Intersections: Branded and Planted: The Globalised Chinese Body
Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 23, January 2010

Branded and Planted:
The Globalised Chinese Body

Mikala Tai

  1. The arrival of China onto the global stage has occurred at dizzying speed. As the country emerged from the Cultural Revolution and the aftermath of the Tian'anmen Square incident, its artists have been searching for new ways to encapsulate their experiences. In the current climate of globalisation, many have turned to the raw intensity of the body to anchor and explore the intangible experience of the globalised world. Whether reflecting on the past, fantasising about the future or agitating for the now the body has proven to be an effective and poignant medium in which Chinese contemporary artists reflect and engage with the experience of globalisation.
  2. The body as an artistic medium has become increasingly favoured by contemporary Chinese artists in recent years. In Western art, the physicality of the nude has historically been viewed as a tabula rasa on which to project and interrogate contemporary concerns.[1] From the realism of Roman sculptures and the fleshy expanse of Rubens' nudes, to the recent contested images of Australian photographer Bill Henson, the body remains a lasting and integral element of Western art.[2] However, with no tradition of the primacy of the nude, it was not until the late 1980s that the corporeal body emerged in China as an artistic medium, making, in Western art historical terms, the body visible for the first time in Chinese art.[3] The subsequent proliferation of contemporary Chinese art works that privilege the body as medium and subject demands scholarly attention, as such an emergence appears symptomatic of complex contemporary concerns.
  3. As the body, in particular the male nude, has become increasingly prevalent in contemporary Chinese art there has been a growing number of art, cultural and gender theorists who have sought to reflect on this emergence.[4] John Hay in his influential article 'The Body Invisible in Chinese Art?' sees this growth of the body in Chinese art as illustrative of the polemics of comparing Asian art with Western art. He argues that it is not so much an emergence of the body but rather the West's inability to recognise bodies when they are represented utilising non-Western artistic indicators.[5] However, if we are to break with our expectations of a body that conforms to Western culturally-prescribed anatomical shapes and surfaces we quickly discover that, in terms of Chinese artistic indicators, the body has a long tradition in Chinese art.
  4. The artistic tradition of the landscape has a long and profound history in Chinese art. As an artistic genre, landscape painting in China has both longevity and immense influence. On first glance these landscapes appear to be devoid of depictions of the body and, from the point of view of Western art history, quite rightly represent an 'absence' of human figures. However, if we are to view these works within the Chinese tradition we find that they are in fact infused with human figures. In early theories of painting, a governing concept was that of shi, which 'refers to the gesture or posture implied by the object's disposition.'[6] The idea that an object can have a 'disposition' links it to the gestural and symbolic nature of the human body. Through anthropomorphising inanimate objects they can then be read as one would read the body—as expressive and communicative. In the earliest Chinese text on landscape painting, Bifa Ji (An Account of Brushwork), tenth-century artist Jing Hao writes that a pine's 'disposition (shi) is tall/noble and inaccessible/aloof, yet the joints bend in dignified salute.'[7] If we are to read Chinese art from within its own art tradition we can see that, while the corporeal body may not appear as readily in Chinese works as in Western art, the body is far from absent. Rather the body is 'dispersed through metaphors locating it in the natural world.'[8]
  5. While establishing that the body was not 'absent' from Chinese art history as some Western scholars have surmised,[9] there is however an emergence in the 1980s, and proliferation in the 1990s, of the corporeal body being used as an artistic medium in contemporary Chinese art. This movement from the suggestion of the body through metaphor to the stark immediacy of exposed flesh must be examined as it signals a vast break in both the development and tradition of Chinese contemporary art. While I hesitate to simply tie artistic production to larger socio-political developments, I do believe that the proliferation of the body as an artistic medium, from its initial appearance in the 1980s to its popularity from the mid-1990s onwards, is directly related to a series of events that occurred after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.
  6. Larissa Heinrich and Fran Martin have solidly aligned the Chinese corporeal body in, as they term it, the context of 'late modernity.' In Embodied Modernities: Corporeality, Representation and Chinese Cultures, Heinrich and Martin read the changing concept of the body as a product of the specific context from which it has emerged.[10] They explore the body as a site where contemporary concerns are reflected upon, debated and dismissed. In today's globalised age—which sees us exploring new manners of communication, unimagined advances in technologies and an unprecedented level of exchange between nations, cultures and languages—the body has become a place to locate and personalise the overarching, and essentially impersonal, concept of globalisation.
  7. But why the body? Its rise to become a favoured artistic medium in globalised China has been both swift and controversial. The nude—as it is understood in Western art historical terms—entered the orbit of Chinese contemporary art in full force in the 1980s. A by-product of Deng Xiao Ping's manoeuvring of China back onto the international stage was the development of new avenues of communications and an influx of information. This resulted in the Chinese art scene receiving art magazines and books from Europe and America as well as establishing new artistic networks. Artists were suddenly inundated with a plethora of imagery and information on numerous artistic phases and movements that had been largely censored and restricted.[11] Amongst these images were numerous depictions of the nude, including the recent Western body art movement of the 1970s. This was then followed in 1988 by the publication of Chinese artist and scholar Chen Zui's book, On Nude Art which sold 200,000 copies.[12] Chen's book directly tackled the taboo of the body in contemporary China and introduced the concept of body art in distinctly Chinese concerns rather than just reflections of Western movements. This combination of a sudden influx of information and the slow relaxation of censorship led to a growing exploration of the taboo of the nude. In the artistic realm the body became an artistic medium and the concept of the flesh as canvas became closely tied to the Chinese experimental art movement.
  8. However, just as the Chinese contemporary art scene was brimming with experimentation and possibilities, the devastating events of 4 June 1989 occurred. In the early hours of 4 June the Chinese government entered Tian'anmen Square where thousands of students and civilians had been protesting for freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Their demonstration had been sparked by the death of Hu Yaobang whom the students viewed as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) member who agitated for freedom of speech.[13] Their entrance was neither peaceful nor conciliatory as the government entered the square in the form of the army. As the tanks entered and fired at the protestors there was mass hysteria and bloodshed. By dawn 800 lives had been lost and, effectively, the collective voice of protest had been silenced.[14] While the repercussions of the tragedy that unfolded on 4 June were immediate and sweeping, it has only been in retrospect that we can fully appreciate the encompassing and long-term effects these events have had on the development of contemporary Chinese art. For, despite the vast advancement artists had forged during the 1980s in terms of freedom of speech, it was because of the events of 4 June that artists, in shock, 'came to the sudden realisation of their impotence in the face of real politics.'[15] The aftermath of the incident induced the reining in of policies that the government had relaxed during the 1980s and saw the banning of exhibitions and publications related to unofficial art. Thus, 4 June 1989 is widely viewed as a rupture point in the trajectory of contemporary Chinese art as artists moved from the relatively public exhibition-oriented avant-gardism of the 1980s to the private realm of the 1990s underground experimental art movement. However, the effects of this moment are much more complex than simply the implementation of government censorship policies. In fact, I see this moment as the collapse of the concept of the 'collective movement' in China.
  9. For most Chinese artists of the 1990s their lives had, until 1989, been dominated by the collective spirit or—as it is termed in China—yundong. Yundong was an essential mandate of the CCP, which stated that change, advancement and progress could only be achieved in a collective movement.[16] Even after the death of Mao and the jailing of the Gang of Four the underlying belief in the collective remained.[17] During the 1980s there were numerous avant-garde artistic groups that sought change, the two most famous being the '85 Movement and The Stars.[18] However, the collective movement was effectively dismantled in 1989 when the colossal collective protest that led to the Tian'anmen Square incident failed. The events of 4 June 1989 marked the demolition of the collective and the rise of the individual. This moment is best captured by the photographic evidence of the tragedy. Despite the vast numbers of people that filled the square and the surrounding area, the defining image is that of the singular figure standing to attention in front of the tanks (see Figure 1). Both visually and socio-politically this moment signalled the collapse of the collective in China and, I argue, was influential in the artistic shift to the primacy of the body.

    Figure 1. Jeff Widener (Associated Press), China Democracy Protests, 5 June 1989.

  10. Many, including the pre-eminent Chinese art historian Wu Hung, view the development of the individualised artistic body as an extension of the failure of the collective in both Chinese society and artistic communities.[19] While I agree with Wu's observations, I think that we must contextualise the rise of the body as an artistic medium in China in connection with the wider international phenomenon of globalisation. While the effects of globalisation have been felt from Australia to Austria, the effect in China has been more acute. Having within their lifetimes experienced the failure of the collective movements of The Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and the Tian'anmen Square incident, and then to be faced with a global collective movement, has had a marked effect on contemporary Chinese artists. Not only does globalisation signal for China vast changes such as expanding economic interests, the reimagining of urban landscapes, the refashioning of concepts of the family and the growing tolerance of free speech, it also signals an international collective movement. For, in essence, globalisation is a collective movement on the largest scale possible—it signals the uniting of the entire world into a single interconnected society. Thus, globalisation poses to the Chinese a refashioning of the very collectivism whose failure they had just witnessed. In reaction, artists have turned to the most individual and personal means in which to reflect on these large-scale global processes. What is more individual and personal than the body and flesh itself?
  11. The body emerged as a popular medium in the 1990s as a means by which contemporary society and life could be mediated through concepts of intimacy and physicality. This emergence has produced some of the most poignant and important works from the Chinese art community. The confronting nature of the nude and the immediacy of flesh offered members of the underground experimental art community a medium that effectively communicated their perspectives. As Gao Minglu notes, Chinese contemporary artists of the 1990s were 'striving to develop a common and reliable vocabulary to speak with their audience, a vocabulary that might be unfamiliar but which was derived from their own deep personal experience and which may provide a true expression of their subjectivity in a globalising society.'[20] The vocabulary that many members of the 1990s Chinese artistic community found was their body.
  12. It is critical that we pause here to reflect on this concept of the personal primacy of the body in light of the idea of a globalised world. The impersonal, omnipresent nature of globalisation appears to have pervaded all aspects of our lives. It has propelled us into an age where wild imaginings of yesterday are possible today, where distance is reduced to broadband speed and where our lives are increasingly intertwined with the wider global community. For the individual this process has been intangible while, paradoxically, encroachingly personal. Our lives have become digital litter on the internet and statistics for corporations, leaving the individual numerically branded. In our increasingly globalised world where dependence on technology is essential to both success and survival we are no longer recognised as people but as series of numbers, be they social security numbers, student numbers or IP addresses—all of which we memorise, recite and need in order to interact. In this light the raw corporeality of the expanse of one's own flesh becomes the only site over which one has a degree of control. It is here that artists have a canvas that is both intensely personal but physically public on which to explore the complex concerns of globalisation.
  13. Zhang Huan highlighted the primacy of the body in his works by harnessing the intense personal nature of the nude to create his art. In an interview with Qian Zhijian he stated,

      the body is proof of identity. The body is language…I realised that any medium beyond the body seemed too remote from myself. Thus, I decided that the only way I could be an artist was by using my body as the basic medium and language of my art.[21]

    Through his body Zhang employs the powerful 'language' of experience. In all of his work there is a deep focus and emphasis on the human understanding of experience. While the display of his nude body has thrust his work into complex debates on the nude and the body and has been responsible for much of the attention his work has garnered over the years, if we were to reduce his works to simply the shock value of the body then we would in fact miss the delicate, and powerful, nature of his works.[22]
  14. For while his works are primarily performances they have become influential through their photographic
      dissemination. The photographs remain both poignant and persuasive through the viewers' undeniable physical affinity with Zhang in his work. The use of his own corporeality in his 1994 work 12 Square Metres invites empathy as the viewer feels an instant physical repulsion through simply viewing the work (see Figure 2). Covered in honey, feasted on by flies and unswervingly still while sitting in a putrid toilet in east Beijing, Zhang's body in 12 Square Metres is used as a site of communication—protesting against the state of public toilets across China.[23] The performance has been celebrated by international art historians and critics as a body 'characterised by raw expression and stark social commentary.'[24] In China in 1994, much of the sensation around the work erupted due to the naked male body on display. The longevity of the piece, however, lies in the raw vulnerability of Zhang's flesh. The piece gains its poignancy through the simple fact that the viewer can categorically empathise with the horror of exposed flesh in a decrepit environment. It is this horror that is communicated through Zhang's public protest.

    Figure 2. Zhang Huan, 12 Square Metres, 1994, Performance, Beijing, China. Image courtesy of Zhang Huan Studio.

  15. Furthermore, 12 Square Metres embodies social protest. It is here—on the tabula rasa that is flesh—that the individual becomes an effective tool of social protest. It is a stark change from the collective protest that until the 1980s was the most prevalent means of agitation for change. Employing his body as a communicative tool, Zhang succinctly campaigns for improvement in a basic amenity from the primacy of one's corporeal body. This work truly emphasises China's escape from the collective protest and the rise of individual influence.
  16. The body, however, has not been restricted to expressing simply socio-political concerns but has also been a site of negotiation between tradition and the contemporary. Tradition and history have become critical topics in globalising China. In the 1980s, as Deng was striving for advancement in all aspects of Chinese society, traditional ink and brush calligraphy painting seemed to belong to a time that clashed with the emerging Chinese superpower, where artists were enthusiastically adapting to photography, video and installation art. In 1985, Li XiaoShan incited controversy when he published his article, 'My View of Contemporary Chinese Painting', arguing that ink painting was a dead style.[25] However, this pessimistic prediction has been proven incorrect as in recent decades Chinese contemporary art has not only produced a vast number of ink paintings, but many ink painters, such as Xu Bing, have risen to international prominence. Leading Chinese art historian Gao Minglu opposes the crux of Li's argument, having observed that one of the most critical elements of 'twentieth-century Chinese culture is that artists searching for aesthetic modernism frequently look back to traditional roots to explore certain human values.'[26] In terms of Chinese ink painting, artists have done more than simply continue an ancient art. They have rather, in alliance with Gao's sentiment, propelled this traditional artistic technique into contemporary artistic production.
  17. The most simple but persuasive example of this is Zhang's Family Tree of 2000 where he paints and
      repaints his entire family history onto his face until his features disappear into a mass of black ink (see Figure 3). With genetic markers dictating features and physical imperfections hinting at one's past, the face is far from a neutral canvas. Once painted onto Zhang's face the characters become increasingly indistinguishable as they slowly seep into an inky darkness until it becomes impossible to separate the characters from Zhang. There is a degree of ownership in such an act in a country where one's heritage, family and ties have been the source of both banishment and re-education. In this context, the act of publicly wearing one's connections must be read as an act of defiance. The reinterpretation of the traditional use of brush and ink through painting on flesh also propels the ancient tradition firmly into the realm of contemporary art. Such a sentiment is further explored by Huang Yan.

    Figure 3. Zhang Huan, Family Tree, 2000, New York, USA. Image courtesy of Zhang Huan Studio.

  18. Huang's work railed against Li's pessimistic prediction and his works clearly 'explore the link between traditional and contemporary society,' illustrating that ink landscapes are not dead but rather revitalised.[27] In Chinese tradition the links between the body and the landscape are undeniable. The Shan-Shui (Mountains and Waters) are viewed in China to be fuelled by a pulsating energy force named qimo that controls the ebb and flow of the rivers and the flourishing of mountain ranges. This same force, qimo, is also seen to be the internal energy circuits of the body.[28] It is an old concept that belongs to the study of dilixue, or earth pattern study, and has been dated to the First Emperor of Qin (c. 221 BCE).[29] The surviving study of dilixue has linked the energy forces of both the body and landscape in the minds of the Chinese for centuries and is still practiced now through such popular traditions as tai chi and qi gong. Through his practice Huang has brought this link between the body and the landscape into visual clarity. I would thus argue that his work continues the long tradition of the landscape in Chinese art.

    Figure 4. Huang Yan, Flesh Landscape No.1, Photography, 50 x 60 cm, 2000. Image courtesy of Eastlink Gallery.   Figure 5. Huang Yan, Chinese Shan Shui Tattoo Series, 63x52cm each, Photography, 1999. Image courtesy of Eastlink Gallery.

  19. In 2000 Huang, together with his classically trained artist wife Zhang Tiemei, created traditional colour Shan-Shui paintings that were painted onto dried pork meat (see Figure 4). Delicate in nature, these traditional paintings, such as Flesh Landscape (2000), appear unfamiliar when transposed onto decrepit meat. However, with an understanding of Shan-Shuiwe can see that this work is far from inciting the abject but is rather responding to an age-old belief.[30] The rivers and mountains on the meat are aligned with the layers of fat tracing the natural shape of the flesh—literally combining the qimo that governs both the land and body.
  20. Huang explores this link more comprehensively in his 1999 series Chinese LandscapeTattoo where the entire torso of a male is covered with an intricate landscape of mountains and streams (see Figure 5). There is a critical difference between the manner in which Zhang uses his body and how Huang employs his. For, while the vulnerability of Zhang's flesh is paramount in his Family Tree; in Chinese Landscape—Tattoo we are invited by Huang to read his flesh as canvas. Clothed in a landscape, and displayed, fragmented and disconnected in framed photographs, the viewer is prevented from appreciating the vulnerability of the body. Instead, such fragmentation causes the body to appear 'dehumanised and de-individualised', further emphasising Huang's attempt to link bodies—plural—with the landscape.[31]
  21. Huang articulates this sentiment in his artist statement for the mammoth exhibition Between Past and Future: new Photography and Video Art from China, stating, in a continuous ramble, that his body and the mountains and streams are inherently joined.

      …mountains and rivers are proof of my emotional expression; mountains and rivers are places where my heart and soul find peace; mountains and rivers are sites where my physical body belongs…[32]

    From such an artist's statement one must read Chinese Landscape—Tattoo as an extension of the concept of qimo. The peaceful poses, one with the arms crossed and another with hands clasped together as if in prayer, fuse the energy circuits of both the landscape and body, effectively completing the circle of qimo.
  22. Flesh landscape and Chinese Landscape—Tattoo unite the tradition of landscape painting with the new canvas of the flesh. The reference to traditional ink painting not only reinvigorates the tradition but, as Britta Erickson notes, 'affirm[s] the strength of China's long cultural history.'[33] However, not all have seen the links between nature and the body to be so strong, nor so convincing. Yang Zhichao is an artist who challenges us to think about the state of our bodies in the globalised age.
  23. Yang Zhichao must be viewed as an artist reflecting on the globalised era through his body. Moving to Beijing in 1998 from the Western province of Gansu, Yang experienced the extreme polarity of globalised contemporary Beijing, compared to rural provincial life. This would have been clearly apparent to Yang for, while in Gansu the body is a meal ticket that can labour for a living, in globalised Beijing the body is a decorated shell in a city where the dominant industries are knowledge-based. The stark comparison from rural life to that of the globalised city keenly informs Yang's exploration of the contemporary body.
      On the most basic level Yang is concerned with the relationships fostered between our body and the world around us and uses his body as a site for a literal and extremely physical exploration of contemporary concerns. His works always involve a degree of violence against the body, which transmit an acute sense of pain to the viewer—even through photographs of the performances. It is through this visceral experience of pain that Yang examines the clash between the body and the modern advances that seek to contain and coerce it. One of the most succinct examples of this is Yang's work Iron of 2000, which sees him literally branded, much like a cow, with his passport number (see Figure 6). The raised, red and raw sight of his flesh is an extreme example of how, in this globalised 'big brother' era, authorities have sought to develop and maintain tracking systems to monitor our every move. Through branding himself, Yang evokes concepts of prisons and cattle, both of which are examples of being trapped within an overarching system. Such a work surmises that civilians are becoming slaves to the institutional systems we created ourselves.

    Figure 6. Yang Zhichao, Iron, Photography of Performance, 83 x 160 cm, 2000. Image courtesy of Eastlink Gallery.

  24. Taking this concept a step further, Yang proposes through his performances that in the globalised age our bodies are more in tune with technology than nature. In an era of pacemakers, hearing aids and broken bones replaced by metal rods, a cyborg reality dances dangerously close (see Figure 7).[34] In his piece Hide (2004) Yang, with the help of artist Ai Weiwei and a surgeon, explores this development. Sitting in Beijing's art district Caochangdi, Yang submits his body to science and has a small metal object implanted into his leg. Ai did not reveal what he had chosen to implant—hence the title of the piece. However, to this day, Yang has this foreign material in his leg and continues to function as normal.

    Figure 7. Yang Zhichao, Hide, Photography of Performance, 3 pieces 120 x 120 cm, 2002. Image courtesy of Eastlink Gallery.

  25. This is in stark contrast to his other works Planting Grass of 2000 (see Figure Eight) and Earth of 2004, where he had a surgical incision on his shoulder planted out with creek grass and then had a surgeon plant some earth into the roof of his stomach. Yang was in immense pain for each of the performances but, tellingly, while his body rejected the natural products of grass and dirt, his body continues to exist unchanged and unencumbered with the metal object in his leg. While his body enveloped and adapted to the metal piece,
      the natural products were rejected in a violent, painful and infected manner that has left considerable scar tissue on both his shoulder and stomach. In the age of globalisation such works suggest that our bodies are not only branded by the state but have also adapted to the point where they are more comfortable being cybernetically engineered than connected to the natural world.

    Figure 8. Yang Zhichao, Planting Grass, Photography of Performance, 130 x 88 cm, 2000. Image courtesy of Eastlink Gallery.

  26. The use of the body, as I have examined throughout this article, is varied and dynamic in contemporary Chinese art. It has emerged as a medium that not only breathes life back into traditional art forms but also provides a platform on which artists can dissect contemporary concerns. Zhang's performances illustrate a new political and social movement in China and the rise of the individual. Huang's work highlights the body's ties to nature and uses the body to reinterpret traditional ink painting. Yang uses his own body as a project of contemporary life, placing it as a scientific specimen of today's condition. Such works illustrate that, in China, as life speeds up, as communication expands and as globalisation continues to develop its stranglehold worldwide, the raw corporeality of the body emerges as the most intimate and personal reflection of the nuanced experience of globalisation.


    [1] For an in-depth discussion of the history of the body aesthetic see: Tobin Seibers, 'Defining the body aeshetic,' in Body Aesthetic: From Fine Art to Body Modification, ed. Tobin Seibers, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 2000, pp. 1–16. Seibers discusses how theories of the body and the nude have been intrinsic to the development of Western art. From discussions on how the body has been represented by artists to how the body has become an artistic medium this article illuminates the complex development of the body aesthetic.

    [2] For more information about the Henson controversy, see: David Marr, The Henson Case, Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2008.

    [3] John Hay, 'The body invisible in Chinese art?' in Body, Subject and Power in China, ed. Angela Zito and Tani E. Barlow, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1994, pp. 42–77, p. 42.

    [4] It is interesting to note that, by and large, all examples of Chinese body art have been male nudes. For a more complex discussion on this critical aspect of Chinese body art refer to Katie Hill, 'Hysterical bodies, contemporary Chinese art as (male) trauma,' in Burden or Legacy: From the Chinese Revolution to Contemporary Art, ed. Joshua Jiang and Jiang Jiehong, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2007, pp. 71–84.

    [5] Hay, 'The body invisible in Chinese art?' p. 43.

    [6] Martin J. Powers, 'When is a landscape like a body?' in Landscape, Culture and Power, ed. Wen-hsin Yeh, Berkeley: Centre for Chinese Studies, 1998, pp. 1–22, p. 7.

    [7] Powers, 'When is a landscape like a body?' p. 7.

    [8] Hay, 'The body invisible in Chinese art?' p. 44.

    [9] François Jullien, The Impossible Nude, trans. Maev de la Guardia, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2007.

    [10] Larissa Heinrich and Fran Martin, Embodied Modernities: Corporeality, Representation and Chinese Cultures, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006, p. 115.

    [11] For more information about the development of Chinese contemporary art and the expansion of artistic freedom in the 1980s see: Jiang Jiehong and Joshua Jiang, Burden to Legacy: From the Chinese Cultural Revolution to Contemporary Art, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2007.

    [12] Chen Zui, Luo Ti Yi Shu Lun, Beijing: Zhongguo wen lian chu ban gong si: Xin hua shu dian Beijing fa xing suo fa xing, 1988.

    [13] For a more detailed account of Hu Yaobang's role in the Tian'anmen Square incident and the symbolic role he represented to the students see: Michel Oksenberg, Lawrence R. Sullivan, Marc Lambert and Qiao Li, Beijing Spring, 1989, Armonk, New York: An East Gate Book— M.E. Sharpe, Inc 1990, p. 21.

    [14] For a more thorough investigation of the Tian'anmen Square incident see: Liang Zhang, Zhang Ting Liang, Andrew J. Nathan and Eugene Perry Link, The Tiananmen Papers, California: Abacus Publishers, 2002.

    [15] Tzong-zung Chang, cited in Wu Hung, Transience, Chicago: The David and Alfred Smart Gallery of Art, University of Chicago Press 1999, p. 20.

    [16] The concept of yundong appears in numerous texts produced by the Chinese Communist Party and is discussed in various forms in the infamous Little Red Book. See Mao Zedong, Mao zhuxi yulu, Beijing: CCP, 1964.

    [17] From the inception of Mao's leadership until his death in 1976 much of China's governmental policy revolved around the concept of collectivism. Even after the tragic failure of The Great Leap Forward (1958–1961) which saw millions die of famine as peasants abandoned the fields in order to boost the nation's steel imports, collectivism remained a critical CCP policy. Furthermore, during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) led by Mao and The Gang of Four—Jiang Qing, Mao Zedong's last wife, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen—destruction and terror emerged as The Red Guards—students banded together to promote Mao—were unleashed onto the nation instilling fear.

    [18] The '85 Movement and The Stars were avant-garde contemporary art groups who agitated for change. They were highly political and philosophical while seeking to establish debate and discussion about the development of China.

    [19] Wu Hung discusses Zhang Huan's use of his body as a site of social protest in his article 'Speaking the unspeakable,' in Wu Hung, Transience, Chicago: The David and Alfred Smart Gallery of Art, University of Chicago Press 1999, pp. 102–107.

    [20] Gao Minglu, 'From elite to small man: the many faces of a transitional avant-garde in mainland China,' in Inside Out, ed. Gao Minglu, San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and University of California Press, 1998, pp. 149–66, p. 155.

    [21] Zhang Huang, interview with Qian Zhijian. 'Performing bodies: Zhang Huan, Ma Liuming and performance art in China," in Art Journal, no. 58, issue 2, (Summer 1999): pp. 61–81, p. 69.

    [22] Holland Cotter, 'Like a bird in flight: capturing today's Chinese culture in transition,' in the New York Times, 11 June (2004), p. E41.

    [23] Wu, 'Speaking the unspeakable,' p. 102.

    [24] Mathieu Borysericz, 'Zhang Huan at Deitch Projects,' in Art in America, vol. 88, no. 10, (October 2000):168.

    [25] Britta Erickson, citing Lu Xiao Shan in 'The contemporary artistic deconstruction – and reconstruction – of brush and ink painting,' in Yishu, vol. 2, no. 2, (Summer, June 2003):82–89, p. 82.

    [26] Gao, 'From elite to small man,' p. 155.

    [27] Gao, 'Huang Yan,' in Chinese Contemporary: London, Beijing, New York (the website of the international Chinese contemporary commercial art gallery, online:, online:, site accessed 13 September 2006, p. ep. I can't make this URL work. Is it no longer operating - or is the URL incorrect?

    [28] John Hay, 'Introduction,' in Boundaries in China, ed. John Hay, London: Reaktion Books, 1994, pp. 1–55, p. 18.

    [29] Hay, 'Introduction', p. 19.

    [30] It is important here to delineate that Huang is not inciting the abject for pure shock and repulsion value in the manner of Georges Bataille or Julia Kristeva, but rather that his work is tied to a more complex historical artistic lineage. For further information about Bataille and Kristeva's work on abject art and a discussion on how they intersect see Simon Leung and Zoya Koncur, Theory in Contemporary Art Since 1985, New York: Wiley and Blackwell, 2005, p. 396. For the original works see Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez, New York: Columbia University Press, 1982 and Georges Bataille, 'L'Abjection et les formes misérables', in Essais de sociologie, Oeuvres completes, vol. 2. Gallimard, Paris: 1970, p. 217.

    [31] Susan Acret, 'Huang Yan,' in ART Asia Pacific, no. 27 (2003):30.

    [32] Huang Yan, 'Artist's statement: Huang Yan,' in Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China, exhibition catalogue, Chicago: The Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, 2004, p. 206.

    [33] Erickson, 'The contemporary artistic deconstruction – and reconstruction – of brush and ink painting,' p. 89.

    [34] One cannot mention cyborgs without referencing the path breaking work by Donna Haraway who informs much of contemporary thought on cyborgs and our imaginings of them. See: Donna Haraway, 'A cyborg manifesto: science, technology, and socialist-feminism in the late twentieth century,' in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, New York: Routledge, 1991, pp. 149–81.

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