British Journal of Chinese Studies

dragon mural beijing 2018 copyright Gerda Wielander
Vol 11 (2021)

The Digital Illusion: Chinese New Media Artists Exploring the Phenomenology of Space

Angela Becher
University of Liverpool
Woman in white with yellow headgear crossing the road
Published June 29, 2021
How to Cite
Becher, A. (2021). The Digital Illusion. British Journal of Chinese Studies, 11, 114-134.


This paper examines how Chinese new media artists negotiate the symbolic nature of urban space via 3D-modelled simulations, augmented and mixed reality. Via semiotic and media analysis, the paper scrutinises the ontology of these media in their deployment of spatial parameters such as proportion, perspective, stasis and motion to create an ideologically informed spatial narrative. The paper contrasts the imaginary of architecture and space in the independent 3D animation film Mist by Zhang Xiaotao and Cao Fei’s Second Life project RMB City against the implementation of video art in Zhu Xiaowen’s mixed reality performance Wearable Urban Routine and the augmented reality app Statue of Democracy & Tank Man by artist collective 4 Gentlemen. It be will argued that in all the discussed works, the use of the digital medium serves to create a temporary illusion whereby the ephemeral experience of a virtual world can help to better understand the role of the human in actual, physical space, which adopts particular importance in the context of a radically transforming country. This study contributes to the growing scholarship on the interlinkages between Chinese art, architecture and the city and on the increasing importance of technology within Chinese cultural studies.

Image with permission from © Zhu Xiaowen


  • contemporary art,
  • urban spaces,
  • architecture,
  • digital media,
  • 3D animation,
  • augmented reality,
  • embodiment
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