Avant-Garde Art in China
There are undoubtedly many common features shared by the former socialist countries, including China, with the notions of postsocialism and postmodernism representing double faces of the predominant political and economic circumstances of these environments. I wish to discuss the significance of these two notions in relation to Chinese contemporary art.
The question may well be posed: How can the notion of postmodernism be used as a broad universal “ism” to generalize the contemporary art of the 1980s in China, a typical Third World country with a long and distinct cultural tradition in which a modernist culture similar to that of the West has never existed? The answer is that the lack of Western modernist tradition is precisely why, in the China of the 1980s, we find a mixture of both modernism and postmodernism, understood according to their original Western definitions. Postmodernism in the 1980s in China did not play a dominant role , nor was postmodernism a period in the sense that it fit into the logic of temporal succession. Rather, it was a superficial consciousness of a new cultural criticism that promotes an iconoclastic attitude and certain pragmatic cultural strategies.
To put it another way:Two absences characterize Chinese modern cultural history. One is the absence of a clear idea of a temporal succession in which modernism is followed by postmodernism, as is the case in the West. For the Chinese, modernism and postmodernism have not involved a consciousness of global historical epochs or of a global philosophy of history, but have been a matter of individual subjectivity within a cultural environment possessing a strong sense of nationalism. For the Chinese, being modern equaled a new notion of the nation, rather than a new epoch, 1 and post