British Journal of Chinese Studies

dragon mural beijing 2018 copyright Gerda Wielander
Vol 9 No 2 (2019)

Bad Citizens and Symbolic Subjects: Wang Jin, Zhou Tiehai, and the Art of (In)Civility

Ros Holmes
University of Oxford
Fake Newsweek Cover discussed in article
Published July 27, 2019
How to Cite
Holmes, R. (2019). Bad Citizens and Symbolic Subjects: Wang Jin, Zhou Tiehai, and the Art of (In)Civility. British Journal of Chinese Studies, 9(2), 113-146.


This article illuminates the relationship between contemporary art and visual representations of civility in postsocialist China. Focusing on a close visual analysis of two works of art: Wang Jin’s Ice-96 Central Plain (1996) and Zhou Tiehai’s Fake Cover (1996), it examines how artists sought to reject the binary terms with which civility is commonly constructed: between model and shameful forms of deportment, good and bad, spiritual and material, civil and uncivil. Directly challenging the social and political role of civility as it is shaped, imagined and “imaged” in China, it explores how civility plays a pivotal role in making and unmaking citizens and argues that these artists offer a redefinition of civility not as a “discourse of lack” but as a surplus quality, an embodied excess, something which could be performed, parodied or publicly cast off. It therefore stands as an argument for considering the vexed and contested parameters of civility as artists sought to navigate the fraught terrain between ideology and market reforms, consumer citizenship and the exigencies of globalisation.

  • China,
  • contemporary art,
  • civility,
  • globalisation,
  • visibility,
  • citizenship,
  • public conduct,
  • Zhou Tiehai,
  • Wang Jin
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