Performance Art on the China/West Border: Yang Zhichao’s Jiayu Pass
During the 1990s the China/West binary assumes new meanings and significance in the Chinese cultural and political spheres. The class discourse that dominated the socialist era (1949-1978) and the universalist discourse which made an appearance in the 1980s give way to the hegemony of a discourse that categorises ideas, thoughts and works of creativity as belonging to either a newly centred China or to a vaguely defined West (Strafella 2017: 130-136). It is at the height of this ideological shift that the work of art discussed by this paper comes into being. A lesser-known, yet highly innovative artwork by one of China’s most prominent contemporary artists, Jiayu Pass (1999-2000) by Yang Zhichao (b. 1963) consists in a month-long work of performance art that takes place inside a psychiatric hospital at the turn of the millennium. The artwork references the idea of liminality also through its physical location — Jiayuguan, i.e. the westernmost point of the Great Wall, located in Yang’s native Gansu Province. The present paper examines this unique artwork through its literary documentation, Yang’s own Notes on Jiayu Pass (Yang 2004) — a journal that chronicles the artwork’s exploration of liminality and alienation. The paper shows how Jiayu Pass rethinks the dominant China/West dichotomy and reflects on the borderland between these entities — symbolically represented by its homonymous frontier outpost — not as the embodiment of separation and difference, but as the locus where ideas of universality and national identity can be critiqued and reimagined from the alternative vantage point of socio-cultural marginality.
contribution to scientific community
Annual Conference on Asian Studies (ACAS)
Palacký University Olomouc