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We all remember “Running Teacher Fan,” the poor sap who, after abandoning his students in the classroom during the Sichuan earthquake, proceeded to be butchered by Chinese media as the anti-hero. “My sense of self-preservation is too strong,” he was quoted as saying.
Later, Ai Weiwei defended him in his legendary blog, commending his honesty and bravery in admitting his un-noble actions in a time of hero fetishizing, especially in comparison to the Sichuan Ministry of Education, which still won’t face up to the sub-standard construction on schools that caused their collapse.
As if taking Ai’s lead, Zhu Qi, artistic director for the upcoming “798 Biennale” will include Fan Meizhong, the notorious “Running Teacher Fan” in the biennale as an artist. Publicity stunts, or significant attempt to bring art in 798 to a new social dimension? We will have to wait until August 15th to find out.
In a post on the artnow.com.cn site , Zhu Qi writes: “I’m not saying that I agree with Running Teacher Fan’s sense of values, however, the fact that he can honestly voice his opinion is worthy of appreciation.”
And he’s not the only “vocal” participant, in an exhibition titled “The Soulful Society VS The Net Spirit” (社会魂vs网络魄）infamous Chongqing “rustynail” dweller（钉子户） Wu Ping, the woman who refused to vacate her home (pictured at left) will also be participating, as well as some disabled, and there’s even a program that trains unemployed workers to be artists, the “Laid off Art Rehabilitation Program.” Hm. How does one qualify?
The whole thing will be going off in the 706 space within the 798 complex, one of the main venues of the Biennale. Dates are August 15 to September 12, 2009. Although a little unclear on the details, or what, exactly, they will be making “art” of, Zhu Qi seems unhindered by the fact that these folks have probably never considered themselves artists before they received a call from his assistant.
Zhu Qi gives two reasons for his decision in his post: the first, Chinese contemporary art should take its lead from reality; the second, a biennale shouldn’t necessarily be a collection of highlights, but also a platform for which to discuss issues.
In a CCTV documentary titled “798″, photographer Zhu Yan made the comment: “The factory workers displaced the farmers, the artists displaced the workers, and now…” but the director left out what should have followed, “… the tourists displaced the artists.”
Of course, the myth that 798 is a “cultural production zone” is perpetuated by the mainland media, and almost obsolete industrial patches across China look to the success of 798 as a model of “cultural industry”, a revival area preserving the remnants of an industrial past, but where creativity and commerce can meet to copulate and produce healthy economic offspring.
While that may be a lovely image, the fact is, there is some truth to it. The documentary is a rather sobering look at the quickly vanishing former life of “798″––Factory 718. In the 1950s it was a state of the art center of production, a place of national pride, and a household name that symbolized a better future. Workers were hand-picked for their class background, plucked from the fields and clad in blue to make radio electronics, among other classified military gear; they worked with some of the most “avant-garde” technologies of the day. Military components aside, none of this sounds unfamiliar with the tourist “cultural production zone” we know as 798.
Fifty years later, the changes are incredible. In the five-part documentary we meet laid-off former workers who are now janitorial staff, and the dwindling industrial staff (once more than 10,000, now less than 3000) tells stories of the past: homes of the newly-wed were furnished with a bed, a desk and a cabinet (many had never had their own bed), 8 hour shifts were followed by night school, and infants were picked up from an parking-lot sized nursery, while not-yet school aged children were locked in the one-room apartments while their parents “struggled” to build a strong China. “None of this was looked at as strange,” comments Ms. Gao, who still works in th ecomplex. Her last student, Ding Ding, a young worker and his very dour wife are filmed in their run-down apartment; his 700 RMB monthly salary is barely enough to feed them. I don’t think I can stomach buying a substandard 35 RMB coffee there ever again.
With nary a mention of contemporary art, the series is a historical and grimly patriotic portrait of a very different 798; it was filmed in late 2007/early 2008. The CCTV site has photos and some historical background here. I thought of an article translated last year for the Timezone8 book “Beijing 798 Now” on the former incarnation of Factory 718. It is especially interesting to read how earthquake standards in construction had to be enforced by the East German engineering team. Its a long article, but has some interesting facts. For Chinese, switch languages on upper right.
From 718 to 798
Dashanzi: Beijing’s northeast corner
This district has already experienced two drastic turns of fate. First, fifty years ago, when the 718 was constructed and made a name for itself across China, and now, as the rise of the 798 Art District has brought a “renaissance” to the district, carrying its name overseas. Factory 718 was the celebrated former incarnation, and was one just short of legendary. During China’s “First Five Year plan” era, and with the support of the German Democratic Republic and Chinese national professionals, young people from all corners of the nation converged to build this northern Chinese state-owned factory for radio electronics—it was to be the birthplace of China’s electronics industry. In the beginning, Factory 798 was merely the third stage of the larger Factory 718 compound, and it lay on the outskirts of Beijing. However, this district has already been swallowed by the city’s growth, and become Chaoyang District’s first cultural industries zone, and yet still maintains its status as a center of production for Zhongguancun Electronics.
Today, the symbolic Bauhaus architectural complex still stands, the complex has been entrusted with the industrial history of a city. The transformation from 718 to 798 documents the course of urban industrial restructuring.
The Birth of 718
In April of 1951 the second round of Sino-Soviet summit talks were held in Moscow, China’s request for Soviet aid in the building of 156 major projects was on the table for discussion. However, the Soviets felt that China’s request to help establish the foundations for a new radio electronics industry was too unexpected.
The filming of a new “trendy television drama” PANDAMEN was announced in Beijing yesterday, as was the design for the new superhero’s costume. Jay Chou, who directed and starred in his first feature film “Secret” (2006), will challenge himself with this first attempt at a television drama.
Trendy things, television dramas, and Jay Chou are all staples of China’s pop culture landscape－－even Pandas are tolerated on a good day. But in the shadow of “Kung Fu Panda” and the diplomatic insanity of “Tuantuan & Yuanyuan”, is this a lack of creativity on Chou’s part, or a pandering to the low-brow tastes of the general audiences?
Will “Pandamen” bring a new home-bred cultural hero to this nation? Who knows. I think many Chinese believe the idea of panda as the only “native” symbol to be exploited is insulting, the panda itself is a lazy, docile animal. But its amazing how leather pants transform anyone, even though that scarf is too trendy a fashion accessory for a futuristic superhero. Perhaps Pandaman’s over the shoulder bookbag, or pea coat will be announced in later episodes.
Still, with no small amount of hope, the entire production will far exceed previous hero-creating attempts (anyone who’s seen 2008’s tv hit the Bruce Lee story will agree).
In honor of new discussions between Taiwan’s National Palace Museum and Beijing’s Palace Museum that might result in a loan of Qing dynasty historical objects to that “renegade” museum across the straight (read NYT article here), check out the cultural resources readily available in Beijing on Sinopop’s new museum guide: Museums in Beijing.
Listed are some of the largest, funniest, overall the most worthy day trips for museum-going fans and families. The old, the new, the kitsch and breathtaking. Beijing’s bars are overrated––check out some of these gems, especially now, when most of these museums are free!
“Fucking Beautiful #3″, Liang Shuo’s recent work displayed at the Arario Gallery’s “The Game Is Not Over - Young Chinese Artist Group Exhibition” (游戏没有结束) was a beautiful elegy on all things kitsch and native to China. Its Chinese name, “臭美” translates roughly to something like “self-admiration”, “indulging in vanity”–– the work is a culmination of the artist’s exploration into the world surrounding him, and perhaps a more objective interpretation of “aesthetics” than what we usually see.
Last year, graduates from CAFA’s sculpture department held a rogue exhibition (titled “掉队”) in the art studios by Crab Island (蟹岛). Among the works there, Liang Shuo’s “Shopping at the Temple Fair” (描绘购物) left me giddy, it has proven to be a work in which he honed this vocabulary of bright, flashy and gaudy that appears in “Fucking Beautiful #3″.
Although then still a work in process, “Temple Fair” was clearly a work with roots in rural and folk traditions, as well as an almost encyclopedic examination of the uniqueness of the “made FOR China” market–not only were these objects inexpensive, they were reflective of the dreams, preferences and practicalities of living in rural places. Like the “migrant labor” figurative sculptures that he became well known for from 2000-2004, “Temple Fair” also reflected a consciousness or state of living unique to China. (more…)
Beijing art hipsters oddly deny a fascination with the “post-wave” punk band New Pants, its something like New Yorkers who won’t own up to “Gossip Girl” addictions.
Despite the fact that the band’s front men, Peng Lei, is an artist with some repute (and proprietor of a vintage toy boutique), his much more successful band receives nary a mention in Beijing’s art world. This fan was literally sneered at in 798’s “sugar jar records” when she asked if their album was available––instead I purchased a recording that was nowhere near as brilliant as “Dragon Tiger Panacea”, but still labeled itself as ‘punk new wave’. Is the “fine art” myth surrounding 798 purposefully trying to distance itself from the commercial success of Peng Lei and New Pants?
Their new video, 《野人也有爱》 [savages can love too] is a nod to Beijing’s heavy metal heritage. The video is an homage to classic metal bands of the 1990s like Tang Dynasty (or Dou Wei’s Hei Bao), and a jibe at the “primitive” nature of the grubby, long-haired metal hippies that still thrash in the Beijing night.
If you know the references, or have ever experienced an authentic Beijing metal session, you can appreciate the fine art direction: awesome nappy hair (and fine handling of it), cut off jeans, motorcycles and on-site locations featuring the National Art Gallery, Forbidden City and a sweet pile of rubble.
Its clear that Peng Lei’s’ “artistic direction” helped the band take off, and even though there are a few lapses into videos with a mass-market appeal, the lo-fi, self-depreciating absurdity of “savages can love too” convinced me that there were some more good things to come.
In the video below, see a great use of montage in 《爱带我回家》[love take me home], some unforgettable dancing moves by keyboardist Pang Kuan, unresolved Village People references and a superb “circle of slapping”.
These past two weeks, every communication included something along the lines of “How are the Olympics,” or “hope you’re surviving the Olympics”. The answer: smothering, and just barely.
Now that they have concluded, I feel that ominous burden slowly melting from my psyche, and I realize that I was truly not “coping well” with the games. I was instead lying low, playing dead, unable to watch or even comment on this historic event. Instead, I escaped the steamy red and yellow fervor emanating from the Bird’s Nest stadium by flying off to Yunnan province, a necessary act of “self-protection” (a Chinese pun on “avoiding the Olympics” and “contraception”) but the fervor pursued.
The NYT headlines mocked me in my inbox, conflicting and paradoxical news “angles” from American and Chinese news sources accumulated, champions wept or chomped on their lead-tinged gold medals over the endless highlights montages that were repeating on televisions across China, on every CCTV station, in the airport, in the bus station, waiting for elevators…
From 29, 49, to 51 gold medals––this news tracked me down even at 2000+ meters above sea level. Perhaps it wasn’t altitude sickness at all that left me vomiting in the bathroom. The record-breaking conclusion of the games was a victory for the Chinese spirit, for which I extend my true congratulations.
After returning to Beijing, and while browsing one of my favorite stress-relieving Chinglish sites, the Century Online China Art Networks, my “unprotected” eyes were despoiled by an unusual, but seemingly Olympics related headline: “Why does so much ancient Greek art feature males with small genitalia.” An English article posted on August 22, 2008 and signed “CL2000.com.” Here, among Beijing exhibition reviews, a feature on Buddhist sand mandalas, and a piece on the Jewish Museum, was this seemingly out of place reportage on the heft and quality of ancient Greek genitals as evidenced in statuary. (more…)
by Lee Ambrozy (post from ArtReview.com)
On a day of orgasmic auspiciousness in China, 08/08/08, crowds piled into bars, parks, official ‘fanzones’ outside the Olympic stadium and the old Workers’ stadium, and along Beijing’s ancient north-south axis to watch the opening ceremony collectively on big screens and get the best view of Cai Guo-Qiang’s city-wide fireworks display (they would be the only ones to see the real real fireworks, rather than the computer graphics that appeared on TV). But far removed from these displays of patriotism, and perhaps soured by an already suffocating ‘Olympic spirit’, most of us in Beijing’s artworld chose to scrutinize the ceremonies from our couches.
Still, with cultural giants Zhang Yimou (celebrated director of House of Flying Daggers (2004)) and ace fireworker Cai Guo-Qiang, fresh from his huge exhibition at the New York Guggenheim, behind this production, our expectations were almost as high as the $300 million budget. Responses from the intellectual and creative communities in China were quick and overwhelmingly negative. On his blog, Ai Weiwei, design consultant on the Bird’s Nest and now an outspoken critic of the government in the run up to the games, called it ‘an encyclopedic display of a spiritual consciousness fallen into enemy hands’.
The Chinese know how to exploit manpower, and communism loves its gala performances. Zhang Yimou seemed to be borrowing the techniques of North Korea’s Arirang Mass Games (recently photographed by Andreas Gursky): using people-as-pixels to form staggering, intimidatingly huge collective images in which the individual is subsumed entirely, yet still crucial to the perfection of the big picture.
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The following lament for the 798 arts district is featured on artforum.com.cn under angle.
The games are approaching, and China’s most infamous arts district is being scrubbed and shined to make way for tourist traffic. The reality of the immense changes that have occurred here over the past few years now lies below a new layer of concrete and the Italian leather sandals of al fresco diners. This maturation has been rapid and thorough, but for all the media gushing over 798, few have taken time to ponder the effects of her changes, or in what way they have been ministered by her new nanny, the “Beijing 798 Art District Office of Construction Management.”
The “798 Management” office is an office representing the interests of the Beijing Municipal and Chaoyang District governments and the Seven Stars Group. Seven Stars is not a constellation or group of celestial bodies, it is the electronics conglomerate heir to the original factories, and the property management group that now rents to the galleries in 798, comprised of factories 700, 706, 718, 797, 798, and 707. Six factories. Where is the seventh? Maybe the last star is you, or harmony, or maybe it stands for “art zone” with Chinese characteristics.
Established in 2001, in part to deal with factories vacated since being rendered irrelevant by changing electronics technology, Seven Stars was happy to rent to people such as Sui Jianguo the sculptor, Hong Huang the publisher, Liu Suola the composer and many others who began moving in around 2001. Then, the entire area seemed distant and dilapidated, although its former glory was quietly echoed in East German designed Bauhaus style factories. In the mid-1950s this area was the highly celebrated “Factory 718” complex, the national standard in integrated and efficient production, and a model for similar factory complexes across the nation. It is said that Factory 718 was a household name, reaching heights of production amidst swells of socialist ideological hype that encouraged the embrace of industry.
Reverberating with its past fame, 718 has been reincarnated as 798, and sits atop tourist “top ten” lists. One of the government’s “development zones” of the new cultural variety, 798 is prided as a model of official tolerance for artistic expression, as evidence of the booming “cultural industries” and touted as a “healthy” tourist location spotlighting “contemporary culture” where visitors can snap photos of themselves amidst steaming, peeling pipes or shiny fiberglass sculptures, embodying the contrast of a proud industrial heritage with a booming contemporary art scene. 798 has emerged as a media-friendly archetype of the contradictions that define modernizing China. Or does it define something else? (more…)
In these heady days leading to the Summer Games, many “foreign friends” in China and would be visitors are perplexed be the sudden difficulties in obtaining and extending their visas. Indeed, China’s crackdown and imitation of the US Government’s visa policies seems an illogical strategy for a nation on the verge of her debutante ball, even more so when inflation seems almost solely propelled by lusty visions of foreign visitors paying 40 RMB (~5.50 USD) for a cup of swill-piss coffee. Nevertheless, there are rules and conventions in every culture and nation, and with China so eager to enforce hers, international friends should bone up on a more “native” approach to red tape and visa paperwork. Herein lies the soundest advice I can give for anyone who approaches one of the low, laminate countertops that shield the forces of the Chinese bureaucracy: you need yin for yang, something to slake the thirst of the inexplicable administrative madness going on behind those counters. You’ve accepted the mission, now your secret weapon? MY CLEAR BAG.
“Business. School. Home.
Collection Information. Communication.
Shopping. Driving. Playing. Presentation.”
Helpful suggestions for its use are printed right on top of this “simple” document folder. Your lucky amulet comes in five pastel colors, each one bearing a white printed grid, the above “poem” outlining its function, and that discriminating title, those three conspicuous words: MY CLEAR BAG.
If life were a video game, MY CLEAR BAG would be the weapon that you buy with accumulated coins, or the talisman you steal from some dead guy. But, thankfully, this is China, a peaceful nation with some special socialist tendencies, and there are plenty for all! In a nation that loves homogeneity and inconspicuous behavior as much as China, there is no better tool to help you blend in. You can––and you should––buy one from your corner store.
Traditional Chinese philosophy stresses balance: bringing down the heat, restoring harmony. My Clear Bag is your antidote, your leverage for confronting an incomprehensible and opaque Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Imagine the brutalist monoliths that are Beijing’s governmentbuildings, imaging what is tucked behind those endless rows of black windows; the bureaus and the leaders that survey them, the constantly changing rules they make and break. Imagine now My Clear Bag––it is in your hand as you approach one of the many service counters that breech the Ministry with the comparably prostrate public––you use it to approach the human face of this bureaucracy. Your face is forgettable, and probably not as symmetrically pleasing as the My Clear Bag you carry. Place it unassumingly on the desk and revel in its purpose and its methodology: it is transparent, and compact, its function is obvious, self-explanatory, intuitive. It stands in diametric opposition to all of the nastiness inside. Your officer picks it up for inspection. Nestled inside your Clear Bag, nothing can be lost, nothing will fall through the cracks.
Simply the sight of My Clear Bag unconsciously brings peace to whomever you encounter behind the desk, just as a cool cucumber soothes the fires of a spicy hot pot, it calms the soul of this officer. In contrast to their life “within the machine”, the rules of My Clear Bag are simple and easy to follow, and they do not change seasonally with campaigns nor with national holidays. Protocol is obvious and perfunctory. Of course, Everyone’s Clear Bag is exactly the same, with no exceptions. Unlike that Audi A6 with mandatory leather-seats and a quilted tissue box on the dashboard that may or may not be parked outside of the building, there is no “VIP” Clear Bag. No, there is one bag for all, at one price, and with limited variations––that Clear Bag of mine is a tested, true classic model of Marxist socialism.
Of course, the contents My Clear Bag can vary. At more “official” times such as border crossings their contents should include your passport, little stacks of I.D. photos paper-clipped together and––as any experienced My Clear Bag operator should know––photocopies of each document. These contents are stacked in ascending or descending order of importance, depending on your mission. Larger assignments (applying for a Chinese university) would do well to include a typed table of contents.
Approaching any counter á la My Clear Bag is to say in a nonverbal language that you are a law-abiding, trustworthy candidate. It becomes the missing semiotic link between your inevitable success and your visa officer. By toting My Clear Bag, you are demonstrating highly prized values of “healthy thought”: you revere simplicity, you are well organized and respectful of your opportunity to inquire about a little visa from the big bureaucracy. You don’t fly ahead of that flock, and don’t worry, no one’s going to sacrifice you to scare the monkeys. You also know the virtues of being economical, because you bought My Clear Bag for 1.5RMB. This bag can truly change your life.
Check out the look on this dog’s face: the consternation, the polo shirt. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has his own start up company, or tickets to the 2008 Opening Ceremony.
Click on “read more” to see this dog’s head shot.
“Socialism is Great” is a coming-of-age tale to be sure, but also a good example of memoir writing from an exceptional person living through some extraordinary times. “Socialism is Great” tells of things great and small: a girl becoming a woman and China shedding its socialist shell. It opens doors on a frugal family and its persistence in life, and the gates of the state-owned factory class as it plods to extinction. Along the way are lovable and despicable characters, all drawn to–or repelled by–our heroine Lijia as she careens through her own mind, trying as she must to keep her ambitions and lust contained behind “the strangest pair [of glasses she] could find in town.”
“Socialism is Great” is a fast read, is passionate and hopeful. Happily, unlike many other memoirs from China it doesn’t end with an escape abroad. In this sense, it captures the spirit of the 80s, as the heroine’s forward momentum brings readers to new depths and acts of bravery, she brings to life a whole new side of China, all without wallowing in self-pity. As she matures, she comes into mature experiences that make this book inappropriate for young audiences, but which definitely left me surprised at the depth of emotion of factory workers and “simple” laborers all.
All in all, this is a new voice to enrich the canon of memoirs from China, it marks the advancement away from the reminiscing over the cultural revolution, and represents one among China’s newest generation of international, accomplished writers.
Book Talk: “Socialism Is Great!” by Zhang LijiaWed June 18, 19:30-21:00
Venue: CCC Learning Centre, Chinese Culture Club, Anjialou, No.29, Liangmaqiao Road, Chaoyang District.
Price: RMB 20 (symbolic charge for drinks and snack) (more…)
Like a Kernel of Corn… a review of director Feng Yan’s non-fictional account of a strong-willed female farmer and a close up look at policy and subsistence farming in Hubei. A million thanks to Alice Wang for her article! Alice is a literary translator and currently editor of art forum’s Chinese site. Her contribution to sinopop is much appreciated, for English readers interested in the film, read a review here on variety.com.
I’ve left the land of kimchee for a world of almdudlers. I’ve arrived in Berlin, Pan Pan, Liu Zhizhi and myself. Our mission is to curate a show for Beijing on German design, young, fresh designers. We’re having as much fun as those almdudlers you see on that empty bottle.
Japanese grocery store, mass market shopping has at last made it to China’s capital. How sweet it is!
Obsessive-compulsive fans of home-living simplicity are raving: at long last Japanese minimalist design store MUJI is opening in Beijing. Logo-free is MUJI’s calling card, and you can find unobtrusive office, bathroom, home supplies, and clothing are finally at the fingertips of Beijing designers and art types seeking for unclutter work spaces. The (visually) understated excitement begins is located in new shopping mall Dayue Cheng located in Xidan, just across from the main gate of the Xidan Shopping plaza.
Inside the same mall, find UNIQLO, best described as the Japanese “Gap.” Their selection of rainbow-colored cotton separates are spectacular, as well as mass-market trendy dresses, polo shirts and khaki pants. Their jeans come in sizes up to waist 31, and can be hemmed for length. Uniqlo is also well known for their incredible selection of designer printed t-shirts, the selection here is heavy on manga-esque characters, although you won’t find anything pre-boxed with toys included.
Firm Idealism Community
In Beijing, have a set of one’s own houses, it is the most untiring ideals of people. The ones that enabled more persons to live in got up in the good house, is ideals all the time of the others too. Go to in the city, mutually encourage between ideal and ideal.
if you thought the iPhone revolutionized the way you use a phone, have a look at the “myPhone” . . .
that’s right, here’s a commercial for the “real myPhone.” Note that instead of “swiping” your finger across the screen, all you need do is shake it.
Or, try instead the Ai Feng 爱丰, which sounds like “iPhone” in Chinese.
“If you can’t find apple’s iPhone, why not try the double sim-card AiFeng－its more intense!”
I’m sorry. I was angry with you and avoided you . . . But it was when I wanted to add to my collection of entertaining dishware that I began to recall our better, happier times together. Now, I really think it’s best that we start seeing each other again. Can you give me another chance?
Remember when I just moved out of my dormitory and had no money to furnish that junky, little apartment? You were there for me. We threw out those nasty flower printed curtains and had some made that looked just like they came from Ikea, but for a mere third of the price. Then you saved me from calling my jerk of a landlord—and you always knew how much I hated him—you gave me telephone cords exactly the length I needed for, and a new hose for the leaky showerhead for only ten RMB. I didn’t thank you then, but darling, you are irreplaceable.
Then, remember when I wanted to throw a party? I had no time to decorate, but you offered me endless strings of lights: little sparkly white ones, fruit-shaped ones, lights in red tubes like the chuan’r signs on the street . . . you even showed me disposable tableware and silly gag gifts. You peeled away the secrets to how the average person consumes in Beijing, you made me feel like a real laobaixing, you gave me hope. It is so rare to say that to someone . . . maybe someday I will buy some split-crotch pants for our little munchkin, hmmm?
Not only were you there for parties and housewares, you gave me tschochkes galore, (more…)