Tuesday, 24 May 2011

State-Sponsored Graffiti

As I was returning back to my Chinese homestay family's house recently, I took a route slightly different to normal. I got a little lost, and ended up cycling past a (kind of) Great Wall of stenciled images and painted figures, all resplendent in colour. Graffiti walls are nothing remarkable. They are a feature of any major city I can recall having visited; a creative output for the artistic, a political output for the disillusioned, an illegalistic output for the subversive.
But after having passed the wall, I began turning something over in my head. For I had never seen graffiti in Beijing before. Perhaps as an attempt to assert dominance over the masses, stamp out individualistic expression, and re-enforce the strength of government, any graffiti is covered up and painted over as quickly as it is discovered. So I couldn't help myself but turn around and go back to take a second-look.

And it was more than worth it. The images are pro-China, in fact their profusion of feelings are not even subtle. But I find the contrast between images which on the surface have such an insouciance and freedom to them, and the underlying message of support for the government, disarming. Of course, China doesn't conform to anything which is imaginable in the West, but imagine a truce between graffiti artists and the local authorities to lay down pro-Conservative Party graffiti on British walls!

In this image a family is drawn together in harmony, expressing their positive outlook through the ubiquitous V-sign gesture, symbolising cheerfulness and indefatigability. Of particular interest, this model Chinese family is twisted slightly from the norm, two cute children lurking behind instead of the normal one. A clever subtle note of defiance from the graffiti artist?

Here we see three Chinese red lanterns, emblazoned with the golden figures "60", "周" and "年"

This indicates the time origins of the wall: 2009 - a celebration of 60 years since the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.
Here there is a celebratory image of the successful Chinese space mission of 2003, which propelled China as the third-nation to enter space. There is a blissful innocence to the image, which discounts the globo-political motivation for the mission. Of further interest is the image of two astronauts next to each other. In fact, China has only sent one astronaut into space, Yang Liwei.

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