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Chinese Artists Who Challenged Their Country’s Censorship

"Missing Person: Ai Weiwei" by Daniel Lobo

Since 1949 (Chinese Communist Revolution under Mao), the Chinese government has never underestimated the power of creative expression and its ability to shape public opinion; no matter the art form, authorities are always wary of potential controversy. As a result, quite a few artists have been subjected to the country’s censorship. The following list describes just a few of Chinese artists whose creations have been censored from their own homeland:

1. Ai Weiwei is a contemporary artist most famous for his politically charged pieces which include Remembering, an artwork made to remember the thousands of children who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake: news of the tragedy had been heavily censored and controlled by the government. He created a blog in 2006 on which he talked about his life, shared his opinions on art, and expressed his thoughts on the Chinese government’s policies which caused authorities to shut it down in 2009.

Several attempts have been made to silence Ai Weiwei’s activism. Most notably in 2011, he had been “kept in a tiny room throughout his nearly three-month detention last spring and watched 24 hours a day by shifts of two uniformed military police sergeants who never left his side” and interrogated more than 50 times.

However, the artist has never stopped expressing his worldview and resentment for the censorship in China. In an article for the New York Times dedicated to his opinion on the matter, he writes that

The censorship in China places limits on knowledge and values, which is the key to imposing ideological slavery.

 

A post shared by RenHang (@renhangrenhang) on

2. Ren Hang was a self-taught photographer and poet, most noted for his nude photographs. His work had caused controversy in his homeland, for China has banned pornographic images since 1949. The artist had been arrested on several occasions and confronted to various censorship affairs: some of his exhibited work in China had been defaced by authorities, his websites had been taken offline and he’d been denied to display his photographs in his homeland.

Ren states in the New York Times:

I don’t really view my work as taboo, because I don’t think so much in cultural context or political context. I don’t intentionally boundaries. I just do what I do.

Although his career was short-lived — Ren took his life last February — the photographer expressed through his work a vision of sexuality and gender fluidity (he said “gender [wasn’t] important” when he was taking photos) in his conservative country.

 

Meat

A post shared by Guo Jian 郭健 (@guojianart) on

3. Guo Jian is an Australian-born Chinese artist and a former member of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). His life experiences heavily inspired his art which focuses on “the last fifty years of violence and tumultuousness in China, from the Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s and 70’s to the Sino-Vietnam war at the beginning of the 80’s, and through to the horrors of the Tiananmen Square incident“.

In China, the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 is a taboo subject. All talk of it is forbidden: it isn’t taught in school, websites that address it are blocked… Some Chinese citizens aren’t even aware of the event. Chen created The Square in 2014, right before the 25th anniversary of the event.

The Square was a sculpture depicting Tiananmen Square made with 160 kg of ground pork. He was detained by the Chinese government soon afterward, similarly to many who speak out about events from 1989. He was later deported to Australia, where he had previously lived for two decades and gotten the Australian citizenship. According to his girlfriend, his other Tiananmen-related works had been destroyed,

He said of his detention:

They could detain me but they can’t really detain my soul

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Written by Irène Schrader

Irène was born and raised in Paris, France to an Eurasian family. She spends most of her time making music, writing essays, and teaching children English. She enjoys traveling, reading books, and going to museums.