Nature of Strength and Weakness for Chinese and Western Argument
Source:Art Exit Author:Liu Libin Date: 2008-08-07 Size:
At the turn of the century, Great achievements have been acquired in Chinese literary and art circles.

(I) The theoretical black hole under nationalism emotion (June, 2002)

At the turn of the century, Great achievements have been acquired in Chinese literary and art circles. In 1999, Cai Guoqiang won Golden Lion Award in the 48th Biannual Art Exhibition. In 2000, playwright-Gao Xingjian won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and Li Yundi won Chopin Piano Award. The phenomenon of the three top awards of international literary and art circles focused on Chinese people at the same time was unprecedented; but Chinese literary and art circles’ reactions to these three awards had a world of difference. Gao Xingjian’s winning award triggered off the collective protest of Chinese literati. The most direct response was the thought that the Nobel Evaluation Committee still adhered to the ideology of confrontation theory and the evaluation was under the control of some big powers. Cai Guoqiang’s winning award directly caused the accusation of Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts which thought his “Venice Rent-collecting House” had infringed their rights. Some critics thought his “Gunpowder” series of works played “card of the nation” to achieve the success of the art. However, Li Yundi’s winning award got a lot of words of praise.


Li Yundi

Why did very similar awards have so dissimilar evaluations? Li Yundi won musical performance award by conveying and explaining western classical repertoire. Somebody thought that evaluation standard and authority of western classical music were in the West where there is complete mechanism of classical music, so it was worth countrymen celebrating that a Chinese could win the top award in the performance of classical music! As long as radical nationalists have not included classical music in the rank of “westernization and post-colonialism” yet, they could not find places to interpret their theories here. The situation of Cai Guoqiang was not so optimistic. Somebody thought he was playing “Card of China”, which implied that he was showing off things of ancestor’s to foreigners. Facing the works and success of Cai Guoqiang, countrymen of weak nations would easily associate how women truckled to men and curried favor with them by showing female characteristics! Then according to this kind of logic, the success of any woman artist was wrong no matter what kind of artistic means they used. The problem was that you were a woman, which had gone far beyond the art field. Pan-politicized thinking mode had firmly occupied the minds of some critics which led to the formation of a bottomless theoretical black hole---weightless mentality under nationalistic illusion.

Since the founding of new China in 1949, the art has been covered with too much political flavor and had countless ties with ideology. “Star Art Exhibition” of the 1970s, the discussion about “form” problems of early 1980s and Chinese contemporary art exhibition of large-scale etc. were all concerned about deep-layer sensitive area of theory to a certain extent and played a role of emancipating the mind in a way. In the 1980s, special political environment made many people keep highly political sensitivity; official critics and non-governmental theorists combined or split the relationship between art and ideology intentionally or unintentionally to win their discourse right. Now more than ten years had passed, but the thinking mode of Cultural Revolution could still be smelt out in remarks of critics commenting on overseas artists. But the different point was that the critics wore the coat of “nationalism” and held the big stick of “post-colonialism”, but used indiscriminately the thinking mode of criticizing articles during the period of Cultural Revolution, which was to say “down with all indiscriminately”.

Before the First World War, the western art center was in Paris and transferred to New York after the Second World War. It was un-blamable for artists to move closer to the art center. We could not imagine what Kandinsky’s later way of artistic development would be like if he had not left the Soviet Union in 1917. Then why the successful overseas artists could not be fairly evaluated at home? Xu Bing’s artworks were included in American art textbook, Cai Guoqiang was worshiped by Japanese, and Huang Yongbing was elected as one of the five artists who took part in Biannual Art Exhibition of Venice on behalf of France. I think all of you need to have fair views about whether these achievements have brought about national honors or disgraces. If the achievements still got only condemnation at home, I think we should reflect on whether there are some ulcers in our brains. “Flowering inside the wall and floating fragrance outside the wall” can be tolerated, why is it so difficult to accept “flowering outside the wall and floating fragrance inside the wall”? Some critics were always looking for reasons to wield big sticks from art works. Sadly, when some critics were commenting on art works, their “nationalistic faith” expanded extremely. Under their coats of nationalism were hidden two things that people often felt ashamed to let others know—— one was sense of loss in benefit segmentation and the other was the habitual thinking of Culture Revolution. It was the two points that made up these critics “theoretical black hole under nationalistic emotion”.

“Globalization” seems to have swept through every corner of the world. We are not aware of since what time our nerves have begun to become so weak. The behavior of the beggar according to the principle---“the hungry with self-esteem won’t accept food handed out in contempt” when facing the almsgiver seems to completely represent national self-respect. The achievements of people in any weak country seem to make nerves of “nationalists” tightening and they will ask themselves, “Can we really do this”? The hidden fact is that they have completely lost their self-confidence in their national ability. On one hand, they boast the greatness of their national culture; on the other hand, they sternly rebuke those artists who have acquired great achievements by right of the national wisdom. The reason is that they have trafficked national symbols. We can come to a conclusion what these critics lack is just their confidence in their nation, and what they have is only the impulse for internecine struggle---real manifestation of servility!

In the ecosystem of international art, some of our artists play the role of the strong, which may be the biggest mistake. It is not all vacuums in black hole which has great mass as well as absorption force. What has been hidden in our theoretical black hole? How big is the energy which can make star bodies disappear?

(II) What time can the barrier be removed?

I have ever written in the article “Xu Bing Breaking Ice” that Chinese and western problems are the core problems which have been harassing cultural circle since the 20th century; of course, the circles of art can not be an exception. The circle of art has had a lot of discussions and quarrels over this problem. Far-sighted people have also made active exploration and effort during which the failures and successes are all too obvious and I do not want to name them in detail. The problem is that overemphasis on this problem has formed a kind of habitual thinking. During the course of this kind of “emphasis”, the gulf between East and West is deepened and widened repeatedly by continuous repetition and narration. In the art field, the problems needed be concerned about become a kind of attitude through being concealed, confronted and echoed. The elucidators who have been used to the thinking of comparing East and West can not see the essential problem of the art, but entangle in the ignorance and passion of binary opposition. Chinese modern history is the history in which China and western countries confronted with each other, were forced to accept each other and actively integrated with each other. During this course, we have formed two kinds of attitudes toward the West. One is showing antipathy to western things as well as things accepted by the West, which led to the upsurge of nationalist emotion; the other is flattery because of slave mentality.


Xu Bing

Editorial Department of “Art Export” wrote in the article-inviting letter for this article, “In the new century, Chinese contemporary art’s suddenly becoming hot in the market made drastic change in discussion about art and artistic criticism. Wide discussion about “differences between China and western countries” has come to an end quietly and the focus has been replaced by ‘capital dispute’ step by step.”

“Wide discussion” may have come to an end, because capital operation has formed huge whirlpool in art circles and lots of problems were involved into the huge whirlpool. But it seemed to me that the problems are only “involved” and have a long way to go before being solved. What is more, the problems are needed to be solved more urgently than before, because drawbacks brought about by this problem will be amplified with duplication with the rising of contemporary art.

From the problem of the differences between China and western countries, a great deal of capital will set up a platform of intercommunicating ability between East and West. The biggest characteristics of capital is to seek self-increase and there is no exception for Chinese or western capital. Take this platform as the field of Chinese and western communication. The positive side is that there is possibility for the two sides to have a dialogue with each other, because Chinese capital operators are very familiar with international practice; the negative side is that the capital operators’ lacking foresight and having superficial artistic accomplishments will have extremely negative effects on art creations and whole art mechanism.

Since the new century, China’s peaceful rise has become a well-known fact. I have always thought that the nature of Chinese and western argument lies in the counterbalance between the strong and the weak. In other words, the nature of Chinese and western problems is that which is stronger and which is weaker. With China growing more powerful gradually, urgent liquidation are needed for the mindset and psychology formed by long history of being weak.

Let’s look at this example: Once when Wu Hong--- a professor of art history in Chicago University was giving lectures in Central Academy of Fine Arts, a student stood up and asked questions. The general idea is: Did his status of being “Chinese” make American academic circle criticize his viewpoints in “Art in Etiquette”? Wu Hong’s answer refuted the above guess. He thought the scholars who had questioned him were all based on their academic stand and did not have prejudice against his “status”. In this case, what the student lacked was “question” consciousness and what he should not have was binary thinking mode of Chinese and western opposition.

The thinking mode hidden in this kind of “question” is very common in art circles. We can understand the psychology state hidden behind that, but we should burn out the fence hidden in our hearts for a long time in order to really break through the Chinese and western barrier. Otherwise, we will ignore the real existence of problems in a confronting impulse.


[Editor] Mark Lee