The Great Leap Forward, an acrylic painting I did for my AS coursework that got a DD over on dA but for some reason that I never thought merited a singular place on my blog - or perhaps because I was afraid to.
I revisit this piece not only for artistic inspiration, but to comment, yet again, on the politics of my art: yes, this piece is about Mao Zedong, the greatest tyrant in Chinese history. I didn’t state anything about him on dA but I was amazed by how many people were able to instantly recognise him and understand the ironic context of this work. Although I dared to create this work, it still lies packed in my luggage today and is a work I can never bring home to China, for fears of being arrested in a country that, in this Post-Mao era, still reveres a tyrant who brought the Cultural Revolution to China at the cost of an incredible number of lives. When this piece got a DD, it generated a lot of positive and energetic artistic and political feedback. While I enjoyed discussing and debating with people in a way I had never been able to before, I was also afraid: I was back in China for the holidays and I was scared the government could pick up the condemnation of the revered leader and I would be thrown in jail or exiled forever. Dramatic much, you say? Not really, in a country that deactivated people’s SIM cards for texting about Liu Xiaobo winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
In this new era, the Chinese are no longer like they used to be. The economic desperation and political frustration no longer exists… or does it? If so, then why do political artists like Ai Weiwei get arrested for what they do? Why is there a bureaucratic one party system that, as recently very publicly shown by the Bo Xilai incident, breeds incestuous corruption and greed, with no hope for change? Why is there an ever increasing discrepancy between the rich and the poor, leading to a widespread bitterness of the fuerdai or second generation affluent young people whose parents provide all the luxury they want?
When I first chose the Internet moniker ‘Princeling’ I was simply looking for a different way to imply ‘royal’ or ‘king’ - not because I have a boundless ego but because I had, and actually still have this tripe, sardonic claim that I aim for world domination - and certainly not to now be associated with the recently coined Chinese Princelings that dominate the rich circles and swan about drowning in luxury brands. There is a certain irony about it though: I don’t really qualify to be a ‘princeling’ as my parents worked incredibly hard from absolutely nothing for the opportunities I had to study abroad, and I also happen to be born in the 90’s, not the 80’s. But the irony of my picking such a username as a Chinese person is so ironic with such strong political undertones I can’t help but wonder at the coincidence.
I am a person who has one foot in both the western and eastern cultures, and I don’t really feel like I belong anywhere. Nevertheless, China has been my home for fifteen years and it is the root of my blood. I may not share many of the traits of Chinese ‘surface culture’ but I understand and share a lot of the deeper beliefs that truly matter. I may not belong to China, but China belongs to me - to my generation, to a generation of people that are now feeling the effects of a flawed economic growth model, a generation of people that have grown up hoping, for the first time, to become somebody. On the surface, everything seems great, but that’s only insofar as you not touching the edges of the boundaries - because if you do, you will discover how harsh, brutal and cruel the government can be.
So what I am trying to say is, I may not always state my democratic convictions publicly like Ai Weiwei does with extreme courage. I don’t want to be exiled from what is essentially my homeland, even though my native tongue is English. I have family, friends and places I love that I want to see. But what I also recognise is that China is at a pivotal economic and social turning point, and if the Party doesn’t change its act and actually transform its rigid traditions, we could very well be facing another 1989: take an occurrence I read about in TIME magazine recently: “An odd turn of the market in early June […] when the Shanghai stock index fell 64.89 points, a number recalling the dates of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, June 4, 1989. The event was picked up and used as a rallying point by democracy protesters online; government censors quickly swung into action and barred searching the topic.” People do care, and the fact is that the Party is much too twisted and self-satisfied to ever consider reform. This can only lead to higher unemployment and social unrest, and we all know what that leads to.
What with all the coincidences that have been occurring, who is to say that some sort of Chinese reform isn’t fated to be?
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