Art’s Precarious Independence in the post-Deng PRC

Flight (as escape and voluntary expatriation) was not the only or even the main verbal expression of urgency. It being of course a cultural metaphor, and China being a nation peculiarly adept at semiotic compromise, there even emerged a kind of  legitimating sub rosa codeword: “中国走向世界” (“China moves out into the world/becomes a player in global culture”), an extension of the vocabulary of impex trade balance. “International” exchange , not (simply) drain. Yet another enhancement of the country’s status as a black-ink export colossus. Adding to the inadequacy of the flight metaphor, the door has remained ever open to return, even with intra-communal award or trophy. Blacklisted film directors if anointed at Cannes could even find their censored works granted grudging re-access to onshore cinema houses.

But explosive, impulsive, boundary-hopping flight speaks also of panic, loss of traction, un-groundedness. For the many much-publicized refuge-artists (including the swelling horde of cultural commuters/shuttlers like Tan Dun) as well as those of them who stayed home seeking a new underground or small-crowd base of support, re-grounding was a necessity. But nowhere easily discovered. Americans of course like to think that theirs is the natural and perhaps only mecca for souls in this kind of limbo. Which may be almost true, but any harbor easily clogs when too many ships seek to anchor. Each seeming to be uttering the same or almost the same quasi-platitudes about the horrors they have left behind. Warhol-like mass serial reproductions of Mao in profile and silhouette eventually had to lose their grip, and “next, please” has been slow in coming and slower still to gain attention because so much of it is miniature-scaled. The ’89-ers it seems had almost flooded the “market” for Mao-satire or Democracy Statues.

Then, too, North America’s culture-promulgation machine was always one more or less attuned to the big circus. Kennedy Center (televised if possible) appearances were the lodestar: getting to either of the “Met”s already not quite the same; beyond/beneath there were no (other) natural voies de progrès from modest to grand. (Yang Liping’s answer to Riverdance – “Impressions of Yunnan” – was grounded in Cincinnati in its 2007-8 tour, and had simply to down tent and depart),

But in the post-“reform” era, when payroll-dumping was the flavor of the day, and Big Showplace newbuilding still tentative until the approach of the 2008 Olympics, self-conceived avant garde talent was busy literally going to earth. In a way reminiscent of the Greenwich village “beats” (including not a few disgruntled veterans of the WPA) and their coffee house networks-cum-concert-tour venues, the game was to go small and perhaps even hide inside obscurity – of language and symbol. Catering to the BIG (esp TV) AUDIENCE was passé ; the only even middling scaled venue, the Shanghai (Spring) International Arts Festival was by default the “West Berlin” of the day, with passage in and out inevitably backferrying to the ever welcoming (and well-subsidized) world of German, French, and Dutch foundations and the panoply of mini-venues they sponsored (and then retooled a minimalist aesthetic to fit). There was really it seemed no way for the Heavyweight arts of the Maoist years to reconstitute in post-“Maoist” guise.

9 thoughts on “Art’s Precarious Independence in the post-Deng PRC

  1. Throughout this great pattern of things you actually get an A+ with regard to hard work. Exactly where you lost me personally ended up being in your specifics. You know, as the maxim goes, details make or break the argument.. And it couldn’t be much more accurate right here. Having said that, permit me reveal to you what did do the job. The writing is certainly highly powerful and this is probably the reason why I am making an effort in order to comment. I do not really make it a regular habit of doing that. Secondly, whilst I can easily see the leaps in reasoning you come up with, I am not really sure of just how you seem to connect the details that help to make the final result. For the moment I will, no doubt subscribe to your position however wish in the future you link the facts much better. Więcej

    • Dear Więcej =

      I can understand your frustration with an undersupply of pertinent facts. In your environment (what IS centrumeuropy? i’m going to check but don’t read Polish very well…).

      But please understand: I am writing as an independent self-financed (low-or 0$ budget) reporter on fairly difficult cultural subjects, while also trying to make my presentations simple enough for beginners or info-byte collectors. As well, I am a believer in intuition.

      If you want to see my more “hard-core” scholarship, see, which I wrote when still a salaried scholar at Princeton.

      If there is a leaped-over-facts that really confuse, by all means send a comment on the specifics.

      And thanks for your loyalty.

      May I express gratitude too for so many Warsaw readers…. is there a seminar or project behind this?



    • I just discovered your request today, a mere half-year after you sent it – sorry, I’m still learning to navigate in the WordPress system.

      The way to do this is to go to RSS Feed on the home page, that’s exactly what it’s for – auto-updating. I also hear that “Google Plus” does this for you as well, but haven’t trued it. The third possibility is Twitter, join and then add me under “follow” and you will get the updated posts as soon as they are “published”. But I should warn you I have a bad habit of “publishing” way before I have a full essay, and often leave the posts unfinished for months…

      Thanks for your attention.

    • Good to have your feedback.

      Most readers seem to find my posts too long and don’t finish, but I’ll keep you in mind.

      PLEASE DON’T HESITATE TO ASK if there is something you’d like to know more about –

      Jim Polachek, USA

  2. I am only commenting to make you understand of the really good discovery my cousin’s girl developed studying your blog. She came to find plenty of issues, including how it is like to possess an excellent coaching nature to have the others with ease know just exactly various extremely tough issues. You really surpassed our expectations. Thanks for churning out the important, trustworthy, explanatory and in addition unique tips on this topic to Ethel. WWW

    • Dear Warsaw Psychotechnika

      Thanks for your honesty as well as praise. Sometimes negative feedback helps more than positive. You are totally right about “kinda boring”: there have been personal problems that have made it hard to concentrate. Plus, I got stuck with Mo Yan because of his Nobel Prize. I’m not a comp lit person, but a visual one, so it’s been hard and probably a waste of time to pursue his writings other than Red Sorghum.

      My new project is the film Great Road (1934) , which has me much more engaged

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