Bad Citizens and Symbolic Subjects: Wang Jin, Zhou Tiehai, and the Art of (In)Civility

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This article illuminates the relationship between contemporary art and visual representations of civility in postsocialist China. Focusing on a close visual analysis of two works of art: Wang Jin’s Ice-96 Central Plain (1996) and Zhou Tiehai’s Fake Cover (1996), it examines how artists sought to reject the binary terms with which civility is commonly constructed: between model and shameful forms of deportment, good and bad, spiritual and material, civil and uncivil. Directly challenging the social and political role of civility as it is shaped, imagined and “imaged” in China, it explores how civility plays a pivotal role in making and unmaking citizens and argues that these artists offer a redefinition of civility not as a “discourse of lack” but as a surplus quality, an embodied excess, something which could be performed, parodied or publicly cast off. It therefore stands as an argument for considering the vexed and contested parameters of civility as artists sought to navigate the fraught terrain between ideology and market reforms, consumer citizenship and the exigencies of globalisation.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-146
Number of pages34
JournalBritish Association for Chinese Studies. Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2019

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