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Rebuilding Regional Culture During the Process of Globalisation
Li Xianting

Starting more than a hundred years ago, the West's subjugation and colonisation of other nations forced a choice on non-Western countries. To varying extents they began to question their own cultures and study the ways of the West, and this laid the foundations for globalisation. After the end of the second world war, the speedy development of America's economy and technology meant that the West, and the USA in particular, became the central source of culture; consequently, globalisation is in a sense the global spread of American culture - American style economies, computers and the internet, consumer culture and the aesthetic tastes that go with it, cities modelled on Manhattan, the English language, contemporary art...it is already almost impossible to find a regional culture that is completely unaffected by globalisation. My emphasis on "Rebuilding Regional Culture During the Process of Globalisation" stems from the fact that I believe the main cultural dangers we face today are, for example, the high-speed "Manhattanisation" of urban styles, the consumerisation of aesthetic tastes and various similar problems. Globalisation should not mean the integration or Americanisation of global culture.

Of course I am not proposing a dualistic world where conflict and opposition exist between East and West, or any such sham cultural topic as those, including "Chinese Substance and Western Function" and "Chinese-Western culture clash", that have been continually arising in China over the past hundred years and more. They are really just another expression of the "China as centre of the world" belief that developed in China as a result of conservatism and being closed off from the world: a clash between the old cultural centre - China, and the new cultural centre - the West. It is this mentality that logically leads to the preposterous statement that "the 21st century will be the Chinese century". In fact, if we examine the state of cultural globalisation, we see that China is no different to any other non-Western region, all are located in the same type of weak cultural position, just one among many weak cultures; this is our cultural reality, and we have no way of changing ! this reality in the foreseeable future. Our aim in creating new regional cultures in China and other nations is not to turn the 21st century into a "Chinese century" or any other region's century, as it is exactly this situation whereby a single culture can become the centre of the world that we want to erase.

The title "Rebuilding Regional Culture During the Process of Globalisation" emphasises the new cultural conditions and cultural relevancy formed by regional culture during the process of globalisation. There are two starting points for our creation of new regional culture today; one is globalisation, the other is our weak cultural position. A point in favour of globalisation is that the existing achievements of modern Western culture and art can be shared by us and rest of the world, but we must remain on guard against the cultural hegemony that could turn globalisation into a centralisation of global culture. We must always insist on the plurality and equality of culture, we must remain calm, adopt an open attitude towards the incorporation of things of diverse nature, scrutinise and search out the new cultural origins of our region based on individual existence and cultural context, gradually produce and clarify a new regional value system within global modernisation groun! ded on the various existential requirements of the people now inhabiting this region.

To understand the positive significance of cultural globalisation in an open way requires an open and active "taking up the challenge" sort of attitude. From an artistic perspective, this would be to acknowledge that modern art has already become a form of international language, and that we should regard it - in a chronological rather than a regional sense - as the most revolutionary form of language that mankind has discovered thus far, and the most suited to contemporary humanity. Modern art has certainly opened up more possible ways for people to express themselves, and the process of this opening up was also an open process, because as Western artists were in the process of creating modern art they constantly turned for sustenance to the art and culture of non-Western countries. In fact any new culture in its initial stages is accompanied by mutual influence and assimilation between different cultures. What is significant and enlightening is the way in which Western artists recombined and transformed fragments and elements of their own cultures and diverse cultures and art forms from non-Western countries into a new mode of art. For me the most important thing is cultural standpoint and context, but for Western artists the important thing is still whether or not artists can confront the variety of puzzles posed to people by the circumstances of their lives. Art's transcendence of racial and national boundaries often works from the angle of an aesthetics of reception, looking at the acceptable limits and degrees of art products. However, considering the primary impulse of the creative process, first and foremost is the artist's grasp of his or her innermost feelings as an individual, and an individual naturally has to be living in an environment that is part of the contemporary culture and society of a specific nation and region; it is unlikely that any artist can go about making art in a way that bears no relation to their environment. What's more, the globalisation of culture and especially art is mostly the transmission of what could be called fragments of culture - linguistic modes, working methods, the visual form of works - that obscure the dynamic context present at the time the work was being created, so when non-Western artists accept the linguistic modes or working methods of Western contemporary art, they will consciously or unconsciously understand and apply them from their own individual standpoints. This process regards the starting point of art as being an individual located within a specific cultural context and standpoint.

Socio-political and cultural background has always been an important context for Chinese contemporary art, and it was against this Chinese background that the works of Wang Guangyi, Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun and Zhang Xiaogang were produced. They have creatively used the language of modern Western art, and at the same time also drawn ingeniously on Chinese cultural resources. Wang Guangyi's Great Criticism, for example, creatively uses the language of Pop art. American Pop was concerned with popular images in currency at that time, but Great Criticism juxtaposes images from the Cultural Revolution era with images from contemporary mass culture, producing humorous and absurd implications. In essence these works are spiritual symbols of the period just before the end of the Cold War, signifying how the ideological infiltration and decimation of the Socialist camp by the mighty commercial culture of the West created a distinctive sense of political absurdity in the artist's psyche.

The works of Fang Lijun and Yue Minjun have a definite relationship to both the Tian'anmen Square incident and traditional Chinese culture. The biggest impact that the Tian'anmen Square incident had on the Chinese people was to cause a widespread loss of ideals, and this loss quickly developed into a mood of cynical ennui and a pop way of dealing with things; what I call pop is a concept I extracted from a common Chinese term that means "punk" or "hoodlum", it simultaneously implies being a joker, loutish behaviour, being dissolute and uncontrolled, seeing through everything and fooled by nothing. The images of "bald-headed hoodlums" created by Fang Lijun have become a classic glosseme, while Yue Minjun repeatedly uses his own image as a model, depicting himself in comical postures with a vacant and idiotic grin on his face, the works are self-mocking and also deride the hollow boredom of contemporary China's spiritual realm.

Pop as a method of spiritual self-liberation is a traditional approach taken by Chinese intellectuals, and many examples of this can be found in Chinese history, especially during periods of high political pressure. Many scholar-officials during the period before the kingdom of Wei gave way to the Jin dynasty behaved in eccentric, mad and self-mocking ways, living their lives in defiance of convention in order to cope with high pressures of politics, thus achieving their aim of self-liberation. The famous work New Anecdotes of Social Talk from that time records many incidences of this, and a wide reading of Sanqu verses from the Yuan dynasty, shows that self-mocking, pop style works are even more ubiquitous; in more recent decades writers Zhou Zuoren and Lin Yutang have both discussed this. Even in depictions of the big-bellied laughing Maitreya Buddha, a widely popular image with strong Chinese characteristics, we can see how deeply cynicism and pop are lodged in the bones of the Chinese people.

Zhang Xiaogang's work is concerned with the harmful effects on people of centralised political power. His Family Photograph series draws on the style of Chinese folk portraiture; through his use of the pictorial style of traditional "happy family" group photographs he leads people to make a mental association between Confucian clan traditions and blood relationships in the Maoist era. The quiet, wooden expressions of the figures in the paintings, the smooth surface that bears no evidence of brushstrokes and the neutral grey tones combine into a whole, so that the Big Family series paints a sort of miniature portrait of the Chinese people. Living in a society where the style of government is an extension of the family structure has given the Chinese people a unique sense of the great changes wrought by time - through the frequent tricks played by fate, the unpredictable changes in the political weather, they remain tranquil as water, strong and self-sufficient, a fulfilment of the typically Chinese coping philosophy expressed in the common adage, "happy is the man who is content with his lot".