Performance art for the people

Investigation by Shiyan Li
Summary

Since the late 1980s, Chinese artists have been developing body-based art centered on suffering and self-abuse, close to certain Western performances in principle, yet quite different in their intentions. The difference lies in Chinese culture – from Confucian to Taoist thought – and to the Chinese tradition of learned civilians – the intellectual as the safeguard of ethics, but also to recent changes in society. In this context, the artist’s body is a social body that reflects the paradoxes of the country’s recent political evolution and the steadily increasing tensions between communist and ultra-liberal economic dogma. However, this art also draws on the Cultural Revolution, a somber era of the country’s history during which thousands of intellectuals were condemned to humiliation and whose fifty-year anniversary China is not taking great care to commemorate.