall. To understand the circumstances that made this per­for­ mance pos­si­ble, I give an account of her personal trajectory from a town in Sichuan to the cultural capital of Beijing. This narrative includes a ­family history I had recorded with her several months earlier, which unbeknownst to ­either of us at the time would shape her interpretation of her per­for­mance on the ­Great Wall and lead her to create two parallel series of photographed per­for­mances.

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FIG 6.01  ​Yin Guangzhong, G ­ reat Wall, 1979. Oil on canvas. Photo­graph by Joan Lebold Cohen. Image: Regents of the University of Michigan, Department of the History of Art, Visual Resources Collections.

facing forward, atop a pile of skulls. The G ­ reat Wall binds together the figures, who strain against its control.3 Nudity in oil painting (meaning by and large female nudity), although once considered a bourgeois form of expression, underwent a period of normalization in China during the 1980s and 1990s, and a growing market for this work provided an alternative to state patronage.4 The criticism of He Chengyao’s per­for­mance as immoral singled her out in a telling way. Several male per­for­mance artists in China have incorporated partial or full nudity in their work, but none had been attacked along ­these lines. Some of their per­for­mances also took place on the ­Great Wall. In 1998, for example, artist Ma Liuming enacted one of his per­ for­mances of gender ambiguity—in which he makes up his face and long hair to accentuate a performative femininity but strips naked to reveal his male genitalia—by walking a ruined section of the ­Great Wall as another border transgressed. What seemed to be at issue was a ­woman exposing her own body for the public eye and calling it art. Photo­graphs of the per­for­mance and debate over its worthiness as art appeared in places beyond the usual art media sources. A website devoted

On May 17, 2001, at 3:00 PM, as German artist H. A. Schult displayed the one thousand trash ­people he had constructed from consumer waste and then transported to Jinshanling on the ­Great Wall, a brash ­woman flashed from the crowd of observers—­Chinese artist He Chengyao. In a sudden movement, she pulled off her bright red shirt, grasped it in her hand, and like Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the ­People escorted the audience (including H. A. Schult) through the troops of trash ­people and leapt from the wall onto a beacon tower. In the words of discerning ­people, Goddess He had very intelligently raised an exposed yet restrained double-­edged sword over the stage put up by Schult’s four million marks, and stole his thunder.6

This critic likened her per­for­mance to Liberty Leading the ­People, in which a bare-­chested ­woman with gun and French tricolor in hand leads armed citizens over piles of lifeless bodies, and thereby serves as an allegorical repre­sen­ta­tion of revolution: a comparison that highlights the central role of w ­ oman in symbolically standing for the nation. Delacroix’s piece has


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to health issues, for example, published an article ­later picked up by several other websites; it compared He Chengyao’s per­for­mance to recent commercial spectacles in which scantily clad or naked w ­ omen served as the main attraction. In an event described by the article’s author, four female models posed outside a telecommunications store, revealing their bare backs onto which the new design of a cell phone had been painted. The author states: “Currently, ‘disrobing’ slides ­toward a commercial objective. To disrobe in the name of art seems an easy way to attract the interest of the media, as easy as stir frying vegetables at high heat, but it only takes a l­ ittle art experience and critical ability to realize that taking off one’s clothes in the name of art is ­really quite a clumsy and inferior effort.”5 He Chengyao’s per­for­mance was not art, in this editorialist’s assessment, ­because of its similarity to new gendered forms of commercialization in which the ­woman’s body literally becomes the medium for commodity image. An altered photo­graph of the per­for­mance appeared in the August 2001 issue of Vision 21, a Chinese magazine, new that year, devoted to fashion, culture, and photography. The editors explained to He Chengyao that they had pixilated her chest so as not to violate a recent Ministry of Culture public memorandum prohibiting per­for­mances broadcasting pornography, superstition, or vio­lence. Their choice to obscure her nudity strategically presented the photo­graph as news rather than art that might offend. A short text accompanied the image:

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often been noted as one of the first po­liti­cal works of modern painting. Sino-­Soviet exchanges that led to the development of socialist realism as an international style adapted French academic painting to new po­liti­ cal ends. Liberty Leading the ­People became a pedagogical standard, which academy-­trained artists in China knew well. Chen Yifei and Wei Jingshan drew on its composition for their well-­known national history painting, The Taking of the Presidential Palace, commissioned for the Military Museum in Beijing. The opening image of the 1961 Shanghai film production of The Red Detachment of ­Women also mirrors Delacroix’s composition and subject ­matter. In its woodcut print of female soldiers on the battlefield, a ­woman with her arm raised in the air emerges on the horizon, from ­behind the triangular shape of a red flag that cuts diagonally across her body. As explored in the previous chapter, the film’s heroine Wu Qionghua comes to represent the nation. Although He Chengyao did not include her likeness in her work, as Li Tianpain did, Wu Qionghua would become an impor­tant referent in her interpretation of her G ­ reat Wall per­for­mance. In response to the Vision 21 article, one of He Chengyao’s friends, an artist and critic writing ­under a pseudonym, wrote a review in defense of her spontaneous per­for­mance: At first glance, He Chengyao, now called “Goddess,” ­can’t be d ­ oing anything ­else but plotting to borrow the ready-­made stage erected by the German H. A. Schult’s huge monetary expenditure, all in order to find her own place in the limelight. Although the author does use the word “intelligent” to describe her, it seems a bit sour in tone since the w ­ hole article leads readers to believe that by stealing Schult’s thunder, He Chengyao opportunistically aimed to gain artistic fame. However, d ­ on’t forget that the exhibition of H. A. Schult’s artwork, for which he laid out the large sum of four million marks, employed the five-­thousand-­year-­old Chinese symbol of the ­Great Wall. That if nothing ­else is profiteering. Not only is Schult the bigger opportunist, he was also first, but this is just a tangent to the topic at hand. Postmodern art is a competition of wits, and as such He Chengyao quite by chance aptly seized this opportunity.7

Four years ­later, in October 2005, He Chengyao and five other Chinese per­for­mance artists appeared in a program titled China Live at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The art reviewer who covered the per­for­mance series for The Guardian began her article with the following statement: “The ­great irony of ­these live per­for­mances by con­temporary Chinese artists is that it gives British audiences the opportunity to see a wide range of work

Leaving Home

He Chengyao and I first met at the CourtYard Gallery in the summer of 1999, roughly three years before her Opening the ­Great Wall per­for­mance. This gallery represented a recent confluence of transnational money and culture in Beijing, where an artist from Sichuan and an anthropologist from the United States ­were both new arrivals. Neither of us knew that our chance encounter would eventually lead to an intermittent but prolonged conversation about gender and con­temporary art, during which He Chengyao would move to Beijing and remake herself as a per­for­mance artist and I would adopt vari­ous roles in relation to her practice: interviewer, translator, videographer, and curator.9 I was attending the opening party for the solo show of a female painter who had recently signed with the CourtYard Gallery. Handel Lee, a Chinese American l­awyer based in Beijing founded the gallery in 1996 as a sideline interest to his l­egal work. In vari­ous interviews in the Western and Chinese press, Lee explained that he wanted to support Chinese con­ temporary art in Beijing, where opportunities to exhibit “avant-­garde” work remained limited.10 He also wanted to cultivate a cosmopolitan appreciation of culture in the heart of China’s capital, a nexus of taste that could compete with the places he enjoyed frequenting in New York. Handel Lee’s staff gutted and renovated the interior of an old stone courtyard building to accommodate the CourtYard restaurant and gallery, located on the moat surrounding the Forbidden City, directly across from the East Gate of the Imperial Palace. The ­house once belonged to a lieutenant of Yuan Shikai, commander of the North China Army who ruled from Beijing a­ fter the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. During the Communist era, the building ­housed a factory before being partitioned into multiple


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that has ­little or no legitimacy in its homeland.”8 The greater irony perhaps is the per­sis­tence of a narrow view of artistic expression as something only truly appreciated in the West. He Chengyao and other Chinese artists who succeed in attracting the attention of foreign art professionals make good on China’s national goal of “entering the world.” By performing in the Victoria and Albert Museum, He Chengyao’s work became validated as art, but in a way that covers up the domestic debate and contention, as well as the history of cultural encounter—­from Delacroix to Schult in China—it lays bare.

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­family dwellings. With new property laws instituted during economic reform, the lieutenant’s descendants reclaimed the building. They sold it to Lee who himself, completing this story of restoration, claimed to be descended from Manchu members of the Qing court. The ground floor of the CourtYard ­housed a restaurant serving Asian-­ European fusion cuisine, mainly patronized by an expatriate and tourist clientele. A curved staircase in the entry­way led downstairs to a white-­cube gallery. A small crowd had gathered for the event, and conversations took place in Chinese, En­glish, and French. Someone offered me a ­ride to the postexhibit party, and as I joined the departing crowd, a former schoolmate of the exhibiting painter walked up beside me, took my arm, and introduced herself. He Chengyao bubbled with questions about my research. She herself had recently arrived in Beijing from Chongqing. She planned to stay for a few weeks to exhibit her paintings at the China Art Exposition, opening in the following week. She was an oil painter, a gradu­ate from the Sichuan Acad­emy of Fine Arts, but Beijing with its stylish new galleries beckoned. I ran into He Chengyao several days ­later as I roamed through rows of numbered booths on the second floor of the massive International Exhibition Center, where the annual China Art Expo had been held since 1995. She and another former classmate split the reasonable expense of renting a small booth. Their works hung on opposite partition walls. Her classmate’s realist oil paintings depicted quaint views of Chongqing’s narrow, hilly alleys. He Chengyao’s paintings featured expressionist nude figures floating in a symbolic landscape of burnt ochre hills, solitary flowers, and land depressions ­shaped like watchful eyes. She ­later sent me a postcard of one of t­ hese paintings, High Noon—­Prayer (figure 6.02), and then we lost touch. Over a year l­ater, in the fall of 2000, I reconnected with her through a small Chinese-­run gallery in Beijing exhibiting her work. The man­ag­er passed on a note from me. When He Chengyao called, we arranged to meet at an artists’ “salon” held in a new commercial development that combined business offices, stores, a ­hotel, and upscale apartments. The eve­ning’s program included a screening of animated art films collected by two Chinese artists who had lived in New York for several years. ­Later we strolled ­toward the bright, steamy win­dows of a nearby hotpot restaurant. As we stirred vegetables and slices of mutton in the boiling pot of broth between us, she told me how she had come to Beijing this time. Through the connections of a friend, she managed to enter the jinxiu ban halfway through. This par­


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FIG 6.02  ​He

Chengyao, High Noon–­Prayer, 1999. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

tic­u­lar two-­year “refresher” course served as an experimental introduction to con­temporary art (dangdai yishu) theory and practice. This was the first time the Central Acad­emy had offered such a course, and the instructor who initiated it remained u ­ nder scrutiny as officials determined w ­ hether it would become a regular offering. He Chengyao turned serious as she explained that this opportunity allowed her to escape from a life in Chongqing that felt increasingly oppressive. In ­later tellings of her departure narrative, she heightened the urgent drama of taking leave by describing how ­she’d gotten stuck in traffic on the way to the Chongqing station. She managed to jump on the Beijing-­bound train only seconds before it pulled away. Her husband and nine-­year-­old son waved from the platform as the train gathered speed. In the mid-1980s, a de­cade and a half before this departure, she had married a painter she met at the Sichuan Acad­emy of Fine Arts. In her early twenties, she gave birth to their son. Now that he was older and more in­de­pen­dent, she felt she had to grasp the chance to emerge from the professional rut of the previous de­cade. In Beijing, she lived cheaply in an apartment near the Central Acad­emy, ­housed temporarily in a defunct

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FIG 6.03  ​He

Chengyao, Hair, 2001. Installation. Courtesy of the artist.

factory work unit in the northeast of Beijing while the new campus was being constructed. She felt judged by several of her classmates, many of whom ­were male or younger w ­ omen, who viewed her move away from her ­family as a sign of unfaithfulness, even promiscuity. But her coursework introduced theories she felt injected new energy into her thinking about art. She now saw her previous paintings as trivial and unrelated to her life. She explained that she continued to paint only to make money. Selling works such as the one I’d recently seen in the gallery helped augment her meager finances. She told me that she had begun working on her first piece of dangdai yishu. I saw the piece several months l­ater at an exhibit featuring works by members of her class. Hair (figure 6.03) consisted of three long plaits of ­human hair, each dyed a dif­fer­ent primary color—­glossy and almost iridescent yellow, red, and blue. A thin piece of glass sandwiched the thick black roots against a glass mount. Above this suspended synecdoche of changing style—­a combination of old-­fashioned braids and trendy new hair color—­a silver plaque read:

Hair Time: End of the 20th ­Century—­Era of Globalization


Place: Unearthed in China, Asia

He Chengyao created this “found object” ­after observing the number of ­people in Beijing with hair dyed in shades of brown and blond, as well as brighter colors. She conducted research in salons around the city, taking photos and talking to customers. She noted that while many sought ­these hairstyles as a globalized fashion statement, they had to continually maintain this mark of distinction, since their black roots always reappeared. With this piece she began to explore the body as a conjunction of art and artifact—­the body as a means of expression, a form of attire, which can symbolize dif­f er­ent identifications, of urbanity, cosmopolitanism, or even ethnic Chineseness. He Chengyao purchased the braids for ­ omen she approached on the street in Beijing Hair from rural mi­grant w and Chongqing. The resulting work of art embodies this transaction, in which hair exchanged for money ended up hanging on a museum wall, as well as a projective historicity that tries to assess the current era from the perspective of the distant f­uture.12 He Chengyao’s shift from oil painting to dangdai yishu involved consciously playing with conventions of repre­sen­ta­tion and museum display, blurring the repre­sen­ta­ tional real of ethnographic artifact with the presumed artfulness of the art object. ­After the exhibit, He Chengyao and I went to dinner with a Beijing curator we both knew. He pushed He Chengyao to explain the motivation ­behind Hair. She cryptically stated her disenchantment with the romanticism of her paintings, describing them as a commercial product that someone would hang in their living room for a few years before throwing them away. The curator’s line of questioning, which came close to accusing her of mimicking Western artists who have used hair as an artistic medium, eventually turned into a mini-­tirade against Chinese teaching methods for con­temporary art.13 He disparaged the practice of looking at slides of work by Western artists, arguing that it taught Chinese artists to copy, and claimed that the only Western artists worth teaching ­were Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys. They had focused on the philosophical question of what it meant to be an artist engaged with society rather than on strict notions of content or form.

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Late 30th ­Century Superior Specimens Exhibit11

The Unspeakable

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A week and a half l­ ater, in March 2001, He Chengyao arrived at my apartment. She had agreed to let me interview her about the experience of becoming an artist. I asked a standard opening question about childhood, and an unexpected monologue poured forth.14 Actually, outside of home, I ­don’t usually say too much about my ­family, ­because I ­didn’t grow up in a good environment. I think sometimes I’m not ­really willing to talk about my private life b ­ ecause it’s so dif­fer­ent from that of other ­people. I ­don’t mean I just want to be like o ­ thers, but the past gives me a lot of pain. Why? Well, now, I see this prob­lem relatively clearly. I think ­every person has a dif­fer­ent experience growing up, and that this experience can give a lot of impetus to one’s so-­called f­uture, and is very related to one’s worldview. So, I think, ­really, to understand an artist’s life experience provides a lot of inspiration for understanding the artwork. But now, I ­don’t look back . . . ​or speak about my experience of growing up.

She laughed uncomfortably and confided that s­ he’d only very recently tried to talk about certain episodes from her childhood but only with her husband. ­After referring to this past as a burden, she hesitated. I assured her that she should only talk about what she felt comfortable telling me. I explained that if I wrote or published anything, I would disguise her identity. She told me that, at this point, she would like me to use a pseudonym if I wrote about any of what she might say.15 Slowly, she continued. ­After I came out of it, I saw that a lot of ­people ­hadn’t had an easy time. Why did I want to see my own past suffering as so painful? I think the reason lies in myself. This spring I’ve been thinking I should go see a psychologist. I feel like a caged wild animal. I just d ­ on’t feel comfortable. I r­ eally want to escape. ­There’s no concrete reason. A ­ fter growing up, I thought t­ here must be some under­lying roots from my childhood that influenced me to feel this way. Why? When I was born, my m ­ other and ­father . . . ​When my ­mother became pregnant, when she had me, she ­really ­didn’t know what . . . ​And she ­wasn’t married to my ­father. ­Because at that time in China, in the 1960s . . . ​

She stopped. Confused, I asked, “Was it during the Cultural Revolution?” “1964,” she replied. “The Cultural Revolution ­hadn’t started yet. At that time, ­people’s attitudes ­towards morality . . . ​in a socialist country, they

saw this breach as very serious. My ­mother was only nineteen years old then.”16 Her voice ­rose in anger.


­Really none of this is a prob­lem. Unmarried, an unmarried m ­ other, a single ­father had no work. They lost their jobs. Their experience was extremely ­bitter. I have to mention something even more removed. When my maternal grand­mother (waipo) was thirty, her husband died. She had to take care of three ­children. My ­mother is the eldest. My ­uncle is number two. My ­mother and my ­uncle went to a ceramics factory. To me, what they did seems just like child ­labor. They ­were just teen­agers when they went. Then the ­family conditions got a ­little better. My ­father ­didn’t gradu­ate from university. He was just one year away from graduating, but in his third year at university, ­there was a nationwide famine.17 He had a strong, solid physique, and he just ­couldn’t get enough to eat at school. He ­couldn’t stay any longer ­because all he felt from morning to night was hunger. He left school and went to a factory to work in art design. It was a ceramics factory. He painted flowers with glaze on ceramics.

“Had he studied art before leaving university?” No, he just liked it. It was a hobby he did in his spare time. He studied a ­little of every­thing. Then, ­after the pregnancy with me, they both lost their jobs at the factory. At that time, the w ­ hole country was very poor. The material state of life was extremely low. My f­ather did spare jobs. He went ­here and t­ here to make a l­ittle money. I ­don’t remember ­things very clearly. But I know my m ­ other was very pretty. By the time I could remember anything, my ­mother had gone crazy. My ­little ­brother and I w ­ ere very scared.

“What kind of ­mental illness did she have?” He Chengyao simply stated, “Her mind became disor­ga­nized.” She slowly continued, “I think it had to do with the pressure on her. ­After giving birth to me, she w ­ asn’t married and was still quite young. She was affected by all the judgmental comments made about her.” In a ­later version of this story that He Chengyao eventually wrote, she narrated with greater economy how her m ­ other’s m ­ ental illness took the form of paranoid, antisocial be­hav­ior. She hit p­ eople and pulled their hair, stripped off her clothes and wandered the town’s streets. In my initial interview with her, she described the memories as they came to her, “In my recollections, I often see her as so frightening. She

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­mother ­isn’t a prob­lem, but back then, ­because of this, my m ­ other and

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would hit my waipo and grab her hair. My waipo was a very traditional Chinese ­woman. A ­ fter she became a married w ­ oman, she arranged her hair in a bun at the back of her head. My mom would grab her hair and pull it to the front. My memories are pretty scattered, but I remember being afraid. ­Every night my mom would run away. I d­ on’t know where she went. She just wanted to run. She ­didn’t want to stay at home. At that time my ­family was pretty hard off. Only my dad went out to make money. My waipo ­really raised me. At that time my ­mother’s younger ­sister also had no work. Only my ­mother’s ­brother was still at the ceramics factory. We all lived together ­after my m ­ other got sick. We all lived together like a traditional Chinese ­family. With my mom’s illness on top of every­thing ­else, we had to.18 We rented someone ­else’s h ­ ouse. ­Behind the h ­ ouse was a river, and ­every summer ­after it rained, the ­water would rise and flood the bridge and our ­house. I remember when I was ­little, in the summer I would often be woken up in the ­middle of the night. They would call out—my childhood name was He Li—­they would call, “He Li, hurry, wake up, get up, the ­water is rising.”

He Chengyao’s waipo, who held a combination of Buddhist and folk beliefs, would often invite fortunetellers to diagnose her ­mother’s illness. Her grand­mother thought she had fallen ill through some offense to a dead person’s ghost. Even though they ­were r­ eally poor and seldom ate meat at the time, her grand­mother would prepare a ­whole ­table full of food—­fish, chicken, vegetables—to feed the visiting seer who would burn paper money to satisfy the ghosts or sprinkle ­water and rice in her ­mother’s room to ward off evil. When I asked if t­hese methods had any effect, she laughed. “Of course they w ­ ere useless! But they relieved my waipo’s heart a l­ittle. She thought that certainly my m ­ other would get a ­little better. She ­really believed that she had gotten better. But in real­ity she ­hadn’t.” “­There was one time,” she began, but then stopped to draw a diagram on a scrap of paper. She added to the sketch as she described the layout of ­ ouse with rooms or­ga­nized around a small open their tianjing (sky well) h courtyard to one side. Several p­ eople slept in each room. A river and farm fields lay nearby. She went on to describe a night when she was ­really small. Her grand­mother and a fortuneteller had left her alone when they went inside to burn money to the kitchen god. A t­ able with a full meal laid out on it stood in the tianjing.

It was dark, ­after eight ­o’clock. At that time ­there w ­ ere no electrical lights. Oil lamps ­were lit. Aiyo, at night, everywhere was completely black. Wind


blew through the tianjing. It blew the flames of the oil lamps back and forth. following right ­behind me. It’s so frightening when you are l­ittle and listen to them say ­there are ghosts ­here and t­ here. . . . ​I started to feel them everywhere, in front, in back, to the left and right, everywhere moving around me. The flames of the oil lamps flickered vaguely back and forth. I ­didn’t want to stay ­there. I thought of r­ unning to the kitchen where they had all gone. But I stood scared stiff by the tianjing. They told me to stand guard ­there while they w ­ ere in the kitchen to make sure no cats ate the food on the ­table. Back then even cats ­were starving and c ­ ouldn’t get their fill. [She laughs.] They ­were afraid cats would eat the food b ­ ecause a ­ fter the food had been offered to the spirits, ­people could eat it.

“What did you think the ghosts ­were like?” I asked. I thought they ­were green-­faced and long-­toothed with very long hair. I thought that when they walked, their footsteps made no sound and they could float through the air. Have you read Tales of Liaozhai?19 It was that kind of haunted feeling. At night I would sit together with the adults. If I sat ­behind them, I would fear ­there was something b ­ ehind me. I would continually turn around to check, but t­ here was never anything ­there. The oil lamps threw up huge shadows. . . . ​ My waipo also liked to have fortunetellers read our fates—­for my m ­ other, me, my ­little ­brother, and my ­little ­sister. I remember one time we went next door to our neighbor’s ­house. They used charts to consult when you ­were born, ­things like that, and to make predictions. I d ­ idn’t understand what they ­were saying. I remember being woken up by my waipo from confused and hazy sleep. S ­ he’d call out, “He Li, ­we’re g ­ oing home.” Then, a ­ fter hearing them talk about this ghost and that ghost, I’d have to follow her down that dark passageway, with only the dim light of the oil lamp to light the way. The ­whole way I kept turning around to try to catch a glimpse of what was following ­behind me.

With barely a pause, He Chengyao turned from talking about ghosts to soldiers. Back then ­there ­were some P ­ eople’s Liberation Army [PLA] soldiers. This was at the time in foreign relations when China was relatively isolated. They had already broken relations with the Soviet Union. It was the 1960s. So

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I was scared out of my wits. I always felt like ­there w ­ ere ghosts, some ­thing

the PLA comrades, [she smiled as she remembered the rhe­toric] we should


say they had “united with the residents.”20 ­There ­were a lot of PLA soldiers

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in our town. ­There was a military factory with a lot of soldiers. At that time the party was advocating for them to “learn from Lei Feng.”21 I think the “learn from Lei Feng” campaign began in 1964. Anyway, some PLA soldiers came to our ­house. T ­ here was one who could do acu­punc­ture, using metal ­needles. I think my waipo was already worn out and at wit’s end. In this frame of mind, she let them give my mom acu­punc­ture.

I asked if acu­punc­ture can help cure ­mental disorders, and He Chengyao replied, No, of course not. I ­don’t think so. They ­didn’t ­really understand this kind of illness. They wanted to try every­thing, ­every kind of folk prescription. ­Later they even made her eat earthworms. They prepared earthworms and white sugar together and gave it to her to eat. When I think of it now, it’s so disgusting. ­Really they ­didn’t have any scientific basis for what they did. They made a ­table, a long ­table, and put it h ­ ere when they gave my mom acu­punc­ture.

She drew a rectangular t­ able in the center of the h ­ ouse, just to the left of the tianjing. Then she drew a figure inside the rectangle and pierced it with short stabs of her pencil to indicate her ­mother’s body infiltrated with po­liti­cal and public meanings. They came to our ­house ­every Sunday to “learn from Lei Feng.” They “learned from Lei Feng” by ­doing “good deeds.” When they came, my waipo prepared lots of ­things for them to eat. We w ­ ere hungry, but she still gave them a lot to eat ­because they ­were helping us. Several PLA soldiers would press my ­mother onto a board, a long board. My m ­ other ­wasn’t willing, so they had to restrain her. Several men would hold her down and stick ­needles in her. I ­don’t know if they put the n ­ eedles into her correct acu­punc­ture points. Why did my ­mother’s muscles shake so? Maybe they got the points wrong. They ­weren’t experts in this. That one PLA soldier, I can still remember him. He was from Nanjing and was called Jin Something. My waipo used to call him ­Little Jin.

­ fter a long pause, I asked, “So you suspect that his skills ­weren’t very A good?” If they had been, then why did my ­mother shake so violently? Now that I think about it, I definitely think they ­didn’t do it correctly. Aiyo, I think my

­mother received so much ­bitter treatment. That’s why my heart aches so badly. And now I feel like t­ here’s nothing I can do for my mom. She’s still the


same. And right now, we ­don’t know where she’s gone. Last semester, a ­ fter My dad said, “Your mom, we ­don’t know where she’s gone.”

“She ran away?” I asked. Mmm.

“And ­hasn’t come home yet?” Yes.

“How long has it been?” Right now, it’s already been several months.

“And she still ­hasn’t come back?” No. . . . ​Before I came to Beijing, before I came to study at the Central Acad­emy of Fine Arts, I ­really wanted to move my mom to Chongqing so that I could take care of her. I wanted her to change environments. She was still in that county town, in Rongchang County. My mom is alone. Afterward my dad got married again. He divorced my mom and married someone ­else. My mom lives on her own. So ­because of this I feel full of regret. I feel like I ­haven’t done anything for my ­mother. Now that I’ve come to Beijing, I feel like I can do some ­things that I like, some creative activities. But if the price is to sacrifice my ­mother . . . ​I think my m ­ other . . . ​­because a ­ fter she dies, ­after she’s gone . . . ​I think it’s ­really like my birth brought my m ­ other her disaster. I feel like she gave her life for my every­thing. One time I said to my younger ­sister, “Aiya, Mama was too fragile. If only she could have been just a ­little stronger when we w ­ ere young, we w ­ ouldn’t have received so many shocks.” Even ­after I grew up, I always felt inferior. I’m still not very sociable. . . . ​My s­ ister said to me, “Mama was so young. She just ­didn’t have the ability to accept that sort of cruel real­ity. She d ­ idn’t have that kind of psychological quality.” I believe now that my mom’s body grew disor­ga­nized due to her experience. She used her own method to resist the pressure of the outside world. She escaped into her own world. This was her way. Now I can gradually reach this understanding. She went once for medical treatment. She was treated several times. One time it seemed like she was better, but then ­after one or two months,

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I came to Beijing, one time when I called home, I asked my dad about her.

she got sick again. ­After s­ he’d been sick and then gotten better, she was


still extremely sensitive. For example, if the two of us ­were talking in this

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room and she was in the next room, ­she’d think we w ­ ere talking about her even if the content of our conversation had nothing to do with her. During the period when she was well, I thought our home was so happy. My m ­ other was very skilled with her hands and could do traditional embroidery. She worked in a ­little shop, sewing and helping out. She earned some money. Then she fell ill again. She turned back again. Then one time my ­mother died. It was still in this h ­ ouse.

He Chengyao gestured t­ oward her drawing. Id ­ on’t know what caused it, but they said she had died. I was still small. They placed her on a board, on a wooden door. They took the door down and laid her dead body out on it. I was very small, just a few years old, but I still remember. I saw my mom lying t­here with her face covered with coarse yellow paper, the sort of paper made by hand. My dad sat by her side. I saw a teardrop hanging on the tip of my f­ather’s nose. He cried silently. My dad was still very young then, just in his twenties. I d ­ idn’t understand this death or its meaning for my life. I d ­ idn’t understand what was happening. I only thought it was strange to see my f­ather crying. . . . ​My dad said he would go get a doctor to bring my mom back to life. My waipo told him not to go. She said my mom had tormented us. She asked him, “­Haven’t we suffered enough?” I thought my waipo was so cruel back then, but now I can see the tragedy of her life. How did she endure it all? Still she remained optimistic. I think she influenced some part of my personality. When facing something heavy, a serious situation, she could use a relatively light tone to talk about it. She was very strong. My dad still wanted to fetch a doctor. He found a doctor, who gave my mom a shot. They called it something like a cardiac stimulant shot. I d ­ on’t know what medicine it was. And then she came back to life. If my dad ­hadn’t gone to find a doctor for my mom, then maybe that time they would have just buried her.

­ fter a long silence fell between us, He Chengyao continued her story but A at a lower level of intensity. The haunting immediacy of childhood ghosts and her ­mother’s illness slid into the background as she moved more quickly through the years to arrive at her current situation. She told me that she once attended kindergarten for a few days. She laughed when she told me that she liked it ­because at the end of the day


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they gave ­every child a piece of candy, a treat she never had at home. Her ­family pulled her out a­ fter a few days b­ ecause they needed her at home to look a­ fter her younger ­sister, their third child, who had recently been born. A ­couple of years l­ater, her f­amily sent her and her younger b­ rother to live with her f­ather’s parents in a town called Lianghe. Her paternal grand­father (  yeye) worked as a teacher in the m ­ iddle school and thought it would be better for the c­ hildren to move away from their m ­ other and go to school. While she remembers nothing but affection and kindness from her yeye, her paternal grand­mother (nainai) made it clear that she ­didn’t like them. Their f­ather was her eldest son, and she felt their ­mother had unfairly burdened him and driven him to hard l­abor in order to take care of her and their three ­children. Her f­ ather moved from job to job in order to make enough money. A ­ fter first losing his job at the ceramics factory, he had served as an elementary school teacher, but the pay was too low, so he went to work for a moving com­pany. Then he shoveled coal at the train yard. He pulled carts like a coolie. He broke rocks. Then, for a while, her ­father managed to set himself up as a photographer. He Chengyao credits some of her early interest in drawing and painting to his vocation at this time as an itinerant image-­maker. She described to me how he would take his camera to neighboring counties and towns and peddle his ser­vices as photographer. Eventually he rented a small shop in Rongchang and worked to develop contacts with local schools and work units. He took black and white group photos. She laughed, remembering that her dad took all of her class and graduation pictures. He took pride in this work, which fi­nally enabled him to see himself as something of an intellectual and establish a connection back to his grand­father, who had once been a county secretary with beautiful calligraphy in the “old society.” Her ­father’s work became more regular, and he hung out a sign for his studio. In the late 1970s or early 1980s, a craze for the traditional folk craft of paper cutting swept across the country, and her f­ ather also began to create intricate paper cuts and sold them out of his photo studio.22 Once she began attending ­middle school, her ­father changed her name from He Li to He Chengyao (chengyao meaning “to become pure jade”), ­because he thought the character li (“beautiful”) was too common. She cried bitterly at the time of the change. ­After ­middle school, He Chengyao attended a vocational school for three years, and studied diligently to become a teacher. Teachers warned her that given her f­ amily’s situation, if she d­ idn’t work hard, she w ­ ouldn’t

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be able to get a job. Upon graduation, she taught fifth and sixth grade math at the elementary school attached to the vocational school. She also began drawing more seriously and studied with one of her ­father’s friends who worked in the local Cultural Center. Several years l­ater she tested into the art education department at the Sichuan Acad­emy of Fine Arts in Chongqing. He Chengyao gradually connected her per­for­mance on the ­Great Wall with this story about her childhood and her ­mother’s experience. ­After the per­for­mance, she told me that she no longer wanted to be anonymous. She asked me to use her real name. When I was visiting her one fall after­noon in 2001, she showed me with a slight, shy smile her addition to a glossy volume on Western feminist art I’d given her as a gift some weeks earlier. In the back section of the book that listed biographies of individual artists, she had glued in her picture and handwritten u ­ nder it her name and biographical details. She ­later interpreted Opening the ­Great Wall as the starting point of a ­career as a feminist artist, comparing her per­for­mance with another ­woman who publicly exposed her wounds, Wu Qionghua in The Red Detachment of ­Women. In 2003, He Chengyao sent me the following message: I am still in the early experimental stages of using feminism as a method for making my own art. . . . ​It’s like the scene in the film The Red Detachment of ­Women when Wu Qionghua, having suffered the extremes of oppression and shame, takes the stage and denounces the vicious landlord Nan Batian. All she can do is tear open her clothing and show every­one her wounds. Perhaps the hatred has been too strong, the “blood and tears” too many, leaving me instead with no way to speak. It’s also like a mute person who has suddenly been cured, yet she is still accustomed to using the gestures of sign language.23

He Chengyao revivifies, through her per­for­mance art, a revolutionary episode of female self-­exposure, but freezes it and reperforms it at the moment before po­liti­cal training of how to properly speak her bitterness in ser­vice of socialist revolution.24 She does not speak. She performs an action. She does not sublimate the gesture of ripping open one’s clothes to a clear and victorious national cause. Nor does she shove it aside as part of a laughably naïve propagandistic vocabulary. Possessed by the spirit of her ­mother, denounced as immoral and driven mad, she strips off her clothes and wanders through the crowds gathered on the ­Great Wall. She channels the shock power of her m ­ other’s disturbed, antisocial be­hav­ior into a

personal politics of gender, trauma, and speechless history that attempts to articulate art together with everyday injustice.

The two parallel sets of per­for­mances He Chengyao went on to create demonstrate a horizontal, formal dialogue with global con­temporary art practice, at the same time that they dig into dif­fer­ent layers of history. She embraced the transnational form of per­for­mance art, as it was introduced in her course at the Central Acad­emy, and used it to excavate both personal experience and vari­ous sociopo­liti­cal uses of the exposed female body throughout twentieth-­century China. During the summer a­fter Opening the G ­ reat Wall, He Chengyao returned to Rongchang to visit her ­mother. Her husband and f­ ather, both bearing cameras, accompanied her. Her husband took the photo­graphs for a series she titled Mama and Me (figure 6.04). In a l­ater article about her evolving work as a per­for­mance artist, she writes: “This summer I returned home. In Mama and Me, my m ­ other sits by herself on a stool at the side of a courtyard, playing with a rotten apple, when I quietly approach and stand ­behind her to document this moment through a series of photo­graphs. This is the first time my m ­ other and I had our picture taken together. With the aid of this medium, I have been able to reaffirm the ­family and blood connection that links me and my ­mother, and to partially satisfy a yearning of more than thirty years to support, touch, and embrace her.”25 Through photographic reproduction she gains distance on herself, standing together with her ­mother for an unconventional ­family portrait. Her ­mother wears only a pair of white pants. In the first image, she sits alone, looking down. In the third image, as He Chengyao takes off her shirt, her ­mother first seems aware of the audience of cameras. In the fifth image, He Chengyao’s m ­ other looks up, her eyes meeting ­those of her ­daughter, whose head still remains beyond the viewer’s sight. In the final image, the ­daughter’s head enters the frame, and both ­women look down, returning doubled to the first. For a related piece, He Chengyao selected the image from Mama and Me in which her ­mother looks up at her, in surprise or recognition. She combined it with photo­graphs of herself and her son. Testimony (figure 6.05) provides a genealogical chart of matrilineal kinship, suggesting connection through bodily touch, but ending with her son alone, the space b­ ehind

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FIG 6.04  ​He

Chengyao, Mama and Me, 2001. Per­for­mance. Photography credit: Yan Yan. Courtesy of the artist.

him empty. It stares back at the oppressions of patriarchal norms, suggesting alternative, affective webs of meaning and attachment, even as they are traumatically warped by societal pressures to comply with and replicate t­ hose norms. Does Testimony evoke a legacy of recognition and care outside the decorous bounds of convention; of ­mental disorder, escape, and abandonment; or of order resumed through the production a single male heir with his background erased? Familial relations and the gender politics of the nation and its art intertwine as the bodies of m ­ other and ­daughter, the female figures who have served such symbolic purposes, are photographed by the unseen f­ather and husband. In He Chengyao’s unfolding work, her own body became the primary medium through which she investigated this legacy of control and its embodied and psychological dimensions. Her work thus joins a constellation of experiments by feminist per­for­mance artists like Yoko Ono and Marina Abramović, who have offered their bodies to the spontaneous treatment, often shockingly violent, of their audiences.26 By staging the subjection of the female body, she unhinges it from the moral, emotional, symbolic work it has performed for the ­family and the nation. She thereby attempts to move beyond their modes of regulation.

Signing the ­Great Wall

In the November 2001 graduation exhibition of work by students from her course in con­temporary art at the Central Acad­emy, He Chengyao included a recombination of images from her work of the previous spring and summer. The triptych, ­Great Wall–­Magnolia–­Mama and Me (figure 6.06), tied her spontaneous per­for­mance on the G ­ reat Wall to the previously invisible and unspoken history she documented in the series of photo­graphs


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taken together with her ­mother. Bridging the gap is a photo­graph showing the top of a magnolia tree, whose delicate white buds open against a blue sky. This m ­ iddle image has been rotated so that the tree branches reach across to link a narrative of personal recovery to an “excessive” public per­for­mance that elicited multiple interpretations in its aftermath. By drawing this connection, He Chengyao wrests the symbols of the G ­ reat Wall and the nude female figure away from their conventional signifying power. She also implicates herself in the recent history of the G ­ reat Wall as a transnational site for avant-­garde art, ever since Andy Warhol first “opened” it in the early 1980s. Several Chinese artists told me that Andy Warhol had completed a characteristically playful and perceptive art per­for­mance on the G ­ reat Wall. ­After climbing the wall, he pulled out a piece of paper and drew a ­giant dollar sign: a sign for a sign. When I tried to confirm this account, I found it was almost true. In a documentary about his 1982 trip to China, Warhol draws the ­giant dollar sign and then signs it during a visit to a Chinese paint­er’s studio, exchanging it for the traditional ink painting presented to him.27 During shots of the Warhol entourage on their way to the ­Great Wall, the narrator’s voice announces, “Andy pointed out the Wall was the only man-­made object vis­ib­ le from the moon with the naked eye, with the exception of the Los Angeles, California aqueduct.” On the G ­ reat Wall, Warhol answers a question about ­whether he thought ­people in China could relate to his art by mumbling, “Well, I gotta get into sign painting.” ­These comments, including the repetition of the apocryphal statement about what man-­made structures can be seen from the moon, from the mouth of the pop master of replicable icons (capitalism’s Marilyn Monroe and communism’s Mao Zedong), point to the G ­ reat Wall as cultural sign par excellence. Long ­after the G ­ reat Wall became militarily defunct, po­liti­cal leaders from Sun Yatsen to Deng Xiaoping revived it as a national symbol of China’s might and longevity as a civilization.28 In 1988, the 21st ­Century Group of experimental artists challenged this official symbolism with a per­for­mance on the wall that probed it as a site of wounded-­ness. They wrapped their bodies and a section of the wall in white ban­dages.29 Two ­later large-­scale art proj­ects on the G ­ reat Wall explored a similar theme of memorializing wasted ­human life. In 1990, Xu Bing or­ga­nized a crew of students and peasants to help him make ink rubbings from a thirty-­meter-­long section of the wall for Ghosts Pounding the Wall. Zheng Lianjie’s per­for­mance Binding the Lost Souls in 1993 involved gathering ten thousand broken stone bricks

FIG 6.05  ​He

Chengyao, Testimony, 2001. Per­for­mance. Photography credit: Yan Yan. Courtesy of the artist.

FIG 6.06  ​He

Chengyao, G ­ reat Wall–M ­ agnolia–­Mama and Me, 2001. Per­for­mance triptych. Photography credit: Tian Yibin, He Chengyao, Yan Yan. Courtesy of the artist.

from fields at the foot of the wall. Participants carried them to the top, where they wrapped each one with a strip of red cloth. By the 1990s, the ­Great Wall became an ideal site for experimental art, especially per­for­ mance art, ­because of its relative remove from the city. The unpredictability of per­for­mance art made it highly suspect in the eyes of state censors who often shut down exhibits that included per­for­mance of any type. When in 2000 three Chinese organizers initiated the First Open Art Platform


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FIG 6.07  ​He

Chengyao, With Re­spect to Marcel Duchamp, 2001. Per­for­mance. Photography credit: Hong Lei. Courtesy of the artist.

Per­for­mance Art Festival, per­for­mances by Chinese, Japa­nese, and Finnish artists took place at the Juyong Gate of the G ­ reat Wall. The wall had become a veritable institution of Chinese avant-­garde art.30 With her half-­nude body, He Chengyao took over the ­Great Wall as sign and made it her personal stage, stealing it and the media apparatus away from H. A. Schult, as well as Chinese male per­for­mance artists who throughout the 1980s and 1990s used the wall for works of po­liti­cal dis­ reat Wall sent and macho liumang testing of ­human limits.31 Opening the G represents an intersection of multiple image worlds: t­hose of ­woman as national allegory, from Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the ­People to Mukhina’s ­Woman and Collective Farm Worker to the 1989 Goddess of Democracy amalgam; of Chinese artists and the G ­ reat Wall; of foreign artists and the ­Great Wall; and of feminist per­for­mance art. He Chengyao’s mimesis of a Chinese avant-­garde already integrated into the po­liti­cal economy of the commodity-­sign flaunts a nude torso as superfluous spectacle that garners media attention and angry commentary on how she has cheapened herself and art: “that’s not art.” Yet the mimetic per­for­mance of her m ­ other’s transgressive be­hav­ior refers to the experience of suffering, the traumatic realism of being made into an expressionless sign, silenced of subjectivity.

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This real cannot be represented. It can only be repeated, reembodied only to be denied again. She reopens the wound of the sign.

Playing Chess with the Historical Avant-­Garde

During 2001, as He Chengyao began exploring this personal history, she also embarked on a parallel set of photographed per­for­mance pieces. T ­ hese experiments in embodied per­for­mance and photographic documentation enacted a chess game of sorts with two f­ather figures of the Western historical avant-­garde, Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Beuys. Through ­these exercises, she performs a mimesis of pivotal moments in their development of forms that sought to overthrow institutionalized notions of autonomous art. By literally inserting her body into the now canonical art history of the avant-­garde, she acts on it in a mode of investigating the limitations of their critique, drawing par­tic­u­lar attention to the Other occluded by universalized narratives of radical rupture. Just ­after she had made a break from painting, He Chengyao turned to the work of Marcel Duchamp, specifically the transitional moment in 1912 when he began to depart from painting. With its single-­frame reference to serial photography, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 blurs the difference between painting and mechanical reproduction. It outraged early audiences denied the enjoyment of consuming what Duchamp referred to as “ret­i­nal art” created to please the eye.32 In With Re­spect to Marcel Duchamp (figure 6.07), He Chengyao returns to this seminal moment in modern art and through continued serialization takes the game one step further. She performs the nude, becoming the body stripped for spectacular viewing, and with the aid of a long photographic exposure dis­appears into a blur. She staged this exercise in one of Beijing’s new private galleries, the China Art Archives and Ware­house, a joint proj­ect of Eu­ro­pean and Chinese artistic directors, the most famous being Ai Weiwei. This site, like ­others partially managed by foreign intermediaries, played an impor­tant role in integrating Chinese con­temporary art with the international art market and in cultivating the idea of art as a liberating reversal of socialist art in ser­vice to the state. As t­hese institutions took hold in China, He Chengyao returned to Duchamp’s deconstruction of gendered spectacularity. She engaged with the historical avant-­garde not in a cynical or derivative way but in a way similar to a chess move that restructures the game’s meaning, its history, and anticipated ­future. She cites across time and space, not as

FIG 6.08  ​He

Chengyao, With Marcel Duchamp as My Opponent, 2001. Per­for­mance. Photography credit: Han Lei. Courtesy of the artist.

attribution or homage, but to shift understandings of the world-­making power of images. In 1963, five years before Marcel Duchamp’s death, the Pasadena Art Museum held a retrospective of his work. Los Angeles photographer Julian Wasser arranged for a photo shoot of the artist at the museum and came up with the idea of photographing Duchamp playing chess with a nude ­woman, an art student who agreed to participate.33 Duchamp cooperated and played several games with the student at a t­able set up in front of his work titled The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even. While critics have argued for a nuanced deconstruction of gender relationality in Duchamp’s work, ­these notorious photo­graphs by Wasser demonstrate the function of the authorial Duchamp as “Dada’s ­Daddy,” trumping at chess his bride stripped bare.34 He Chengyao’s With Marcel Duchamp as My Opponent (figure 6.08) returns not just to the art of Duchamp, but to the media spectacle of Duchamp. She sits half-­nude at a ­table in her apartment playing against an absent opponent. By reference to a historical photo­graph, she invokes a clothed, male, Western presence who does not yet recognize her, and she challenges him not only to his beloved game of chess but also to the Chinese game of go. He Chengyao then moved on to Joseph Beuys, declaring adherence to his belief that “art heals wounds,” and performed a personal reworking of one of his spontaneous “actions.” In a 1964 festival of Fluxus artists held at the Technical College Aachen in Germany, Beuys performed a piece that angered several audience members to the point that they stormed the stage. When a right-­wing student punched him in the face, Beuys responded by letting blood drip from his nose, displaying his wound as he saluted the

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FIG 6.09  ​He

Chengyao, A Salute to Mama (With Re­spect to Joseph Beuys), 2001. Per­for­mance. ­Photography credit: Han Lei. Courtesy of the artist.

crowd with a crucifix held up in his other hand. Photographed again in her apartment for this experiment in connecting her personal life to art via the historical avant-­garde, He Chengyao performs Beuys’s spontaneous ritualistic action, although she stands nude and confronts an invisible audience. In A Salute to Mama (With Re­spect to Joseph Beuys) (figure 6.09), her raised arm suggests less the ironic fascist gesture of Beuys’s salute and more of a grasping ­after the unseen, the ephemeral, spirits that haunt. She holds in her other hand not a crucifix but a framed photo­graph of her ­mother, who as a reproduction becomes a sacrificial talisman that she also physically reembodies by stripping bare. He Chengyao’s copies are mimetic in that they obsessively and bodily reproduce mass spectacularity, f­amily history, and the historical avant-­garde, in order to put the self in differential tension with a complex overlay of ­Others. She performs a kind of “ethnographic surrealism,” in James Clifford’s terms, that reverses the historical direction of French Dada-­ists rummaging around for collage materials at the Musée de l’Homme.35

Per­for­mance/Image/Sign 233

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He Chengyao’s early photographed per­for­mances led her in 2002—​approximately one year ­after Opening the G ­ reat Wall—to stage a per­for­mance that fully embodied, rather than just testified to, the experience of her ­mother at the hands of the Lei Feng ­uncles who tried to cure her with acu­ punc­ture. For 99 ­Needles (plate 16), He Chengyao asked a friend trained in Chinese medicine to prepare her body for a set of per­for­mance images. She wanted her entire body pierced with ninety-­nine acu­punc­ture ­needles. She arrived at the clinic where her friend worked during the lunch hour so that they could complete the work without interference from doctors or patients who might question the appropriateness of this “treatment.” The night before her period had begun, and her friend warned her of the contraindication against acu­punc­ture during menstruation. He Chengyao insisted on ­going through with the plan. In fact, this violation seemed in keeping with the piece. Several other friends w ­ ere on the scene to rec­ord the pro­ cess through video and photography. ­After all of the n ­ eedles had been inserted, somewhat hastily ­because of the excessive number requested and the restriction of time, He Chengyao walked outside and stood against a gray brick wall for a series of photo­graphs. One needle had been imprecisely inserted, and she began to bleed from a spot above her right wrist. She became increasingly light-­headed and fi­nally fainted, crumpling to the ground, before the doctor rushed over to begin removing the n ­ eedles. One criticism of per­for­mance art in the Mainland has focused on the narrowness of its immediate audience, usually made up of a few art circle insiders. The “per­for­mance” circulates mostly as photographic reproduction, entering domestic and international image economies in this mediated form. He Chengyao’s photo­graphs embrace this prob­lem as at the heart of any attempt to express the expressionless, becoming sign at the same time the sign is deployed to probe the trauma of thus being robbed of expression. Her per­for­mance photo­graphs might be read as “typical” repre­sen­ta­ tions of the oppression, with particularly gendered dimensions, suffered ­under modern po­liti­cal movements in China. However, her resolutely transnational dialogue with masculinist avant-­garde forms injects her art practice with an awareness of how ­women’s bodies (and lives) get caught within and between socialist and cap­it­ al­ist systems of sign making, reproduction, and circulation. Her images extend the critique that Lingzhen Wang has made about the limitations of the “exposure lit­er­a­ture,” “lit­ er­a­ture of the wounded,” or “lit­er­at­ure of reflection” that emerged a­ fter

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FIG 6.10  ​He

Chengyao, Illusion, 2002. Per­for­mance. Photography credit: Liu Hui. Courtesy of the artist.

Mao’s death, creating a public space for reflection on the excesses of past po­liti­cal movements, especially the Cultural Revolution.36 Wang argues that t­hese works isolated the impact of politics on individual lives as the only realm of personal experience legitimate for public airing. Gendered forms of private oppression—­stories about unhappy marriages, domestic abuse, or expressions of female sexual desire deemed inappropriate—­did not fulfill the requirements for po­liti­cally significant content. He Chengyao’s work registers such trauma, at the level of the body, caused by attempts to separate the impossibly intertwined personal experiences of the public and po­liti­cal, particularly when image economies of dif­fer­ent eras interacted ­under the cultural conditions of late socialism–­late liberalism that characterized new millennial China. Her per­for­mance photo­ graphs reveal how gender underpins nationalism and globalization, but also the contradictions that arise in the zone of encounter of Chinese con­ temporary art. For He Chengyao, however, per­for­mance as a cathartic form of release and healing remained vital. In February 2002, several months before 99 ­Needles, she staged another piece at the China Art Archives and Ware­ house, where the previous year she had stripped off her top and descended


opening the g ­ reat wall

a staircase for With Re­spect to Duchamp. Illusion (figure 6.10) took place outside, in an open courtyard. For the per­for­mance, she wore a billowing hand-­sewn white robe that hung to her ankles. She walked barefoot across pale winter grass t­ oward a long grey brick wall. Across from the wall stood a male friend. He held close to his chest a heart-­shaped dressing-­ table mirror, with an iris and a flying bird e­ tched on its surface. The mirror reflected sunlight onto the wall. The slightest manipulation of the mirror in his hands sent the spot of light skittering over the bricks. It landed first on He Chengyao’s face, causing her to squint. It then moved across her body. She grabbed and patted her chest as she tried to catch it, and then caressed her side as it slid down her leg to the ground. The small sunlike spot moved erratically across the wall, and she chased a­ fter it, jumping up, crouching down, frantically slapping the bricks, speeding up and slowing down according to its movements. The white robe flew, ghostlike, b­ ehind her. Sometimes instead of pursuing the light, she tried to evade it, dodging away from or cowering beneath its capricious, perpetual motion. The recording of a Buddhist meditation chant, accompanied by drums, bells, and zither, played in the background, mixing with birdsong, clicking camera shutters, and the rumble of construction trucks and workers’ shouts on the other side of the wall. He Chengyao began to audibly pant from her exertions. Almost ten minutes into the game, the light returned to its starting point, illuminating her face. She came to a standstill and bowed her head. In documentary photo­graphs of the per­for­mance, her figure registers only as a white blur of motion in front of the towering grey wall, an ephemeral presence on the verge of disappearing, or an active force in reordering the pain and plea­sure of being in the world.

Camouflaged Histories


A ­woman in a camouflage tank top and pants stands on swampy ground with binoculars held to her eyes. The artist Lei Yan appears in this guise in the pair of photo­graphs What If the Long March Had Been a ­Women’s Rights Movement? (figure 4.04) and What If They Had Been ­Women? (figure 4.05) that she created for The Long March encounter with Judy Chicago at Lugu Lake. As a former c­ areer soldier in the ­People’s Liberation Army (pla), she does not naively revisit the imagery of the ­woman soldier so central to Communist revolutionary cultural production. She reinhabits a subjectivity that s­ haped her life and art in order to review it from the focus afforded by the optical device—­the binoculars or camera—­she raises to her eyes. With this pair of photo­graphs and the continuation of her What If series that followed, Lei Yan activates an image world of ­women viewing the world anew through binoculars, a complex network of images invoked in the pro­cess of looking and making. A ­woman in a long black skirt and high-­collared jacket stands at w ­ ater’s edge. Strokes of green ink sprout around the hem of her skirt and weave through the pattern on her jacket. The blue of the bow in her hair echoes the gradations of wash tinting w ­ ater, sky, and distant mountains. Three small sailboats cleave to and accentuate the horizon line. With her back to the viewer, the w ­ oman gazes through binoculars, not at the w ­ ater, boats, or mountains, but upward t­oward a flying machine in the top right corner. The black-­and-­white form suggests an airplane, but closer inspection reveals a fantastical abstraction, an assemblage of crosshatched shapes. The wings are not flush with one another. A basket or a net hangs from the undercarriage, with a sandbaglike form dangling down. This illustration (figure 7.01) appeared on the October 1916 cover of The W ­ omen’s Eastern Times (Funü shibao), a journal published in Shanghai during the first six years of Republican-­era China (1911–49). Its new w ­ oman on the verge of flight from earth into the heavens stands as one instance in a genealogy of ­women with binoculars to their eyes.1 Twenty some years earlier,


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FIG 7.01 ​Cover illustration, Funü shibao (The ­women’s eastern times) no. 20, October 1916.

Wu Youru, a popu­lar illustrator of urban vignettes for the pictorial supplement to Shanghai’s Shenbao newspaper, had depicted three courtesans on an upper balcony “sightseeing” with a pair of binoculars.2 Framed by the balcony balustrade, they gaze out from an interior space, over the rooftops of neighboring buildings, ­toward something beyond the image’s edge. The ­woman holding the binoculars leans over, tilting her line of sight slightly downward. ­These elegantly attired “blossoms” of the plea­sure quarter display not only their con­spic­u­ous consumption of modern technology, but also their visual mastery. They are caught, as they are looked at, in the act of looking. The world-­making power of vision, outward and upward, symbolizes ­women’s move out of the “inner quarters” of traditional Chinese society. During the New Culture movement of the early Republican period, the “­woman question” preoccupied reformers in their quest to overturn China’s feudal and colonial history. They saw ­women as central to the proj­ect of

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modernity, even as they debated how to liberate ­women and what their role in the new nation would be. Reform efforts si­mul­ta­neously gave rise to a literary revolution, as authors began to use baihua, or vernacular, instead of classical Chinese, which for centuries had preserved literacy as an elite domain. Popu­lar newspapers and magazines flooded the urban market, creating a new reading public. ­Women became a target audience, and while nationalists discussed the “­woman question” often through their desire as humiliated male colonial subjects to emerge on the world stage, female readers and writers articulated their thoughts and stories in ­these new publications.3 The illustration on the October 1916 cover of The W ­ omen’s Eastern Times pres­ents this aspiring female subject with her power of vision and dreams of flight. Two articles within narrate the heroism of Zhang Xiahun, a young w ­ oman who, on attending a Shanghai air show, insisted on flying. She ignored the head of the aviation school, who tried to dissuade her, and proclaimed her flight would “open a new era of Chinese w ­ omen pi­lots, forge a new dawn in the history of female bravery, and merit several lines in China’s aviation history.” 4 When a strong wind arose and caused the plane to crash, she walked away injured but triumphant. This new ­woman, binoculars aimed ­toward the horizon, haunts the pair of photo­ graphs Lei Yan created almost a c­ entury ­later for The Long March. Garbed now in camouflage and black military boots, she stands her ground not on a balcony or at ­water’s edge but on the battlefield of history. Lei Yan’s What If series inspired the conception of feminist sight lines that frames this final section of the book. I interpret her work as feminist ­because of its critical historiographical consciousness cultivated by being on the periphery. I met Lei Yan, as described in chapter 4, not in Beijing but in rural Yunnan, albeit through an art exhibit or­ga­nized in and emanating from the “cultural capital” of Beijing. She works primarily in Kunming but trained in the pla Arts Acad­emy in Beijing and continues to exhibit her work ­there. Her center-­off-­center position, as well as the conjunction of the turning point of her ­career a­ fter retirement from the military with that of Chinese con­temporary art production, informs the transhistorical and transnational connections her artwork makes vis­i­ble. The feminist sight lines opened by her evolving body of work provide a critical vantage on the work of art in the era of late socialism-­late liberalism, as t­ hese two social proj­ects and their management of difference and in­equality intertwine. When she and Ai Weiwei both responded through their art to state image control of the 2008 Wenquan earthquake, she entered into relational monumental/ephemeral proximity with China’s most globally recognized

art world figure. Viewed together, the questions Lei’s work raises about conventional narratives of Chinese con­temporary art emerge in par­tic­ul­ ar relief.

Binoculars bring something distant into closer view. Side-­mounted mirror-­ symmetrical telescopes, designed to be hand held, produce an impression of depth that makes the scene viewed three-­dimensional. When Lei Yan shows up in her stereoscopelike images What If the Long March Had Been a ­Women’s Rights Movement? and What If They Had Been ­Women?, she reverses the sight line of her historical counter­parts from the previous turn of the ­century. The courtesan as public figure of urbanity and the learned new ­woman of the Republic gaze t­ oward an i­ magined f­ uture, what once seemed impossibly distant suddenly brought near. In 2002, Lei trains her binoculars back on a Communist past meant to seem distant in reform-­era discourse about linking tracks with the cap­it­ al­ist world. Instead, she brings it near, as historical figures from 1934 loom large on the horizon. The feminist grammar of her “what if” titles is akin to that of the f­ uture anterior employed by Tani Barlow in her reading of Ding Ling’s Maoist literary corpus. Barlow argues that the revolutionary injunction for cultural workers like Ding to “enter life” (shenru sheng­huo) meant more than living with and representing the common ­people. It expressed a Maoist cultural idiolect that in­ven­ted language for mass consciousness and action on the historical horizon, a dialectical pro­cess of “anticipate, initiate, reflect, criticize, regroup, and reanticipate.”5 As Ding entered life in this sense, her stories and novels not only reflected this pro­cess, they became part of the pro­cess, even while holding on to the speculative question about what “­women” would become through their enunciation as such. The ­future anterior guides the historian to focus on theoretical claims from the past about the potential ­women ­were i­ magined to embody. Barlow uses this grammatical construction as a methodology for reassessing not only the legacy of Chinese feminism but of feminism as an international mode of thought linked to colonialism and globalization, as much a mea­sure of one’s place in the world order as a demand for liberation. The ­future anterior makes pos­si­ble a speculative question: What ­will ­women have been? It does not presume to know what the “­woman” predicated by feminism existentially is or was but endeavors to understand how the category of w ­ oman has been mobilized

camouflaged histories

Feminist Sight Lines


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t­ oward f­ uture change of an untenable status quo.6 The artworks produced by Lei Yan through her participation in The Long March raise related questions about what w ­ omen might have become if they had not been caught by the double binds of Chinese Communist history. She roams back and forth over this and more recent historical terrain, performing an auto-­ ethnographic excavation of the institutions and socio-­historical pro­cesses that made her as both artist and ­woman. Lei Yan’s trajectory as an artist began with a c­ areer in the Chinese military that spanned three de­cades. Born into a Kunming military ­family in 1957, she joined the army at age fourteen and served over the years as a soldier, nurse, and officer. As part of her early duties, she gained sketching skills and responsibility for drawing her unit’s blackboard announcements. In 1976, she began studying printmaking. She also transferred to the Kunming Military District Creative Works Team and had her work shown in China’s National Military Art Exhibition. With her next assignment to a local military hospital, she became an official painter tasked with illustrating teaching materials for the military medical school. ­After “reform and opening,” the school opened a multimedia lab, where she studied color photography. She also served, as a nurse, during the prolonged border conflicts of the Sino-­Vietnamese War. In 1989, she tested into the first printmaking course offered by the P ­ eople’s Liberation Army Arts Acad­emy in Beijing and arrived in the capital shortly a­ fter the China/Avant-­Garde exhibit at the National Art Museum of China brought new attention and notoriety to con­ temporary practices such as installation and per­for­mance art. ­After graduating in 1991, she returned to Kunming and experimented, outside her official capacity, with new styles and subject m ­ atter. She joined a group of artists working in Kunming’s Chuang Ku, or Loft community, established in a former factory, where she set up a studio ­after her retirement from the military in 2001.7 A ­ fter she and fellow Kunming-­based artist Sun Guojuan joined Judy Chicago at site six of The Long March, they participated in cross-­cultural art exchanges to Sweden facilitated by TGC Nordica, a Chinese-­Swedish organ­ization that opened a gallery space in the Kunming Loft complex in 2000. Through this gallery, Lei and Sun curated a series of exhibitions featuring the work of female artists from Yunnan.8 Lei Yan is not particularly well known outside of minor transnational networks linking, for example, Yunnan with Scandinavia. Nor is her path to becoming an artist via the military one typically associated with con­ temporary art practice, especially that in an avant-­garde, anti-­institutional mode, although it does bring back into the picture the longer translin-


camouflaged histories

gual history of avant-­garde/xianfeng in China. It is precisely this center-­ off-­center position that informs her work. The pieces she began creating ­after her retirement exemplify a critical historiographical consciousness, a feminist reflection on past avant-­gardes that temporally confounds the straight logic of innovation, pro­gress, and coming before. She works from within a national repre­sen­ta­tional corpus, subjecting it to vari­ous experiments informed by transnational art movements, to reveal the fields of vio­lence—­literal and figural—it has enacted. She is a propagandist turned deconstructionist, with a vision in which the nannü relations between man and ­woman inform other socially reproduced abstractions—­past and pres­ent, rural and urban, China and the world—­that create injustice. Three sociohistorical categories—­the w ­ oman soldier, the military artist, and the w ­ oman artist—­have s­ haped Lei Yan’s life and art. The ways they intersect throw into question conventional narratives of feminist art in global and national contexts. Her ­career does not, for example, fit easily into the story of feminist art emerging from 1960s Euro-­American Second Wave feminist critiques of the art world and its social and formalistic hierarchies. It similarly resists Chinese articulations of nüxing yishu as a post-­socialist recuperation of female subjectivity that domesticates and depoliticizes work by ­women and thereby cuts it off from interpretation within larger contexts of the nation and beyond. Lei Yan’s artistic practice, its subject m ­ atter and formal aesthetics, requires consideration beyond the borders of the nation ­because of its critique of loss and sacrifice in the name of the nation. She arguably becomes a feminist artist in spite of or ­because of her original training as an artist in what is arguably the sine qua non of the modern Chinese nation-­state, the P ­ eople’s Liberation Army of the Chinese Communist Party. The categories of w ­ oman soldier (nübing), military artist ( junyi), and ­woman artist (nüxing yishujia) are historical catachreses, master words whose appearance in speech mark a departure from traditional usage (i.e., ­woman, soldier, artist) and serve to consolidate new social formations. In The Question of W ­ omen in Chinese Feminism, Tani Barlow argues that “­woman” as expressed in the Chinese neologisms of nüxing and funü emerged as a theoretical category, rather than a universal given, out of the Chinese drive to form a modern nation. ­These historical catachreses and their analogues of nübing, junyi, and nüxing yishujia are ideological entities with explanatory power that over time served to or­ga­nize everyday thinking. Beginning in the 1920s, the w ­ oman soldier in China signified a new subject, a ­woman liberated from traditional kinship protocols and empowered

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to fight for the idea of a new nation, ­free from feudal rule and its patriarchal oppressions, as well as colonial incursion and orientalist depictions of Asian w ­ omen oppressed by their “culture” as justification for invasion. Xie Bingying served as one early model of this emerging subject. Born in 1906, she strug­gled to get an education, escaped from an arranged marriage, moved in and had a child with her lover, and served in the National Revolutionary Army in the fight against local warlords in the 1920s and the Japa­nese in the 1930s. The publication of her war diaries, first in 1928, followed by updated versions, made her story available for wide public consumption.9 In breathless prose, she wrote, for example, of her first night ­after joining the female com­pany of Wuhan’s Central Military and Po­liti­cal School: “I thought how in only a few hours we would be carry­ ing guns and sticks, marching to the cry of ‘one-­two-­three-­four.’ Solider. What a power­ful word! I would not have believed that we Chinese ­women, repressed by ancient custom for thousands of years, would see the day when we would become soldiers. Now we must work hard to carry out our responsibility, to change society, to destroy the powers of feudalism.”10 The w ­ oman soldier, glorified in films such as ­Daughters of China (1949), The Red Detachment of W ­ omen (1961), and The Red Lantern (1970), became a key figure in the Chinese Communist Party’s pantheon of heroic repre­ sen­ta­tion. The w ­ oman soldier and her visibility in film, propaganda posters, and painting supported party rhe­toric about female emancipation and gender equality. She also provided ­women with a new subject position, a potentiality some embraced, even as they continued to encounter gender hierarchy and sexual vio­lence in the military and elsewhere.11 The modern conception of the military artist or art soldier dates to the Red Army’s establishment of its guerrilla base in Yan’an, where Mao Zedong compelled culture workers to become willing oxen, heads bowed to serve the ­people. His selective quotation from Lu Xun’s poem “Self Mockery” as final salvo in his talks on lit­er­at­ure and art draws power from Lu’s conviction that only culture could save China from the habits of thought and be­hav­ior that had made it weak. Mao’s didactic interpretation of the quoted couplet, however, disregards ironic contrasts in the full poem, whose narrator reflects on the defiant gestures of his past and ends with a desire to retreat from the outside world to “a small ­house hidden away.”12 Mao emphasized cultural defiance, reformulation, and revolutionary anticipation over contemplative ambivalence, clearing the ground for ccp institutionalization of culture workers and per­for­mance troops. The Yan’an Lu Xun Arts Acad­emy was established in 1938, two years ­after the death of its name-


camouflaged histories

sake.13 As part of this institutional legacy, the ­People’s Liberation Army Arts Acad­emy, established in Beijing in 1960, began offering advanced training for members of military cultural troops in art, dance, drama, lit­er­at­ ure, and ­music. Culture as the front line continued during the Cultural Revolution in Red Guard art activities such as the 1967 Long Live the Victory of Chairman Mao’s Revolutionary Line exhibit at the National Art Museum of China.14 Ballet, film, and opera productions like The Red Detachment of ­Women effectively fused together the figures of ­woman soldier and military artist. The idea of the w ­ oman artist arose in a post-­Mao context, as the Chinese art historical category of nüxing yishu gained currency in the 1990s, casting a retrospective net that pulled modernist figures into its proj­ect. It emerged in exhibit cata­logues and art criticism in 1995, the year Beijing hosted the United Nations Fourth World Conference on ­Women, and then served as the organ­izing rubric for the C ­ entury ­Woman exhibit at the National Art Museum of China in 1998. Following the centennial frame of the exhibit’s title, cata­logue essays on early twentieth-­century paint­ers such as Pan Yuliang and Qiu Ti discussed them as pre­de­ces­sors of a “­women’s art” ­shaped by w ­ omen’s unique psychobiological predispositions. This discursive formation, as part of post-­Mao feminist humanist thought that sought to recuperate a female subjectivity from the state mobilization of ­women, identifies a subject dif­fer­ent from that signified by female artist (nü yishu­ oman. The curator of C ­ entury W ­ oman, jia), or artist who happens to be a w Jia Fangzhou, defined in his cata­logue introduction the main characteristics of this art: it draws inspiration from personal reflection and experience, demonstrates “artistic intuition,” breaks from rational thought, focuses on the minutiae of daily life rather than politics, and develops both material and method from “handicrafts” associated with ­women.15 Two years ­later, in A History of Chinese Con­temporary Art, 1990–1999, one of the first comprehensive surveys of this period, Chinese art historian Lü Peng relegated almost all female artists to a chapter titled “­Women’s Art,” rather than as contributors to movements discussed in other chapters, such as po­liti­cal pop, cynical realism, or conceptual art.16 In 2002, Lei Yan brought the three ideological categories of ­woman soldier, military artist, and w ­ oman artist together in What If the Long March Had Been a ­Women’s Rights Movement? and What If They Had Been ­Women?, exhibited in the “­women’s art” section of The Long March proj­ect. While she created ­these images in response to Judy Chicago’s fantasy “what if” projection, her visual materials reference not a universal female subject but a formative Chinese historical event, as Communist activists regrouped in

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order to revolutionize a rural peasantry. Their appeal to disenfranchised men, “bare sticks” without the means to marry, held out the promise of equal opportunity to carry on one’s patriline rather than ­women’s liberation from the inner quarters of f­amily life. Red Army guerrilla activities gradually prioritized class over gender in a way that suppressed thinking about class and gender as interlocking or mutually constitutive systems of power, even as repre­sen­ta­tions of w ­ omen raped and exploited by class enemies served a prominent symbolic function.17 This ideological suppression produced the double binds at Yan’an that Ding Ling exposed so trenchantly in “Thoughts on March 8”: female comrades w ­ ere denounced for pursuing politics over f­ amily responsibilities, but then when compelled to marry and bear ­children, they w ­ ere denounced for being “Noras returned home,” unable to survive in­de­pen­dently and thus consigned to a destiny of “backwardness.”18 “It would be better,” she wrote before being attacked as “narrowly feminist,” “if ­there ­were less empty theorizing and more talk about real prob­lems, so that theory and practice would not be divorced, and better if all Communist Party members ­were more responsible for their own moral conduct.”19 An investigation of this relationship between theory and practice, between ideology and image making became part of Lei’s emerging praxis. Lei Yan first developed her technique of digital manipulation as a military artist. In 1994, she and colleague Tang Zhigang produced a photo­graph of military heroes titled Group Photo of an Era (figure 7.02), with the handwritten inscription of “A Souvenir of the P ­ eople’s Photo Studio Serving the 20 ­People.” The layers of translucent color applied to the soldiers’ hands and ­faces accentuate the montage construction of the photo­graph, as it brings together, in the Maoist tradition of reworked historical images, a group of heroes in the impossible real­ity of a studio shot. The washed out national colors of red and yellow that shade their skin mimic old hand-­colored photo­graphs, tingeing the image with nostalgia and parody. In her 2002 What If photos, Lei reproduces this technique but also inserts herself, as part of the represented collectivity and distantiated creator-­observer of its power. She becomes a frontline observer from the f­uture within the historical photo­graph, who brings into focus an oppositional consciousness, posing historiographical questions about her own social formation. She continued the series with several more pieces. What If Our Factory ­Were Still ­Here? (figure 7.03) emerged from video and photographic documentation of a factory within her military work unit as it underwent de­mo­li­tion. Like other artists who focused on the massing turning over of


camouflaged histories

FIG 7.02  ​Lei

Yan and Tang Zhigang, Group Photo of an Era, 1994. Digital photo­graph. Courtesy of the artist.

China’s urban landscape, Lei used her camera to explore sites of physical change. Her images bring to this presentist form of documentation questions of temporality, history, and memory. She inserts herself again within the frame, but this time the figure seems more a camouflaged observer from the past in panoramic proj­ects of ­future destruction. Her image of the factory, an institutional space that once or­ga­nized and defined social life, is imbued with a sense of loss: through the question she asks of it, her use of the possessive pronoun “our,” and her digitally manipulated spectral appearance within it. She stands in miniature with her binoculars, amid the rubble, witness to the dismantling of the po­liti­cal fervor and everyday activity that once filled the now empty space. The military as a site of female opportunity, talent development, and collectivity, as well as oppression, is demolished in the push ­toward market reform, demobilization, and privatization. What If ­Woman ­Were Written by the Book? shifts to a so­cio­log­i­cal investigation of reform-­era femininity produced out of and against previous norms, retrospectively framed as having unnaturally suppressed an essential

FIG 7.03  ​Lei

Yan, What If Our Factory ­Were Still ­Here, 2002. Digital photo­graph. Courtesy of the artist.

femininity. For this piece, Lei Yan photographed the covers of popu­lar books for sale on the streets of Kunming with titles containing the word “­woman.” An inordinate number of them addressed issues related to health, beauty, sexuality, and f­ amily, positioning w ­ omen as consumers of domestic pleasures rather than producers in the public sphere. She digitally montaged them together to form a black-­and-­white mosaic, over which the En­ glish word ­woman in capital letters floats as a layered mask that reveals the gaudy colors of the book covers below. The question of the piece’s title suggests the disciplining of w ­ oman into a par­tic­u­lar subject position by this proliferating abundance of material on her, while also holding open in its grammatical construction a gap between signifier and signified, in which the signifiers do not wholly make the signified in its image.

Bullet Shot through a Young Heart

In 2002, following her What If series, Lei Yan created another digital photographic piece titled Bullet Shot through a Young Heart ­after a return trip to Laoshan, where she had served as a military nurse during the Sino-­ Vietnamese War. This prolonged series of conflicts along China’s border with Vietnam began with a bloody month in 1979 that left tens of thousands on both sides dead and injured. The war pitted, in almost a 180-­degree turn,


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former socialist allies against one another. Cold War geopo­liti­cal alignments and the ideological b­ attles of the Sino-­Soviet split begun in the 1960s played out in deadly ways for Chinese and Viet­nam­ese soldiers and civilians. A ­ fter the Communist victory of the Viet Cong in 1975, a postcolonial, pro-­Soviet regime was established in Vietnam. In neighboring Cambodia, the Chinese backed the Khmer Rouge. When their troops attacked ethnic Viet­nam­ese in Cambodia and threatened the border, Vietnam counterattacked in a conflict that led to the deposing of Maoist client-­leader Pol Pot. The Chinese retaliated with the 1979 invasion that launched the Sino-­Vietnamese War. Border skirmishes continued throughout the 1980s u ­ ntil relations between the two countries fi­nally normalized in the early 1990s. A devastating ­battle occurred at Laoshan in 1984, during Lei Yan’s deployment, and 959 Chinese soldiers and support personnel ­were buried ­there in the Malipo Martyrs Cemetery. Tombstone inscriptions indicate that many of ­those buried had enlisted only months before ­dying young, between the ages of sixteen and twenty. Upon returning to Laoshan almost twenty years ­later, Lei Yan noted that the rebranding of the area as a vacation destination remained haunted by Malipo: “I climbed to the top of the cemetery. Backlit, the tombstones appeared like a group of soldiers in uniform. A gust of wind swept by, and a chill struck through me, like a bullet shot through the tombstones and the spirits under­neath. It shot through my young heart, through time and space, through memory, and through peace.”21 Bullet Shot through a Young Heart (figure 7.04) is a triptych of three photo­graphs, each tinted a single color, which hung side by side resemble the bars of an exploded national flag. In the central, black-­and-­ white image, superimposed layers of tombstones crowd the frame. While the Malipo tombstones are uniform in height and shape and laid out in straight, uniform rows, Lei digitally varied their size to create an overlapping pattern of haptic replication. Some recede into the background, ­others rise to the surface, creating an overall sensation of floating upward and outward, an otherworldly irruption of the past into the pres­ent. In the images that flank it, tourist snapshots of the cemetery are montaged together in an almost abstract pattern; the ­actual subject of the photos can only be discerned on close inspection. The tinting of one red and the other green suggests ­either the demarcation of po­liti­cal bodies on ­either side of a border or the division between a bloody past and a verdant ­future. In an installation of the piece in 2011 at the Suzhou Creek Art Center in Shanghai, the three photo­graphs ­were hung on the white wall of a gallery with a

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FIG 7.04  ​Lei

Yan, Bullet Shot through a Young Heart, 2002. Digital photo­graphs. I­ nstallation view, Lei Yan solo exhibition, Suzhou Creek Art Center, Shanghai, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.

concrete floor and florescent lighting. A line of text ran the entire length of adjacent walls, to the left and right of the image, listing diplomatic details of Chinese-­Vietnamese relations from 1950 to 2000, from alliance to conflict to normalization. Bullet Shot through a Young Heart brings back to public consciousness the camouflaged history of loss in what is now often remembered only as a forgotten war. It serves as a meta-­ideologizing return to a 1986 color print Lei Yan created ­after her deployment to the border. Southern Border Dream (plate 17) depicts her longing for peace and for her young son from whom she was separated during her ser­vice. Although the ­woman at the battlefront reverses the gender positions in the classical lament of separation when a conscripted son leaves his ­mother, she has not been liberated from the sacrifice required by militarism. Only in sleep can the exhausted solider, arm and head draped over her medical supply kit, generate the glowing vision that staves off the black grid at her back. Against that abstraction—­the entombing grate of a bunker, the emplotting matrix of history—­her dream radiates outward in a ring of orange and red. The motif that encircles the soldier features a mythical ­mother clothed in the flowing robe of an immortal and surrounded by a flock of doves. She reaches for her child, ser-


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enades him, and fi­nally holds him in her arms. Almost twenty years ­later, that dream returns, not in the guise of an idealized w ­ oman soldier whose ser­vice and sacrifice is justified by visions of peace, but in her challenge to the national diplomatic narrative by remembering the untold young lives the conflict laid waste to. It also marks Lei Yan’s position as an artist in southwestern China, with its historical and shifting economic and cultural relations with bordering Southeast Asian nations. Wang Nanming, the curator of Lei Yan’s 2011 solo show, has asserted that her work breaks through the marginalizing category of nüxing yishu ­because of its overt po­liti­cal engagement. In an attempt to revitalize this theoretical language, he coins the term kuanüxingzhuyi yishu, translated as transfeminist art. He writes, “In trans-­feminist art, ­women constitute a vital po­liti­cal power in the public sphere and are capable of discussing all sorts of issues of civic politics. Lei’s photo­graph series, Bullet Shot through the Young Heart, fights against the female identity superimposed upon female artists by Chinese modernity.”22 Wang’s use of the prefix “trans” emphasizes crossing and questioning bound­aries, public and private, male and female, East and West, and the ways t­ hese categories are mapped onto one another. It suggests how art by Chinese ­women moves across and into local and global debates about art and politics. It also implies a new category of art that supersedes gendered binaries and forms of power, demonstrating a progressive logic similar to that of postfeminism. This latter claim that feminism is over and done—­that its demands for justice have already been achieved or actually hold w ­ omen back, or that Western-­style gender equity need only be exported to other, less enlightened parts of the world—­ willfully ignores ongoing and intersectional forms of social hierarchy.23 Another understanding of Wang’s term of transfeminism emerges, however, if we consider that he arrives at it through his interpretation of work by He Chengyao and Lei Yan. The emphasis then shifts from overcoming feminism to thinking transhistorically across feminist movements, debates, and ruptures over the long twentieth c­ entury, in which w ­ omen as a propositional category capable of shifting mass consciousness and as a collectivity of living social actors have since the beginning of Chinese modernity constituted “a vital po­liti­cal power in the public sphere.” The irony of the progressive-­minded neologism authored by the male critic thus becomes its dependence on artists whose work is po­liti­cal not in spite of but b­ ecause they are ­women who have focused a critical eye on the historical and po­liti­ cal genealogies of gender that have caught and enabled them. It is through identification with and interrogation of subjects of Chinese modernity, the

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­ oman solider, military artist, and ­woman artist, that Lei Yan emerges as w what Wang labels a transfeminist artist.

Arrested Ephemerality

Lei Yan’s meditation on national, revolutionary iconography continued as she subjected objects from its corpus to material transmutation. Her works in ice, cloth, and paper capture the transience of image worlds. They arrest the pro­cess of disappearing, of being made ephemeral. They explore the contradiction between social idealism and social engineering. They evoke the volatile relationship between personhood and thingness, in which ­people can be treated as disposable, reproducible ­things, as much as ­things can be enchanted with humanity and life. In Arjun Appadurai’s conceit, “All ­things are congealed moments in a longer social trajectory.”24 Lei’s experiments explore the social lives of ­things as congealed moments in a longer trajectory of cumulative history, in which revolutionary collectivity serves as the substrate for a politics of market desire and efficiency. Her return to her military past challenges the soft-­glow feminization of revolution in the avant-­garde guise of come-­hither Red Guards (see figure 1.01) and the liberal subject often assumed in Western feminist thought and art. It connects past fields of disaster to ­those that persist in the pres­ent. In 2006, Lei Yan created her Frozen Red series. She froze personal military insignias—­pins, badges, medals, a Red Guard armband, a folded military jacket, Mao’s l­ ittle red book—in blocks of ice and photographed them. The images are titled according to the year of the preserved object, such as her Red Guard armband from 1969 or her Bayi (eight-­one) badge from 1985 ­after her Sino-­Vietnamese War ser­vice.25 The interplay between lighting and imperfections in the ice produces dif­fer­ent effects. A red flag pin glows ethereally just u ­ nder the slick surface of ice. A round badge falls into its depths, with Mao’s face on it blurred and opaque. The folded jacket of Lei’s dress uniform, with its distinctive lapels marking it as that of a ­woman soldier, lies shiny and stiff in encrusted ice. A ­ fter photographing the frozen jacket in her studio, she transported the slab of ice to the edge of the city and erected it at the bottom of a slope covered in green fo­liage. Unnamed Tomb (plate 18), the photographic rec­ord of this ritual of mourning, documents a ghostly sentinel surrounded by leafy groundcover. It momentarily preserves and remembers the possibilities, the ­woman soldier and her tal-


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FIG 7.05 ​Lei

Yan, Frozen Youth, No. 26, 2007. Photo­graph. Courtesy of the artist.

ent development, as well as the losses, of life and revolutionary belief, as her tombstone melts into a forgotten landscape. In a subsequent series titled Bullet Shot through a Young Heart II, Lei Yan froze old photo­graphs of life on the Sino-­Vietnamese front and then rephotographed them. The ice warps and fissures the original images: soldiers carry­ing supplies and loading tanks guns, the corner of a sandbag bunker, a dark hole in a white concrete structure with “tomb of nine female heroes” scrawled above it. In the thirty-­six photo­graphs of a series from 2007, Frozen Youth, Lei hones in on her own military c­ areer. Frozen Youth, No. 26 (figure 7.05), for example, features an ice-­encased black-­and-­white photo­ graph of the artist ten months ­after she joined the army. The face of the rifle-­bearing teenage girl in uniform appears, through the refraction of light through ice, partly doubled. The unpredictability of the freezing pro­cess produces, by her own account, a remove from history that allows for observation of the past and consideration of it in relation to the con­temporary moment, not unlike her binoculars in the What If images. The crystalline clarity of ice reflects the purity of collective spirit and sacrifice that ­were

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strong ideological ele­ments of her military training but also sealed her off from other ways of thinking.26 Lei Yan’s use of old photos in ­these two series followed a 1990s trend examined by Wu Hung in “The ‘Old Photo Craze’ and Con­temporary Chinese Art.” The low-­budget, mass-­produced serial Lao Zhaopian (Old photos), launched in 1996, gave its readers a platform to publish everyday photo­ graphs accompanied by written reflections. Wu argues that Lao Zhaopian served as a vehicle for “constructing a dif­fer­ent type of history—­history as collage and chance result, and as the synthetic voice of a multitude of amateur authors.”27 In turning to the use of old photos by Chinese con­ temporary artists, he identifies three approaches: works that represent memories of major, often suppressed historical events such as the Cultural Revolution; works that construct ordinary, personal histories; and works in which photos appear as “ruins” reflecting the instability of historical memory.28 Lei Yan’s Frozen Youth employs all three of ­these approaches at once.29 The series assem­bles an ordinary, personal history of participation in suppressed historical events meant to produce collective identification, including the Cultural Revolution and the Sino-­Vietnamese War.30 It preserves ­these forgotten memories in a way that captures the magnifying and obscuring effects of the preservation pro­cess. It seizes on the multivalent visual idexicality of old photos. Moving on to the medium of cloth, Lei Yan created a series of soft sculptures titled Camouflage Production (figure 7.06), which grew out of her obsession with the material she wore for thirty years as a soldier. While camouflage ostensibly provides cover and protection for military personnel on the battlefield, it also produces a uniform, national body to which other forms of identification are subordinated. Lei likens its patterning to the mixed, patchwork identities of t­hose such as herself who have lived through multiple po­liti­cal movements in China. The fabric is also a global commodity entangled in the hierarchical, gendered relations of outsourced ­labor and related po­liti­cal ­battles over w ­ hether national military uniforms should be produced overseas.31 Lei’s sculptures crafted out of camouflage include daily-­use items, such as ­kettles, teacups, cooking utensils, vases, sewing machines, telephones, and laptop computers. The gleaming utilitarian surface of industrially produced objects, which in the model kitchen turned battlefield once signified Cold War narratives of surpassing the ­enemy, now appear handmade, floppy, and rumpled. As readymade replicas cut from a textile developed for combat, they parody the symbolic myth-­making power of ­things.


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FIG 7.06  ​Lei

Yan, Camouflage Production, 2007. Fabric sculpture. Courtesy of the


Lei Yan’s reference to domestic space and use of needlework resonate with works often included in a global canon of feminist art, such as the Woman­house proj­ect that Judy Chicago hoped to re-­create with Chinese interlocutors, but Lei injects t­hese now familiar tropes with the Chinese history of ­woman soldier/art soldier. In I Love Kitchen, camouflage items cover gallery walls in a random, almost haphazard way.32 This installation amasses and scatters across white walls the signs of ­house­hold containment and geopo­liti­cal conflict; frenzied materialism and national sacrifice; domestic and global economies. Its chaotic arrangement suggests the dual frontlines the modern Chinese ­woman has faced: the double duty of po­liti­cal and domestic ­labor. Tasked with both symbolic repre­sen­ta­tion of the nation and sociobiological reproduction of the f­ amily, she has been mobilized and demobilized, pulled into public production and returned to the kitchen, according to the needs of the state.33 At the catachrestic conjunction of ­woman soldier/art soldier/woman artist, Lei Yan confronts the double bind of e­ ither serving the nation, regardless of its repressions, or being stuck in “inner quarters” of domestic introspection. The enthusiastically titled I Love Kitchen, which spoofs patriotic love of country and the idea of domestic bliss, stitches together public and private, as

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FIG 7.07  ​Lei

Yan, A Place Where Dream Starts, No. 6, 2011. Paper and thread soft sculpture. Courtesy of the artist.

domains that are not dichotomous but differentially constructed through each other. ­After ice and cloth, Lei Yan began sculpting objects out of paper, producing ghostlike facsimiles that evoke the absent h ­ uman presence of t­ hose who once wore or carried t­hese ­things. Her 2011 series, A Place Where Dream Starts (figure 7.07), consists of objects from everyday military life: cap, sneakers, artillery b­ elt, cups, canteen, and handheld missiles. Fashioned ­after the ­things she once had an intimate material relationship with, they are reminiscent of traditional Chinese funerary offerings, paper objects burned to accompany the dead into the afterworld. The dream implied by the title and the ethereal quality of the spot-­lit sculptures suggest the reveries of youth and idealism. Their light, crumpled paper surfaces take recognizable shape and si­mul­ta­neously make it appear insubstantial. The dream then becomes one of redemption for t­hose lost to past worldings and the work of art that set up ­those worlds and made them vis­i­ble, tangible, desirable, material. This meta-­ideological meditation on her military past emerged from a piece Lei Yan created two year prior. The question of its title How Do I


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Protect You? (figure 7.08) is posed to the ­children who died en masse in the 8.0-­magnitude earthquake that hit the Sichuan counties of Wenchuan and Beichuan on May 12, 2008. Shoddy construction of classrooms and dormitories amplified the natu­ral disaster’s death toll. Collapsed school buildings crushed and killed thousands of students, many of whose bodies w ­ ere never recovered. Their grieving parents declared the engineering of the buildings, some recently constructed, not just tofu but tofu dregs. ­Those who demanded a count of the number of student deaths and investigation into corrupt officials and contractors who had taken shortcuts w ­ ere silenced in the name of stability. From this landscape of disaster, official media broadcast a story of humanitarian aid and the reestablishment of “harmonious society” ­after an exceptional event.34 Social critics attempted to peel back the veneer of this picture and the loss it obscured. The Wenchuan earthquake, like other social crises and controversies, became a touchstone for artists negotiating a new market-­driven valuation of art, its traffic in images, and a legacy of aesthetic commitment to social commentary and collective po­liti­cal strug­gle. Ai Weiwei, for example, responded to the student deaths with proj­ects that blended the creation of modernist art objects on a spectacular scale with online social activism, performative confrontations with Chinese police and l­egal systems, and documentary filmmaking. While the international place of prominence given to Ai’s activities has tended to eclipse other work, he was one among many artists moved by this and related scenes of chronic disaster amid an everyday landscape of environmental degradation and economic in­equality.35 From a distance, Lei’s installation of How Do I Protect You? looks like a pile of trash. On closer inspection, it becomes apparent that she has meticulously re-­created the site of a collapsed school building. Working with translucent white filter paper, needle, and thread, she sculpted crumpled walls, pillars, and furniture. Small details buried within pull viewers closer, implicating them as voy­eur­is­tic witnesses to a crime scene. Shoes, pencil boxes, and backpacks spill out from the rubble. Small black-­and-­white student photo­graphs are tucked into the front pockets of the backpacks (figure 7.09). Tiny paper flowers on long, weedy stems sprout from the scattered personal effects. For the parents of c­ hildren whose bodies w ­ ere never recovered, ­these objects remained all they could collect. Some assembled possessions pulled from the rubble together with stuffed animals, snacks, and bottled drinks to builds altars to their dis­appeared ­children in front of school ruins. T ­ hese ritual offerings, which inverted the Chinese practice of ancestor worship, with a parent feeding the memory of a child

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FIG 7.08 AND 7.09  ​Lei

Yan, How Do I Protect You? 2011. Paper sculpture, installation view and detail. Courtesy of the artist.

Monumental Ephemeral

At the turn of the millennium, a new culture industry took up con­temporary art as a way to advance China’s national image on the global stage. The state enlisted the names and talents of “dissident” figures who had spent years abroad or whose work had once been censored. Artists like Ai Weiwei and Cai Guoqiang and filmmakers like Zhang Yimou and Jia Zhangke contributed to the monumental spectacles of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 Shanghai World Expo. ­These twenty-­first-­century spectacles of awe-­inspiring national achievement continued a legacy of form that runs through imperial and Maoist China: of artworks, buildings, and rituals executed on a ­grand scale. Large-­scale structures from the ­Great Wall to the Monument to the ­People’s Heroes in Tian­anmen Square to the Bird’s Nest Stadium are invested with the power of monumentality, the control and shaping of collective memory. As Wu Hung notes in an essay on the subject, “The Latin root of monumentality means recalling and admonishing. In order to exercise the function of admonition, official monuments always are awesome, majestic, and inhuman structures; their huge mass controls the public space in which they are placed.”36 As a challenge to this function, Chinese avant-­garde artists in the 1980s and 1990s experimented with antimonumentality, creating pieces that Wu identifies as ­either


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instead of the other way around, insisted on the existence of lost lives the state tried to erase with money offered for families’ silence. Lei Yan’s hand-­ sewn re-­creation of everyday use objects reenchants them in a similar way, while her choice of materials echoes the condemnatory criticism of poorly constructed buildings as tofu dregs. T ­ hese ghost objects, rather than easing spiritual passage like their ritual counterpart of joss paper burned in veneration of the dead, stand in instead for life a­ fter life in a field of death and disaster, where the unequal distribution of life and death are justified by the intertwined proj­ects of late socialism and late liberalism. The paper sculpture series that followed include A Place Where Dream Starts and On the Road, a cluster of bags and suitcases arranged on the cement floor of an empty factory space. Together ­these three-­dimensional explorations in the flimsy medium of paper evoke the precariousness of life—­the ubiquitous traffic between personhood and thingness—­for the young soldier, the mi­ grant worker, the lost child, ­those unaccounted for and gone missing again and again.

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countermonuments or attempts to achieve antimonuments. Hence, the large number of experimental art proj­ects on the G ­ reat Wall. The prob­lem with an antimonumental critique of monumental power is that it often slides ­toward that which it aims to deconstruct. The propensity of Chinese experimental artists to make large-­scale pieces that command the world’s attention perpetuates the socialist mandate to forge a new po­liti­cal order through cultural production and revolution. This like-­sized response to the hegemony of art as state politics and to the global cultural order of ­things risks mimicking and reproducing the spectacular society it purports to critique. It engages in a politics of scale that continues to world in power­ful ways. Ai Weiwei, who gained local and global distinction through his role as design con­sul­tant on the National Stadium for the Beijing Olympics, serves as the most prominent example of this phenomenon, as well as the contradictions that arose during this turning-­point period for Chinese con­temporary art. Even in his l­ater critique of the Olympics, antagonism to the state, and commitment to art as social activism, his activities assumed an epic scale: in their formal aesthetics, resources commanded for their realization, and international recognition for their bad boy po­liti­cal dissent. In William Callahan’s analy­sis of Ai as a figure of ironic tensions, he observes the mutual dependence of dissidents and officials for “their respective legitimacies and identities,” in which “Ai’s anti-­state oppositional discourse thus tends to reproduce the state even as it resists it.”37 The pieces Ai Weiwei created in response to the Wenchuan earthquake, exhibited in museums around the world, are monumental in scale. They admonish state silence, even as they represent that same nation-­state in the international art arena. In Lei Yan’s How Can I Protect You?, paper sculptures of backpacks spill out from insubstantial, ghostly rubble. In Ai Weiwei’s Remembering, installed in 2009 across the façade of Munich’s Haus der Kunst, nine thousand colorful ­children’s backpacks write out in bubbly Chinese characters, “She lived happily in this world for seven years.” A Beichuan m ­ other who refused compensation money for her d­ aughter’s death wrote this sentence as what she wanted ­people to remember. For Straight, an installation piece first exhibited in his 2012–13 survey show at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC, Ai purchased thirty-­eight tons of mangled rebar sal­vaged from the earthquake reconstruction zone and hired a team of workers to hammer it straight. He then arranged it in piles of vari­ous heights to create a long, rolling landscape of rusted steel ruptured by fault lines. The accompanying wall text read, “The tragic real­ity of ­today is reflected in the true plight of


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our spiritual existence. We are spineless and cannot stand straight.” Sichuan Name List (2008–11) rec­ords the name, gender, age, school, and class of 5,212 ­children who perished in the earthquake, information collected by the hundreds of citizen volunteers who responded to Ai Weiwei’s online call for an investigation into the student deaths. Installed at the Hirshhorn, the list spanned a massive, curving wall. A monument to the dead and the collective ­labor it took to document them, it resembles a war memorial. Lei Yan’s small rumpled paper sculpture Ten Years of D ­ ying Young, created in 2012, also pres­ents a list. Three flower-­strewn tablets rec­ord crises of the millennium’s first de­cade with the Wenchuan earthquake inserted into a transnational field of death and injury in combat zones, terrorist actions, industrial accidents, and natu­ral disasters. It would be facile in comparing ­these works—­the monumental and the ephemeral—to reinscribe familiar dichotomies of male/female, liumang/ nüxing, public and private. Such a normativizing move would erase the traces of the ephemeral in the monumental and of the monumental in the ephemeral. Considering art by Ai Weiwei and Lei Yan together, while a seeming “impossible real­ity” in current curatorial rules of the game, makes it pos­si­ble to see them also as ethnographic fragments of avant-­garde/xianfeng cultural transition. As much as Lei Yan’s work inhabits an image world of late Qing and early Republican illustrations of w ­ omen with binoculars to their eyes, so too is it in relationship with pieces like Ai Weiwei’s Remembering, Straight, and Sichuan Name List. Holding ­these works together is a way of understanding Chinese con­temporary art in the expanded field, putting ­those marginalized by globalized, professionalized cir­cuits back in and asking what new questions and lines of sight this method of montage opens up. How does a feminist lens highlight the contradictions of an emerging art world and enable a differential consciousness about the shifting role of art—as ideological, institutional, and imaginative—­within vari­ous configurations of power? The biographies of ­these two artists, born within months of each other in the early years of the ­People’s Republic, read in parallel reveal shifts and strug­gles among what Bourdieau identifies as the fields of cultural production, of power, and of economics or class relations.38 Ai Weiwei was born in 1957. His ­father—­a poet who had studied in France, endured Guomin­ dang imprisonment, joined Mao at Yan’an, and edited P­ eople’s Lit­er­a­ture—­ was denounced that same year in the Anti-­Rightist Campaign and sent to China’s northwest with his f­ amily. A ­ fter seventeen years of exile in Heilongjiang and Xinjiang, they returned to Beijing. In 1978, Ai Weiwei briefly

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attended the Beijing Film Acad­emy. A red princeling, heir to a patriline of art and politics, vagrancy and imprisonment, he left China for the United States in 1981. For twelve years he lived in New York, where he studied at the Parsons School of Design, befriended Allen Ginsberg, and became a peripatetic photographer of East Village life. Lei Yan was also born in 1957, into the ­family of a c­ areer officer in the ­People’s Liberation Army. She followed her ­father into the military, studied printmaking as part of her army training, photographed life on the Sino-­Vietnamese front, and received advance training at the pla’s Arts Acad­emy. When Ai Weiwei became the official Chinese con­sul­tant to the Swiss firm designing the Beijing Olympics National Stadium, it seemed like the ultimate tizhi wai (outside-­ the-­system) artist had reversed position in ser­vice to a monumental statement of China’s arrival on the world stage. When Lei Yan posed “what if” questions to Mao retrospectively adorned with a 1930s female hairstyle, it seemed like the ultimate tizhi nei (inside-­the-­system) artist had reversed position in a deconstructive tour of the past and its archives. Their unfolding lives and works, ­shaped by a history in which art and politics ­were never understood as autonomous realms, briefly approach each other in their responses to Chinese state image management of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. Are they part of the same or competing sectors of the field of cultural production? Their reversals in relation to the “system,” as well as the depth of their conceptual practices and aesthetic excavations, force a reworking of Bourdieu’s analytic framework, which was developed in a bourgeois Eu­ro­pean context. Art in the Maoist field was theorized as aligned with revolutionary power, rather than in a dominated or inverted relationship with it. It did not tend ­toward the dominant pole of the field of cap­i­tal­ist class relations; its superstructure was intended to lead the base, to smash colonial and class hierarchy. Chinese con­temporary art in the era of late socialism–­late liberalism is a field of contradictory historical and ideological forces and of competing institutionalized authorities and economies. This has become the playing field for an artist like Ai Weiwei, imprisoned and embraced by the monumentalizing gestures of canonization. His art commands public museum spaces the world over, exposing (and solidifying) the Chinese state in the name of freedom and pro­gress. The work of Lei Yan, a former pla propagandist working from the edge of the nation and the margins of the international art world, raises the following questions: What spectres of “always already absent pres­ent” haunt Ai Weiwei’s aesthetic experiments?39 For whom are t­ hese heroic politics of exposure most persuasive? What makes London’s Tate Modern broadcast


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from its rooftop the message “Release Ai Weiwei,” rather than “Recognize and compensate the families of lost ­children” or “The ­people have suffered from the co­ali­tion of government and business”? 40 In June 1994, five years ­after the events of June 4, Ai Weiwei photographed his wife, the artist Lu Qing, in Tian­anmen Square. She stands in front of the Gate of Heavenly Peace, her back against the pedestrian barricade on the opposite side of Chang’an Boulevard, far away enough that her head appears next to and the same size as Mao’s in the larger-­than-­life portrait that hangs b­ ehind her. Her head cocked to the side and one foot propped up on the metal barricade, she stares casually at the camera while lifting her translucent black skirt with both hands to expose her underwear. In a twist on the socialist use of the female body to expose and attack class enemies, her flippant pin-up pose disregards and diminishes the monumental power of Mao. Although the photo­graph has since circulated as an early example of Ai Weiwei in “Fuck Off” mode, at the moment of its initial exposure, the question of artistic agency remains open to speculation. Is Ai Weiwei as photographer or Lu Qing as performer the artist? Who is the image made for? A year l­ater Ai Weiwei stood further from the Gate in Tian­anmen Square and photographed his own hand flipping a ­middle fin­ger to Mao’s portrait. In Study in Perspective, his raised digit in the foreground takes the place of Lu Qing’s body next to the Chairman, looming large beside the portrait, threatening to blot it out. The ­woman and her conflicted, embodied politics of exposure dis­appear from the picture. Almost two de­cades l­ater, Ai Weiwei created a large-­scale piece for the 2013 Venice Biennale titled S.A.C.R.E.D. Its six parts—­Supper, Accused, Cleansing, Ritual, Entropy, Doubt—­depict in realist detail his eighty-­one day prison detention in 2011. Large iron boxes, installed in the place of pews in a church turned art gallery, contain half-­scale plexiglass dioramas of the incarcerated artist being interrogated, showering, eating, shitting, and sleeping. Spectators can observe ­these scenes through small glass win­dows on the sides or tops of the boxes. In a sculptural installation that takes on the weight and scale of history painting, the artist’s own body on display becomes the locus of indignity, suffering, and re­sis­tance. It is a spectacular form of self-­portraiture haunted by a Maoist legacy of charismatic male leadership. Lei Yan’s paper sculptures are similarly haunted but respond to the legacy by a refusal to authoritatively represent. Her arrested objects resist the temporal pull of narrative and modernity’s myth of pro­gress. Their empty presence decenters the h ­ uman subject, drawing attention instead to absences

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and omissions in normative stories of art, feminism, and nation. Her lightweight sculptures turn away from the tradition of history painting so central to socialist aesthetics and t­ oward the genre of the still life. An evacuated pair of military sneakers was one of the first forms she fashioned out of paper. They give shape to what Norman Bryson analyzes in still life painting as the voiding of individual or idealized ­human presence: “Still life takes on the exploration of what ‘importance’ tramples underfoot.” 41 Jacques Derrida likewise ruminates on the relationship between subject and object through a still life painting of shoes: “As soon as ­these abandoned shoes no longer have any strict relationship with a subject borne or bearing/wearing, they become the anonymous, lightened, voided support (but so much the heavier from being abandoned to its opaque inertia) of an absent subject whose name returns to haunt the open form.” 42

The Hallowed Object

Lei Yan has continued to work in paper, manipulating, creasing, and sewing the flat material into a surfeit of three-­dimensional objects, each of which would readily fit in the hand. For The Hallowed Object, a 2016 solo exhibition in Beijing’s Caochangdi art district, she displayed seventy-­six sculpted objects en masse, arranged along a narrow shelf the entire length of a gallery wall. The exhibit also included black-­and-­white photo­graphs of the objects—­some taking repre­sen­ta­tional shape, ­others uncanny in form—as single pieces or in small groupings. A tall, slender cone topped with a five-­ point star stands forlornly on its own. An upright axe and sickle turn away from each other. A larger assembly of objects (figure 7.10) resembles a domestic still life with b­ ottles, vases, and a candlestick, but it also includes the axe and sickle, a bugle, an antitank missile, and a trench mortar bomb nose down and fins in the air. What might seem to be an ornamental vessel with a ­handle turns out to be a hand grenade. Eccentrically s­haped containers mingle with t­ hose of recognizable use. In the long three-­dimensional display along the wall, the accumulated abundance of objects becomes a pro­cession, a tableau vivant, even a cityscape. Overproduction, ­whether of symbolic imagery or industrial goods, is hallowed and hollow. The wrinkled, white shapes vacillate between solid and void. The Chinese title for the series, Shengwu, can also be translated as relic. The reliquary Lei Yan has created, however, does not produce reverence for or the aura of an individual hero.


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FIG 7.10  ​Lei

Yan, Relic, No. 20, 2016. Photo­graph of paper sculpture, 50 cm × 33 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

They invoke reflection on cast-­off ideals of collectivity and on who or what endures. Lei Yan takes what is ready-­to-­hand—­techniques of her training as a military artist, badges and photo­graphs of revolutionary identification, the fabric and tools of warfare and subordination—­and subjects them to material transmutation.43 They may resemble their former selves, but they no longer serve a taken-­for-­granted use in the world. The tool, the symbol, the sign become resistant and ephemeral. Her body of work is not an archive of cultural facts but an artistic repertoire that reflects and returns the remade object back into the world. In her aesthetics of arrested ephemerality, materiality ­matters, even or especially at its vanishing point, b­ ecause the t­ hing represents a congealed moment in a longer social trajectory. It registers the pro­cess of being caught in the double bind of institutions that purport to represent and protect even as they use up, silence, and make waste of. She invests ­things with agency and personhood, with a critical historiographical consciousness. Lei Yan’s experiments serve not to admonish but to bring back into consciousness lost lives and camouflaged histories. They exhibit a feminist epistemology of thinking relationally about social hierarchy, aesthetic form, and ideology; about the ongoing production of social abstractions

chapter seven


and markings that create in­equality and injustice. Her binoculars trained backward, across the field of history, trace feminist sight lines of knowledge, recognition, affiliation, and alliance in which art takes on an ethical dimension, of remembering, of attending to loss and erasure, of taking care. Art becomes less a stable, lasting, authoritative object than the work of sensuous engagement with one’s material and social environment. In Lei Yan’s practice, art is not warfare, but a methodology of making ­things speak from beyond death to register the disappearance of that taken from us. Her contemplative body of work at the intersection of ­woman soldier, military artist, and w ­ oman artist echoes over a hundred years ­later the words of anarchist-­feminist writer He-­Yin Zhen, whose theoretical writings have only recently been pulled out from ­under the monumental edifice of history. In an essay written in 1907, “On Feminist Antimilitarism,” she challenges hawkish Chinese ideals espoused in the name of national self-­strengthening. She describes the ideology of male superiority and female inferiority, of social hierarchies and classes, of heaven and earth, as rooted in the long history of militarism and male conscription. She lambasts the condition of w ­ omen and the common p­ eople alike as willing slaves taken advantage of by the government and cap­it­al­ists. She writes, “It is truly absurd that every­one boasts about becoming a militarized ­people. ­There are even a handful of w ­ omen who ardently hope to become like Mulan or Liang Hongyu. This is especially senseless. ­Today, in contrast to t­ hese sentiments, I ­will explain why ­women should be opposed to militarism. . . . ​antimilitarism can help the common ­people seize their own freedom; it can extend protection to all h ­ uman lives.” 44 Lei Yan’s practice of art as an iterative ritual of reflection and care, posed in queries of “what if” and “how can I,” pres­ents a contrast to the premise of Chinese con­temporary art as a mark of global arrival.

Recursive Worldly Fables


Over a de­cade ­after Li Tianpian’s death, one of her shuang nü ti (double female figure) studies in oil reappeared in the public eye, repurposed in a painting by a male con­temporary. Wang Xingwei, like Li Tianpian, hails from Shenyang and originally trained in socialist realism. In 2013, the Ullens Center for Con­temporary Art (ucca) in Beijing’s 798 Art District held a midcareer retrospective of Wang’s work, seventy-­four paintings spanning two de­cades. Executed in a wide range of styles, the paintings juxtapose in weird, witty, and reiterative ways references drawn from Eu­ro­pean classical, Chinese socialist, and “global” con­temporary art canons. They mix, in a seemingly indiscriminate manner, figures and poses from the likes of Sandro Botticelli, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys, Li Chunhua, Quan Shanshi, Allen Jones, Jeff Koons, Fang Lijun, and Wang Guangyi, as well commercial imagery and cartoons from reform-­era Chinese newspapers, magazines, and public blackboards.1 A 2002 painting was hung as the final piece in the ucca exhibit.2 Untitled (Three Nudes) copies and composes together figurative works by Yang Feiyun and Li Tianpian. Yang’s Male Nude, painted in 1981 while he was a student at the Central Acad­emy of Fine Arts, features a model in a power­ful upright stance. His raises one fist to his chest; the other, clenched around a stone, extends down and to his side. The spotlit pose, accentuated by a dark background, shows off muscular definition and realist anatomical repre­sen­ta­tion. In Wang’s restaging, Yang’s male nude stands at the rear of the pictorial space, ­behind the two female figures from Li Tianpian’s ­Women of the Republic of China.3 In her original, painted in 1998 while she was a student at the China Art Acad­emy, two nudes rest side by side on a chaise lounge draped with a white sheet: one sits facing the back wall, her head bent down as if looking at something in her hands; the other f­aces forward and reclines to the side, in an odalisquelike pose. Untitled (Three Nudes) stages the figures from t­hese staid academic studies in a triangulated charade of sexual ser­vice and visual consumption. The ­woman with



her back to the viewer buries her face in the genitalia of the male nude who towers above her. His gaze, in turn, falls directly upon the exposed body of the second ­woman. She stares blankly out, as if oblivious to the scene into which she’s been conscripted. The ucca exhibit wall text for the painting notes, “Wang cheekily combines two classics of Chinese academic realism.” The painting, hung at the end of his retrospective, might be read as a parting shot at the academic art of copying, his critique of and creative rise above it, even as his globally recognized oeuvre of formal repetition and juxtaposition depends on the skills and references of this training. When I first saw the painting, none of this critical apparatus mattered. It simply felt like an affront. What did it mean for Li Tianpian to be returned to the world in this way? Detached from her now (almost) dis­appeared body of work—­her strug­gles with the medium of painting, its politics of repre­sen­ta­tion, and gendered norms of work and duty—­she is cast without recourse in the role-­playing games of another. This recruitment as readymade, a well-­worn conceptual move, ignores the fact that at the same moment she painted ­Women of the Republic of China, whose title harkens to the early twentieth-­century introduction of nude model painting from Eu­rope to China, she also painted Red Souvenir. Her own experimentation with montage, its layers of gendered repre­sen­ta­tion and repression, slides out of history. I just wanted to put ­these artistic repre­sen­ta­tions side by side, and then add historical real­ity to the picture. To put them all together like this . . . ​Think about it, ­these original ­women when they started out ­were so beautiful, wearing military uniforms, with straps and supply bags crisscrossing their chests, wearing ­these kinds of clothes, some in dresses. They have such a valiant and heroic bearing. Then ­after they w ­ ere captured . . . ​this picture was taken when they ­were in jail . . . ​­they’re wearing old clothes. It ­wasn’t long ­after their release that they married the ­enemy.

Wang Xingwei, in his incessant return to and collision of iconic images and poses, seems intent on exposing their ideological under­pinnings, the systems of social, cultural, and po­liti­cal meaning that grant them value.4 His aesthetics of montage—­like many of the artworks and modes of practice I have focused on in this book—­show Chinese con­temporary art to be a zone of cultural encounter. His paintings emerge from and contend with shifting conditions for cultural production in China. While worldings overlap with or haunt one another in his work, they remain centrally struc-


recursive worldly fables

tured, perhaps even critically so, by patriarchal gender norms. But to the extent that Untitled (Three Nudes) makes Li Tianpian the butt of a joke—­ that of the self-­fellating masterpiece—it robs her of the power to world.5 Its irreverent surface conceals the material sociality of her position in an emergent art world. Its front affronts the laboring bodies of the models, the memory of Li Tianpian, and the embodied, resistant histories of t­ hose disciplined by visual regimes of typification.6 If Wang Xingwei, the eponymous retrospective exhibit at ucca, an eponymous museum founded by a Belgian businessman who over three de­cades amassed one of the largest collections of Chinese con­temporary art, represents a kind of monumentality, its final work remains haunted by what it makes ephemeral. Throughout the many years of researching and writing this book, I have sought to situate Chinese con­temporary art in an expanded field that takes into account gender and globalization articulated together. ­Doing so has required laying out and puzzling through the interlocking double binds that catch art world social actors up. It has meant cultivating a dialectical understanding of monumental and ephemeral across time, seeing one as the shadow of the other in a historical field of ruin, erasure, and excavation. When certain forms of repre­sen­ta­tion and life take on weight, solidity, and authority, a par­tic­ul­ar worlding comes to seem self-­evident. Yet the creative striving and critical ­labor of ­those never quite concealed by this pro­cess continually disrupt its smooth surface, even or especially when the worlding enlists them—­their bodies and their imaginations—at their own expense. From my position in the U.S. acad­emy, where self-­evident worldings are challenged but also often reproduced, I understand my creative, critical ­labor to be that of recognizing, unforgetting, and making vis­i­ble t­hese disruptions. Approaching the art world as a feminist anthropologist ­shaped my knowledge, such that I cannot see a painting like Wang Xingwei’s Untitled (Three Nudes) without placing it within an expanded image world that also includes a Red Detachment retrospective of Li Tianpian as presented in chapter 5. If I had conducted my research primarily through attention to Chinese con­ temporary art exhibits, events, and discourse, this feminist sight line would have been occluded. The time I spent as a participant observer attuned to questions of gender and power in classrooms, in encounters between Chinese and Western artists and curators, and in interviews and activities with a broad range of ­people engaged in the pursuit of something they called art informs my interpretation of the images produced in the pro­cess. If not an ethnographer, I most likely would never have met Li Tianpian or spent



the time to see the world from her perspective, as I did through fragments of conversation on the mattress on the floor, our backs to the wall, of the small room in which she lived as unmarried teacher of oil painting in the socialist realist tradition. Since the now historical turn-­of-­the-­millennium moment of my initial fieldwork, con­temporary art from China has achieved global recognition in museums, galleries, and auction ­houses throughout Eu­rope, North Amer­ i­ca, Asia, and beyond. High-­profile Chinese artists have made individual names for themselves on this cir­cuit, as solo shows for some abate, to an extent, the sense of being the face of the other in Western exhibitions of “global art.” New cultural institutions within the Chinese Mainland showcase, collect, and sell this work almost as a ­matter of course. Artists in border locations like Hong Kong, Taiwan, K ­ orea, and Vietnam, as well as Chinese diasporic artists in other parts of the world, increasingly feel the hegemony of Mainland China’s place in an international art world order. Official leadership still periodically exercises a heavy hand with regard to artistic expression, as evidenced by high-­profile events like the arrest of Ai Weiwei in 2011 or closure of the Beijing In­de­pen­dent Film Festival in 2014. In that same year, President Xi Jinping gave an internal speech on the arts as part of his overall consolidation of power and control of dissent. The full text was publicly released one year ­later. Modeled ­after Mao’s “Talks at the Yan’an Conference on Art and Lit­er­a­ture,” Xi tasked artists and writers with upholding morality, pro­gress, and the “Chinese spirit,” lambasting ­those who produce “cultural garbage” that does not distinguish between good and evil or conform to party discipline.7 Nonetheless, the culture industry that arose in conjunction with China’s twenty-­first millennial push to go global as an economic and po­liti­cal force to be reckoned with remains alive and well. Culture and creativity have, indeed, become new modes of governmentality, ways of cultivating and celebrating individual aspiration, talent, and authorship even as ­these discursive constructions control, through stratification along class, ethnic, and gender lines, t­hose who may or may not receive recognition and material rewards.8 My ethnography, of a turning point in Chinese con­temporary art, provides an account of the history that underlies this con­temporary situation. In the introduction, I reflected on a question I wrote in a 2002 field note: Am I trying to write an ethnography about a city in which art plays a part or an ethnography about art in which the city plays a part? My research explored the questions that unfolded from that one. How do aesthetics do more than simply reflect po­liti­cal, social, and economic change? How does cultural


recursive worldly fables

production actively shape collective consciousness and social identity, perceptions of time and space, and visions of the world? What is the legacy of past forms of visual praxis on con­temporary production? How are envisioned timespaces always-­already uneven and gendered? While the rise and recognition of Chinese con­temporary art may now seem a fait accompli, the questions and strug­gles explored in ­these pages persist. A closely observed story of the past, related through the experiences, words, and images of the social actors involved in its making, provides a challenge to ­future master scripts of it. As the artists I worked with taught me again and again, the past is an open resource. As I write this epilogue in 2016, a new opera The Long March plays at Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts to celebrate, with full nationalistic fervor, the historical event’s eightieth anniversary. The words of the opening chorus—­“We differ in status, but we have the same aspiration: to join the Red Army. To change the world!”—­reverberate through a theater designed by Paul Andreu as part of the effort to remake the capital city and launch it anew on the global stage.9 Spectacular productions like this one are meant to smooth over the ironies and contradictions of the differing politics and systems of art it enfolds together. The motley “what if” strug­gles of participants who, as recounted in chapter 4, gathered on the shores of Lugu Lake in 2001 for an earlier restaging of The Long March, serve as a discomfiting counterpoint to this choral expression of national unity. They likewise unsettle ideas about global art and global feminism raised by exhibits and proj­ects or­ ga­nized u ­ nder ­these banners. In the prologue, “Worldly Fables,” I sketched the lives of two early twentieth-­century artists as a way of refuting the myth of China’s millennial “linking tracks with the world” as brand new. I paired Xu Beihong and Pan Yuliang ­because of their historical proximity and the ways their paths crossed each other in Eu­ro­pean and Chinese art institutions. Their adaptation of academic oil painting to dif­fer­ent repre­sen­ta­tional ends fed into a heated debate about the social role of art in the Chinese cultural politics of their time. I also paired them to demonstrate that at ­every turn of their ­careers gender politics influenced what they painted, the opportunities that opened or closed to them, and their artistic afterlives. When this prefatory conceit, of twinned male and female artists, continued to reappear in my own developing narrative, my initial instinct was to tamp it down. Why, I thought, in writing about Lei Yan did I need to bring Ai Weiwei into the picture, even if I could make him the shadow story to her life and work instead of the other way around? Did the surfacing of Wang



Xingwei’s Untitled (Three Nudes) in the wake of Li Tianpian’s death make it worth writing about it? Why ­couldn’t I simply write about artists like Pan Yuliang, Lei Yan, and Li Tianpian without reference to male peers whose visibility has often eclipsed theirs? W ­ ouldn’t inverting the usual rules of the game serve some notion of justice? Then it dawned on me that t­ hese troublesome pairings, which seemed to arise from my research materials against my internal critic’s ­will, demonstrated with utter clarity and specificity the conceptual mechanism of nannü youbie (male/female differentiation) as first theorized by He-­Yin Zhen prior to the historical emergence of Pan Yuliang and Xu Beihong. The work of art actively produces social distinctions as a form of power and domination. It reiterates symbolic o­ rders, sometimes with a radical difference, always within a relationship of past to pres­ent. In this book, guided by the artists who have opened my feminist sight lines, I emphasize the possibility of radical difference, of differential historiographical consciousness, of imagining a world that is not hierarchically structured by t­hese social abstractions and markings. As much as nannü hierarchies persist in the pairings I pres­ent, the artistic practice of the ­women I focus on confront them in deep and complex ways that open up interpretation of work by male peers and the work of art enmeshed in global power relations. Feminist art as a relational epistemology thus moves beyond recognition of the “­woman artist” to the act of making vis­ib­ le multidirectional tensions between colonial and decolonial forces in strug­gles over what counts as art. Fi­nally, the artists I bring to the fore also demonstrate that feminist movement in China, even though its Sinophonic articulations are less than fully translated by this catchall in En­glish, are as far from brand new as China is to the world. The first images of this book, Wang Nengtao’s Subversion, Yin Xiuzhen’s Portable Beijing, and Chen Lingyang’s 25:00, laid the ground for my argument about Chinese con­temporary art as a zone of cultural encounter. They respond aesthetically to the chaiqian (de­mo­li­tion and relocation) turning over of China’s capital, in which art and urbanism intertwine in the global city ­under construction, and in which gender and sexuality figure centrally in iterative conceptions of China’s modernity and worldliness. In 2006, multimedia artist Cao Fei began creating an online interactive environment in Second Life (sl) that figuratively collides the worldings imaged by the artworks I chose as my entry point.10 She describes this three-­dimensional virtual world—­named rmb City ­after the reminbi, or “­people’s currency,” of the prc—as an expression of the forces that “made China, my coun-


recursive worldly fables

try, such a syncretic experimental place.”11 The sl-­user “residents” who populate the city interact through customized avatars and instant messaging. Designed by Cao in collaboration with Guangzhou’s Vitamin Creative Space and overseas sl builders, rmb City theatricalizes in a speculative, open-­ended way the development of the Chinese global city as an uneven and gendered timespace. The virtual world of rmb City consists of an island cut in the cartographic shape of modern China, which emerges from the ­middle of the ocean. Balanced atop the island is an elaborate structure of disparate architectural ele­ments assembled together to create a three-­dimensional fantasy park that sl users explore via their avatars. At one edge of the island city, a statue of the ­Great Helmsman sinks into the ocean, his hand raised ­toward the rusted out remains of the Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium. Karl Marx floats on an embroidered cushion over a winding highway between I. M. Pei’s Hong Kong Bank of China Tower and a g­ iant golden Buddha. The bubbly pink and silver spaceship-­like Oriental Pearl Tower from Shanghai rises in the center at a precarious tilt. Rem Koolhaas’s cctv Tower dangles upside down, suspended over the city, from a monstrous crane. Four ancient stone pillars—­one balanced on an armed tank, another on a warship—­rise into the sky to support the Gate of Heavenly Peace. A waterpark, instead of Tian­ anmen Square, extends in front of it. A portrait of a panda hangs on the gate, between two large slogans in white and red. Instead of “Long Live the ­People’s Republic of China” and “Long Live the ­Great Unity of the World’s ­Peoples,” they declare in En­glish “My City Is Yours” and “Your City Is Mine.” This updated billing was provided by a gallery in New York’s Chelsea district, which provided the artist with real-­life (rl) retail space for an “advanced preview and sale” of the planned city. In a dramatic mimicry of the conjunction of real estate, urban planning, and art explored through chapter 2, investors and institutions used rl cash to rent virtual buildings and commission virtual proj­ects in rmb City.12 Cao Fei inhabits rmb City as the avatar China Tracy, whose sexy cyberpunk warrior fashion shows off the exaggerated proportions of the typical female body in gamer culture. She wanders the city, walking through and flying over it, and interacts with other users’ avatars. The piece has been exhibited around the world, primarily in video form but also in a yangbanxi (model opera) adaptation that combined actors and video projection.13 For the 2007 Venice Biennale, Cao staged an onsite and sl China Tracy Pavilion, which screened a three-­part cyber epic based on six months of China Tracy’s journeys through a city for sale, including her love affair with a young



male avatar, Hug Yue, whom she ­later discovered was a sixty-­five-­year-­old American. Produced as machinima, the technique of filming a virtual environment using video game software, i-­Mirror: A Second Life Documentary Film opens with a black screen and the sound of typing on a computer keyboard. The following lines appear in glowing yellow font: “I construct, and I am constructed, in a mutually recursive pro­cess that continually changes my fluid, permeable bound­aries and my endlessly ramifying networks. I am a spatially extended cyborg.”14 In 2009 Cao created the machinima Live in rmb City, commissioned by Tokyo’s Shiseido gallery for a solo show of her work. As reflection on life ­after the birth of her son, the film features China Tracy leading a toddler avatar, China Sun, through their virtual world while answering his stream of questions about its buildings, inhabitants, and the meaning of their existence. The ­mother frankly, if sometimes elliptically, tutors her curious son—­not so subtly named ­after the “East is Red” national meta­phor of the ccp as the shining sun—in the po­liti­cal, creative, and sexual economies of their world. Conspicuously absent is a f­ ather figure, suggesting an alternative to national traditions of patriarchal hegemony in the real and repre­ sen­ta­tional realms. When Cao returns to the real world and China Tracy dis­appears, China Sun has to endure the loneliness of life without her, a mirroring of the artist’s navigation of divisions between real and virtual, artistic and affective, productive and reproductive ­labor. Their mother-­child dialogue ends with a set of questions from China Sun about his parentage: “­Father? Who is ­father? What does he look like? Like Godzilla? Or Ultraman? Or Doraemon. . . . ​­Mother, how do I get to the real world? When you have time, can you bring me along with you? Is t­here a rmb City like this one too?”15 Cao Fei eventually brought an end to rmb City by sinking it into the ocean. The proj­ect made its final appearance in Apocalypse Tomorrow: Surf in rmb City, a 2011 one-­person-­game art installation that lets players surf, using a monk avatar, through the flooded ruins. In a screen shot of Live in rmb City (plate 19) that circulates as one of its afterimages, China Tracy rises above her virtual world. She looms large in the foreground with the darkened backdrop of the city b­ ehind her shrouded in smoke. Faint lights illuminate the contours of its miniaturized monuments. Her voluptuous body is encased in a suit of shiny silver metal. Her right arm, a large mechanical, armed claw, wraps protectively around China Sun. They both look past the viewer ­toward another horizon. Born a generation ­after most of the artists whose lives and works fill this book, Cao Fei, a.k.a. China Tracy, continues, as she moves through the


recursive worldly fables

monumental ruins of the past and pres­ent t­ oward a speculative f­ uture, to explore the “ramifying networks” of image worlds that unfold over space and time. I imagine flashing across the illuminated billboards of rmb City a palimpsest of other images bearing an aesthetic relationship with China Tracy’s appearance on the horizon: a w ­ oman with binoculars to her eyes gazing out ­toward a flying machine, or back ­toward soldiers on the battlefield of history; the visage of actress Ruan Lingyu superimposed over the glittering lights of colonial-­era Shanghai in her 1934 s­ilent film role as a hard-­working prostitute driven to desperation, or projected in a scale-­model animation for a cinema at the center of the G ­ rand moma apartment complex in new millennium Beijing; a maidservant who exposes her wounds as a gesture of protest, or a w ­ oman in a purple wig and sunglasses who wields a cleaver in the sprawling scale model for Beijing’s SOHO real estate development; a bare-­breasted w ­ oman atop a watch tower on the G ­ reat Wall likened to Liberty Leading the P­ eople or transformed into a blur of light and motion; a giantess who becomes as large as she likes and does what­ever she likes at the magic hour of 25:00.

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PROLOGUE. Worldly Fables


For biographical information on Xu Beihong, see Andrews and Shen, The Art of Modern China, 42, 66–69; ­Sullivan, Art and Artists of Twentieth-­Century China, 68–72. 2 For biographical information on Pan Yuliang, see Pan Yuliang meishu zuopin xuanji, 96–103; Khullar, “Parallel Tracks”; ­Sullivan, Art and Artists of Twentieth-­ Century China, 38, 203; Sung, Redefining Female Talent, 165–249; Xu, “Early 20th-­ Century ­Women Paint­ers in Shanghai,” 209–10. 3 Xu Beihong, “I Am Bewildered,” 374. 4 “Manifesto of the Art Movement Society,” 373. 5 ­Sullivan, Art and Artists of Twentieth-­Century China, 84. 6 Shi, Hua hun. 7 Huang, Hua hun. INTRODUCTION. Chinese Con­temporary Art


China was first invited to participate in the Venice Biennale in 1980, but officials e­ ither unfamiliar with Western conceptions of con­temporary art or bent on espousing a socialist message of art by “the p­ eople” sent folk art such as papercuts and tapestries. Francesca Dal Lago, who has detailed this history in “Papercuts, Colorful Pictures and Mountains of Shit,” also served as con­sul­tant to curator Achille Bonito Oliva for the 1993 Biennale exhibit Passaggio a Oriente (Passage to the East), which included Chinese and Japa­nese artists. In 1997, the Chinese government sent academic-­style paintings. 2 Director of the 1999 Biennale, Harald Szeemann, curated the exhibit that included this group of artists; see Szeemann and Lavelli, La Biennale di Venezia. 3 The first effort to establish a national pavilion occurred in 2003. Due to the outbreak of sars that summer, the Chinese government cancelled its installation in Venice and exhibited the selected works at the Guangdong Museum of Art instead. See Wang, “Officializing the Unofficial,” for a history of the 2003 pro­cess that laid the ground for the 2005 Chinese Pavilion in Venice. 4 Kingston, “Far Pavilions.” 5 His many public forms of criticism led to a short h ­ ouse arrest in 2010 and subsequent three-­month detention in 2011.

notes to introduction


6 I draw in my thinking about this conjunction from Povinelli’s theorization of late liberalism within the context of neoliberalism; see Economies of Abandonment, 1–45. 7 For more on official censorship of art during this period, see Barmé, In the Red, 201–4; Gao, “From Elite to Small Man”; and Wu, Transience and Exhibiting Experimental Art in China. 8 Sassen, The Global City. 9 Wang’s Subversion serves as the cata­logue cover image for an exhibit at the Guangdong Museum of Art on the relationship between art and urbanism; see Zhang, New Urbanism. 10 Other works exploring the ideological importance of urban aesthetics in reform-­ era China include Braester, Painting the City Red; and Visser, Cities Surround the Countryside. 11 For more, see Wang, High Culture Fever. 12 I draw ­here on Claypool’s “Metadomesticity,” in which she argues that Yin offers a hopeful counterpoint to sociologist Marc Augé’s bleak definition of supermodernity: “What I am calling ‘metadomesticity’ can be conceived in entirely negative terms—we might see it as one aspect of the supermodern world’s threatening tracts of dehumanized modular non-­places—­but through Yin’s visual work we can glimpse how it also possesses the potential for reimagining the world, constructing a positive pro­cess by which the domestic infiltrates ­those negative non-­places, ­those gaping ‘black holes,’ reinvesting them with ­human meaning.” 13 See also Mao, Chopsticks. 14 Yin, interview. 15 Gao, Fengshou, 21. 16 Chen, artist statement. 17 Lü, Zhongguo dangdai yishu shi; Gao, The Wall; Wu, Con­temporary Chinese Art. 18 For a review of and reflection on this growing body of scholarship, see Hershatter, ­Women in China’s Long Twentieth ­Century, and “Disquiet in the House of Gender.” 19 I draw on the concept of po­liti­cal grammar and its importance in feminist storytelling from Hemming, Why Stories ­Matter. 20 The Chinese term liumang consists of two characters, liu meaning “to flow” and mang referring to “common p­ eople.” It connotes an “outsider” identity, someone who has fallen out of ­family, group, or state relations and therefore is potentially subversive. In the Chinese translation of the Communist Manifesto, the German term lumpenproletariat became liumang wuchanzhe (hooligan proletariat). The criminalization of hooliganism—­activities such as gang fights, sexual assault on ­women, and disruption of public order—­was codified ­under a provision of China’s 1979 Criminal Law and subsequently used to also police homosex between men. This historical anxiety about wide-­ranging male activities outside of heteronormative kinship demonstrates the need for deconstruction of ­gendered masculine and feminine norms together. Dutton, Streetlife China, 62–74; Kang, “The Decriminalization and Depathologization of Homo­sexuality in China.”


notes to introduction

21 Andrews and Gao, “The Avant-­Garde’s Challenge to Official Art.” 22 Wu, Con­temporary Chinese Art, 5–13. Several other impor­tant exhibits at the National Art Museum of China marked the 1980s “culture fever” moment: retrospectives of U.S. Pop Art figure Robert Rauschenberg and French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent in 1985, and a 1988 nude art show backed by the Ministry of Culture, which drew almost a quarter of a million visitors in eigh­ teen days. 23 Kraus critiques this “Godzilla model” framing of China’s arts as unsatisfying “­because it imagines a Chinese state that is both consistent and omnipotent, while the rec­ord shows a polity far more internally divided, erratic, and ineffectual. The Godzilla model is not much better when it comes to artists, whom it romanticizes as heroes and rebel-­dissident” (The Party and the Arty in China, 143). He pres­ents an alternative narrative of artists in a protracted strug­gle for professional status and security. In “Arrière-­pensée on an Avant-­Garde,” Barmé cynically predicts that Chinese artists’ response to this Western fetishization and market demand ­will lead to “a new avant-­garde art-­to-­order: dissent on tap” (82). 24 For an overview of t­ hese overseas exhibits, see Erickson, “The Reception in the West of Experimental Mainland Chinese Art of the 1990s.” 25 Smaller, more focused exhibits of Chinese con­temporary art in the United States preceded Inside Out, including Painting the Chinese Dream: Chinese Art Thirty Years ­After the Revolution (Brooklyn Museum, 1983); “I ­Don’t Want to Play Cards with Cézanne” and Other Works: Se­lections from the Chinese “New Wave” and “Avant-­Garde” Art of the Eighties (Asia Pacific Museum, Pasadena, 1991); Fragmented Memory: The Chinese Avant-­Garde in Exile (Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, 1993); and China’s New Art, Post-1989 (University of Oregon Art Museum, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Salina Arts Center, Chicago Cultural Center, and San Jose Museum of Art, 1995–1998). 26 See for example, Cheng, “What Would Mao Think?” 27 Nochlin, “Why Have T ­ here Been No ­Great W ­ omen Artists?” 28 Hershatter, Honig, and Rofel, “Reflections on the Fourth World Conference of ­Women, Beijing and Huairou”; Welland, “What ­Women ­Will Have Been.” 29 Lin, Yuan nüxing yishu; Liao, Zhongguo dangdai yishu zhong de nüxing fangshi. 30 Jia, “Preface,” 9. 31 Werner, “The Half of the Sky,” 37n3. 32 Werner, “The Half of the Sky,” 37n3. 33 Some artists I talked with disparaged the use of symbols that readily identified a work as Chinese, such as Maoist iconography, as lazy pandering to a foreign market. They used the term fuhaozhuyi (symbolism) to describe this trend, but in an ironic way with a meaning more like trademark-­ism. 34 Yao, In Production Mode. 35 See for example Abu-­Lughod, Writing W ­ omen’s Worlds; Behar and Gordon, W ­ omen Writing Culture; Tsing, In the Realm of the Diamond Queen; and Visweswaran, Fictions of Feminist Ethnography. Haraway, “Situated Knowledge” influenced this feminist turn in anthropology.

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36 Faier, Intimate Encounters; Faier and Rofel, “Ethnographies of Encounter.” 37 Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” 32. 38 Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” 33. 39 Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” 34. 40 Chinese artists of the con­temporary era employ a wider array of media than t­ hose represented by this interpretation of dangdai yishu. Calligraphers and ink paint­ ers continue to practice t­hese “traditional” and, according to some, more Chinese art forms in the current moment and so can be considered con­temporary artists. However, with a few notable crossover exceptions such as Xu Bing and Gu Wenda, they tend to be labeled ­under categories such as “new ink painting” (xin shuimo hua) or “national painting” (guohua), understood to be more firmly rooted in China and its diasporas. Concerted effort goes into differentiating “con­ temporary” and “traditional” forms, even though artists often work in both. The phrase “con­temporary Chinese art” risks emphasizing the Chinese-­ness of the art, a distinction I am more interested in analyzing than reifying. 41 ­These magazines include titles such as Yishu shijie (Art world), Xiandai yishu (Modern art/translated by the editors as Con­temporary art), Yishu dangdai (Art contemporary/translated by the editors as Art China), and Xin chao (New wave/ translated by the editors as Next wave). Many other popu­lar publications on con­ temporary urban life had regular sections devoted to con­temporary art. 42 Tsing, Friction. 43 Said, Orientalism, 25. 44 Danto, “The Artworld,” 580. 45 Becker, Art Worlds. 46 Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production. 47 Gell, Art and Agency. 48 Tsing, “The Global Situation.” 49 Clifford, Routes, 69. 50 Nochlin, ­Women, Art, and Power; Parker and Pollock, Old Mistresses; Pollock, Differencing the Canon. 51 Liu, Karl, and Ko, The Birth of Chinese Feminism, 53–71. While often referred to as He Zhen by Chinese historians, she signed her published works He-­Yin Zhen, including her m ­ other’s maiden name as part of a compound f­ amily name. All of her extant writings first appeared in the anarchist-­leaning feminist journal Tianyi bao (Natu­ral justice), which He-­Yin edited in Tokyo. This journal also published the first translation of The Communist Manifesto into Chinese in 1908. 52 For a nuanced discussion of nannü as an analytic category, see the introduction by Liu, Karl, and Ko, Birth of Chinese Feminism, 1–26. 53 Welland, Cruel/Loving Bodies and Cruel/Loving Bodies 2. 54 This formulation of feminist art arose from my collaboration with Sonal ­Khullar in our introductory address for an international conference we co-­ organized, New Geographies of Feminist Art: China, Asia, and the World, held at the University of Washington in November 2012. In her keynote address at the conference, Shu-­mei Shih similarly discussed feminist art in terms of an ethics of


notes to introduction

responsibility, in which “feminism becomes the medium, and is no longer merely the content.” 55 Sandoval, Methodology of the Oppressed, 110. 56 Sandoval, Methodology of the Oppressed, 111. 57 Judge, The Precious Raft of History, 87–95. 58 Bateson, “­Toward a Theory of Schizo­phre­nia,” 206–12. 59 Jamieson, Beyond the Double Bind, 3–21. 60 Khullar, Worldly Affiliations. 61 Chen and Araeen, “A Conversation,” 24. 62 Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art,” 171. 63 Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire. 64 Spivak, “Three ­Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism,” 260; Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art,” 171. 65 Spivak, “Three ­Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism,” 243. 66 Karl, Staging the World. 67 In The Lure of the Modern, Shu-­mei Shih’s study of the cultural politics of semicolonialism in Chinese literary modernism, she defines semicolonialism as “the specific effects of multiple imperialist presences in China and their fragmentary colonial geography (largely confined to coastal cities) and control, as well as the resulting social and cultural formations” (31). 68 This national narrative of colonial humiliation can itself, however, serve imperialist tendencies, as it selectively overlooks the Chinese state’s hegemonic Han incursions in contested ethnic minority regions. 69 Hevia, “Looting Beijing: 1860, 1900,” 198. 70 Hevia points out the intimate connection of the word loot to British imperial expansion; it entered En­glish from Hindi via Sanskrit [Hindi lut, lutna, from Sanskrit lunt(h)-­rob] in the eigh­teenth ­century. 71 Throughout the nineteenth c­ entury, Chinese and Japa­nese pictorial works entered the British Museum cata­logued as “prints and drawings,” rather than as Oriental objects. Craig Clunas comments, in “China in Britain,” on how this transitional moment, before Chinese ceramics and antiquities became the consolidated mainstay of “Chinese Art,” has now come to seem categorically illogical: “At a time when Chinese ceramics w ­ ere still, at least administratively, the same t­ hings as canoes and weapons, a Hiroshige print was the same as a Rembrandt print” (45). 72 Clunas, “China in Britain,” 47. 73 In Vision, Race, and Modernity, Deborah Poole examines the “visual economy” through which photographic images such as t­ hese ­shaped modern conceptions of “racial difference.” 74 The postcard, produced by the Belgian com­pany Nels, includes the following explanatory text: “The feet of young girls are compressed with cloth bands in order to obtain ‘small feet,’ which constitute one of the ele­ments of Chinese female beauty.” In the full, original postcard (a cropped version appeared in the Beijing Youth News article), the photo of the w ­ oman is juxtaposed with one of a “Mendiant Chinois,” an el­derly man dressed in rags leaning on a cane and holding out a

notes to introduction


begging bowl. This ethnographic depiction, as part of the popu­lar production of postcards sent around the world, equates China’s traditional female practices with poverty and decay. Both postcards appear in Chen, Jiu meng zhong jing, 183–84. 75 Chen, “Sheng zhuang de jixing.” 76 Barlow, The Question of ­Women in Chinese Feminism. 77 Andrews, Paint­ers and Politics in the P­ eople’s Republic of China, 215–16. This painting appeared on two magazine covers in 1960: the August issue of China Reconstructs and the September issue of Meishu (Art). 78 Barlow, The Question of ­Women in Chinese Feminism. 79 Engels, “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific,” 690. 80 Andrews, “­Women Artists in Twentieth-­Century China”; Zheng, “The Shanghai Fine Arts College: Art Education and Modern ­Women Artists in the 1920s and 1930s.” 81 Post-1968 French intellectuals and cultural critics pres­ent one notable exception to this Western attitude t­ oward the arts ­under Mao. See for example, special edition of Cahiers du Cinema, 236–37 (March–­April 1972). 82 Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art. In “Con­temporary Asian Art and Its Western Reception,” Clarke also notes the structural per­sis­tence of a colonial worlding in the contextualization of Chinese art in popu­lar American art history textbooks. His analy­sis of the popu­lar Gardner’s Art through the Ages demonstrates how its authors “create a picture of Chinese art as static and homogenous” (240). 83 Wu and Phillips, Between Past and ­Future, 203. 84 Barlow, The Question of ­Women in Chinese Feminism. 85 Barlow, The Question of ­Women in Chinese Feminism, 253–54. 86 Dai, “A Scene in the Fog,” 72. CHAPTER 1. Xianfeng Beijing


Asia Art Archive’s online collection contains a digital copy of the invitation, www​ .aaa​.­org​.­hk (accessed in 2017). 2 Liu, Translingual Practice. 3 Gao, Total Modernity and the Avant-­Garde, 166. 4 Competing terms like shiyan (experimental) and dangdai (con­temporary) eventually grew more common. 5 This periodical published out of Tianjin ran from 1999 to 2002. 6 Wu Hung developed the idea of “remaking Beijing” in a book with this title, which focuses on Tian­anmen Square as locus for the transformation po­liti­cal space and symbology. 7 Benjamin, “N: On the Theory of Knowledge, Theory of Pro­gress,” 462. My method of montage draws on Convolute N of Benjamin’s arcades proj­ect, in which he develops the theoretical and methodological framework for the overall work. 8 Dewar, “Beijing Report.” 9 Wang, “Culture as Leisure and Culture as Capital,” 88–89.


notes to chapter one

10 Wang, “Culture as Leisure and Culture as Capital,” 88. 11 ­There are parallels between the mid-1990s assertion by urban planners of Beijing’s primacy as China’s cultural center and early twentieth-­century efforts to make it a modern metropolis whose showcasing of Chinese tradition would gain world stature. In “Defining Beiping,” Madeleine Dong details how urban planners sought to develop a self-­sustaining economy a­ fter the Chinese capital moved from Beijing to Nanjing in 1928. They promoted a 1933 plan to turn it into a tourist city and another in 1935 for the “construction of a China-­based Culture” centered in Beiping as a “reflection of national confidence.” 12 Anagnost, “The Corporeal Politics of Quality (Suzhi).” She and other anthropologists investigating the rural-­urban question in China document the deep impact of ­these discursive and material shifts in the voice of rural citizens referring to themselves as “dead brains” and to the countryside as a “field of death.” Liu, In One’s Own Shadow; and Yan, “Spectralization of the Rural.” 13 As Zhang argues in her analy­sis of official policy on Beijing’s rural-­to-­urban mi­ grants in Strangers in the City, the state exerted influence through new forms of governmentality. Micropractices shaping citizen conduct occurred through social institutions such as f­amily relations, schools, and the marketplace, so that neither the state nor capital could be seen as external to the other. 14 Wang, “Culture as Leisure and Culture as Capital,” 71–72. 15 Shu, Zhongguo yingxiang huihua, 68. 16 Mao’s declaration followed one by Khrushchev that the industrial output of the Soviet Union would surpass that of the United States within fifteen years. The heated exchange between Khrushchev and Nixon at the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow’s Sokolniki Park became known as the “Kitchen Debate.” Oldenziel and Zachmann, Cold War Kitchen. 17 The most famous of t­ hese paintings is Dong Xiwen’s monumental The Founding of the Nation, originally painted in 1952–53 but subsequently revised and recopied in 1955, 1967, 1972, and 1980 to account for purged and rehabilitated figures. 18 Ye, interview. 19 Barlow, The Question of ­Women in Chinese Feminism, 213. 20 Poggioli, The Theory of the Avant-­Garde, 95. 21 Bürger, Theory of the Avant-­Garde. 22 Gao, Total Modernity and the Avant-­Garde, 1–4. 23 Lin, “Shoudu meishu zhanlanhui zhi yiyi,” 462. A key member of the Overseas Art Movement, Lin had just returned to China from studies abroad in France; see Tang, Origins of the Chinese Avant-­Garde, 36. 24 Tang, Origins of the Chinese Avant-­Garde, 59. 25 Qianwei, while semantically synonymous with xianfeng, traces a dif­fer­ent sinophonic trajectory. It gained greater currency in the PRC in the 1990s when writing on art and theory from Hong Kong and Taiwan made their way into the Mainland. 26 Liu, Translingual Practice, 189–90. 27 Krauss, The Originality of the Avant-­Garde and Other Modernist Myths, 157.

notes to chapter one


28 Van Gogh’s copies of Japa­nese woodblock prints by Ando Hiroshige’s serve as one of the most famous examples of such borrowings. While well documented, this influence is not usually narrated as evidence of his derivativeness but of the innovative direction he took Western painting. 29 Hernández-­Reguant, “Copyrighting Che,” 9. 30 Mao, Selected Readings, 231. 31 Mao, Selected Readings, 403–4. 32 Kraus, Brushes with Power, 96–108. 33 Wang Qingsong, interview. 34 Several gallerists who represent Chinese con­temporary art, in China and abroad, described in offhand ways the prob­lem of educating artists in market conventions. 35 This speaker was a panelist in “Collecting Con­temporary Asian Art—­Patronage and the Art Market,” as part of the conference “Looking Ahead: Dialogues in Asian Con­temporary Art,” held at the Asia Society in New York on November 8–9, 2002. 36 Gao, “Foreword,” viii. 37 Xiao, Dialogue, 42. 38 Zheng, “The Shanghai Fine Arts College.” 39 Zheng, “Private Art Tutorial Schools in Shanghai.” 40 Andrews and Shen, The Art of Modern China, 66–67. 41 This rough periodization is drawn from Chow, The May Fourth Movement. 42 ­After Beijing’s Central Acad­emy of Fine Arts and Hangzhou’s China Acad­emy of Art, the o­ thers included in the “big eight” of art schools are the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute (Chongqing), Xi’an Acad­emy of Fine Arts, Hubei Institute of Fine Arts (Wuhan), Guangzhou Acad­emy of Fine Arts, Tianjin Acad­emy of Fine Arts, and Lu Xun Acad­emy of Fine Arts (originally founded in Yan’an and eventually moved to locations in Shenyang and Dalian). 43 Giorgio Vasari, a painter and writer best known for his collected biographies of Re­nais­sance artists, The Lives of the Artists, founded the Accademia del Disegno to raise the artist’s status from craftsman to professional creator driven by an inner vision. 44 ­Under Xi Jinping, party leadership resuscitated this practice of sending artists to the countryside in a December 2014 announcement of a new program intended to influence con­temporary art production. Qin, “China’s Artists to Be Taught ‘Correct View’ in New Plan.” 45 Zhang Ou, interview. 46 The composition and subject ­matter of this 1960 photo­graph bear striking resemblance to Eu­ro­pean depictions of the academic art ideal, fellow educated professionals joined in study of the nude figure as the repre­sen­ta­tion of enlightenment reason. Johann Zoffany’s The Academicians of the Royal Acad­emy (1772), for example, portrays acad­emy members amid plaster casts in the Life Room on the Strand in London. They fix their attention on a nude male model just right of center. As Parker and Pollock point out in Old Mistresses, 87–90, Zoffany’s painting also documents gender divisions. The Royal Acad­emy included two female members, both accomplished paint­ers, one a founding member of the acad­emy, who nonetheless


notes to chapter one

­ ere not allowed to study nude models in the Life Room. In order to accurately w rec­ord the acad­emy’s membership, Zoffany included the w ­ omen in the form of two portraits hanging on the wall ­behind the model. 47 Former cafa students provided details of this story. Tsao, “The Birth of the Goddess of Democracy” pres­ents the most thorough account in En­glish of the sculpture’s creation. 48 Barboza, “Schooling the Artists’ Republic of China.” 49 Anagnost, “The Corporeal Politics of Quality (Suzhi),” tracks how Chinese suzhi discourse from the late 1980s on reflected the changing relationship between value and bodies during economic reform. Techniques from institutional campaigns to popu­lar self-­help manuals exhorted citizens to raise the quality of the nation by raising their own “quality.” Anagnost argues that the practices of distinction that characterized a “person of quality” depended on new forms of consumption and a middle-­class desire for upward social mobility. Woronov in “The Eye of the Chicken” looks specifically at suzhi jiaoyu to argue how ­children of mi­grant workers in Beijing are educated to learn their place in new spatial and social hierarchies as backward in relation to urban residents. 50 Parents eagerly espoused the most minute of practices in discussions of raising their ­children’s suzhi. One ­mother explained to me that American ­children sleep on their sides instead of their backs, like Chinese ­children, making their f­aces thinner and more attractive. 51 For a detailed ethnographic account of t­ hese mi­grant enclaves, see Zhang, Strangers in the City. 52 In Zhongguo dangdai yishu shi, Lü Peng refers to them as mangliu yishujia (blind floater artists), 200. For a terminological discussion of mangliu, see Guang, “Rural Taste, Urban Fashions.” 53 Zhao and Shi, We Are ­Here. 54 For photographic documentation of life in East Village, see artist Xing Danwen’s Wo-­Men: A Personal Diary of Chinese Avant-­Garde Art in the 1990s. 55 Tongzhou District website, www.bjtz​.­cn​/­tongzhou​.­html (accessed in 2000). For articles describing the Tongzhou artist community, see Le, “Jingcheng liulang yishujia de xingfu sheng­huo”; and Yang, “The Tongzhou Artists Community.” 56 See Sasaki proj­ect page, www.sasaki​.­com (accessed in 2014). 57 Wang, “Songzhuang yishujia de cunzai fangshi,” 69. 58 Wang, “Songzhuang yishujia de cunzai fangshi,” 72. 59 The workers repeatedly negotiated for higher wages to do something so humiliating. ­Those who refused to undress or only partially undressed received lower wages. 60 Chen, “Bu neng yi yishu de mingyi na qiongren kaixin,” 9. 61 Wang Nanhe (pseudonym), interview. 62 Coleman, “Flux,” 7. 63 Zhang Dali, interview. 64 Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 11. 65 Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 10.

notes to chapter one


66 Shao, “Exhibiting the Modern.” 67 One of Zhu’s early video pieces, Forever (1994), was filmed using a similar method. He attached a camera to the back wheel of a bicycle cart and pedaled through Beijing. The camera recorded the wheel’s cyclical movement, halting at traffic stops and randomly capturing urban scenes from dif­fer­ent a­ ngles. Forever puts knowledge of a place in postmodern spin, disrupting Zhu’s day job in official image management and recalling Lao She’s classic novel Rickshaw Boy, a left-­leaning indictment of individualism serially published beginning in 1937. The novel’s protagonist strug­gles to survive and maintain his dignity as he pulls a range of characters through Beijing—­“filthy, beautiful, decrepit, lively, chaotic, peaceful, and charming.” Lao, Rickshaw Boy, 290. 68 Zhu, interview. 69 Fan Di’an was the director of the China Art Expo in 1995, the year it moved from Guangzhou to Beijing. 70 In the cata­logue, Ai and cocurator Feng Boyi struck a defiant stance: “In t­ oday’s art, the ‘alternative’ position entails challenging and criticizing the power discourse and popu­lar conventions. In an uncooperative and uncompromising way, it self-­consciously resists the threat of assimilation and vulgarization.” Ai and Feng, Fuck Off, 9. 71 Merewether, “The Spectre of Being H ­ uman,” 58. 72 Articles like Sun, “Sheng­huo zai cishi,” in the P­ eople’s Daily reported that the exhibit “let p­ eople see that Chinese con­temporary art is an art blazing new trails [chuangxin de yishu].” 73 This use of minjian as a term of opposition to guanfang contrasted with its Maoist referent, folk traditions of the revolutionary rural peasantry. They used minjian instead as a synonym for “unofficial” to describe exhibits, such as Fuck Off, that did not bear the imprimatur of the state, and artist or curator-­financed cata­logues without ISBN numbers that could not officially be sold in bookstores. 74 While the complex is referred to in En­glish as G ­ rand moma, in Chinese it is Dangdai (con­temporary) moma. 75 Full-­page spreads provide details on New York’s Rocke­fel­ler and Time Warner Centers, Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills, and Paris’s La Défense District. 76 Dangdai zhiye, Dangdai moma by Steven Holl Architects. 77 La Danse is part of the New York MoMA permanent collection. 78 Tweedie, “Delirious Cities and Their Cinema,” 386–87. CHAPTER 2. Showcase Beijing



See the final per­for­mance scene in Wu Wenguang, He mingong tiaowu. The “bare branch” (guanggun) of the lament refers to a single man without ­children. For more on the historical significance of guanggun as a social class, see Mann’s Gender and Sexuality in Modern Chinese History, 1–23. Yang, “Yu mingong yiqi wudao”; Xiao, “Yi chang nanyi dingyi de biaoyan”; Xiao, “Yu ling yi zhong shenti gongwu”; Cui, “Yici xing youxi”; Yin, “Yu mingong yiqi wudao.”


notes to chapter two

3 Yin, “Yu mingong,” 5. 4 Yang, “Yu mingong.” 5 The Chinese title for the per­for­mance and Wu Wenguang’s video documentary about it, He mingong wudao, has often been translated into En­glish as Dance with Farm Workers. “Farm worker” does not capture for me the common use of mingong to refer to rural mi­grants working in the informal urban manual ­labor force. I therefore translate the title as Dancing with Mingong. 6 Rofel, Desiring China, 3. 7 Abramson, “Urban Planning in China”; Zhang and Fang, “Is History Repeating Itself?” 8 Wu, Exhibiting Experimental Art in China. The exhibit Cancelled (November 19, 2000–­January 7, 2001), curated by University of Chicago art historian Wu Hung, installed a group show originally curated by Leng Lin in Beijing that was cancelled by officials a day before its opening. This restaging proposed to raise questions about artistic freedom, censorship, and the relationship between experimental art and society at large. 9 Dal Lago et al., “Space and Public”; Chau, “An Awful Mark.” 10 A primarily descriptive account of the Ocean Paradise proj­ect was first published in a special issue of Journal of Visual Culture edited by susan pui san lok: Welland, “Ocean Paradise.” 11 Xie, “Beijing shi wei jiu fang gaizao de duo mubiao fenjie moshi.” 12 For a history of Beijing’s built environment, see Wu, Remaking Beijing. 13 The work of artists such as Xing Danwen (see chapter 1) and Lu Hao explores the social life of scale models. Lu Hao’s Beijing’s Kaleidoscope (2000–2001) is a to-­ scale miniature model representing the architecture within Beijing’s traditional city wall at the turn of the millennium; Lu mounted it on top of twelve large ­tables that viewers could wander between. 14 For example, the location of impressive thoroughfares in Beijing does not always facilitate transportation flow or local commerce. Likewise, a strategic choice was made to position the 2008 Olympic Green on the north-­south meridian line of traditional geomancy so that a single axis runs through the Forbidden City to the new sports and exhibition complex. Abramson, “Urban Planning in China,” 199. 15 Buck-­Morss, Dreamworld and Catastrophe, xi. 16 In the first animation of Beijing’s vari­ous dynastic incarnations, viewers had the experience of flying above and then swooping down into impor­tant historical sites, such as Tian­anmen lined with computer-­simulated imperial guards. 17 ­These statistics come from the Beijing Cultural Relics Administrative Bureau, which oversees management of museums, and include museums at national, city, district, county, and private levels of administration. National statistics, drawn from China Statistical Yearbooks, for the available ten-­year period of 1999–2008 show a 39 ­percent increase, from a total of 1,364 to 1,893 museums. When the Cultural Relics Administrative Bureau was first founded in 1949, it registered and oversaw only 21 museums around the country. The rapid development of museums as a marker of China’s modernity is reinforced by Shanghai’s hosting of the

notes to chapter two


Twenty-­second General Conference of the International Council of Museums in 2010, the same year the city also hosted China’s first World Expo. 18 Kirshenblatt-­Gimblett, Destination Culture, 51, 54. 19 Ivy, Discourses of the Vanishing. 20 Davis, “From Welfare Benefit to Capitalized Asset.” 21 Logan and Molotch, Urban Fortunes, 13. 22 Logan and Molotch, Urban Fortunes, 13. 23 Zhang and Fang, “Is History Repeating Itself?” 24 Zhang, “Urban Development and a Socialist Pro-­Growth Co­ali­tion in Shanghai”; Zhang, “Contesting Spatial Modernity in Late-­Socialist China.” 25 In her ethnographic work on urban renewal, Li Zhang (in “Contesting Spatial Modernity in Late-­Socialist China”) argues that forms of popu­lar opposition, even when officially marginalized, pres­ent alternative visions of urban life. 26 Gao, “From Elite to Small Man,” 161. 27 In research on private homes as a space for performing new middle-­class identity, Li Zhang emphasizes the intertwining of class subjectivity and spatial stratification in urban redevelopment: “What is central in the formation of middle-­class subjects in China is the cultivation of a distinct ‘cultural milieu’ based on taste, judgment, and the acquisition of cultural capital through consumption practices.” Zhang, “Private Homes, Distinct Lifestyles,” 25. 28 Li, “Qingnian yu nongcun,” 149. 29 Wu, Remaking Beijing, 28. 30 “Talking of ­Women’s Liberation,” 13. 31 “Beijing jing mian fangzhi jituan youxian zeren gongsi zongjingli Gu Weida fangtan.” 32 Newman, personal communication. 33 Other slogans read: “We enjoy being busy. We enjoy leisure. We ardently love work. We do what we want. We like being ourselves. A youthful heaven on earth, our life.” 34 Xu, interview. 35 Li and Xu, Yuanyang lixiang, i–­iii. 36 Xu, interview. 37 Chang, “East Modern Art Center,” 139. 38 Song, interview. 39 Song originally wanted the mi­grant workers to dig into the piles of sand and bury the architectural models perched on top. cosred representatives had not allowed this ­because they did not want their models ruined. 40 Song, interview; see also full account of the proj­ect in Yin, “Yu mingong yiqi wudao.” 41 Wu, He mingong tiaowu. This documentary focuses on the dance rehearsals and per­for­mance choreographed by Wen Hui, following the dancers’ day-­by-­day pro­ gress in the week leading up to the public per­for­mance. It was screened at international film festivals (Canada, ­England, Germany, New Zealand, and South K ­ orea) from 2002 to 2003 and in New York as part of a MoMA film series in 2004. 42 Wei, interview.


notes to chapter two

43 One of the foreign dancers, a U.S. citizen working for CNN in Beijing and invited by Wen Hui to be part of the per­for­mance, explained that the choreography reflected a somatic interaction with the site as well as a collaboration between two groups who use their bodies as part of their profession: construction workers and dancers. She described her improvisation with the space in rehearsal: “I crawled, rolled, hung from and clung to ­every part of the construction I could cram, hug, wrap, fling, roll myself into, onto and off of.” Friedman, e-­mail. 44 In “Suku and the Self-­Valorization of Chinese ­Women Workers” and related research, Shuxuan Zhou documents how female SOE workers ­were laid off at higher rates than male workers, w ­ ere less likely to be offered reemployment opportunities, and received less compensation in the form of pensions or other benefits. 45 Yang, “Yu mingong yiqi wudao”; Xiao, “Yi chang nanyi dingyi de biaoyan”; Xiao, “Yu ling yi zhong shenti gongwu”; Cui, “Yici xing youxi”; Yin, “Yu mingong yiqi wudao.” 46 Xu, interview. 47 Song, interview. 48 Anonymous personal communication with author, Beijing, July 2002. 49 Wei, interview. 50 Li and Xu, Yuanyang lixiang, 82. 51 The event was an extension of previous gatherings Wang had or­ga­nized at his studio-­home, which brought ­people from dif­fer­ent backgrounds together to blur the line between everyday ritual and artistic production. 52 Wang digitally altered the posters, revising their slogans to reflect the global ambitions of twenty-­first-­century China. The first, a 1965 poster designed by Ha Qiongwen, originally read: “Become a red seedling: take root, sprout, flower, and bear fruit in all the places the motherland needs it most!” The second, a 1958 poster designed by Lu Xinchen and Shen Lin, declared: “In fifteen years we w ­ ill certainly surpass ­England.” It included target production quotas for steel, coal, and electricity in 1972. 53 Development details come from the Sino-­Ocean website, www.sinooceanland​ .­com (accessed Sept. 2017). 54 In the late 1960s, leaders split what was originally known as the 718 Joint Factory into several subfactories. Of t­ hese, Factory No. 798 was the largest, leading to the eventual association of this number with the art district. The nearby Caochangdi area, once an agricultural ­people’s commune, also began attracting artists and appeared on the cultural map not long ­after 798. 55 Zheng Kuo’s film 798 zhan documents this strug­gle. 56 See also this discussion in chapter 1. ­These artists included Cang Xin, the Gao ­Brothers, Liang Shuo, Song Dong, Wang Jin, Wang Qingsong, Xing Danwen, Zhang Dali, and Zhang Nian. 57 In 2002, I conducted fieldwork interviews, together with in­de­pen­dent curator Zhang Zhaohui, about the mingong art trend with seven of ­these artists, as well as a mi­grant worker who had served as a model and artist assistant on one of their proj­ects.

notes to chapter two


58 “Helping Mi­grants Belong in Cities.” 59 While the Chinese characters for this privatized housing estate are pingguo (apple), the name in En­glish is Pingod. It has no connection with the computer com­pany Apple. 60 Chang, “Pingod (Apple) Sales Center/Art Museum,” 133. 61 Wu, Privatising Culture. 62 Zhang Zikang, interview. 63 Zhang, “Contesting Spatial Modernity in Late-­Socialist China.” 64 My partner and I noticed this graffiti while stuck in traffic on the Third Ring Road in August 2007. We got out of our cab and walked over to the building to talk to ­people sitting on the wall in front. When we returned the following day to take more photos, the protest slogans had already been painted over. For photos, see Tweedie, “Delirious Cities and Their Cinema.” 65 Chau, “An Awful Mark.” 66 Zhang, “Urban Development and a Socialist Pro-­Growth Co­ali­tion in Shanghai”; Zhang, “Contesting Spatial Modernity in Late-­Socialist China.” 67 Zhang and Fang, “Is History Repeating Itself?” 295. CHAPTER 3. The Besieged City

1 Shi, “Wei Cheng: From an Elite Novel to a Popu­lar Meta­phor.” 2 The French proverb Qian cites is: “Le mariage est comme une forteresse assiégée; / ceux qui sont dehors veulent y entrer, et / ceux qui sont dedans veulent en sortir.” 3 In his foreword to the 2004 reissuing of Fortress Besieged in En­glish translation, Jonathan Spence notes that previous to Qian’s novel, a Chinese poet had used the phrase wei cheng to describe the city of Nanjing when it was besieged by the British ­after the First Opium War, infusing it with a history of shame and national humiliation. Qian, Fortress Besieged, ix. 4 Narayan, “How Native Is a ‘Native’ Anthropologist?” Fred Myers writes specifically of his ethnographic experience in the intercultural space of arts exchange, “Working within ­ these conditions is difficult for anthropologists, not least ­because of the strangely altered place of ethnographic knowledge itself, knowledge that becomes inescapably part of what it represents.” Painting Culture, 8. 5 Shih, “­Towards an Ethics of Transnational Encounter.” 6 See the Introduction for an explanation of the analytic term nannü, as theorized by early twentieth-­century anarcho-­feminist He-­Yin Zhen. Following the translators of her texts into En­glish, I keep this term in Chinese rather than replacing it with the proximate En­glish adjective “gendered.” They write, “Translating nannü literally word for word—­nan for ‘man’ and nü for ‘­woman’—­into two or several En­glish words, ‘man and w ­ oman’ or ‘male/female,’ is just as unsatisfactory [as ‘gender’] b­ ecause the literal translation could contradict He-­Yin Zhen’s theoretical proj­ect, which takes nannü as a single conceptual mechanism, used as both noun and adjective, that lies at the foundation of all patriarchal abstractions and


notes to chapter three

markings of distinction” (italics in original). Liu, Karl, and Ko, eds., The Birth of Chinese Feminism, 11. 7 Wu Hung’s analy­sis in “A Chinese Dream” similarly notes a fine line between artistic collaboration and outsourcing in the work of Wang Jin, who hired peasant ­women famous for their fine needlework to craft artworks of his design. Wu describes how artistic identities are negotiated as part of the transaction, and how this coauthorship dis­appears when the art object enters the auction hall of high art commerce. 8 McDougall, Mao Zedong’s “Talks at the Yan’an Conference on Lit­er­at­ ure and Art,” 68. 9 Liu, Translingual Practice, 1. 10 Beginning in the 1990s, international biennial art exhibitions began to proliferate, particularly outside the West, with the biennial serving as a symbol of national development akin to the “big dam” in the second half of the twentieth ­century. 11 Halbreich, “Foreword,” 4. 12 Vergne et al., “Just How Did Latitudes Become Forms?” 134. 13 Liu, Translingual Practice, 26. 14 Liu, Translingual Practice, 305. 15 Liu, Translingual Practice, 236. 16 Goethe and Eckermann, Conversations with Eckermann, 18. 17 Liu, Translingual Practice, 188. 18 de Guzman, e-­mail. 19 de Guzman, “Something about the Bay.” 20 See Karen Tei Yamashita’s I ­Hotel for an experimental fictional account of the rich fabric of community and protest surrounding this historic South of Market h ­ otel, which ­housed thousands of Asian laborers from the early twentieth c­ entury ­until its destruction in 1977. 21 Hartman, City for Sale. 22 Although the label “non-­Western” has frequently been applied to Okwui Enwezor, he has lived primarily in the United States since 1983. 23 Bauer, “Between Art and Politics,” the edited Chinese transcript of the discussion that was ­later published in Du shu. 24 Vergne et al., “Just How Did Latitudes Become Forms?” 25 See as a comparison Dominguez, “A Taste for the ‘Other.’ ” 26 Kimmelman, “A Few Artless Minutes on ‘60 Minutes,’ ” and “At the Whitney, Sound, Fury, and Not Much Else”; Ryan, “The Whitney Fiasco and the Critics.” 27 Female fencer Luan Jujie, known as an “iron girl” for her dedication to training and toughness in competition, won China’s first fencing gold at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. The pose of the fencer in Yan’s image is reminiscent of 1950s posters featuring female industrial workers; the uplifted mask and sword replace that of the welding mask and torch. 28 Kraus, The Party and the Arty in China, 172. 29 Song et al., Zhongguo keyi shuo bu. 30 Ishihara and Mo­rita, The Japan That Can Say No.

notes to chapter three


31 Mahathir and Ishihara, The Voice of Asia. 32 Wang’s use of his teacup as the boat further alludes to the material and symbolic trade of export porcelain from China (in which porcelain ware as china becomes a metonym for its source in China) to Eu­rope, and the Jesuit industrial espionage involving the true porcelain of Jingdezhen in the early eigh­teenth ­century; see Liu, “Robinson Crusoe’s Earthenware Pot.” The teacup analogy for Chinese art on the export market was not uncommon. I heard artists on several occasions compare the exhibition of their work abroad to Chinatown trinket shops around the world where their art becomes just another kind of Zhongguo huo (Chinese commodity). 33 Qian, Fortress Besieged, 43–44. 34 Huang, “Biculturality in Modern China and in Chinese Studies.” 35 Kim, Asian American Lit­er­a­ture; Lowe, Immigrant Acts. 36 I draw h ­ ere on work by Abu-­Lughod, Veiled Sentiments; and Caton, “Peaks of Yemen I Summon,” on cultural poetics, extending their analy­sis of cultural conventions within a society to the zone of cultural encounter. 37 My complicity in the pro­cess as well as frustrated effort to intervene led me to eventually curate an exhibit of Chinese feminist art. Cruel/Loving Bodies brought together a group of artists whose work explored, in vari­ous embodied ways, an intersection of Chinese and gendered identity. This framework disavowed any par­tic­u­lar claims of what a man or ­woman is or should be, or of what it means to be Chinese. It aimed to elicit a dialogue among artists from Mainland China, Hong Kong, and ­Great Britain dealing with ­these questions. The exhibit opened in Shanghai, linked to a conference on feminist thought, at the Duolun Museum of Modern Art in June 2004, before traveling to Beijing’s 798 Space in July of the same year and the Hong Kong Arts Center and, ironically enough, Goethe Institute in 2006. Welland, “On Curating Cruel/Loving Bodies.” 38 Huang, “Yishu, wenti, cehuaren,” 40. 39 Artists Wang Nengtao and Zhang Ou have both produced series of work ­under the title of this famous line from Mao’s speech. CHAPTER 4. The Hinterlands of Feminist Art

1 In Provincializing Eu­rope, Chakrabarty calls this “historicist history.” 2 McDougall, Mao Zedong’s “Talks at the Yan’an Conference on Lit­er­a­ture and Art,” 68–69. 3 Jing Wang, Brand New China. 4 Long March Proj­ect, “Curatorial Plan: Site 6.” 5 Chicago’s translated call for proposals first appeared on arts.cn​.­tom​.­com on April 28, 2002. 6 Visser, Cities Surround the Countryside. 7 This account of the scouting trip that Lei and Sun took to Lugu Lake is drawn from their “battlefront reports.” 8 Johnson, “The Secularization of the Sacred: Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party and Feminist Spirituality,” 88.


notes to chapter four

9 The Brooklyn Museum of Art acquired the piece in 2002 and installed it as part of its permanent collection in 2007; see Smith, “For a Paean to Heroic W ­ omen, a Place at History’s T ­ able.” For an online exhibit tour, see www.brooklynmuseum​ .­org​/­exhibitions​/­dinner​_­party/ (accessed Sept. 2017). 10 Chicago, The Dinner Party, 57–61. 11 Although artists Wu Weihe and Bai Chongmin eventually persuaded me to travel to Lugu Lake, I did take Lu and Qiu up on their suggestion and or­ga­nized a mapping proj­ect in Lijiang, site five of the Long March. On the way from Kunming to Lugu Lake, we stopped in this Naxi city. A ­ fter its old town received designation as a UNESCO heritage site in 1997, it became an increasingly popu­lar tourist destination. With the help of several artists with whom I was traveling, I asked multiple p­ eople—­local Naxi residents, foreign tourists, and Chinese from Beijing and Shanghai—to draw maps of Lijiang based on their experience. Long March organizers ­later lost the maps but posted photo­graphs of them displayed as part of the Lijiang Field Report Exhibit on their website: www.longmarchproject​.­com​ /­images​/­o​-­site5​/­czhd​/­ljtybg​/­e-​ ­index​.­htm (accessed Sept. 2017). 12 Sheng, video recording. Although Chicago spoke to the Chinese artists seated across from her, she used the third person to refer to them (“for them to boycott it) via me as interpreter. 13 Gilmartin, Engendering the Chinese Revolution. 14 Johnson, W ­ omen, the ­Family, and Peasant Revolution in China. 15 Ding, “Thoughts on March 8.” 16 Ding, “Thoughts on March 8,” 318. 17 Feuerwerker, Ding Ling’s Fiction, 102. 18 Walsh, “From Nü Guo to Nü’er Guo.” 19 Mullaney, “Ethnic Classification Writ Large,” 207. 20 Yan, “A Living Fossil of the ­Family.” 21 Walsh, “From Nü Guo to Nü’er Guo,” 457. 22 In 2002, for example, I received an e-­mail invitation to the First China International Symposium on Female Anthropology and Mosuo Matriarchal Culture around Lugu Lake. 23 In Scenes from Yongning, Tami Blumenfield gives the statistic for Luoshui, a village of 500, as having received 478,000 tourists in 2005, 24. She also cata­logued at least 60 films shot in the area, not including Chinese tele­vi­sion productions. In “Documentaries South of the Clouds,” Japa­nese film festival or­ga­nizer Fujioka Asako writes, “­There’s a joke that says if you spend a year on the shores of Lugu Lake, you’ll bump into 100 film crews.” 24 Walsh, “Living with the Myth of Matriarchy.” 25 Blumenfield, Scenes from Yongning. 26 Long March Proj­ect, “Exhibition at Qidi shanzhuang.” 27 Mohanty, “­Under Western Eyes,” 53–54. 28 Barlow, “International Feminism of the ­Future.” 29 Long March Proj­ect, “Curatorial Plan: Site 6.” 30 Kristeva, About Chinese ­Women, 61.

notes to chapter four


31 In The Question of W ­ omen in Chinese Feminism, Barlow asserts “Kristeva felt strongly that Chinese ­women had something to offer ‘Western’ ­women” (311). Spivak, In Other Worlds, emphasizes Kristeva’s orientalist focus on the continuity of a premodern matriarchy over socialism’s role in liberating it. For Spivak, the Chinese ­woman in Kristeva’s text serves primarily as a nameless, ­silent mirror that reflects the complex thinking of French feminist theory. 32 For more on the lives of individual ­women who joined the Long March, see Gilmartin, Engendering the Chinese Revolution; Lee and Wiles, ­Women of the Long March; Young, Choosing Revolution; and King, Unbound. Several of the most prominent among them ­were married to high-­ranking men. Deng Yingchao, married to Zhou Enlai, serves as a prime example. When radical ­women divorced their husbands, they could lose leadership positions. For example, as detailed in Gilmartin, when Xiang Jingyu left Cai Hesen, older ­brother of Cai Chang, she was removed from her directorship of the ­Women’s Bureau and sent to Moscow for further “study” in 1925. In 1928, the Guomin­dang arrested and publicly executed her in Wuhan. Their official announcement featured her sexual liaisons and destruction of her marriage. 33 Jones, “The Sexual Politics of The Dinner Party.” 34 Li Xiaojiang, one of the found­ers of w ­ omen’s studies in China, is representative of this articulation of postsocialist Chinese feminism. For more on the context of the 1995 UN conference, see Hershatter, Honig, and Rofel, “Reflections on the Fourth World Conference on ­Women, Beijing and Huairou.” 35 In response to a similar accusation in the United States, Chicago writes in Beyond the Flower, “I now recognize that ­those who issued this accusation ­were ignorant about the real nature and very egalitarian quality of the studio. True, The Dinner Party was my piece, but that did not mean that ­those who helped me complete it ­were exploited. On the contrary, ­there ­were enriched by the experience, not only by the artmaking but by my treating them and their ideas with a level of re­spect that most of them had never enjoyed before” (68). 36 This account reflects my perspective s­ haped by the experience of traveling with and filming the group of Chinese artists. For a recounting of ­these same events by the Long March organizers, see www.longmarchproject​.­com​/­e​-­progess6–1–1​ .­htm. 37 Kwon, One Place ­after Another. 38 For background on Eternity in Flames (1965), the first film version of ­Sister Jiang’s story, see Wang, Finding ­Women in the State, 196–98. 39 The massacre of prisoners took place on November 27, 1949, a historical event that entered the national consciousness through circulation of the 1961 novel Red Crag, on which S­ ister Jiang is based. The question of ­whether U.S. forces participated in the killings, long the public contention in China, has been the subject of academic investigation and historical revision. While saco did provide support to the Guomin­dang, their personnel left Chongqing years before the executions took place. See Eberlein, “Another Kind of American History in Chongqing.” 40 Mani, Contentious Traditions.


notes to chapter four

41 Although Zhang’s original plan was to extend the series to include seven locations, in the end she was only able to realize it in two, Luoshui and Chengdu. 42 Foster, The Return of the Real, 197. 43 Liao, “ ‘­Women’s Art’ as Part of Con­temporary Chinese Art since 1990,” 60. 44 Liao, Zhongguo dangdai yishu zhong de nüxing yishu, 2. 45 Liao, Nüxingzhuyi zuowei fangshi. 46 Feng, “Limitless Difference,” 66. 47 Erickson, “The Rise of a Feminist Spirit in Con­temporary Chinese Art,” 65. 48 Cotter, “China’s Female Artists Quietly Emerge.” 49 Jia, “Preface,” 9. 50 Cotter, “China’s Female Artists Quietly Emerge.” 51 Erickson, “The Rise of a Feminist Spirit in Con­temporary Chinese Art.” 52 Chiu, “Thread, Concrete, and Ice,” 50. 53 Bateson, “­Toward a Theory of Schizo­phre­nia,” 201. 54 Barlow, The Question of ­Women in Chinese Feminism. 55 Dooling, ­Women’s Literary Feminism in Twentieth-­Century China, 2. 56 Barlow, The Question of ­Women in Chinese Feminism, 14. 57 Xu, “Dialogue: The Awakening of ­Women’s Consciousness,” 19. 58 Yang, “Zhuanbian zhong de Zhongguo nüxing yishu,” 5. 59 Erickson, “The Rise of a Feminist Spirit in Con­temporary Chinese Art,” 67. 60 Kristeva, About Chinese ­Women, 16. 61 Erickson, “The Rise of a Feminist Spirit in Con­temporary Chinese Art,” 71. 62 Karetzky, Femininity in Con­temporary Asian Art, 2. 63 Jones, “The Sexual Politics of The Dinner Party,” 105. In Through the Flower, Chicago reflects on the importance of recognizing female authorities as educators and role models: “To be an authority figure in the sense that I use the term is to be an authority about a given subject and to have information that is valuable to ­others” (108). 64 Hernández-­Reguant, “Copyrighting Che.” 65 Pang, “ ‘China Who Makes and Fakes,’ ” 121. 66 Rofel, Desiring China, 143. 67 Chien, “Marginal Discourse and Pacific Rim ­Women’s Arts,” 667. 68 In 2010, the Tate Modern in London, one of the most influential art museums in the world, displayed a timeline of major artistic movements and figures from the twentieth and twentieth-­first centuries. All of the artists listed ­under its plotting of “Feminism,” a movement assigned to the 1960s, hailed from dominant Euro-­ American centers. The absence of contemporaries from other locations reflects a set of historiographical and po­liti­cal prob­lems around the institutionalization of feminist art in the West. This occlusion of feminist art and artists from non-­Western contexts was also in evidence at the 2009 exhibition Elles at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, whose curators proposed a revision of the category of con­temporary art by representing it exclusively through works by w ­ omen artists in the museum’s permanent collection. Contemporaneous attempts to survey feminist art practice on a more global scale partially challenged the Tate and Pompidou narratives. Global

Feminisms (2007, Brooklyn Museum of Art) and Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution (2007, MoCA, Los Angeles and PS1, New York City) invoked the figure of the postcolonial or non-­Western ­woman artist, even as their curators subsumed multiple histories of feminism within a single overarching narrative centered in the West.

notes to chapter four


CHAPTER 5. Red Detachment

1 2 3

Chi, “The Red Detachment of ­Women,” 154. Buck-­Morss, Dreamworld and Catastrophe. In the 1950s, ­after the founding of the PRC, state ethnographers created an official system of categorization with fifty-­five recognized ethnic minority nationalities (xiaoshu minzu). The Central Minorities University in Beijing gives preferential, quota-­based admission to students from t­ hese groups, although some Han students attend the university. Li Tianpian’s ­mother was Hui, a Muslim minority. 4 This inclusion of her self-­portrait as artist within the larger painting is reminiscent of Velazquez’s appearance in Las Meninas. As Foucault has observed of this famous painting, the simultaneity of dif­fer­ent subject positions, and the viewer’s shifting back and forth among them, incites a paradoxical relationship between real­ity and repre­sen­ta­tion (Foucault, The Order of ­Things, 3–16). 5 Li, interview. 6 The term she uses for realism is xieshi (realistic depiction). The opposite of xieshi or xiesheng (drawing or painting from life) is the traditional Chinese ink painting concept of xieyi (communication of ideas and feelings), characterized by loose, suggestive, sometimes almost abstract brushwork. During the early socialist period, xieyi painting was equated with elite literati painting and therefore deemphasized. As Julia Andrews notes in Paint­ers and Politics in the ­People’s Republic of China, Chinese art education first ­adopted Eu­ro­pean styles of painting in the Republican era: “The presumption of many idealistic intellectuals was that Western media w ­ ere better suited to modern, international art, or, in the language of the May Fourth Movement, to art that was more scientific” (48). 7 For example, between 1953 and 1956, two dozen young artists affiliated with Chinese academic institutions ­were sent to Leningrad for a six-­year course in oil painting at the Repin Art Acad­emy. 8 Xie, Hongse niangzi jun. 9 Official Chinese critics praised the nineteenth-­century French painter as early as 1954, and Liberty Leading the ­People became a history painting standard in Chinese art acad­emy education. Artists Chen Yifei and Wei Jingshan drew on its composition for their 1977 painting The Taking of the Presidential Palace, a large-­ scale work depicting the ccp raising their flag ­after victory over the Guomin­dang. Commissioned for Beijing’s Military Museum, it still hangs ­there. 10 Cui, ­Women through the Lens, 84. 11 Cui, ­Women through the Lens, 84–85. Cui’s use of “the sublime” in relation to Hong Changqing deviates from the conventional use of the term for that which

CHAPTER 6. Opening the G ­ reat Wall

1 Luttge, HA Schult: Art Is Action. 2 Myers, Painting Culture, 8. 3 Another painting from 1979, Awakening of Tarim, by Oil Painting Research Association member Zhao Yixiong similarly uses a female nude, reclining on a patchwork of past and pres­ent Silk Road images, as a national symbol—in this case, of the modernization of the Taklamakan Desert in Western China’s Xinjiang Province. See Cohen, The New Chinese Painting. 4 Kraus, The Party and the Arty in China.


notes to chapter six

is unrepresentable, inexplicable, or overwhelming. She uses it to indicate the fictional real­ity of a figure meant to represent a collectivity, onto which individuals cathect. 12 Nedoshivin, “Lun huihua zhong de dianxing wenti,” 41. 13 Witke, Comrade Chiang Ch’ing, 120–21. 14 Williams, Marxism and Lit­er­a­ture, 78. He points out the irony in the abstraction of the base and superstructure into separable areas since “the force of Marx’s original criticism had been mainly directed against the separation of ‘areas’ of thought and activity (as in the separation of consciousness from material production) and against the related evacuation of specific content—­real ­human activities—by the imposition of abstract categories.” 15 Witke, Comrade Chiang Ch’ing, 405. 16 China Ballet Troupe, Red Detachment of ­Women. 17 The script includes in italics the terms for dance movements. Bei shen gui bu, for example, indicates a kneeling lunge with the torso twisted so that the dancer’s back ­faces the audience, in this case to display the whip marks painted on the back of her costume. For standard ballet movements, the French term is given ­after the Chinese. 18 Liang xiang is a term from traditional Chinese opera. It is a still, statuesque pose assumed for a brief moment by the actors or dancers while entering or leaving the stage, sometimes a­ fter a dance or an acrobatic feat, in order to bring out the spiritual outlook of the characters in sharp concentration. 19 Bowers, “For the Nixons, a Maoist Ballet.” 20 Wu, “A ­Great Victory in ‘Making Foreign ­Things Serve China,’ ” 83. 21 Wu, “A ­Great Victory in ‘Making Foreign ­Things Serve China,’ ” 81. 22 Benjamin, “­Theses on the Philosophy of History,” 261. 23 This imperative to remember reverses the refrain of the first-­person narrator in Lu Xun’s 1925 short story “Regret for the Past.” He is compelled to write, he rec­ords in his handwritten notes, to forget the death of his neglected and rejected lover and make a fresh start in life: “I want to forget. For my own sake I d­ on’t want to remember the oblivion I gave Tsu-­chun for her burial” (Lu, Selected Stories, 215). See also Lydia Liu’s reading of the story’s gender dynamics in Translingual Practice, 164–71.


notes to chapter six


6 7 8 9

10 11






A copy of the article published at http://­www.cn​-­lingerie​.­com​/­details​.­asp​?­detailpage​ =­1&sendid​=7­ 08 indicated that it originally appeared on www.39​.n ­ et (as reading number 9967). Other versions ­were posted at http://­women​.­zhaohua​.­com​ /­displayarticles​.­asp​?­artid​=2­ 855 and http://­www.zhcchina​.­com​/­html​/­Cat17​/­1648–1​ .­html (all accessed in 2017). Shui, “Kaifang Jinshanling.” He Mai, “On He Chengyao.” Gardner, “China Live.” He Chengyao was one of the artists included in the Cruel/Loving Bodies exhibit I curated in 2004 in Beijing and Shanghai, which then traveled in 2006 to Hong Kong. Cohen, “China’s Flowering Galleries”; Cox, “The House that Lee Built”; Mooney, “Forgiveness Permitting.” The original plaque included this text in both Chinese and En­glish. I have slightly altered the En­glish text engraved on the plaque to more closely approximate the Chinese captions. Seven years ­later, He Chengyao returned to the transactional question raised by Hair, of what it means to purchase part of someone ­else’s body. In November 2006, she created a per­for­mance work for Vital 06: International Chinese Live Art Festival held at the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester, ­England. The per­for­ mance, titled The Possibility of Hair, consisted of a live auction of her own hair, which she had grown out over several years for the occasion. She knelt on the floor, with her head awkwardly tipped back so her long braid could be displayed on a ­table ­behind her. A live video shot from above was projected at the front of the room as audience members called out bids. Cai Yuan, a Britain-­based Chinese artist, won the auction, which concluded with him cutting He’s hair from her scalp with a pair of scissors. See Fok, Life and Death, 174–75. He repeatedly asked, for example, if she had seen the work of Ann Hamilton, an artist known for her site-­specific piece tropos, which installed in a New York factory space involved covering the 5,000-­square-­foot floor with bundled waves of ­horse hair and recalled the early ­horse hair industry of New York. In transcribing and translating this interview, I have done minimal editing. At times, I asked questions about details I ­didn’t understand or to encourage her to continue. I include my voice only when it seems impor­tant to mark how my questions guided or influenced her telling. References to historical events or other specific details that may be unfamiliar to the reader are glossed in footnotes. He Chengyao is her real name, which I use in this chapter only ­because several months ­later she retracted her request for anonymity and urged me to publicly name her. This radical shift in attitude ­toward notions of privacy and shame became central to her developing art practice and body politics of exposure. A popu­lar postsocialist discourse on sex characterizes “natu­ral” con­temporary sexual expression as liberation from the “unnatural” socialist silencing of sexual desire as bourgeois and therefore po­liti­cally immoral. The story of He Chengyao’s birth out of wedlock reveals instead a continuity across eras of sexual desire,





notes to chapter six


even outside of established norms, and cautions that the question should not be ­whether ­there was more or less sex in dif­fer­ent periods but how the specific forms, regulations, and social interpretations of it differ across eras. The ­Great Leap Forward, a campaign led by Mao from 1958 to 1961 to rapidly industrialize the country, resulted in widespread famine during the period. Although He Chengyao refers several times to her ­family as traditional, their ­house­hold does not follow conventional descriptions of traditional Chinese kinship organ­ization, in which a model type of patrilineality, patrilocality, and patriarchy privileges the importance of male lineage and emphasizes agnatic relations, ­those between male kin, above ­others. For more on gender and kinship, see Croll, Feminism and Socialism in China; Johnson, W ­ omen, the ­Family, and Peasant Revolution in China; Ono, Chinese ­Women in a C ­ entury of Revolution; and Stacey, Patriarchy and Socialist Revolution in China. The ­family in He Chengyao’s account fits more closely an alternative kinship form known as uxorilocal marriage, characterized by a man who marries into a ­family lineage with no male descendents and takes the surname of his wife. He Chengyao’s ­father’s residence with his wife and mother-­in-­law seems, however, based primarily on his wife’s ­mental illness. Tales of Liaozhai was written by Pu Songling (1640–1715) shortly a­ fter the fall of the Ming dynasty and founding of the Qing. The stories are filled with fox-­fairies, ghosts, and other spirits who deliver rewards and punishments to good or bad mortals. Pu Songling based his tales on popu­lar legends and folklore and wrote during an era of strict censorship. His retellings of super­natural stories, which he collected or friends sent him, indirectly criticized the rule of the new Manchu rulers. In February 1964 the ccp launched a mass campaign for citizens to “learn from the pla” as exemplars of ideological correctness and technical proficiency, or in sloganistic parlance as “both red and expert.” This po­liti­cal movement emerged from a conflict over the ­future direction of party-­army relations. By the late 1950s increased stratification and professionalism within the army—­a move away from the Maoist model of egalitarianism—­had led to strained relations between the military and civilians, as well as between commanders and po­liti­cal commissars. ­After the failed ­Great Leap Forward, Mao sought to reconsolidate his control over “reactionary” moderates within the party and turned to the pla as a power base outside of the party to support his position. ­Under Lin Biao’s leadership, the army trend t­oward professionalism was curtailed through a reassertion of revolutionary values and politics among the troops. For example, in 1963 Lin Biao arranged for publication of Quotations from Chairman Mao (the “­little red book”) and distributed it widely throughout the military. During the ensuing years of the Cultural Revolution, the pla took on a wider range of administrative and civil functions than ever before, particularly at the local level. Demobilization of troops into the pla’s Production and Construction Corps to work on civilian proj­ects reached a peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s. During this period, ccp leadership called on the pla in contradictory ways, to maintain order and to encourage revolutionary activity, so that the military served as an equilibrium force

notes to chapter six




23 24

during a period of extreme politics. At times they expected the pla to give training and guidance to Red Guards, and at other times used the pla to control Red Guard radicalism when factional fighting threatened to completely disrupt social order. In 1968 the central government ordered Red Guards to surrender their weapons to the pla, and subsequently used the pla to run classes on university campuses and in industrial enterprises to “reeducate” Red Guards. See Dreyer, China’s Po­liti­cal System; Joffe, “The Chinese Army in the Cultural Revolution”; Ruwitch, Lei Feng and the “Learn from Lei Feng” Campaign of 1963; and Shichor, “Demobilization.” “Learn from Lei Feng” became the most famous and long-­lived propaganda piece to come out of the general “learn from the pla” campaign, in which individual soldiers and entire pla units ­were promoted as ideological symbols for national emulation. Lei Feng was a common solider, a son of poor peasants from Hunan, whose posthumously published diary espoused self-­sacrificing ser­vice to the revolution, country, comrades, and above all Mao Zedong. The Japa­nese had killed his ­father, and his m ­ other’s suicide ­after a rape by her landlord-­employer’s son left Lei Feng an orphan, placed in the care of his aunt and ­uncle. One year ­after his ­mother’s suicide, in August 1949, the ­People’s Liberation Army freed their village, and Lei Feng entered school. He eventually joined the pla and became a squad leader and member of the party, a common soldier who made up for his small size by sheer determination and devotion to the cause. As a servant to the ­people he declared, “I ­will be a screw that never rusts and ­will glitter anywhere I am placed.” In 1962, he died at the age of twenty-­two in a truck accident. Immediately a­ fter his death, military leaders within the Shenyang army base promoted his story, exhorting soldiers to “study Lei Feng, aspire to Lei Feng, surpass Lei Feng.” By 1963, party leaders published Lei Feng’s diary as a more widespread propaganda tool. The good deeds he recorded in the diary included sending his meager savings to a fellow soldiers’ parents who ­were devastated by a flood, serving tea and food to officers and recruits, and washing his comrades’ feet and darning their socks ­after a long march. Many suspect that it was not necessarily the soldier Lei Feng but propaganda writers who penned the famous and possibly fictitious, or at least enhanced, diary that ­later served to pop­ul­ar­ize his story of model be­hav­ior. See Dreyer, China’s Po­liti­cal System, 248; Landsberger, “Lei Feng”; Ruwitch, Lei Feng and the “Learn from Lei Feng” Campaign of 1963; Spence, The Search for Modern China, 597–99; 727. This form of petty entrepreneurship, or getihu business, has typically been associated with market reform beginning in the 1980s as distinguished from the centralized command economy ­under Mao. The seemingly anomalous business run in the 1970s by He Chengyao’s f­ather raises questions about the continuity of local market practices throughout the socialist era, during which getihu w ­ ere never entirely abolished. He Chengyao, e-­mail communication. Stories of ­women driven mad by traumatic circumstances haunted the traditional Chinese storytelling repertoire. White-­haired Girl, a folk opera about a victim of

CHAPTER 7. Camouflaged Histories


Cover illustrators for Funü shibao often derived inspiration from Western publications such as the Ladies’ Home Journal, whose covers depicted ­women in sporty, outdoors activities, sometimes with binoculars and cameras as accouterments to t­ hese adventures. Another illustration from 1916, which appeared in Shanghai shizhuang tuyong (Illustrated fashions of Shanghai accompanied with poems), similarly depicts a w ­ oman holding binoculars to her eyes. She stands in her pajamas on the


notes to chapter seven

landlord oppression who flees to the hills, became one of the Communist eight model plays performed in opera, ballet, and film. Witke, Comrade Chiang Ch’ing, 430–32. He Chengyao’s ­mother, by contrast, experienced her first episode of ­mental illness ­after condemnation by her Communist work unit. 25 He Chengyao, “In the Mirror.” 26 In per­for­mance works such as Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece (1964) and Marina Abramović’s Rhythm 0 (1974), the artists presented their passive bodies to an audience that responded with increasing aggression. Audience members completely cut away Ono’s clothes with a pair of scissors. Abramović offered a ­table with seventy-­two objects that audience members w ­ ere allowed to use in any way they chose. The atmosphere of the encounter grew violent over the six hours of the per­for­mance. 27 Caplin, Andy Warhol: Made in China. 28 See Wu, Transience, 30–35. Mao Zedong is famously said to have declared, “­You’re not a real man ­until ­you’ve climbed the ­Great Wall.” 29 In 1988, Marina Abramović, New York-­based Yugo­slavian self-­described “grand­ mother of per­for­mance art,” and her long-­time partner Ulay also staged their final piece together on the G ­ reat Wall. In The G ­ reat Wall Walk, they started at opposite ends of the wall and each walked 2,500 kilo­meters ­toward each other; they met in the ­middle and said good-­bye. 30 In 2005, Gao Minglu curated an exhibit about this role of the ­Great Wall. The Wall: Reshaping Con­temporary Chinese Art represented a collaboration between the China Millennium Monument Art Museum in Beijing and the Albright-­Knox Art Gallery at SUNY-­Buffalo. 31 Merewether, “The Spectre of Being H ­ uman.” 32 The Nude was based on stop-­motion photo­graphs by E. Marey and ­others. 33 Tomkins, Duchamp: A Biography. 34 See Jones, Postmodernism and the En-­Gendering of Marcel Duchamp; Judovitz, Unpacking Duchamp; Krauss, Bachelors. Duchamp, for example, sometimes signed his name with the alias of ­silent film star Sarah Bernhardt or the pseudonym of Rrose Sélavy, whom he posed as, as a ­woman, in a series of photo­graphs taken by Man Ray entitled Marcel Duchamp as Rrose Sélavy (ca. 1920–21). The “Dada’s ­Daddy” moniker comes from the title of a spread in Life magazine in April 1952 dedicated to Duchamp. 35 Clifford, The Predicament of Culture. 36 Wang, “Retheorizing the Personal.”

notes to chapter seven


balcony of a tall building gazing out at the stars. Joan Judge discusses both images and Funü shibao articles about first ­woman of flight Zhang Xiahun in Republican Lens. 2 Wu, Wu Youru huabao, vol. 3, part II, no. 14. 3 See for example the writings of Liang Qichao and Jin Tianhe in Liu, Karl, and Ko, The Birth of Chinese Feminism. 4 Liu, “Zhongguo zhi nü feixingjia.” 5 Barlow, The Question of ­Women in Chinese Feminism, 239. 6 Barlow, The Question of W ­ omen in Chinese Feminism, 16. See also Welland, “What ­Women ­Will Have Been.” 7 She was able to retire at the age of forty-­four ­because she was only fourteen when she joined the military. 8 Following a four-­year plan titled Four Seasons, each annual exhibit focused thematically on a season. They included The Cold Winter of 2009 ( January–­February 2009); Spring (March 2010); Summer (December 2011–­ January 2012); and Autumn (November–­December 2012). For more information, see http://­en.tcgnordica​.­com and http://­blog.artintern​.­net​/­article​/2­ 63558 (accessed in 2017). 9 Xie Bingying’s autobiography has been published in many editions and languages, e.g. , Xie, A ­Woman Soldier’s Own Story. 10 Xie, A ­Woman Soldier’s Own Story, 64. 11 For more on gender hierarchies within early Communist activism and sexualized vio­lence ­after the breakdown of the first United Front, see Gilmartin, Engendering the Chinese Revolution. For the Maoist era, see Honig, “Socialist Sex: The Cultural Revolution Revisited.” 12 Lee, “Tradition and Modernity in the Writings of Lu Xun,” 21–23. 13 The acad­emy moved to Shenyang in 1945 and was renamed the Lu Xun Acad­emy of Fine Arts in 1958. 14 Wang, “The Red Guards’ Fine Art Campaign.” 15 Jia, “Preface,” 8–9. 16 Lü, Zhongguo dangdai yishu shi. 17 Gilmartin, Engendering the Chinese Revolution; Bailey, ­Women and Gender in Twentieth-­Century China, 95–99. 18 Ding, “Thoughts on March 8.” Nora refers to the heroine of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, who strug­gled to escape the confines of the traditional f­amily. Ibsen’s play was widely translated, performed, and debated among early twentieth-­century Chinese reformers. 19 Ding, “Thoughts on March 8,” 319. 20 Lei, “Bingdong: baoliu jiyi de fangfa.” 21 Cited in Wang, “Gonggong lixing yu kuannüxingzhuyi.” Translation is mine. 22 Wang, “Transfeminist Art.” 23 McRobbie, The Aftermath of Feminism; Hemmings, Why Stories ­Matter, 136–41. 24 Appadurai, “The ­Thing Itself,” 15. 25 Eight one, August 1, is the date of the pla’s founding in 1927. 26 Lei, “Bingdong: baoliu jiyi de fangfa.”


notes to chapter seven

27 Wu Hung, Making History, 125. 28 Wu Hung interprets t­hese approaches as a reflection of “artists’ keen interests in China’s historical temporality” and their attempt to “re-­imagine the country’s past, pres­ent, and ­future.” Making History, 128. 29 Frozen Youth as a form of self-­portrait provides a counterpoint to a work examined by Wu Hung, the W ­ omen ­Here photo installation staged by Sui Jianguo, Zhan Wang, and Yu Fan as a “counter-­event” to the 1995 Fourth World W ­ omen’s Congress in Beijing. Created by three young male faculty members at the Central Acad­emy of Fine Art, this installation included photo­graphs and memorabilia they gathered from their ­mothers and wives. Lei’s re-­photography reflects a more subjective relationship to the image of her younger, historical self than the straightforward, documentary approach of her male peers who aimed to pres­ent “real Chinese ­women” to an ­imagined global audience. 30 The Sino-­Vietnamese War is arguably an even more suppressed or forgotten historical event than the Cultural Revolution; its impact was also more regional. 31 See, for example, Urbina, “U.S. Flouts Is Own Advice in Procuring Overseas Clothing.” 32 The piece evokes comparisons with pieces like Yayoi Kusama’s Accumulations and Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen. For the soft sculpture Accumulation, No. 1 (1962), Kusama covered an armchair with sewn and stuffed fabric phallic protrusions, transforming a piece of furniture into a humorously obsessive, aggressive presence. In Rosler’s 1975 per­for­mance video, she gives an A-­Z demonstration of culinary tools; her deadpan demeanor and violent gestures parody the semiotic control of “­woman” as one among many domesticated signs. 33 Jacka, “Back to the Wok: ­Women and Employment in Chinese Industry in the 1980s.” 34 President Hu Jintao introduced the po­liti­cal slogan hexie shehui (harmonious society) in 2006, which was often used to tamp down dissent and critiques of social in­equality during a period of increasing economic disparity. 35 With the growth of the international and domestic market for Chinese con­ temporary art since the turn of the millennium, some artists critical of this b­ ubble economy and its modes of evaluation and circulation shifted their practice ­toward social documentation and activism, with proj­ects focused on crises wrought by China’s rapid development: e.g. toxic fields of electronic waste (Xing Danwen, disConnexion), trash mountains (Yao Lu, New Landscapes), garbage scavengers (Wang Jiuliang, Beijing Beseiged by Waste), mining accidents (Zhang Jianhua, Coal Accident, Coal Accident), AIDS/HIV villages (Chen Weijun, To Live Is Better Than To Die), and Three Gorges Dam displacement (Chen Qiulin, Rhapsody on Farewell; Jia Zhangke, Still Life; Liu Xiaodong, Hotbed; Zhuang Hui, Longitude 109.88 E and Latitude 31.09 N). Besides Ai and Lei’s works in response to the Wenchuan earthquake, see also Du Haibin’s film 1428 and Zhang Huan’s Hope Tunnel. For a documentary profile of Ai Weiwei, see Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, directed by Alison Klayman. 36 Wu Hung, “Monumentality and Anti-­monumentality in Gu Wenda’s Forest of Stone Steles—­A Retranslation and Rewriting of Tang Poetry,” 51–52.

notes to chapter seven


37 Callahan, “Citizen Ai: Warrior, Jester, and Middleman,” 906. 38 Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production, 29–73. 39 This is Spivak’s unpacking of Derrida’s concept of the “trace.” Spivak, “Translator’s Preface,” xxxvi. 40 During his 2011 detention, individuals, organ­izations, and museums around the world participated in a “­Free Ai Weiwei” campaign waged through conventional and social media channels. 41 Bryson, Looking at the Overlooked, 61. 42 Derrida, The Truth in Painting, 265. For a genealogy of the interpretive debate Derrida joins with his writing on Van Gogh’s painting of worn boots, see Tweedie, “The Afterlife of Art and Objects,” 68–71. 43 Harman, Tool-­Being, 18–20. 44 He-­Yin, “On Feminist Antimilitarism,” 169–70. EPILOGUE. Recursive Worldly Fables

1 2


4 5




For more see the exhibit cata­logue, ucca, Wang Xingwei, and especially the critical article within, “Side,” by Zhang Li. The exhibit was or­ga­nized according to figurative compositions—­back, side, front—­rather than chronology. The wall text for the exhibit indicated that Untitled (Three Nudes) was the final painting of the final room. A likely source for Wang’s knowledge of the painting is a textbook Li Tianpian published on the technical mastery of the h ­ uman figure in oil painting. Li, Youhua renti jifa rumen aomi. Zhang, “Side,” 70–71. Yang Feiyun also figures into the joke, albeit in a differently gendered way. Since his graduation from cafa, he has served as a member of its oil painting faculty, exhibited at the National Art Museum of China, and sold work through major auction ­houses. The main subject ­matter of his classical academic realist paintings is the female figure, often nude, within a bourgeois domestic interior. His wife serves as his most frequent model. With the normalization of nude painting in 1980s China, when artists like Yang Feiyun gained prominence, the repre­sen­ta­tional ­labor of female studio models gave rise to morality politics and protest. When works by cafa paint­ers appeared in a widely publicized 1988 nude art exhibit in Beijing, models who had posed for them w ­ ere harassed. Several threatened ­legal action against ­those who had subjected them to public scrutiny without consent. Kraus, The Party and the Arty in China, 87–89. Boehler and Piao, “Xi Jinping’s Speech on the Arts Is Released, One Year L ­ ater,” provides a partial En­glish translation. Two months a­ fter Xi’s speech, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Tele­vi­sion announced a program reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution to send artists and filmmakers down to the countryside in order to properly represent the ­people. See Chumley, Creativity Class, an ethnography of Chinese art students that examines the growth of China’s visual culture industries and new ideologies of creativity.


notes to epilogue

Wong, Van Gogh on Demand and Byler, “New Silk Road Artworlds” provide ethnographic accounts of how China’s expanding culture industry interpellates and attempts to hierarchically control and contain, respectively, rural mi­grant and ethnic minority artists. 9 Hernández, “With Odes to Military March.” 10 Second Life, launched by Linden Lab in 2003, is a three-­dimensional virtual universe of worlds created entirely by users. Millions of users interact in ­these worlds and have transacted billions of dollars in the sl economy. 11 Quadrio, “A Dramatic ‘Second Life’ for Cao Fei,” 38. 12 Jim, “The Dif­fer­ent Worlds of Cao Fei,” 92–93. 13 The world premiere of rmb City Opera opened in 2009 at the Artissima Art Fair in Torino, Italy. 14 The quotation is credited to William J. Mitchell, Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City. 15 Cao, I watch that worlds pass by, 191.

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Page numbers in italic indicate figures, maps, and plates.

Abramović, Marina, 226, 299n26, 299n29 abstraction: in art, 22, 35–36, 115, 294n6, 295n14; and Heidegger’s philosophical idea of world in relation to earth, 29–30; and Marx, 192, 295n14 aesthetics: of collective po­liti­cal strug­gle, 50; competing views of, 2, 98, 113, 125; competing ideas of value of, 8, 23, 98, 125; of Cultural Revolution, 50; postsocialist urban aesthetics, 12, 78, 83, 88, 140; public aesthetics, 105; Western modernist forms of, 50; and zone of encounter of Chinese con­temporary art, 10, 21–22, 44–45, 104–7, 113, 131–32, 139, 255, 260, 268–69, 270 Ai Weiwei: @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, 8; biographical details, 259–60; and China Art Archives and Ware­ house, 230; contribution to spectacle of Beijing Olympics, 8, 257, 258, 260; Fuck Off, 8, 75; arrest and detention of, 8, 261, 268, 275n5, 302n40; Lei Yan’s work compared with, 238–39, 258–62, 269; po­liti­cal dissent of, 8, 258, 275n5; Remembering, 258, 259; S.A.C.R.E.D, 261; Sichuan Name List, 259; Straight, 258–59; Study in Perspective, 261; worldwide public

museum spaces commanded by, 255, 260–61, 302n40 Anagnost, Ann, 281n12, 283n49 Andrews, Julia F., 34, 294n6 anthropology: and art, 23, 113, 131–32; feminist, 267. See also cultural encounter; ethnography; feminist cultural encounter; worldings anticolonialism: anticolonial worldings, 30–31, 34–36; and artists as arbiters of world culture, 23 apartment art: Gao Minglu’s coining of term, 88, 94; and privatization of property and lifestyle, 88–90 Appadurai, Arjun, 250 Araeen, Rasheed, 28 architectural scale models: as ele­ment in Dancing with Mingong, 79, 95, 286n39; for ­Grand moma proj­ect, 76–77; seductive promise of, 107; and symbolic importance of Beijing’s built environment, 83, 84, 285n13; in work of Lu Hao, 285n13; in work of Xing Danwen, 78, 273, 285n13 avant-­garde: ambivalence t­ owards its use as label, 21, 50–52; French derivation of, 43, 53; Japa­nese art described as, 53–54; and Mao’s call to travel to rural and ethnic minority hinterlands, 69, 116; and myth of originality, 45, 54; and participation



avant-­garde (continued) in international art exhibitions, 69; qianfeng as term for, 53; qianwei (forward guard) as term for, 43–44, 53–54, 59, 281n25; xiandai (modern) contrasted with, 43. See also Beuys, Joseph; Chinese avant-­garde; Duchamp, Marcel; vanguardism: xianfeng bad boy po­liti­cal dissent. See liumang (hooligan) attitude of rebellion and spiritual malaise Bai Chongmin, 148, 291n11 Barlow, Tani E., 32, 37, 52, 147, 168, 239, 241, 292n31 Barmé, Geremie, 277n23 Bauer, Ute Meta, 122–25 Beautiful Garden housing estate, newspaper ads featuring imagery drawn from Western masterpieces, 88–89, 89 Becker, Howard, 23 Beijing, 46, 47; Beijing 798 Art District, 47, 103, 265, 287n54, 287n55, 290n37; as China’s “cultural center” (wenhua zhongxin), 10–13, 25, 46–49, 76, 84–85, 133; as growth machine, 87–88, 104; as museum, 83–86. Beijing Olympics (2008): “Bird’s Nest” (Olympics National Stadium), 8, 46, 47, 83, 257, 258, 260, 271; Olympic Green, 46, 47, 84, 85, 285n14; and promotion of Chinese con­temporary art, 9, 103 Beijing Urban Planning Museum, 47, 83–85, 84 belatedness: as double bind confronted by Chinese female artists, 171–72; and Chinese con­temporary art, 21–22, 166; and promoters of Western modernism, 54 Benjamin, Walter, 204, 280n7

Berlin: China Avant-­Garde: Counter-­ Currents in Art and Culture (1993), 18, 164; China Fest, 75 Beuys, Joseph: He Chengyao’s A Salute to Mama (With Re­spect to Joseph Beuys), 232, 232; and Western historical avant-­garde, 215, 230, 231–32, 265 biennales: adoption as model by Chinese cities, 7. See also Shanghai Biennale; Venice Biennale; Whitney Biennial bitterness: eating, 143; speaking, 188, 224 Blumenfield, Tami, 146, 291n23 body (embodiment): and feminist per­ for­mance art, 226, 299n26; somatic experience of Dancing with Mingong, 287n43. See also gender; nannü (male/female) relations; nudes and nudity; politics of exposure; sexuality Bourdieu, Pierre, 23, 260 Bryson, Norman, 262 Buck-­Morss, Susan, 83, 179 Bürger, Peter, 53 Cao Fei (aka China Tracy), Rabid Dogs–­ Hungry Dog, 37, 37 —­rmb City: China Tracy Pavilion at 2007 Venice Biennale, 271–72; creation in Second Life, 270–71; Live in rmb City, 272–73, p19 Central Acad­emy of Fine Arts (cafa), 47; and China’s system of national art academies, 59, 282n42; con­ temporary art course attended by He Changyao at, 61, 207, 213, 225, 226–27; drawing from plaster casts taught at, 61–62, 62; gradu­ates. See Xing Danwen; Yang Feiyun, Zhu Jia; high school attached to, 58, 60, 197; location of, 47, 47, 63. See also Fan Di’an, Xu Beihong

China Ocean Shipping Com­pany (cosco): East Modern Art Center developed by, 81, 91–93; Sino-­ Ocean Land Limited as subsidiary of, 83, 91 Chinese avant-­garde: censoring by Cultural Bureau, 9; gendered evolution of its imagery, 57; and Lei Yan’s path to becoming an artist via military, 240–41; liumang attitude of rebellion and spiritual malaise associated with, 16, 18–19. See also avant-­garde; dangdai yishu (con­temporary art); vanguardism Chinese con­temporary art. See dangdai yishu Chong, Doryun, 121, 122, 130, 131 Clarke, David, 280n82 class: and gender, 13, 24, 25, 77, 83, 144, 150, 175, 203, 244, 268; middle-­class distinction, 9, 23, 37, 39, 82, 88, 102, 105, 283n49, 286n27; revolution, 10, 137, 187, 190, 197, 260 Claypool, Lisa, 276n12 Clifford, James, 232 Clunas, Craig, 32, 279n71 colonialism: and art institutions, 113; and avant-­garde myth of originality, 45; colonial worlding of Chinese art, 30, 35, 280n82; park in Shanghai forbidding both Chinese and dogs, 37; and self-­colonization, 119–20, 133–34; “third world difference” as form of, 147; and ­woman, 166, 238, 239. See also anticolonialism; decolonialism; semicolonialism commodification: and ethnic minority tourism, 146; outsourcing of production of art by male artists, 20–21, 45, 289n7; and ­women’s bodies, 37, 40, 44, 191, 209, 302n5. See also value commodity apartment (shangpin fang), 5, 111; art centers created as part of, 76–78, 80–83, 87–88, 133



Centre Pompidou, 293–94n68 C ­ entury ­Woman (1998), 19–20, 243 Chau, Adam, 106 Chen Lingyang, 25:50, no.2, 15–16, 40, 101, 270, 273, p2 Chicago, Judy: on female authorities as educators and role models, 293n63; participation in Lord of the Rim: In Herself/For Herself, 175; on patriarchal suppression of primordial matriarchy, 148–49; The Dinner Party, 141–42, 149, 152, 292n35; Woman­house installation (1972), 149, 152, 154–55, 253; and Zhang Lun’s Lugu Lake–­Happy Existence, 161, p12 —­What If ­Women Ruled the World: proposal for, 135, 153; and The Long March, 146–49 —­Womanhouse installation at Lugu Lake: and limits of site-­specific art practice, 154, 171–72; manifesto presented to her, 153–54, 172–75; and participation of Chinese female artists, 150–53; proposed site of, 136 Chien Ying-­Ying, 175 China Art Expo: He Chengyao’s booth at, 212; Ministry of Culture as sponsor of, 49; move from Guangzhou to Beiing, 48–49, 284n69 China/Avant-­Garde (1989): attention and notoriety of con­temporary art practices brought by, 17; Gao Minglu’s co-­curation of, 18, 43; and gendered evolution of Chinese avant-­garde imagery, 57; “no U-­turn” symbol for, 16, 43; Xiao Lu’s Dialogue at, 17, 57 China Millennium Monument, 46, 66, 76, 85, 299n30 China National ­Children’s Center (Zhongguo ertong zhongxin), 46; Young Pioneer Palaces contrasted with, 64–65. See also Teacher Zhao



consumption: con­spic­u­ous consumption, 37, 68–69; domestic, 39; of ethnic difference, 143, 157; foreign consumption of work Chinese artists, 20, 277n33 con­temporary art. See dangdai yishu copyright: and manifesto presented via Lu Jie to Judy Chicago, 153, 172–75; and modern intellectual property regimes, 54, 173–74 Cotter, Holland, 163–64, 171 countryside: artists sent to, 140, 282n44, 302n7; and Chinese art education, 25, 60; in relation to city, 25, 71, 112; and postsocialist urban aesthetics, 140; production of art by hired apprentices from, 20–21, 45, 72–72, 114–15, 289n7; and sent-­down youth, 12. See also mi­grants CourtYard Gallery, 47, 211–12 Cruel/Loving Bodies (Ku/ai shenti), xvii, 290n37, 296n9 Cui Shuqin, 188, 294–95n11 cultural encounter: and aesthetics of China’s new urbanism, 76–78; Chinese con­temporary art as zone of, 10, 15–16, 21, 113, 210–11, 270–71; and ethnography, 21–24, 132, 290n36; and feminism. See double binds; feminist cultural encounter; and global capitalism, 55–56, 75–76; and language of art/yishu, 119–20; and “third world difference,” 147 cultural production: and Bourdieu’s analytic framework, 23, 260; gendered dimensions of, 21, 24, 27–28; global dimensions of, 10–11, 22–24, 28–31, 118–19, 131–32; and work of Wang Xingwei, 266–67 Cultural Revolution. See revolution Dai Jinhua, 40, 166 Dal Lago, Francesca, 275n1

Dancing with Mingong, 79–81, 94–97, 95, 98 dangdai yishu (con­temporary art): cosmopolitan distinction signified by appreciation of it, 22–23; course offered at cafa, 207, 213, 225, 226–27; defined as term, 22, 278n40; and Maoist framing of culture, 52–53; in popu­lar publications on con­ temporary urban life, 22–23, 278n41; and translingual practice, 120 Danto, Arthur, 23 decolonialism: art as decolonial method, 28–29, 74, 270; and Berne Convention, 54, 173; and the inclusion of Chinese con­temporary art in Western art museums, 18 de Guzman, René, 121–22, 131 Delacroix, Eugène, 1, 211; Liberty Leading the ­People, 186, 209–10, 229, 273 de­mo­li­tion (chai): artists response to chaiqian (de­mo­li­tion and relocation), 11, 81, 244–45; 270–71; chai painted on buildings slated for de­mo­li­tion, 106, 111; and competing ideas of aesthetic, cultural, and market value, 92; and emerging forms of activism, 106, 106; museum development in response to, 85–86. See also Yin Xiuzhen, Portable Cities-­Beijing Deng Xiaoping, 8, 91, 227; tour of the South, 12, 48, 173 Derrida, Jacques, 262, 302n39 dialectic: Chinese con­temporary art as dialogic construction, 116, 132; colliding myths of pro­gress and modernity, 45; double figure of Li Tianpian’s Red Souvenir as, 203–5; and historical materialism, 26; and monumental ephemeral, 25, 267; and revolution, 204, 239. See also cultural encounter

East Modern Art Center (Yuanyang yishu zhongxin), 47; brief efflorescence of, 79–80, 102–3, 104–5, 107; and China Ocean Shipping Com­pany (cosco), 81, 91–93; Dancing with Mingong at, 79–81, 94–97, 95, 98; its layered history and architecture, 98–99, 101, 133; and Ocean Paradise Real Estate, 93–94, 94, 102; Wang Nengtao’s What a Wonderful World installed at, 98, 99, 100;Yu Hong’s Witness to Growth exhibited at, 99–101

ephemerality: as aesthetic form, 176, 232, 235, 250–57, 263; of artistic experiments, 40, 80; in relation to monumentality, 9, 16, 25, 40, 176, 238, 257–62, 267. See also monumentality Erickson, Britta, 19, 163, 164–65 ethnography: art world transition as focus of, 8, 21–22, 267; artist as ethnographer, 161–62, 240; author as ethnographic collaborator, 139, 143, 151, 291n11; author’s blurred role as ethnographer-­interpreter, 113, 120, 131–32; of Beijing, 10–11, 268–69; ethnic classification of PRC’s minzu, 145, 294n3; fieldwork zone of encounter of, 24, 26–29, 121, 267–68; and intercultural space of arts exchange, 206, 288n4; and “museum effect,” 86; and surrealism, 232; repre­sen­ta­tion of, 32, 179–80, 189, 215, 280n74. See also anthropology; cultural encounter; feminist cultural encounter; worldings Fan Di’an, 75, 284n69 female subjectivity, 39–40, 169, 190, 241, 243; and per­for­mance of He Chengyao, 229; and painting of Pan Yuliang, 2, 243; and painting of Yu Hong, 101. See also double binds feminism: Chinese, 20, 34, 37, 145, 150, 166, 169, 243; Chinese translation of, 168; and field of cultural production, 8, 10, 16, 24–28, 259; French, 138, 147–48; and grammar of Lei Yan’s “what if” titles, 239–40; international U.S., 146–50; liumang (hooligan)/nüxing yishu (­women’s art) binary, 16, 249, 259; Western model of, 19; transfeminism, 249; transnational feminism, 70, 137. See also double binds; nannü (male/ female)



Ding Ling: ­future anterior reading of her Maoist literary corpus, 239; joined Long March ­women at Yan’an, 149; “Thoughts on March 8,” 144–45, 244, 300n18 Documenta: Documenta 10 hoax created by Yan Lei and Hong Hao, 123–24; Documenta 11, 123, 124, 125–26; as global stage, 123, 124, 126 Dong, Madeleine Yue, 281n11 Dong Xiwen, The Founding of the Nation, 281n17 double binds: art as way of confronting, 28, 173–74, 176, 253, 263; and art world social actors, 267; and Chinese and Western feminisms, 144, 148, 165–72; communication dilemma described by, 166; of Communist views of ­women, 144–45, 240, 244; and experience of Chinese female artists, 27–28, 170–72; and Kristeva’s concept of écriture féminine, 148 Du Bois, W. E. B., 73–74 Duchamp, Marcel, 265, 299n34; Fountain, 49, 50, 51; idea of readymade, 50; Nude Descending a Staircase, 230, 299n32; The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, 231; and the Western historical avant-­ garde, 230, 265



feminist art: Chinese, 144, 162–65, 172; as epistemological field of practice, 27, 176, 270, 278n54; global, 139, 173, 174, 176, 241, 253, 269; translated as nüxingzhuyi yishu, 19, 168; U.S. movement, 135, 149, 163 feminist cultural encounter, 26–28, 44–45, 162–65; and gendered evolution of Chinese avant-­garde imagery, 57; and He Chengyao’s Opening the G ­ reat Wall, 207–11; and multidirectional tensions between colonial and decolonial forces, 268–70. See also double binds Feng Jiali, 163 Fu Liya, 136, 151, 153, 175 funü, as national revolutionary female subject, 34, 37, 167, 168–69, 241 Funü shibao (The ­Women’s Eastern Times), cover illustration, 236, 237, 299–300n1 Gao ­Brothers: staging of nude mi­grants for piece by, 72, 283n59; The Condition of Chinese Avant-­Garde Art, 44 Gao Minglu, 18, 43, 299n30; apartment art (gongyu yishu) coined as term by, 88, 94; theorization of China’s “total modernity,” 53 Gell, Alfred, 23 gender: and academic art ideal, 282–83n46; as dimension of cultural production, 21, 24, 27–28, 226; commodification of ­women’s bodies, 37, 40, 44, 191, 209; deconstruction of gender relationality in Duchamp’s work, 231; and development of Chinese global city, 25, 271; and evolution of post-1989 Chinese avant-­garde imagery, 57; and global art market, 27; and imagery featuring sexualized female figures, 116; “iron girl” attitude of socialist gender formations, 34–35, 126, 289n27;

and logic of Wei Cheng, 129–30; privileging of male avant-­garde, 7, 121, 127; Maoist gender discourse, 20, 34–35; marginalization of demobilized female soe workers, 96–97, 287n44; nudity incorporated into art by male vs. female artists, 207–9; and outsourced ­labor, 252; and po­liti­cal position of ­women married to high-­ranking men, 292n32; sexual vio­lence and gender hierarchies in military, 242; and worlding, 31–40. See also female subjectivity; funü; masculinity; nannü (male/female); nudes and nudity; nüxing; politics of exposure; sexuality; ­women global art (shijie yishu): and emergence of Chinese con­temporary art, 21–22, 137–38, 268; and gender, 27, 36, 139– 40; and global feminism, 139–40, 269; and nationalism, 124–25, 131; and visions of diverse art worldings, 27, 29, 118–20, 143 globalization: aspirations for cosmopolitan parity with global cities, 12, 86; and China’s bid to “link tracks with the world” (yu shijie jiegui), 11–13, 37, 63, 92, 203, 239, 269; and cultural production, 22–24, 28–31, 118–19, 131–32; and feminist art canon, 26–27, 176; and international U.S. feminism, 147; reconfigured by China’s connection with Asia and Oumei, 36; and translingual practice, 120; and visions of diverse art worldings, 27, 117–25, 130–34 Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 120; Goethe Institute, 98, 123, 290n37 ­Great Wall: and book cover of China Can Say No, 128; monumentality of, 257–58; as national symbol, 227

Halbreich, Kathy, 118 Half of the Sky (1998), 20, 165 Hamilton, Ann, 296n13 He Chengyao: birth of, 217, 296–97n16; childhood of, 216–18, 222–24; cafa con­temporary art course attended by, 61, 207, 213, 225, 226–27; He Li as her childhood name, 218, 223; her ­mother’s sickness and death, 217–22; kinship organ­ization of her ­family, 297n18; studies at Sichuan Acad­emy of Fine Arts, 212, 213, 224; use of her real name, 296n15 —­works by: G ­ reat Wall–­Magnolia–­ Mama and Me, 226–27, 228; Hair, 214–15, 214, 296n12; High Noon–­ Prayer, 213, 234; Illusion, 234, 234–35; Mama and Me, 225–26, 226; 99 N ­ eedles, 233, p16; Opening the ­Great Wall, 206–11, 224–25, 229, p15; participation in Cruel/Loving Bodies (Ku/ ai shenti), 296n9; A Salute to Mama (With Re­spect to Joseph Beuys), 232, 232; Testimony, 225–26, 226; The Possibility of Hair, 296n12; With Marcel

Duchamp as My Opponent, 231, 231; With Re­spect to Marcel Duchamp, 229, 230 Heidegger, Martin, 29–30 Hernández-­Reguant, Ariana, 173–74 Hevia, James, 31, 279n70 He-­Yin Zhen, 24–25, 264, 270, 278n51, 288–89n6 Holl Steven, Linked Hybrid design for ­Grand MOMA, Beijing, 76–77, p5 Hong Hao: Documenta 10 hoax created with Yan Lei, 123–24; Selected Scriptures–­New Po­liti­cal World, 29, 30 Huang Du: and curatorial discourses on globalization, 117–18, 127, 130, 131, 132; male avant-­garde privileging by, 121, 127; ybca curators’ visit to Beijing guided by, 121–23 Huang Ping, 103 Huang Ru: Open-­Air Cinema, 157, 159; participation in The Long March at Lugu Lake, 136, 171 Huang Yin, Imitation Louis Vuitton Advertisement Series–­Myth, 37, 39; participation in The Long March at Lugu Lake, 136 image worlds: Cao Fei’s exploration of, 272–73; as concept, 27–28, 267; of He Chengyao’s Opening the ­Great Wall, 229; of Lei Yan’s work, 236, 250, 259 Ivy, Marilyn, 86 Jia Fangzhou, 19–20, 164, 243 Jiang Jie, 142 Jiang Qing, 191–93. See also Red Detachment of ­Women. Jinri xianfeng (Avant-­garde ­today), 44, 132 Jin Shangyi and Wu Biduan, Mao Zedong with the ­People of Asia, Africa, and Latin Amer­i­ca, 34, 35



­Great Wall as Chinese avant-­garde art institution, 82, 176, 227–29, 257–58, 299n30; Marina Abramović’s The ­Great Wall Walk, 299n29; He Chengyao, Opening the ­Great Wall, 206–11, 224–25, 229, p15; Yin Guangzhong, G ­ reat Wall, 207–8, 208; and Zheng Lianjie’s Binding the Lost Souls, 227–28 ­Great Wall and foreign artists: H.A. Schult’s installation at, 206, 207, 209–10, 229; Andy Warhol’s art per­ for­mance on, 227 growth machine cities: Beijing as, 87–88, 104–8; and commodity housing, 82–83, 87–88; social costs of, 106–7; theory of, 86–87 Gu Wenda, 278n40



Joo, Eungie: diversity nationalism articulated by, 125–26; “saying no” (shuo bu) articulated by, 127–29; West with an Asian face identified by, 130, 131; and ybca curators’ visit to Beijing, 121, 122 Karetzky, Patricia Eichenbaum, 172 Karl, Rebecca E., 31 Khullar, Sonal, 278n54 Kirshenblatt-­Gimblett, Barbara, 86 Kraus, Richard Curt, 127, 277n23 Krauss, Rosalind E., 22, 54 Kristeva, Julia: About Chinese ­Women by, 138, 147, 148–49, 171, 292n31; as canonical name in Western feminist theory, 147–48; theory of écriture féminine, 148, 166 Kunming: site of Natu­ral Feminine Art, 19; Upriver Loft (Chuang Ku) studio collective, 150, 240; Yunnan Art Acad­emy, 175 Kurahara Korehito, 53–54 Kusama, Yayoi, 301n32 Laoshan: ­battle site of Sino-­Vietnamese War, 246; Malipo Martyrs Cemetery, 247 Lao Wei, 79, 97 late socialism-­late liberalism: cultural conditions of, 8, 257; definition of, 8–9, 276n6; work of art in era of, 238, 260 Lei Feng: “learn from Lei Feng” campaign, 220, 233, 298n21 Lei Yan: Ai Weiwei’s work compared with, 238–39, 258–62; biographical details, 240; participation in The Long March at Lugu Lake, 136, 140–41, 171, 240; as propagandist turned deconstructionist, 241; as transfeminist artist, 249–50 —­works by: Bullet Shot through a Young Heart, 246–48, 248, 249, 251; Camou-

flage Production, 252–53, 253; Frozen Youth series by, 251–52, 251, 301n29; How Do I Protect You?, 254–55, 256, 256, 256, 257–58; I Love Kitchen by, 253–54; Long March Battlefront Report, Issue #1, 141, 141; On the Road, 257; A Place Where Dream Starts, 254, 254, 257; Relic (Shengwu), No. 20, 262–63, 263; Southern Border Dream, 248–49, p17; Ten Years of ­D ying Young, 259; Unnamed Tomb, p18 —­What If series, 236, 238–39, 244, 264; binoculars in, 239, 251, 264; What If Our Factory ­Were Still ­Here, 244–45, 246; What If They Had Been W ­ omen, 156–57, 158, 236, 239–40, 243–44; What If ­Woman ­Were Written by the Book, 245–46; What If the Long March Had Been a ­Women’s Rights Movement by, 156–57, 158, 236, 239–40, 243–44 Lei Yan and Tang Zhigang, Group Photo of an Era by, 244, 245 Li Shurui, Seeing Mountains, Seeing W ­ ater, 155–56, 171, p10 Li Tianpian: death of, 201–2, 204–5; friendship with Yuan Yaomin, 180, 183; narration of her life, 195–99; plans to travel to U.S., 200–201 —­work by: Classic Beauty, 185; incorporated into Wang Xingwei’s Three Nudes, 265, 267, 270–71; Red Souvenir, 181–83, 185, 200–201, 203–5, 204, 266, p14 Li Xiaojiang, 37, 39, 292n34 Liao Wen, 19, 162–63, 169 Lijiang Field Report Exhibit, 291n11 Lin Tianmiao, 142, 163–64, 170–71 Lin Wenzheng, 53 Liu Hong, Soliloquy series, 169, 170 Liu, Lydia, 116, 119–20, 295n23 liumang (hooligan) attitude of rebellion and spiritual malaise: Ai Weiwei as representative of, 8, 258; Chinese

Ma Liuming, 70, 208 mangliu yishujia (blind floater artists), 70–71, 283n52 Maoism: framing of culture by, 52–53; global 1960s circulation of, 138; “learn from Lei Feng” campaign, 220, 233, 298n21; “learn from pla” campaign, 297–98n20; and vanguardism, 44–45, 54–55 Mao Ran, 94, 96 Mao Zedong: and ­Great Wall, 299n28; official portrait of, 63, 227; pictured in Jin Shangyi and Wu Biduan, Mao Zedong with the ­People of Asia, Africa, and Latin Amer­i­ca, 34, 35; pictured in Lei Yan, What If They Had Been ­Women, 156; 158; pictured in Xu Xiaobing, Mao Zedong and Wang Renzhong Visit 1958 Exhibition, 49, 51; speech addressed to China’s youth (1957), 134, 290n39; talks on lit­er­a­ ture and art by (1942), 3, 55, 115–16, 137, 242, 268; “­Women hold up half the sky” slogan of, 20, 34; worshipped as avant-­garde artist, 50–52 marketization: artists critical of China’s ­bubble economy, 301n35; artists’ negotiation of, 9, 12, 78, 203; and exotic commodification of Mosuo, 146; and late-­socialist progrowth co­ali­tions, 87; and market reform, 8, 12, 16, 48, 173; and museum development, 85–86 Marxism: critique of colonialism, 34; and humanist criticism of destruction of individual agency ­under Mao, 37, 39, 166; and ethnic classification, 145; and gender, 167, 171; Japa­nese proletarian art movement, 53–54; Marx pictured in Cao Fei, rmb City, 271; Marx pictured in Wang Nengtao, Met Old Chap Marx in Paris, 99; and “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” 8; and understanding of culture, 55, 189–90, 192, 295n14



avant-­garde associated with, 7, 18–19; defined as term, 276n20; He Chengyao’s mimesis of, 229; and heroic nationalism, 131; and liumang/ nüxing binary, 16, 259 The Long March: A Walking Visual Display, 136; curatorial plan for, 135–39, 142–43; discrepancies between art worldings demonstrated by, 134, 143; Judy Chicago’s participation in. See Chicago, Judy; as “seeding machine” as conceptualized by Lei Yan and Sun Guojuan, 140–41, 156; and “­women’s art,” 142–43. See also Bai Chongmin; Fu Liya; Huang Ru; Huang Yin; Jiang Jie; Lei Yan; Li Shurui; Lin Tianmiao; Liu Hong; Song Yanping; Su Ruya; Sun Guojuan; Wu Weihe; Yin Xiuzhen, Zhang Lun Long March by the Communist Red Army, 136–38; restaging as an art event. See The Long March: A Walking Visual Display; ­women who participated in it, 149, 156 Lu Hao, Beijing’s Kaleidoscope, 285n13 Lu Jie: artists’ manifesto presented to Judy Chicago by, 153–54, 172–75; curatorial plan for The Long March, 135–39, 142–43; his inclusion of Judy Chicago in The Long March, 142, 147, 151, 161 Lü Peng, 243, 283n52 Lu Xun: avant-­garde aesthetic advocated by, 54; literary gossip concerning, 52; portrayal in Tang Xiaoming’s Never Give up the Strug­gle, 55; “Regret for the Past,” 295n23; “Self Mockery,” 3, 55, 242 Lu Xun Acad­emy of Fine Arts, 50, 196, 243–44, 282n42, 300n13 Luan Jujie, 289n27 Lugu Lake restaging of the Long March. See The Long March: A Walking Visual Display



masculinity: male corporeality of Dancing with Mingong, 94–97, 95; and Mao Zedong on climbing ­Great Wall and, 299n28; masculinist avant-­garde, 7, 16, 22, 55, 57, 233; portrayed in Yang Feiyun’s Male Nude, 265; w ­ omen garbed in image of men as part of politics of liberatory revolution, 157. See also liumang (hooligan) attitude of rebellion and spiritual malaise; nannü (male/female) relations Matisse, Henri, 1, 77, 124 mi­grants: and construction of Beijing as cultural center, 10–13, 25; double-­ consciousness experienced by female mi­grant, 73; and mangliu yishujia (blind floater artists), 69–71, 283n52; rural-­to-­urban mi­grants, 281n12, 281n13, 283n49. See also countryside —­representation in work of con­ temporary artists, 25, 103; and He Changyao’s Hair, 214–15, 214; male mi­grant workers (mingong) as focus of, 71–72; participation in Dancing with Mingong, 79, 94–97, 95; staging of nude mi­grants for piece by Gao ­Brothers, 72, 283n59 modernity: and alienation of modern megacity, 13; and art, 28, 50; China’s successive modernity proj­ects, 30, 37, 40, 44, 82, 138; and dreamworlds of mass utopia, 83, 179; Gao Minglu’s theorization of China’s “total modernity,” 53; and gender, 25, 112, 238–39, 249, 270; and loss of cultural identity associated with global forms of, 86; and supermodernity, 276n12; translated modernity of early twentieth-­century Chinese lit­ er­a­ture, 116, 119. See also belatedness Mohanty, Chandra Talpade, 147 monumentality: antimonumental critique of, 257–58; Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party as an example of, 142;

and modernist sculptural production, 22; state socialist legacy of, 176. See also Beijing Olympics (2008); ephemerality Mosuo (Na): matrilineal culture of, 135, 138, 145; repre­sen­ta­tion in work of Long March artists, 146–7, 155, 156, 157, 159–61; and state ethnic classification, 145–6, 161; and tourism, 146, 156, 157 Mullaney, Thomas, 145 museums: alternatives to. See site-­ specific art; and British institutional framings of Chinese art, 32; Cold War period display of Chinese antiquities in, 35; Duchamp’s Fountain as critique of, 50; as emblems of national modernity, 31, 74, 85–86, 285–86n17; as models for real estate proj­ects, 76–78, 80–81, 87–88; “museum effect” of display practices, 86. See also Beijing Urban Planning Museum; China Millennium Monument; East Modern Art Center; National Art Museum of China; T ­ oday Art Museum Myers, Fred R., 206, 288n4 nannü (male/female) relations: and class, 25, 144; exclusions resulting from, 113; He-­Yin Zhen’s theorization of, 24–25, 264, 270, 288–89n6; and injustice, 241 Nantong, 91; Nantong Museum, 74 National Art Museum of China (namoc), 47; C ­ entury W ­ oman at, 19, 243; China/Avant-­Garde exhibit at, 16–17, 43, 240; Long Live the Victory of Chairman Mao’s Revolutionary Line at, 243; and 1980s “culture fever,” 277n22; Stars Art Exhibition staged outside of, 16–17; viewed as retrograde by con­temporary artists, 77, 98 neoliberalism: andartists at Lugu Lake, 174; Chinese provincialization of

Olympics. See Beijing Olympics One World Art Center, 47, 80, 133 Ono, Yoko, 226, 299n26 originality: avant-­garde myth of, 45, 54; and Chinese cultural production, 133, 173; and international property rights, 174; and romantic cult of individual creation, 23; Wang Yin’s experiments with, 114–15, 116, 132, 289n7

Pan Jiajun, I Am a “Seagull,” 34–35, 36 Pan Yuliang, 2, 269, 270; Nude in Front of Win­dow, 167 Pang Laikwan, 174 Pang Xuan, participation in The Long March at Lugu Lake, 136 Parker, Rozsika, and Griselda Pollock, 282–83n46 ­People’s Liberation Army (pla): “learn from pla” campaign, 297–98n20; Lei Yan’s training as artist in 236, 241, 260; pla Arts Acad­emy, 240, 243. See also Long March by Communist Red Army Picasso (Dongfeng Citroën car), 67–68, 67 Picasso, Pablo, exhibit of prints at China Millennium Monument, 66 Poggioli, Renato, 53 politics of exposure: and Ai Weiwei’s photo­graphs of his wife, 260–61; He Chengyao’s use of her real name, 296n15; and He Chengyao’s Opening the ­Great Wall (Kaifang changcheng), 206–11; Qionghua’s exposure of her wounds in The Red Detachment of ­Women, 186–88, 189, 224; and wounded-­ness, 227, 233–34. See also nudes and nudity Poole, Deborah, 279n73 privatization, 173; and apartment art, 88–89; of art academies and exhibition spaces, 12, 76, 78, 80; and urban housing reform, 81 Pu Songling, Tales of Liaozhai, 219, 297n19 Qian Zhongshu, Fortress Besieged, 288n3; French proverb used as epigraph to, 112, 129, 288n2; Wei Cheng tele­vi­sion adaptation, 111–12, 129–30 Qiu Zhijie, curatorial plan for The Long March, 136–39, 143 Qi Zhilong, China Girl, 44, 44



Western beliefs in market capitalism, 8–9; and late liberalism, 276n6 neologisms: kuanüxingzhuyi yishu (transfeminist art), 249; “saying no” (shuo bu) articulated by Eungie Joo, 127–29; terms for avant-­garde, 44–45; wei cheng, 112–13, 288n3. See also funü; nüxing Nochlin, Linda, 19 nudes and nudity: and acad­emy training, 184, 191, 282–83n46; female nude as national symbol, 207–8, 295n3; Liu Haisu’s defense of Western technique of painting from, 59; Pan Yuliang as painter of, 2, 167; per­ for­mance pieces by Ma Liuming, 70, 208; normalization of painting of, 302n6; staging of nude mi­grants for piece by Gao ­Brothers, 72, 283n59. See also He Chengyao,—­works by nüxing (female): bourgeois self-­obsession associated with, 34, 167; emergence as neologism, 241; liumang/nüxing binary, 16, 259; and market feminism, 37, 39–40; and painting of Pan Yuliang, 167. See also ­women nüxing yishu (feminine or ­women’s art): emergence of, 19, 39; and liumang/ nüxing binary, 16, 259; as marginalizing category, 16, 19–20, 163–64, 169, 170–71, 241; and transfeminist art (kuanüxingzhuyi yishu), 249–50 nüxingzhuyi yishu. See nüxing yishu



readymade art: Duchamp’s idea of, 50; Lei Yan’s returning of it back to the world, 252, 263 The Red Detachment of W ­ omen (Hongse niangzi jun), 179; ballet version of, 192–95, 194, 204; and Li Tianpian’s Red Souvenir, 181–82, 203, 267; Shanghai film production of, 186, 186–87, 210, 242; Wu Qionghua’s exposure of her wounds in, 188, 189, 224 revolution: Communist Revolution, 10, 136, 144, 150, 236; Cultural Revolution, 12, 17, 50, 55, 56, 69, 100, 179, 191, 207, 234, 243, 252, 302n7; French Revolution, 53, 209; Philippine Revolution, 31. See also Wang Huaiqing, Revolution Rofel, Lisa, 80, 174 Rosler, Martha, 301n32 Sandoval, Chela, 27 Sasaki Takamaru, 53 scale models. See architectural scale models Schult, H. A., installation at ­Great Wall, 206, 207, 209–10, 229 semicolonialism: defined, 279n67; and translated modernity in China, 119; translingual practice fostered by, 53; worlding of, 31, 34 sexuality: and female desire, 32, 234, 292n32; and Mosuo 145–46, 150, 159; and postsocialist discourse, 80, 116, 296–97n16; and vio­lence, 58, 243, 276n20, 300n11. See also body (embodiment); gender; nudes and nudity; politics of exposure Shan Lianxiao, To Be an Upright Person, Be This Kind of Person, 167, 168 Shanghai, 24, 26, 191; and culture industry, 46–49; and print culture, 236–37; and semicolonialism, 37, 77, 112, 273; and ­women’s art education, 35, 59; World Expo, 9, 257

Shanghai Art School, 59 Shanghai Biennale: 1996, 165; 2000, 8, 75 shenru sheng­huo (to enter life), 11, 55, 60, 239 Shen Yu, participation in The Long March at Lugu Lake, 136, 150 Shi Tou, 70 Shi Xinning,“Duchamp Retrospective Exhibition” in China, 49–50, 51, 53 Shih Shu-­mei, 278–79n54, 279n67 Sichuan Fine Arts Institute (Chongqing), 59, 150; gradu­ates. See Huang Ru; He Chengyao; Li Shurui; faculty. See Liu Hong Sino-­American Cooperative Association (saco), 159, 292n39 Sin-­Vietnamese War, 240, 246–48, 251, 252, 301n30 S­ ister Jiang, 159, 292n39 site-­specific art: as alternative to museum spaces, 81–82, 155; of Ann Hamilton, 296n13; of Asian artists in Lord of the Rim: In Herself/For Herself, 175; created for privatized museum sites, 105; of Lei Yan’s What If series, 156–57; as paradigm of community collaboration, 107, 161–62; as response to urban renewal, 11, 82, 106. See also Chicago, Judy,—­ Womanhouse installation at Lugu Lake; Dancing with Mingong; East Modern Art Center Song Dong: Broken Mirror, 96; and “Canceled”: Exhibiting Experimental Art in China, 81; and Dancing with Mingong, 81, 93–97, 95; hutong shared with wife Yin Xiuzhen, 13; on limits of artists to affect social change, 97, 106 Song Yanping: Fire Extinguisher, 159, 160, 171; participation in The Long March at Lugu Lake, 136 Songzhuang Artist Village, 45, 47, 70–71

Tang Song, 17, 57–58 Tang Xiaobing, 57 Tang Xiaoming, Never Give Up the Strug­gle, 55

Tang Zhigang. See Lei Yan and Tang Zhigang, Group Photo of an Era Tate Modern, 260–61, 293–94n68 Teacher Zhao: art as pur­chas­able commodity stressed by, 67–68; criticism of con­spic­u­ous consumption, 68–69; painting by student of, 68; teaching philosophy of, 65–66 Tian­anmen Square, 47; featured in Ai Weiwei’s Study in Perspective, 261; featured in animations of Beijing, 285n16; featured in Yu Hong’s Witness to Growth, 100; “Goddess of Democracy” constructed in, 62–63, 229; 1989 crackdown on protests in, 9, 12, 17 ­Today Art Museum, 47, 80; progrowth culture cultivated by its found­ers, 104–5; Together with Mi­grants exhibit at, 103 translingual practice: and conditions of semicolonialism, 53; and “global art,” 43, 44, 119–20 trauma: of being robbed of expression, 224–26, 229, 233–34; ­women driven mad by, 298–99n24 Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt, 23 Ullens Center for Con­temporary Art (ucca), 265–66, 267 urban renewal: and popu­lar opposition, 87, 286n25; site-­specific art as response to, 11, 82. See also Beijing Urban Planning Museum; de­mo­li­ tion; growth machine cities value: art as pur­chas­able commodity stressed by Teacher Zhao, 67–68; and competing ideas of aesthetic, cultural, and market value, 8, 92–93, 125; market success as mea­sure of, 8. See also suzhi (quality) Van Gogh, Vincent, 282n28, 302n42



spectacularity: of Ai Weiwei’s S.A.C.R.E.D, 261; Duchamp’s deconstruction of gendered spectacularity, 230–31; He Changyao’s bodily reproduction of mass spectacularity, 232 Spence, Jonathan D., 288n3 Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, 29–30, 292n31 state-­owned enterprises (soes): demobilization of female soe workers, 91–92, 96–97, 287n44; and late socialist progrowth co­ali­tions, 87; nationwide reform of, 81 Statue of Liberty, 128; and “Goddess of Democracy” constructed in Tian­ anmen Square, 62–63, 229 still life painting: in acad­emy training, 60, 184; and ­human presence, 262 Su Ruya: Goddess Mountain, 159, 171, p11; participation in The Long March at Lugu Lake, 136 Su Yabi, participation in The Long March at Lugu Lake, 136 subaltern ­women: oppression on Hainan, 190; and task of the sublime, 189, 294–95n11 Sun Guojuan: exhibition at Yunnan Art Acad­emy on their journey to Lugu Lake, 175; Stuck to You, 157, 172; and The Long March at Lugu Lake, 136, 140–41, 153, 156, 240 suzhi (quality): and market success as mea­sure of individual and social value, 8; of rural citizens and mi­ grants, 49, 93, 281n12 suzhi jiaoyu (quality education), 64, 69, 283n49, 283n50



vanguardism: and Maoist modernity, 44–45, 54–55; and participation in international art exhibitions, 69–70, 74–75, 118; xianfeng (vanguard) as term for, 43–45, 241; and Yuanmingyuan as an art village, 70. See also avant-­garde Velázquez, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y, 294n9 Venice Biennale: 1980, 275n1; 1993, 275n2; 1993 (Passaggio a Oriente), 275n1; 1999 (Forty-­Eighth Biennale), 7; 2005, 7, 275n3; 2007, 271–72; 2011, 7; 2013, 261 Vergne, Philippe, 117–18, 120–21, 122, 124–25 Visser, Robin, 140 Walsh, Eileen Rose, 146 Wang Huaiqing, Revolution, 57 Wang Lingzhen, 233–34 Wang Nanming, 249 Wang Nengtao, 290n39; Dream World M ­ usic, 99, 100; Subversion–­Earth, 10–11, 15, 40, 270, p3; What a Wonderful World, 98, 99, 100 Wang Qingsong: Forum, 36, 38; Take Hold of the Brush, Strug­gle to the End, 55–56, 57, p3; Western art market experience of, 56 Wang Xingwei: retrospective exhibit at ucca, 265–66, 267; Untitled (Three Nudes), 265–67, 269–70 Wang Yin: experiments with authorship and originality, 114–15, 116, 132, 289n7; Flower, 115; heroic liumang nationalism of, 131; identification with protagonist of Wei Cheng, 129–30; One World Art Center exhibition curated by, 133; Sandstorm, 114–15, p8; 2000, No. 7, 114 Warhol, Andy, 215, 227 Wen Hui, Dancing with Mingong, 93–96, 95, 286n41, 287n43

Whitney Biennial (1993), 125–26 Williams, Raymond, 295n14 ­woman: cainü (­women of talent), 27–28; catachreses of ­woman soldier/art soldier/woman artist, 241, 249–50, 253, 264; new ­woman, 138, 236, 238, 239; repre­sen­ta­tion of female artists in international exhibitions of Chinese con­temporary art, 18–19, 163–65; repre­sen­ta­ tions of traditional Chinese ­woman, 32–33, 279–80n74; un Fourth World Conference on ­Women (1995), 70, 150, 170, 243, 301n29; ­woman artist, 20, 21, 243, 270, 293–94n68. See also gender; nannü (male/female); nüxing (female); nüxing yishu (feminine or ­women’s art) worlding: anticolonial worlding, 30–31, 34–36; art worldings’ diverse visions, 27, 29, 117–25, 130–34, 143; as theoretical concept, 29; colonial worlding and views of Chinese art, 30, 35, 280n82; revolutionary socialist worlding, 36; semicolonial worlding, 31, 34. See also image worlds worldly fables, 3, 269 Wu Biduan. See Jin Shangyi Wu Hung, 280n6; exhibit Cancelled curated by, 285n8; on monumentality, 257; on peasant ­women hired to craft work for Wang Jin, 289n7; on use of old photos by Chinese con­temporary artists, 252, 301nn28–29 Wu Weihe, 148, 151, 291n11 Wu Wenguang, Dancing with Mingong, 93–95, 95, 286n41 Xi Jinping, 268, 282n44, 302n7 Xiao Lu: Dialogue, 17, 57, 58; Fifteen Shots, 58 Xiao Zhenya and Liu Enbin, Take Hold of the Brush, Strug­gle to the End, 55, 57, p4

Yan’an: Communist guerrilla base, 136, 144, 149, 150, 242, 259; Conference on Art and Lit­er­a­ture, 55, 72, 115–16, 137, 192, 268; and Ding Ling’s “Thoughts on March 8,” 144, 244; Lu Xun Arts Acad­emy at, 242, 282n42 Yan Lei: Are You Among ­Those Invited to the German Exhibition by, 126, 289n27, p9; Documenta 10 hoax created with Hong Hao, 123 Yang Feiyun, 302n5, 302n6; Male Nude, 265 Yang Li, 169 Yang Xinyi, Together with Mi­grants curated by, 103 Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (ybca): curators’ visit to Beijing, 121–23, 127; San Francisco “South of Market” location of, 121–22; Time ­After Time: Asia and Our Moment (2003) exhibited at, 121, 133 Yin Guangzhong, G ­ reat Wall, 207–8, 208

Yin Xiuzhen, 26, 93, 142; and Dancing with Mingong, 93–97, 95; Portable Cities, 13–14, 14, 15, 15, 23, 40, 270, 276n12 Young Pioneer Palaces (shaonian gong), 63–64 Yu Hong: 1996, Thirty Years Old, 100–101, 101; Witness to Growth, 98, 99–101 Yuanmingyuan, 46; art village in, 69–70, 73; “clean up and reordering” campaign (1995) carried out in, 70 Yuan Yaomin, 180, 183, 202 Zhang Dali, 100 Chinese, 72–73, 73 Zhang Huan, 70, 301n35 Zhang Li (curator), 98, 101 Zhang Li (anthropologist), 281n13, 286n25, 286n27 Zhang Lun: Lugu Lake–­Happy Existence, 160–61, 172, p12–­p13; participation in The Long March at Lugu Lake, 136, 143 Zhang Ou, 290n39 Zhang Yan and Ke Fang, 87 Zheng Lianjie, Binding the Lost Souls, 227–28 Zhou Shuxuan, 287n44 Zhu Jia, 74–76, 118, 284n67 Zhuang Hui, 301n35; July 25th, Cha Shan Town, 101–2 Zoffany, Johann, 282–83n46



xiesheng (life drawing/painting), 181, 294n6 Xing Danwen, 285n13; Backstage, 78; Urban Fiction, 78, 273, p6, p7 Xu Beihong, 2–3, 61, 269, 270 Xu Bing, 63, 227, 278n40 Xu Xiaobing, Mao Zedong and Wang Renzhong Visit 1958 Exhibition, 51

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PLATE 1  ​Wang PLATE 2 ​Chen

Nengtao, Subversion–E ­ arth, 2002. Photo­graph. Courtesy of the artist.

Lingyang, 25:00, no. 2, 2002. Chromogenic print in lightbox, 60 cm × 175.6 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

PLATE 3 ​Wang

Qingsong, Take Hold of the Brush, Strug­gle to the End, 1997. Chromogenic print, 180 cm × 85 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

PLATE 4  ​Xiao

Zhenya and Liu Enbin, Take Hold of the Brush, Strug­gle to the End, 1974–75. Propaganda poster, 76.5 cm × 53 cm.

PLATE 5  ​Steven Holl, Linked Hybrid design for G ­ rand moma, Beijing, with insets of

a sketch titled “filmic urban space beijing” and Henri Matisse’s 1909 La Danse. Dangdai MoMA (Con­temporary MoMA), Beijing: Beijing chubanshe chuban jituan, 2006.


Danwen, Urban Fiction (image 0 and detail), 2004. Chromogenic print, 241.8 cm × 170 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

PLATE 8  ​Wang

the artist.

Yin, Sandstorm, 2002. Oil on canvas, 180 cm × 300 cm. Courtesy of

PLATE 9  ​Yan

Lei, Are You Among ­Those Invited to the German Exhibition? 1997. Acrylic on canvas, 103 cm × 84 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

PLATE 10  ​Li Shurui, Seeing Mountains, Seeing ­Water, 2002. Mosquito nets and bamboo poles. Courtesy of the artist.

PLATE 11 ​Su

Ruya, Goddess Mountain—­Eternal ­Woman, 2002. Per­for­mance. Photo­graph by author.

PLATE 12 ​Zhang

Lun, Lugu Lake–­Happy Existence, No. 1, 2002. Color photo­graph and survey form. Courtesy of the artist. PLATE 13  ​Zhang

Lun, Lugu Lake–­Happy Existence, No. 13, 2002. Color photo­graph and survey form. Courtesy of the artist.

PLATE 14 ​Li

Tianpian, Red Souvenir, 1999. Oil on canvas, 320 cm × 170 cm.

PLATE 15 ​He

Chengyao, Opening the ­Great Wall, 2001. Per­for­mance. Photography credit: Tian Yibin. Courtesy of the artist.

PLATE 16  ​He Chengyao, 99 ­Needles, 2002. Per­for­mance. Photography credit: Li Hongsheng. Courtesy of the artist.

PLATE 17 ​Lei


Yan, Southern Border Dream, 1986. Watercolor print. Courtesy of the

PLATE 18 ​Lei

Yan, Unnamed Tomb, 2006. Installation. Courtesy of the artist.

PLATE 19 ​Cao Fei, Live in rmb City, 2009. Machinima. Still of China Tracy and China Sun. Courtesy of Cao Fei and Vitamin Creative Space.

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