Thursday, June 04, 2009

The absence of Chinese traditional arts By Ling Wenyi

The absence of Chinese traditional arts

By Ling wenyi(10072710214)

China's recent success in holding the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and
near future's hosting the 2010 Shanghai Expo mark another step in
China's integration with the world., an integration that is at times
fitful and contradictory. Although China has a long history which
provides a rich resource from culture and art, to some extent, China
grows so fast in short a period of time that may result a lot of
conflicts and problem which never exist before when the transition
went smoothly. It is now exactly sixty years since the foundation of
the People Republic of China, a new era that differentiates it from
the monarch periods. It is now more than thirty years since the
conclusion of the Cultural Revolution, a transitional period with
tears and lessons that ironically paved the way for what is happening
in China today. It is also now about thirty years since the
implementation of Deng Xiaoping's Four Modernization, a starting time
for Chinese intellects to learn from Western World. Before the
foundation of People Republic of China, our country is regarded as
colonialism. After the foundation, we turn into classical socialism.
However, we claim us socialistic country with Chinese feature after
the Cultural Revolution. But now symbolized with the entry into the
World Trade Organization, we tend to accept we like most people from
the rest countries are in a brand new era of global capitalism.

From April 18 to 20, 2002, the British Museum hosted a conference
entitled "Contemporary Chinese Arts in the Cultural Arena." Organize
by the British Museum, in collaboration with the Chinese Arts Centre,
this event brought together over twenty artists, writers, and curators
from around the world to present their views on the state of
contemporary Chinese art today. Though the conference lasted for three
whole days with the attendance of top artists, writers, and curators,
some definitions about the contemporary Chinese arts are still on the
air. One reason of the difficulty to conclude some issues of Chinese
contemporary art is that it is still alive. In another words, artists
and critics still needs close observation of what is happening and
will happened for a long period of time before drawing the final

However, the definition of contemporary of Chinese art is quite
different between foreigners and Chinese which don't work in art
field. My friends and me have interviewed several traditional Chinese
art crafts and professors of folklore. During the class, we are lucky
enough to talk with some famous artists such as XuZhen and Shi Yong.
Compared with their view of contemporary Chinese art with I found
recently, we are puzzled so much what is the real situation of
contemporary is, because the two parts opinions are just opposite.

We calls those art work existed in recent 100 years contemporary, and
several scholars just give their quite different definitions of it. Li
Xiaoshan said, it is the art borrowed from foreign world and we just
make some change of it. Wu Hong said, our art work is like an
experiment of trying everything new. He Qin said, our work is just a
follower of American art. Other popular about what is contemporary
Chinese art include art originated from opening policy (Lu Hong) , art
of new social problems(Wu Wei) and art reflected the cultural

In order to know the general condition of contemporary Chinese art, it
is needed for us to review the history of it.

I general history of contemporary Chinese art(private vs public)

The early twenty-first century forms a particularly opportune moment
to look back in very broad terms at the inter-relation between
different art discourses in China. These discourses have been driven
by two kinds of distinct but related historicist motivation, both of
which are now still influencing our way of life greatly. firstly,
there are those" patriotic" or "Mao's" revolution. Secondly, there are
those economic and "opening" developments. Characterizing these two
important discourse have been two adjectives: that of the "public" and
that of the "private," which also exist in the art field.

In ancient china, people had little right to stand for their own
privacy and live independent. To a large degree, they all belonged to
the emperor. In order to take control people's behavior, the monarch
built a special army to watch the works of artists and writers. Once a
kind of offensive action, especially towards the royal family instead
of the country, the artists including his whole families would always
sentence death or send on an exile. During which period of time, the
art works was more for the upper class and the royal families.

The rebellion resulted the end of Feudal dynasty, and birth of a
capital new China, the Republic of China.

Although it only lasted for around twenty years, it was a golden
period for artists to learn talents and skills from the out world.

The launch of the Cultural Revolution in China in 1966 can seem a
deeply irrational event of the New China. However, the art production
from that period now represents an important influence on today's art
production. "zaofan you li"( revolution is reasonable) and "wei ren
min fu wu"(serve the people) became the top principles for people to
follow. During the first period of Cultural Revolution, every Chinese
work for the big community with great passion and enthusiasm, a time
which illustrate the "everything is for the people" thoroughly.

Most people of that time believed in whatever Chairman Mao said and
followed it without any hesitation. Since the Fourth Front Red Army
arrived in Yan'an after the Long March at the end of 1936, Mao Zedong
become a trope of Chinese art production. During the Cultural
Revolution , the production of Mao pictures entered into a new phase
of production. the earliest and most popular image of Mao is a colored
woodblock print entitled Portrait of Mao by Wang Shikuo. Mao's image
could later be seen on various poster and New Year pictures. It was
that time the " Four Guard" leaded by Jiang Qing , Mao's wife, took
advantage of people's blind belief to steal the authority from other
officers. In order to have a seemingly proper name of big revolution,
they announced that some guys with "bad purposes" were hiding in the
innocent people and waiting for the opportunity to rebel the New China
and Chairman Mao. They also exclaimed that most spies were in the
group of artists and writers and propagandized people to fight with
them which greatly interrupted artists' creative work. Besides, the
government actually leaded by the " Four Guard" built the so-called
"Red Guard" to observe people and forbid artists to learn from Western

Under the circumstance, the aim of art had turn from "for the public"
to "for some certain people" , a situation just like that of ancient
china. Many intellects who had great confidence and wanted to build a
new china with their passion at first forced to leave their motherland
for fear of the obsession and unfair judgment from the government.

The transition was symbolically located between 1976 and 1979 with the
death of Mao Zedong and the implementation of Deng Xiaoping's opening
policy. The nearly ten years tumultuous Cultural Revolution has
greatly influenced the growth of national economy and development in
most fields. Deng Xiaoping wanted to find a shortcut to catch up other
countries. Collection a large amount of information, doing enough
research and study, Deng finally put forward the very famous policy,
opening policy in mid 1980s. The core of it is learning advanced
experience from the developed countries directly. Since the mapping of
many cultural developments in China has, the last thirty years, been
in terms of "china" and the "west", it is important to try and
conceptualize what these two elements might mean. Underlying these two
originality of Chinese contemporary art has been two idea: that of the
"public" and that of the "private'. In traditional Chinese characters,
people always believe person are part of a group who should put the
requirement of the group at their first position and ready to
sacrifice themselves when the individual benefits against the group's.
On the other hand, popular western value makes people believe seeking
the person's enjoyment and protecting the individual is not greedy but

As a result, the new idea of art also has been brought into China with
a large number of artists coming back from foreign countries. Most
artists had oversea experience are more likely to regard arts as a
form of self-expression. They are more self-centered when create a new
pieces of works. Because they focus more on their changes of inner
feeling, their production are always abstract and difficult to
understand which usually combine a lot of individual motion and
confusion in it.

II traditional Chinese art

Actually, since the first time I had this class, I was always puzzled
about what is the position of traditional art. To our Chinese, when we
mention what is Chinese art, the fisrt thing comes into our mind is
traditional art such as ink painting ,calligraphy and peking opera.

Experts and critics in art field are always contemplating the aim and
originality of art. Although they still have not reach an argument on
them, the most popular one is that the art is created by people and
art should serve the people.

Professor Zhong said, art is an important part of a country's culture.
And just like our long history, the most necessary thing for us is to
help our art to keep its roots. According to him, the so-called
contemporary Chinese art is a kind of fake thing which is created for
fulfilling the curiosity of foreigners. It is not real because the
absolutely absence of traditional Chinese art.

Mrs. Wang, an artist in paper cutting, told us her worry about the
future of Chinese art. In her opinion, the avant-grade art works are
more kind of copy of westen work. And there is few elements in them.

Another artists in ink painting ,we called him Mr. Li,also showed his
attitude towards the contemporary Chinese art. " It is unhealthy to
create art work only based on politics and scandals of the government,
which is exactly the situation of china nowadays." Foreigners seem to
have a lot of interests in the history of the Cultural Revolution and
the events of 1989. As a result, some artists just created some works
to fufill their curiosity .

When we asked him that his idea is a little bit too extreme , he said
" Maybe those things really influenced some artists and forced them go
abroad. However , don't you it is normal for Chinese artists never use
or talk about ink painting and calligraphy.

Mr. Li's view is some kind of too person. Nowadays , a lot of Chinese
artists try to put some Chinese traditional elements into their work.
A good example of it is the work ,borrowing your enemy's arrows,of Cai
Quoqian. Actually he borrowed inspiration from the old story of great
ancient novel, the Romance of Three Kingdom. Other artists also
created some famous works with Chinese elements in them like Chinese
characters, idea and religious.

However, those works are rare and not very successful. One reason of
its failure in the world stage is that it is difficult to understand
for people from another different culture to understand some thing
with subtle cultural meaning.

But most important reason is that we have not taken those traditional
elements very seriously. We ourselves just regard them as a kind of
way of self entertainment.

One of my Singapore friends whose major is Archeology shocked when she
first come to china, because a large number of things here have a
history of hundreds of years. It sounds like a joke. Otherwise, we
have 5000 history which leave as a lot of tradition and we just behave
like a rich man who never care about the thing belonged to us very

On one hand, the relationship between contemporary Chinese art and
contemporary western art is a hot topic. On the other hand ,the art
field nowadays seldom looks back to explore and cherish what have had.
On the contrary, to forigners, the contemporary Chinese art are art of
suficial and ethnic Chinese elements. Gao Minglu, a famous critic,
used to point out that contemporary Chinese art is in a very confict
situation. Up to now, our art is still sway between western and
tradition style. We want our art be accepted by people around the
world. We want our artists be more exposed to the style of successful
western style. However, most conservative Chinese call people to keep
the purity of traditional Chinese art. With the fast process of
globalization, almost all countries start to realize the importance of
protecting their own culture and art.

"Japan is a good example to illustrate my view on the necessity of
cultural protection." Professor Zhong said. " I have been to Japan's
old capital, which is east of Tokyo. The old architecture is preserved
so well that when you look out of the window, you may fell you live in
ancient Japan. I am pity to think of our capital Beijing, which
changed a lot." " Those traditional things serve as symbols, and it
also give people from same cultural background a kind of identity. To
this extent, art is far more important about itself. It plays a big
role in anthropology?"

Furthermore, it is very difficult to talk about the relationship
between traditional art and contemporary art in theory, because our
contemporary art is based on the opposite position of traditional art
and serves as a critics to old art style.

However, china ,a county with 5000 yeas old, with rich cultural
treasure should confront the question about how to find a balance
between tradition and modern. Moreover, the system of western art is
base on the condition of other countries and it also has some
questions of itself. In another words, we should cherish our
traditional art and build our own art theory.

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