Erenlai - 按標籤顯示項目: nationalism
週三, 31 十月 2012 14:25

Fiji Time...

I went into this trip with certain unconscious preconceptions about the idea of ‘aborigine’ and what an ‘indigenous culture’ should be. This preconception consisted in the idea that they should be the naive, artless minority amongst a corrupt majority race of ‘latecomers’ - the Hoklo and Hakka migrants to Taiwan. Their way of life has often been portrayed in documentaries as a healthy and balanced, essentially good way of life on the brink of extinction, thanks to the evil oppression of colonialism, whether cultural or imperial.

週三, 02 五 2012 18:39

Women and Nationalism

As more foreign workers and students come to Taiwan, the role of women in nationalist narratives has undergone a shift towards conservatism, so this month we want to look at how ordinary women embrace or subvert the roles provided for them in the nationalist narratives and how these imposed roles affect the way women are imagined by men, women and the mainstream media. We first hear from a woman working in a sport to which Taiwanese attach a lot of their national pride, Liu Bojun talks about her experiences as a female baseball umpire; Witek and Zijie look behind the stereotype of the betelnut industry's betelnut girls, an image perpetuated by domestic and foreign press as a lewd representation of the "local", and see instead a devout Catholic aboriginal woman running a small family business; then Wafa Ghermani looks at the shifting modes of how Taiwanese women are represented in Taiwan's national film industry as more passive in the 2000s and 2010s in contrast to the stronger female role-models of the 1980s and 1990s; Conor has translated a short story from renowned short story writer and cultural critic, Lolita Hu, which gives us an unfamiliar perspective on the familiar scene of Western guys and Chinese girls meeting in a Beijing Night Club; the nationalist undertones that lie behind the term Xicanmei (referring to Asian girls who date Western guys) are explored in a conversation with several Taiwanese girls and a Western man, highlighting the term's function in undermining female identity; the lead singer of Taiwanese band 'The White Eyes' describes her experience as an unconventional female role model, and the fight against being side-lined as more woman than musician; Finally, Daniel has written two articles, one concerning the recent candicacy of Tsai Ing-wen for president, and the second about his perceptions of a gender imbalance in Taiwan and the reasons for this.

週一, 30 四月 2012 14:33

Betelnuts without Betelnut Girls

In the Zhonghe district of New Taipei City, just before the Xiu Lang Bridge on the road to Xindian, at 21 Jingping Road is the Amis Betelnut Stall, run by Mrs Yang and her family - three Amis aboriginal women. Mrs Yang's daughter, who studies at the English Department of Soo Chow University, takes the morning shift from 5am until 10am; afterwards Mrs Yang's niece works from 10am until 10pm, and then Mrs Yang works from 10pm until 1 in the morning, when they close.

Written in large Chinese characters on the shop sign is 'yi-mu-zi', the Chinese transliteration of e'moc, the Amis language name for a spice derived from a cinnamon seeds. Only regular customers or industry insiders know what these characters mean given that they're a transliteration of an Amis language word. The betelnut is another name for
areca nut; it gets this name because it is often chewed wrapped in betel leaves sealed with slaked lime. The traditional Amis betelnut includes a grain of e'moc amongst the betel leaves, this is very rare to see in Taipei. Mrs Yang says the slaked lime they use comes from sea shells, and therefore doesn't contain the chemical additives that many other Taiwanese betelnuts contain, which means that older aboriginal people won't have problems with their teeth that can be caused by normal betelnuts.

"We were able to bring up two children thanks to this shop." Mrs Yang tells us. Unlike the infamous "betelnut girls" who dress up provocatively and that are so often reported in domestic and foreign media, the betelnut stalls around here are all small family businesses. Although Yang's betelnut stall is run exclusively by women, it's aura is not one of lewd eroticism. There are two kinds of betelnut stall, one is the kind with neon lights, for which "betelnut girls" are the main attraction, the other kind is the more simple traditional betelnut stalls. Mrs Yang continued, "Here you don't need betelnut girls, in reality there are so many betelnut stores here that even if you do hire a Betelnut girl it's not much use, what sells here is the unique flavour."

Mrs Yang is a devout Catholic, in the display window of the stall you can even see pictures of Jesus. She told us that at Easter she came to mass at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in the Tien Educational Centre. When we arrived, the girl minding the shop took out some chairs and asked us to sit, as this is a gathering place for the aboriginal community of the city, whenever they get off work they normally come for a drink and a chat.

"My finger wrapped betelnut until I developed a work-related strain in it." Mrs Yang says as she points at her finger. Her niece wraps all the betelnuts now, because of repetitive strain of wrapping, so her finger has swollen. Every day the stall wraps 2000 betelnuts, this kind of work isn't as easy as it looks. To keep customers they have to open every day, "If we don't open, customers will go elsewhere and get used to going there, so we'll lose all our business.

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Text by Zijie Yang, translated by Conor Stuart, photos by Witold Chudy

週五, 27 四月 2012 13:51

Taiwan National Film Industry's Feminine Ideal

Whereas in the 1980s and 1990s, Taiwan New Cinema could be characterised by strong, mature female characters, in recent year, an attempt by the film industry to attract a younger audience has had an influence on film content and the representation of women. Indeed, recent commercial cinema tends to offer simplified story plots and development and is heavily influenced by Japan, Korean and local television (whereas Japanese and Korean cinema audiences are very diverse and allow a widescope of film genres, Taiwan cinema production seems to focus mainly on a younger demographic with certain formulas and stereotypes in films.). As a result, in these teenage dramas, “women” are quite absent on screen compared to “girls”. The young girl has become the central representation in Taiwan cinema and most of the time in a secondary role. There is a dichotomy in the representation of female characters: the innocent – passive - girls and then mothers; which seems to indicate a real lack of a positive alternative role-model. Still some films try to give another image of female characters. This article is an attempt to describe the different type of female image representation in recent Taiwan cinema.

Peripheral female characters

In recent success, such as Monga (Doze Niu, 2010) or Winds of September (Tom Shu-yu Lin, 2008), being narratives about male friendship, female parts are naturally reduced to vague shadows amongst a male dominated cast. They are objects of desire and competition, a way of asserting manhood but do not exist in and for themselves. They have a part as a peripheral narrative device. In Winds of September, the female classmates are seen from afar, outside the boys-circle. The male group is disturbed when one of them decides to be with a girl. Yen is the only one who has a girl–friend but their relationship is portrayed as not very successful. The film plays between the warm complicity between the guys (swimming together, going out on motorbike rides) and the disruption of female characters to this complicity. Thus, Winds of September and Monga articulate their narration around troubles caused by girls – those they steal from one another in particular. In Monga, the role of the young prostitute is concretely peripheral, as she is reduced to the space of the room which she occupies and seems to be meant only to introduce a hint of heterosexuality in a film haunted by a blatant homoeroticism. But the moments Mosquito shares with her in her confined space are also the only moments when Mosquito can escape the violence of the group. In these cases, female characters only exist as outcasts, as symbols of innocence and danger. This projection turns female characters into ghostly presences with no real substance.

The only recent film that plays with this peripheral aspect is You’re the Apple of My Eye, indeed by adopting the narrator's point of view, the film endorses the young hero's gaze on his classmate. She, herself is deprived of an existence outside the hero's gaze but she is both peripheral and central to the narration. This narrative stance allows the main character to create an ideal female who still escapes his understanding. The film establishes a distance and a game between the external image of the heroine, and the life of the hero. Whilst the heroine is seen as a smooth surface without any real desire or lust, the male character is shown with an overactive body. The heroine is seen, described, talked about but does not have a direct active role in the narration. Still the female character remains someone alive, in opposition to many ghostly characters

Dissolution of the stereotype

If, male centred narration projects a passive image of women, female oriented narrative tends to do exactly the same thing. Indeed, the beauty ideal of skinniness and whiteness as promoted in advertisements and films leads to a dilution of female characters into pure ethereal images. The most striking example is the transformation of Kui Lun-Mei who starred first as a strong tom-boy character in Blue Gate Crossing and who is now mostly cast to perform skinny, white and nearly boneless characters. In Taipei Exchange, she represents an immature heroine, with childish expressions, ideals and relationships. Flesh seems to be completely absent in her relationship with the pilot. The choice of actresses is very important in this trend, most of them are extremely skinny, with long hair and a very white skin, which make them look more like ghosts than human beings. Moreover, their characters are also very soft and shy most of the time. The heroine of Honey Pupu is more defined by her voice than her body and in One Day, the relationship between the two main characters is lit in a slight overexposure which makes it seem a little unreal. The exception of Nikky Hsie's part as a demonic, destructive prostitute in Honey Pupu is only a characterisation of her virtual persona. She represents flesh and sexiness in her attire and attitude but is the evil character of the group. Feminine desire seems to be banned and condemned and her character only gains positivity when she is discovered to be pregnant. The choice of being less commercial entails primarily avoiding this physcial stereotype. In Seven Days in Heaven the female character is somehow comic in a tragic situation, her indifference to the burial process seems to emphasize theemptiness of her life.

Becoming the Body: Blow Fish and Yang Yang

In Blow Fish, the director and the screenwriter/actress distort the classical representation of heroines in films. The film starts with a training session in a department store, the heroine is just another white, nameless, transparent puppet in the great commercial mechanism. But when she escapes to the countryside and invites herself to stay at the coach's house, she loses her inconsistency and gains a body. Even if she remains silent, she imposes her will on the coach. The white skinny body and the silent attitude are turned into a demanding and active body that creates a strange effect. It could be argued that the film is more like a fantasy story and not realistic at all.

So in a more realistic representation, Yang Yang is more like a bildungsroman following the emancipation of an athlete. As in Miao Miao in which Sandra Pinna/ Zhang Rong Rong's vitality is contrasted with effeminacy, in Yang Yang, she is pure movement, a desiring body and an energy that becomes a real presence. The film follows her closely, capturing a body and a personality in transition. In the film Yang Yang is central and is the one making her own decisions about her life and her sexuality. The choice of the director to choose a sport professional also adds to this idea of a more active role. The last long shot of the film following Yang Yang as she runs – a clear reference to Truffaut – also conveys the resilient strength of the heroine being something other than just an image – she becomes an actress.

In some few exceptions, women characters are adults and as a consequence this changes the perception of them. The same happens in Seven Days in Heaven in which young characters are secondary and older characters more important. Still in this film the character of the daughter is a quite hard to grasp. Focusing on adults, the film avoids the stereotypes on youngsters and female characters stands out with their strong personality and comical qualities. They also represent – the daughter, the funeral specialist, the absent daughter and the nurse – examples of independent and successful women

Except for these few examples, Taiwan cinema in recent years has not been a female character role provider except for perpetuating an ideal of softness that reminds us of the ideal character depicted in 1970s films.


週二, 24 四月 2012 16:02

Nationalism and Girls who Date Foreigners

In Taiwan I've often heard the word Xicanmei (西餐妹) bandied about —— Xicanmei literally means girls who like to eat Western food, but here it is used to mean Asian girls who date Western men—— but the term always made struck me as over-emphasizing the difference between Taiwanese people (us) and Western foreigners (them). The fact that it refers almost exclusively to women suggests also that there is a male chauvinist implication behind the term - it functions to undermine the individuality and independence of women in the choices they make in their love lives, and sees these choices instead in terms of a failure to be patriotic and marry 'into the tribe' so to speak. The term was popularized when a Taiwanese rapper wrote a song about it, the lyrics of which are anti-Western in sentiment and very critical of girls who date with foreigners. This is an extract from the song originally in Taiwanese:

'When they're not listening to ICRT [Taiwan's English Radio Station] they're looking for girls, they go round bars with a Heineken in their hand

The stuff they talk about is vulgar and shallow, they're all talking about Dog-G's new album.

One of my friends is dating a big-nose [Taiwanese word for foreigner] She says he's a gentleman and very romantic

She thinks maybe she can get a green card and have a little foreign baby, she's at the night market buying oyster omelettes

You say that some are actually alright, I understand, they'll toss you a "ni hao" and you think it's so cute, give me a break!' (Dog-G)


Below is an interview with several women and one man who express their views on the use of this term, and its ideological implications:

(Remember to press CC in the bottom right corner for English Subs)

For readers in Mainland China you can watch the video by clicking this link

Illustration by C. Phiv


週三, 18 四月 2012 15:49

The Sound of a Falling Angel in the Night

Original text by Lolita Hu taken from her collection My Generation, translated from the Chinese by Conor Stuart. Art by Arvid Torres. Lolita Hu (胡晴舫) was born in Taipei and graduated from the Foreign Languages Department of National Taiwan University and went on to get her masters in the Theatre Department of The University of Wisconsin. In 1999 she moved to Hong Kong. She writes cultural criticism as well as short stories and essays. Her works have been published in the media in Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. She currently lives in Tokyo.



Dim light is cast by the dragon-head-shaped wall lights, the pulse of electro shakes the entire space, comfy sofas divide the room into different nooks and crannies for people to drink in, pink nylon and muslin hang from the ceiling to the floor, prints of hundreds of bored faces are faintly discernible upon it. It could only be the hottest spot in Beijing this weekend.

Every three months a new nightclub appears in Beijing, and everybody trips over themselves to go there. The nightclub will normally be in a hutong, a dilapidated courtyard style house or a factory that's about to be demolished. The same people every time scurry along to explore the new bar, they spout their cigarette smoke while telling you in lofty tones how the music in this new place is cool. After three months have passed, if it's not that the style of the music has changed, or that the building which houses the club has suddenly been demolished by the city government, then it's that it loses popularity for no particular reason whatsoever. Another bar opens, it's also housed in an old factory, a hutong, or a traditional courtyard style house, wherever it may be, it always sounds incredibly cool.

Everyone vies with one another to be the first to spread the news. Then, at the new bar you meet the same familiar faces who recommended the old bar to you so enthusiastically.

When someone mentions the old bar, it's as if they're talking about a has-been celebrity. It's so passé, they say. I don't even know why it was so popular in the first place, it's only logical that it's become as out of fashion as it should have been in the first place.

It's Friday night at 2am at the hottest bar of this couple of months, situated in the Sanlitun area. She has drunk quite a lot, but she's still quite sober. She came with a friend who had a song twenty years ago which was popular throughout the whole of Beijing but who never followed it up with any other songs, when meeting a stranger he would always say "I'm so-and-so, do you want to buy me a drink?'. She would stand next to her friend, then not long after that she would ditch him, and sit down next to an immaculately dressed foreigner.

She wants to shoot a documentary. It's only a remote dream, remoter still in China. She is a single girl from Sichuan, without any money, without work and without connections. She only has herself. She tries to write during the day, but as the evening draws near, her literary talents are not sufficient to resist the tide of loneliness, she recruits a few friends to go drinking with her. Her lips press closely to the foreigner's ears as she whispers to him, what should I do, tell me, what should I do. I want to shoot a documentary, but I don't have anything.

There are countless young girls just like her in Beijing. From every corner of the country they come, to study, or in search of career opportunities. Their hometown is far behind them, their imagination of themselves is the most important luggage they carry. They are young but they grow up quickly, they have a strong sexual appetite, and white jade skin, they have a baffled lost expression and a naive, homely smile. In the bar, they thirst for the kindness of strangers as flowers thirst for the rain, they'll snuggle up to any stranger who is willing to listen to their dreams. Because only outsiders are willing to take her seriously. During the day, she walks around this city of hers, that is at the same time not her own, her black haired and yellow-skinned compatriots would think at most that she was an unrealistic country girl, not willing to work despite having no money and without any professional skills, who can't even find a man to marry her. Her so-called "artistic ambitions", are nothing but an excuse for her lethargy, something she uses to fool foreigners at bars. In the end all she wants is to marry a glassy eyed, white-skinned foreigner, allowing her to escape to distant climes.

Louis Aragon, a French poet who was part of the Resistance during World War II, once said, "L'avenir de l'homme, c'est la femme" (the future of man is woman), here 'man' can be understood to mean the more general idea of 'humanity'. When society develops to its pinnacle, it will be along the road of effeminization. The status of women and the rights they are able to acquire in any society have always been the benchmark of civilization. The more esteemed the status of women and the greater the extent to which they are held as the equal of man or his superior, the more advanced a society is held to be. This is because the evolution of civilization is actually the process of society’s effeminization. Characteristics traditionally attributed to women, like peace-keeping, compromise, equality, selflessness, the ability to listen, forgiveness, concern for the education of the next generation, respect for etiquette and a love of the arts, are all particular to developed societies; on the other hand, the characteristics traditionally attributed to men carve out an image of a more primitive society, such as bellicosity, conquest, violence, ego-centrism, factionalism. Men brag about being the innovative force of progress, however, it is the care and prudence of women that stabilize a society, and articulate its cultural basis. Effeminization is equivalent to advanced civilization, it represents a maturity in both the material and spiritual realms. In an age when India has many female MPs and female business leaders, in China female CEOs and female officials are still few and far between. The rate of suicide for Chinese women is still the highest in the world.

She also came here for the music. She says this as her practiced hand unbuttons the foreign man's shirt. The guy buttons it back up. She leans close to his body and says something else. The music is too loud, no-one else hears what she says, but they see the foreigner suddenly blush. The buttons are undone again. Then buttoned back up again. Opened. Buttoned. The fourth time it happens the guy relinquishes the struggle.

It's three in the morning now, everyone is getting up to go home. As my taxi turns from the small alley on to the main road, I catch a glimpse of her locked in an embrace with the foreigner underneath a towering poplar tree.

Her face obscured in the darkness of the night.

The Chinese original is available (with slight differences from the collection version) online here.

週一, 26 九月 2011 19:27

CEFC Files: The identity kaleidoscope of the first 'Taiwanese' generation

Dr. Tanguy Lepesant is an assistant professor at the National Central University, Chongli and a visiting researcher at CEFC Taipei. As part of our series of interviews with the team of researchers at CEFC Taipei,  Tanguy talked to us about his research on national and ethnic identity and nationalism of young Taiwanese born in the 1980's.Tanguy first came to Taiwan in 1997 when he was posted to the French Institute for 9 months, where as a political science doctoral candidate he quickly became interested in the political situation in Taiwan and changed his directions of study towards questions of Taiwanese identity and nation building. Tanguy chose to do his fieldwork on young Taiwanese born in the 80's as he felt they could form a "political and social generation" because they had been "socialised in a very different context to their parents". Here he introduces his research:

週二, 30 十二月 2008 00:10

Chinese Painting Today

Chinese painting is a special and pervasive feature of China’s social and cultural theater. In this respect, it has to be acknowledged that Chinese painting often functions as an assertion of national pride and uniqueness, which results in endless repetitive motifs. This should not overshadow the remarkable achievements in Chinese painting in the last decades. Actually, when all is said and done, future generations might recognize the 20th century as one of the most creative periods in the history of the venerable artistic tradition called "Chinese painting." Names such as Huang Binhong (1865-1955), Qi Baishi 1863-1957), Li Keran (1907-1989), Shi Lu ( 1919-1982), Lin Fengmian ( 1900-1991) already stand among the best artists of our time, not only in China but worldwide, even if Western knowledge of Chinese art remains very poor indeed.

But what is "Chinese painting" (guohua) anyway? One must first note that guohua can also be translated as "national painting" if one does not simply consider it as an abbreviation of zhongguohua, i.e., "Chinese painting" stricto sensu. The distinction is important for the intent it conveys, if not for the reality to which it refers. "Guohua and zhongguohua commonly refer to works painted with traditional Chinese pigments on a ground of traditional paper or silk. The terms thus describe the medium and ground of the painting rather than the style."

Some critics plead for a much broader definition of “national painting.” Art historian Lin Mu (born 1949) writes:
“Ink work, rice paper and free-hand techniques came into being only during the last few centuries. Painting styles in China also include folk painting, various fresco styles, silk paintings, stone intaglios, from which much is to be learned. As for the traditional ink and wash painting, which takes the Chan school as its spiritual kernel, this simple, elegant and leisurely style may have difficulty surviving in our changing world, where the closed and stagnant agricultural society from which the tradition emerged is being rapidly swept into the past.... Modern society has good reason to demand of Chinese painting a totally new look.”

Like other historians, Lin Mu argues that Chinese tradition is much more diverse and heterogeneous than often acknowledged, and that different schools, materials, techniques and religious faiths generated various styles of painting. It is only in contradistinction to Western art that the literati school came to bear the label of "Chinese painting" and was set into a canon. The limitations in technique and materials proper to this school have long been recognized, by prominent Chinese artists as Pan Tianshou (1897-1971) and Zhang Daqian (1899-1983). To do "Chinese painting" today is to retrieve the diversity of China’s artistic traditions, with particular attention to religious art and the traditions of ethnic minorities. Lin Mu celebrates the "vagueness" (mohuqing) of contemporary Chinese painting—a vagueness he finds far preferable to the insistence upon any one standard or dominant tradition.

The views summarized above are not mere repetitions of the criticisms Chinese painting has endured over the last 40-some years, but may prove to be even more challenging. The history of Chinese painting since 1949 is a tormented one. Traditional painting was first omitted from the curricula of Art academies. Subsequently, Chinese painting was mobilized for a short period in order to celebrate the successes of the new regime. From 1963 on, artists like Shi Lu, Li Keran, Lin Fengmian or Pan Tianshou fell victim (the last posthumously) to violent criticisms aimed at the "wild, weird, chaotic and black" nature of their works, which could not but betray an essentially counter-revolutionary spirit. The re-emergence of the guohua tradition following the Cultural Revolution has been long and difficult. Although the renewed nationalist fervor has helped its rehabilitation, its artistic development has remained under the control of the cultural bureaucracy. In the past two decades, other media have been deemed to better express the spirit of adventure and protest that art can convey. The underlying question is whether "national art" brings with it a predetermined meaning or might conversely be able to express the diversity, contradictions and various pursuits of the whole nation at a given moment in its history.

The debate about Chinese painting is thus a debate about the essence of Chinese identity. A strongly-worded article by Huo Chunyang, responding to positions voiced by Lin Mu and others, says much about what is here at stake. Chinese painting, Huo argues, is a "(spiritual) universe" (jingjie)—an expression derived from the yijing concept, i.e., the "density" or "quality of soul" that one can find in a painting. In its essence, he argues, Chinese painting manifests the spiritual energy gathered by the man who relates to the universe, and, as such, is the pure emanation of ancient Chinese philosophy. "Although the Chinese people received the shock brought by cultures of other people, they have never changed the spirit of their own culture. On the contrary, they have eagerly welcomed, digested and transformed the cultures coming from outside." The aspiration to cosmic unity embodied in this original Chinese culture cannot be found in Western tradition, Huo Chunyang asserts. Nowadays, artists unfaithful to the original spirit of Chinese culture change their style in order to please the foreigners, thus showing a lack of self-respect and self-confidence.

Huo Chunyang’s position reminds one of what is sometimes called "new conservatism" in art history, by which ink and brushwork become symbols of ethnic identity. Although such a position is quite widespread, it is generally not accepted without reservation. A good number of artists and critics hold a middle-of-the-road position, regarding ink and brush as the best medium through which to connect with their own tradition, while experimentation with other techniques they see as a means of engaging with contemporary art worldwide. This has been the case for instance with abstract or semi-abstract ink painting.

The debate on identity just summarized has been intensified by the internationalization of Chinese painting. "Internationalization" here refers to two concurrent phenomena: (1) even the most traditional style of Chinese painting has been deeply influenced by 20th-century Western art; (2) Chinese painting is no longer about China. A growing number of Chinese painters have opportunities to go abroad. As such, nowadays, the ranges of mountains that spill from their brushes sometimes do not evoke the image of Huashan, Huangshan or Emeishan, but rather remind one of landscapes encountered in the Northwest of the US, Western Canada, France’s Brittany or Australia’s South Wales. The first phenomenon is not new. Huang Binhong, who knew Chinese tradition better than anyone else, also learned a great deal from Matisse and Van Gogh. But the trend has taken on new dimensions, as many artists, while remaining faithful to the literati technique, apply it to a whole new range of subjects, or who, like Lin Fengmian, make extensive use of Western colors while maintaining the characteristic calligrapher’s line.

The second phenomenon is even more interesting. It separates the "identity" problem from its "territory" dimension, addressing in much more down-to-earth terms the question of the "Chineseness" of Chinese art. In addition, it gives people firmly rooted in tradition a new sense of universality. The cosmopolitan outlook of Chinese painting might have started among exiles, the most famous of them being of course Zhang Daqian, but others soon followed, sent on official missions. Li Keran’s paintings of East Germany in 1957 are testaments to the new horizons discovered by Chinese artists. Nowadays, the State is not the sole institution able to send Chinese painters abroad. Foreign universities or businesses are also inviting painters to give a Chinese flavor to American, Australian or European landscapes. The special relationship of artist Wu Guanzhong (born 1919) with France, where he has held several exhibitions, is a good example of this developing trend.

The trend towards globalization in Chinese painting should not mask enduring divisions among regional schools of painting—divisions sometimes accompanied by various rivalries and affiliation networks. Differences among regional schools are a pervasive fact of China’s art history. Back in 1961, the continuation of regional emulation was encouraged by Zhou Enlai, whose praise of the Jiangsu school of painting ensured its artists a privileged place for the following two decades. The Jiangsu school might indeed be the best example of a regional school of painting, with its history of several centuries and a distinctive style that nourishes but also sometimes confines the inspiration of local painters. Shaanxi artists offer another example of strong provincial affiliation. The Shaanxi school plays an important role in the cultural history of the post-1949 regime. Its founder, Zhao Wangyun (1906-1977), was an initiator of the new guohua, depicting scenes of contemporary life. After Zhao’s purging during the Anti-rightist campaign, Shi Lu became, for a time, the leader of the young, ebullient school. Here, indeed, artistic creativity and revolutionary fervor, if only briefly, were not seen as contradictory.

Regional differentiation can also have a great impact on the content of the works produced. The above-quoted art historian Lin Mu, for instance, is from the Southwest, and his views may indeed be seen to reflect the fact that most painters from the Southwest seek inspiration outside the mainstream Chan school-literati tradition, (many showing a special liking for the Taoist tradition, Tibetan Buddhism and southwest ethnic minorities’ “primitive” forms of art). The Chinese cultural stock is lived and interpreted in different ways by various schools of Chinese painting, a factor which may be even truer today than was the case 30 years ago.

Chinese painting is not only faced with the realities and opportunities of a market economy, but must also define itself in a global cultural environment. Values fostered by this environment can either render painting even more irrelevant to today’s Chinese society or can help it further to change and modernize its artistic language, giving it new impetus and appeal. Liu Chengji, who lectures at Zhengzhou University, offers an analysis of the aesthetic tendencies at work in the 1990s—an aesthetics that takes into account the dominant trends shaping secular society. Materialism is the first trend to be noticed, which Liu Chengji sees as the principal consequence of the consumerism encouraged by state policies. This stands in sharp contrast against the "humanist" view of culture and society advanced in the 80s. The primacy given to "feelings" is directly linked to the dominant materialism. "I feel, therefore I am" could be the motto of present-day China, and such a trend heavily influences the aesthetic criteria of the general public. A new "post-romanticism" derives from this trend and is best exemplified by the MTV culture. It is called "post-romanticism" because its characteristic "loss of innocence" distinguishes it from previous aesthetics. In the post-romantic (non)ethics, feelings are consciously produced and manipulated. Finally, "ethnicism" has been fuelled by political tensions with the US and Taiwan during the second half of the 90s. According to Liu Chengji, however, this trend is too much determined by political factors to enjoy a sustainable future. A look at the tendencies at work during the first decade of the XXIst century does not fundamentally challenge the description of these trends. One just have to notice that non-Chinese forms of art have taken even more importance, due to the globalization of the market where Chinese artists exhibit and sell their work. However, a stroll throughout the galleries gathered in the famous Moganshan road in Shanghai reveals the continuing and happy coexistence of Chinese painting with oil painting, video installations and other artistic media.

The painter Hu Mingzhe (born 1953), who specializes in popular romantic figure paintings, testifies to the aspirations often expressed by younger artists. She writes: "My soul aspires towards purity, liberation.... Art is a kind of religion, when you believe in it with your entire body and soul, when you fully associate with it, it seems that you are able to hear the voice of God, to feel the call of God.... Art wants to represent life, not social life, but rather spiritual life...." Another woman artist, Zhou Minghui (born 1954) paints motifs inspired by the daily lives of Tibetans living in Aba autonomous prefecture, Sichuan. This place, she says, "appears as a condensing point of human culture, philosophy, religion and history. It is the holy land where all life returns to nature.... What I paint seems to have been purified as well. My mind is serene and my thoughts enlightened.... The decayed is discarded and the original soul is retained.... Ultimately, culture and art will reach the other shore." Similar discourses and examples abound, which shows how a kind of religiosity pervades art. This religiosity has strong links with the dominant culture, in that it heavily relies on "feelings" and uses language and motifs also found in other contexts. At the same time, it expresses aspirations for new modes of life, which somehow transforms it into an indirect form of counter-culture. Not only has Chinese painting a future, but many of its features resonate with the aspirations of the post-modern mind... Through this medium also, China is entering and shaping cultural globalization.

Paintings by Li Jinyuan

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