China: OLD and reFASHIONED

Let us place Yun-Fei Ji's  quiet protest against the construction of dam  into two categories: China past and China present.

CHINA PAST: For 2,000 years, China's villages were unchanged. Wooden buildings everywhere manifested ancient skills related to carpentry, lacquer, paint pigments, resins, textiles, etc. That ended at the turn of the 20th century when the ancient Confucian social  system began to crumble. It precipitated an assault on China's ancient art traditions and architectural heritage when China began the process of Westernization. The 1949 Communist Revolution hastened the process. Then, during the Cultural Revolution of 1966–1976, Mao waged a national campaign against "the Four Olds"—old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas.

CHINA PRESENT: China abandoned extreme communism and adopted extreme capitalism.  Johnson Chang, an art entrepreneur/curator, decided to redeem the past. He began by choosing attire consistant with his mission. He wears traditional Chinese peasant garments - a black cotton jacket with a Mandarin collar, loose trousers, and handmade leather slippers. His fierce commitment to reviving  ancient Chinese culture is also evident in an ambitious curatorial project.  Working with a group of artists, he is creating an entire traditional Chinese villagein a ruined factory zone on the edge of Shanghai. Ancient building methods that were almost lost to living memory. The village is not a commercial tourist destination. He intends to use it as a working center for traditional Chinese artists, craftsmen and musicians.


His efforts resemble geneticists who are attempting to reverse evolution by recreating extinct species. Nor is this merely a historic curiosity. Chang hopes to restore Confucian values, counteracting the materialism and its ruthless pursuit of profit. “We want to show local farmers that you can follow traditional agricultural methods and still thrive…Contemporary artists say they want to engage with society, but they aren’t doing it hands-on. They only have relationships with museums. Art is cut off from the lives of everyday people. But Confucian philosophy encourages artists to work with society—officials, businessmen, merchants.” Chang goes on to explain, “One of the most drastic breaks with the past has been with traditional rituals.Lunar festivals, ancestral rites, seasonal ceremonies, funerals.” He hopes to revive the Confucian concept of Li that offers a cosmic vision of a balanced world order.

Yun Fei Ji is also protesting the wholesale embrace of technology and capitalism, and the accompanying destruction of cultural and architectural treasures.