Arts and Culture
Landscapes of destruction, demolition and decay feature pervasively in post-Maoist Chinese art and literature. At different stages of the reformist era, intellectuals and artists have viewed the consequences of radical Maoism, the decline of socialism, and the shattering of reformist ideals through the symbolism of decay and ruin. From Zhang Dali’s transient self-portraits to Jia Pingwa’s Ruined City (1993) and Jia Zhangke’s Still Life (2006), the image of ruins points at the unfinished, chaotic, and in some cases abandoned processes of producing China's future(s). Such visual representations of ruins have paralleled artistic reflections on natural decay (e.g. Xu Xiaoyan) and human self-destruction (e.g. He Yunchang). While some scholars have read the ubiquity of ruins in contemporary Chinese art as a critique of the consequences of the country’s opening up to global capitalism, such representations could also fit into the dominant utopian narrative of “transition” which accommodated demolitions as pars destruens of the production of post-socialist China. This paper interrogates artworks by Cao Fei and Ying Tianqi, as well as essays by Wang Xiaoming, Xu Qiuyu and Ya Ming, to reflect on the production of ruins and the dislocation of the human as the immanent condition of “postsocialist” Chinese society. Drawing on studies by Wu Hung, Kiu-Wai Chu and Xavier Ortells-Nicolau for its conceptual framework, this paper links manifestation of demolition and ruins in contemporary Chinese art with themes in intellectual and literary discourse to shed light on a dystopian socio-cultural sensibility in the era of government-mandated utopianism.