Post-Post-Cultural Revolution

Yang Lian and Yo Yo’s essay “Stepping outside Post-Cultural Revolution: Contemporary Chinese Painting” has recently appeared in the online literary journal Body. Chen Jung-hsuan and I translated the essay at Yang Lian’s request, and it has been subsequently edited by Janet McKenzie. The essay was written to preface the catalogue for the exhibition Moving Beyond: Chinese Modern Abstract Art at Edinburgh’s Summerhall. The exhibition, held between 2 August and 27 September 2013, included the work of Liu Guofo, Guan Jing Jing, Yang Liming, Liang Qian, He Gong and Wu Jian. The essay begins:

The Cultural Revolution officially ended in 1976. Yet over thirty years later the shadow of this so-called Cultural Revolution has not disappeared. Among Chinese artists, at least, it has become ever deeper. The difference is that this shadow was once clearly identified as a catastrophe, a disaster, whereas now it has become a seduction that alluringly fills the air. Beginning with the “Mao Goes Pop” exhibition held by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia, in 1988 [actually 1993––J.E.], “Cultural Revolution Pop” has achieved success as a brand in the market during China’s period of transformation from Cold War poverty to . . . extreme commercialism . . .

Since I’m writing a book on copying and repetition in contemporary poetry at the moment, in translating the essay, I was particularly struck by the way it combines familiar anxieties about copying Western examples with a particular hostility to the use of appropriation in conceptual and post-conceptual art:

“Post-Cultural Revolution” thought negates the logic of evolution because it contains not a single new idea outside of the Cultural Revolution. The power game of the Cultural Revolution is increasingly replaced by an equally insidious money game. If one gives up self-questioning, art becomes the same as plagiarism; by adopting the language of American or European art movements, Chinese art plays in to the hand of Western hegemony.

And yet at the same time, Yang Lian and Yo Yo cite artists who are themselves committed to forms of repetition with a difference, as for example in Xu Longsen’s giant inkwash paintings.


About Jacob Edmond

Jacob Edmond is associate professor in English at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He is the author of Make It the Same: Poetry in the Age of Global Media (Columbia University Press, 2019), A Common Strangeness: Contemporary Poetry, Cross-Cultural Encounter, Comparative Literature (Fordham University Press, 2012), and of numerous essays, which have appeared in journals such as Comparative Literature, Contemporary Literature, Poetics Today, Slavic Review, and The China Quarterly.
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