Life imitated art too closely when the performance artist Yan
Yinhong was attacked on stage while protesting sexual attacks
Life imitated art, startlingly and crudely, in the city of
Hai'an, north of Shanghai, when two men rushed the stage and groped
the painter and performance artist Yan Yinhong as she danced "One
Person's Battlefield" -- her furious comment on sexual violence
The assault continued through her entire performance as she
dodged the men who kissed and groped her, grappled her to the floor
and thrust their hands up her skirt, the audience making only
halfhearted efforts to help as they stood by and recorded the
incident with phones and cameras.
Did she report it to the police? No: "How could you report that
here?" she asked.
"To me, their interference showed the vileness of society, and
our society is vile," Ms. Yan said in a telephone interview.
It was "real embarrassing," said Cheng Meixin, an independent art
critic and curator and the organizer of the Hai'an China
Contemporary Art and Ideology Forum, where the incident took place
in mid-June. "It should never have happened," he said. One of the
men -- both are Beijing-based artists known to Mr. Cheng -- had
"psychological problems," he said.
Was the man getting help, I asked?
No, Mr. Cheng said. "In Chinese society you don't get help when
you have those kinds of problems."
I wrote about Ms. Yan's work in this column after she performed
her piece in Beijing in late May. I described how she depicted
scenes of sexual violence and then, in a moment of surprise for the
audience, did a handstand, her skirt dropping away to reveal the
face of a uniformed policeman painted onto her flesh-colored
leotard. Her message: There is a great deal of sexual violence
around, quite a bit of it perpetrated by representatives of the
So I listened, feeling shock but also a weary familiarity, and
mostly marveling at the brutish irony (sexually attacking a woman as
she protests sexual attacks against women -- who would make that
up?) as Li Xinmo, a fellow performer, recounted the events in Hai'an
over dinner in the 798 Art District in Beijing, not long afterward.
Ms. Li saw something other than "a vile society" or untreated
That same afternoon in Hai'an, another, third man had interfered
in Ms. Li's piece, "Mouth of the Spring."
Something systematic was at work, she said: anti-woman sentiment.
Dressed in her trademark white, Ms. Li had sat quietly on the
stage (a large square of white-painted ground with a white wall
behind it), drinking black ink from white teacups. Next she splashed
herself with ink from a bucket. Finally she dumped the contents of
the bucket over her head. The ink symbolized the internal poison and
external stain of thousands of years of official Chinese literary,
philosophical and political thought, which Ms. …