CCAA | Chinese Contemporary Art Award

Chapters 2 › Unit 2: Create a journal entry: Engaging with art View instructions Hide instructions

Create a journal entry: Engaging with art


How does engaging with art help us to better understand Chinese society?

Share your experiences and have a look a the journals of other participants.
Feel free to comment.

Understanding Chinese society through art.


To being, a well-known Chinese Proverb: “One picture is worth ten thousand words.” In its simplest form of a meaning. Chinese culture is one of a global importance, but generally we know very little about China in the West. The language is commonly classed as one of the hardest languages in the world, therefore it would be unjust to try and comprehend the Chinese culture and society through words. It's a difficult matter to always interpret feelings and traditions of Chinese people precisely. This points us to look for help from visual depictions of the rich culture and so very diverse society and their experiences.
John Berger said that “An image is a sight which has been recreated or reproduced” (Berger, J. 1972) and since the easing up of censorship of the arts in China in 1978 the artists began to do just that, Chinese artists 'began to engage with political and social changes happening around them'. The artists who began their career in the early years of some freedom of expression still tend to represent the broad socio-economical issues which are apparent in the Chinese society now. Where as the “Post-'70s Ego Generation” seems to focus more on the human experience of living in a society constrained by the 'one child policy'.

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Ai WeiWei
Han Jar Overpainted with Coca-Cola Logo, 1995
Earthenware, paint

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Li Jikai
acrylic on canvas

There is a side to this understanding of engagement with the Chinese arts, which I believe is crucial to mention from a perspective of a western spectator, is that from the knowledge of this course as well as general idea the Chinese arts are overlooked and often misunderstood but the art scene in the world.
It is clear that for critics around the world the works of Chinese artists seems to not provide sufficient aesthetics. However, this would usually be based on the lack of knowledge and experience of the Chinese culture from curators and spectators.
“The ways we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe”. (Berger, J. 1972)
One can only see the significance of certain aspects of aesthetics and representation in the Chinese Contemporary Art knowing the artists culture. Due to the economical dominance of the west in the past Westerners are not given enough information about the Chinese culture to allow themselves to truly understand it, thus understand the Chinese Arts.
I believe that the Chinese Contemporary Art is an excellent tool that can be used to inform and offer knowledge which has been ignored by the rest of the world for many years.

It would be difficult to highlight exact instances in which the Chinese contemporary Arts depict specific aspects of their culture and human experiences, as there are countless artists and works that do just that.


Berger, J. 1972. “Ways of Seeing”. Penguin Books, ltd.

Sans, J. 2009. “China Talks: Interviews with 32 Contemporary Artists”. Timezone 8 Limited.

Safire, W. 1996. “On Language worth a thousand words. [Accessed on: 02/02/2017]

“POST 70's EGO GENERATION” [Accessed on: 01/02/2017]

"CONTEMPORARY CHINESE ART” [Accessed on: 01/02/2017]

Image Sources:

Ai WeiWei “Han Jar Overpainted with Coca-Cola Logo, 1995“ [Accessed on: 02/02/2017]

Li JiKai “Walking in moonlight, 2010” [Accessed on: 02/02/2017]

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