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Memoir in Southern Anhui

[ 2015-08-04 17:37:34 | 作者Author: OUNING ]

School of Tillers is pleased to announce the second exhibition:

Liu Chuanhong: Memoir in Southern Anhui

The following introduction by Ou Ning was first published in Chinese on iPress. The English version is translated from Chinese by Zhang Liaoran.

Memoir in Southern Anhui

Ou Ning

Liu Chuanhong visited Yi County for the first time in 2012. He did not let me know nor stayed in a hostel. He brought tent and sleeping bag, camped in town, and even made up to Yellow Mountain. In this small town of visitors and ninety thousand residents he disappeared – nobody knew where he was – like a chivalrous errand who practices invisibility, with a pair of alerted eyes shimmering beneath a cap. Liu Chuanhong came here for fieldwork and history investigation upon my invitation for him to attend Bishan Harvestival. Unfortunately, that year’s event failed to happen. But what he witnessed here in Yi County urged and inspired him to produce; after more than two years’ preparation, finally gave birth to this huge and intricate art project, Memoir in Southern Anhui.

Memoir in Southern Anhui first came to life in 2014 at A Thousand Plateaus Art Space. Through 14 sets of works that made up by 38 pieces of scene and still oil paintings, and a hundred of freehand textual sketches describing traveling diaries, military maps, attacking plans, arms diagrams, Kung Fu charts, and local social research journals, Liu Chuanhong creates a story where a “bandit leader” character named “Mr. Liu” journeyed around Japanese-occupied Southern Anhui area between 1940 and 1942 .He commanded combats, robbing the rich to save the poor; or conducted businesses, rolling up fortunes and power; or hided away into mountains, read and meditated. Such a grandiose and sensitive visual narrative is truly rare to contemporary Chinese art.

Despite the works is fictional, Liu Chuanghong has been scrutinizing and strict ...


推荐日志Selected Content Timekeepers

[ 2015-04-12 12:50:23 | 作者Author: OUNING ]

School of Tillers is pleased to announce the first exhibition:

Matjaž Tančič: Timekeepers

The following introduction by Ou Ning was first published in Chinese on iPress. The English version is translated from Chinese by Huang Yating and Matt Sheehan.


Ou Ning

It’s a gorgeous, sunny day in the spring of 2014. The sky is blue and the air is clear – a perfect day for photography. Thirty-two-year-old Matjaž Tančič and his luscious hipster moustache roll up on an electric motorbike, carrying a young woman from Shanghai on the back. He’s wearing a blue and red sweat suit with white stripes. Across it are written two Chinese characters: Middle Kingdom. This is his second trip to Yi County. On his first trip here in 2012 he took 3D photography portraits of over twenty locals in their homes. In 2013 Matjaž was awarded the Best 3D Photographer of the year by World Photography Organization for one of these portraits. This time he came back to continue and to deepen the series.

Matjaž doesn’t fit the stereotype of a young western man who falls in love with China. He’s an ambitious young European who’s come to China to strive. His homeland of Slovenia used to belong to Yugoslavia, a country that long mirrored China in its social structure. Matjaž studied photography at the London College of Fashion, and he now splits time between Ljubljana and Beijing. That choice to come to Beijing emerged from his keen sense that right now this is a place full of opportunities for the taking.

He is not like a partisan in Emir Kusturica’s movie who doesn’t know the sea change of the time after he climbed out of the underground world. He long ago became a world citizen, one who follows the action to the most interesting places on earth, seeking out opportunities that will let him blossom. As the capital of China, Beijing is already one of the most happening cities ...


Museum Design in China

[ 2015-01-30 11:40:46 | 作者Author: OUNING ]

Making of a Museum in the 21st Century, edited by Melissa Chiu, texts by David Adjaye, Rustom Bharucha, Janet Carding, Melissa Chiu, Caroline Collier, Clémentine Deliss, Adam Lerner, Glenn Lowry, Sophie Makariou, Jessica Morgan, Hammad Nasar, Lars Nittve, Ou Ning, Walid Raad, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Wang Chunchen. Published by Asia Society, Jan 29, 2015.

Shrine of Knowledge, Palace of Aesthetics, or Theater of History:
Museum Design in China

Ou Ning

Museum, perhaps museum in his memory…
- Chris Marker, La Jetée, 1962

In the December 21, 2013 issue, The Economist cites the Chinese Museums Association statistics that in 1949 China had just 25 museums, and that in 2012, that number has increased to 3,866 museums, of which 451 opened in 2012. According to the current plan announced by the Chinese government, China was to have 3,500 museums by 2015, and now it has surpassed the goal early. America, in comparison, only had 20-40 museums built per year prior to the 2008 financial crisis. (1)The same article also references the term “museumification”, coined by Jeffrey Johnson, director of China Megacities Lab at Columbia University, in response to the Chinese museum boom. “Museumification” roots from “gentrification” and precisely sums up the motivation behind the museum-building fever. As a rising political power, China needs cultural achievements to manifest its “soft power”, and through museum building, its emerging capital can catch up with its strides in power and bring forth social impact, while acquiring land for even larger commercial gain.

The fanatic towards museums in China is somewhat similar to the European courts during the Age of Discovery in the sixteenth century, when cabinets de curiosités or wunderkammers flourished to show off the riches and treasures they have collected from oversea colonies. In order to promote the great Chinese empire’s ...


The Crisis and Experiment of the Commons

[ 2014-09-29 22:07:33 | 作者Author: OUNING ]

The Crisis and Experiment of the Commons
The New Rural Reconstruction Movement in China

A presentation at YNKB, Copenhagen, organized by Crisis Mirror, September 16, 2014.

Ou Ning

When China joined the WTO in 2001, it became a part of the global economy. The Chinese government has warmly embraced globalization, pushing the process of urbanization more radically forward. Urbanization is a kind of redistribution of social resources, including land and property; it is in some sense more radical than a revolution. China’s current land ownership system was established in 1949 when the Communist Party of China (CPC) took power. Land in urban areas is owned by the state, while in rural areas villagers own the land collectively. When local governments in rural areas need land, they change the land status, grabbing the land and selling it to developers; in the process, many villagers lose their farmland, and as a result farmland across China is shrinking. According to Reuters, China will become the world’s largest importer of agricultural products in 5 to 10 years.(1)As China grows increasingly dependent on international trade, its food situation is becoming dangerous. It is only a matter of time before a global food crisis occurs, and then it will be a huge challenge to feed China’s population.

Rural villagers constitute more than 60% of China’s population. During the latter half of the twentieth century, villagers exchanged their agricultural products for support from the Soviet Union in the industrialization process, contributing their land and labor to urbanization and the new economy but never sharing in its benefits. Since most young people have left the countryside for jobs in the city, China’s villages are almost empty, with only a few old people and children left behind. Fields lie fallow, and local governments take control of the farmland, giving little compensation to villagers. ...


A Hong Kong History of Madness

[ 2014-09-01 21:43:37 | 作者Author: OUNING ]

A Hong Kong History of Madness

Ou Ning

When Tsang Tsou-choi died in Hong Kong on July 15, 2007, one newspaper announced his demise with the headline “Death of a King.”(1)Hong Kong is a highly “normal” society, with a booming commercial sector, a robust entertainment industry, and a stable administration all running in perfect order. People work to secure stable positions, each tilling his own plot, so to speak. As for Tsang Tsou-choi, most Hong Kongers considered him as nothing more than a “madman.”

If we were to re-imagine Tsang’s “kingdom” as a realm populated not just by him alone, but by a thriving multitude of subjects, how then would this world be comforted upon hearing news of his death? How could his bereft, ruler-less multitudes be placated? How could his history be written to capture the entire course of his life? How could a rhetoric be created that would be powerful enough to praise his glorious achievements, and to repel the slander of his enemies? In the ideological world, the winner is always right, and the loser is always wrong. Once an ideology is called into question, the urgent scramble for new believers begins, since the more people who embrace an ideology, the greater the social space it occupies, the easier it is for it to solidify into a doctrine and, eventually, to harden into law. Those who own the authority to speak can whitewash what is black and blacken what is white.

Viewed through the eyes of “normality,” Tsang Tsou-choi was a filthy, smelly, crazy reprobate who for decades ran amok through the streets, engaged in the daily activity of indiscriminately defacing both public and private property with his graffiti, listing the names of his ancestors and family members and proclaiming his right to rule over Kowloon. The district security guards insulted him, the police detained him, passers-by laughed at him — even his own family spurned him. But Hong Kong has rarely seen ...


推荐日志Selected Content Rural Reconstruction in China

[ 2014-01-10 20:34:29 | 作者Author: OUNING ]

Rural Reconstruction in China


*Translated from Chinese by the editorial team of chinafile.com, Asia Society, New York. Published in The South of Southern: Space, Geography, History and the Biennale, Ou Ning, ed., China Youth Press, 2014.

Rural reconstruction, one of the most important insurmountable problems in China’s relentless pursuit of modernity, has had its ups and downs over the last 100 years. It again has emerged as a lens through which to examine the role of different political and intellectual forces in China's process of social reform.

Chinese elites began exploring the concept of rural reform in the late Qing dynasty, when Mi Jiansan and his Japan-educated son Mi Digang, members of a distinguished local family in the village of Zhaicheng in Ding county of Hebei province, experimented with the idea of "village government" (村治) in 1902 through literacy campaigns, civic education and local self-government. County magistrate Sun Faxu developed their idea further as he took the post of governor of in neighboring Shanxi province, and it later also was embraced by the warlord Yan Xishan, who effectively controlled Shanxi in the Republican era and turned the province into a model of rural reconstruction. The "Village Government Group" (村治派) was established as a school of thought in 1924, when some north China landed gentry, including Wang Hongyi, Mi Digang, Mi Jieping, Peng Yuting, Liang Zhonghua, Yi Zhongcai and Wang Yike, launched the Zhonghua Daily (《中华日报》) and the Village Government Monthly (《村治月刊》). In 1925, the then four-year-old Chinese Communist Party, having realized the importance of farmers to its revolution, decided to try to mobilize support in the countryside with their “Letter to Farmers" (《告农民书》), encouraging the establishment of farmers' unions. The ensuing ...


Ou Ning in 2012 Bishan Harvestival. Photograph by Zhu Rui, November 3, 2012.

Bishan Project:
Restarting the Rural Reconstruction Movement

Ou Ning

During World War I, the leader of China's mass education and rural reconstruction movements Y. C. James Yen (1893 – 1900) was a student at Yale University majoring in political science and economics. In 1917, the Beiyang government (a series of military regimes that ruled from Beijing from 1912 to 1928) joined the Entente Powers of World War I, declaring war on Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and nearly 200,000 Chinese laborers entered the battlefields of Europe. After graduating from Yale in 1918, Yen volunteered his services in France to members of the Chinese Labor Corps, mostly writing letters for illiterate workers wanting to communicate with their families back home. It was here on the battlefields of Europe that Yen first had the idea of teaching laborers how to read and write, and also where he established the first ever Chinese-language labor publication zhonghua laogong zhoubao (China Workers' Weekly). Moved by Yen's teaching and assistance, one member of the labor corps sent Yen the wages he received for three years of service in Europe, which amounted to 365 French Francs. From this experience, Yen realized the potential for learning among the common people, and was inspired to return to China and start the mass education and rural reconstruction movements that ultimately gave shape to his lifelong dedication to developing the strength and knowledge of the people.

After enduring the slaughter of two world wars and the hardships posed by the Cold War, the countries of Europe sought to make real a European Union. Notions of mass education and rural reconstruction forged in the conflagration of Europe's battlefields swept mainland China during its Republican Era, but were not enough to dislodge entrenched political ...


Underneath the Sky of Xinjiang

[ 2013-02-07 22:28:26 | 作者Author: OUNING ]

Abdujilili Rozi, the 83 years old Muqam musician from Makit County stands on the road to the outside world. Photograph by Ou Ning, 2012.

Underneath the Sky of Xinjiang
A Journey in the Worlds of Reality and Literature

Ou Ning

The kantuman in our hands has never changed for thousands of years, but the world out there is no longer the same.
——Hollowing Out, by Liu Liangcheng

Only Allah knows how long we are to breathe in this world.
——The Good Girl, by Alat Asem

My first trip to Xinjiang was over ten years ago. When I jumped off the night coach by the road to Turpan, I was surrounded by endless darkness. There was not a single light in the vast land. It was only after a relieving pee into the wild desert when my eyes gradually got used to the darkness. I looked up into the starry sky and felt that tens of thousands of years' time had condensed and hung above me. Man was nothing but a tiny drop of sand. This strong consciousness of time and space hit me like a lightning, along with a shiver from the urinating. At that moment, I believed there must be great wisdom growing in such a place. After that I came by One Man's Village, a book by Liu Liangcheng. Liu never muses upon the vastness and endlessness of heaven and earth like the Tang Dynasty poet Chen Zi’ang. Rather he always observes whatever grows in the ground with the eyes of a microscope. He watches the insects move, reads what a tree has to tell and listens to the whisper of the wind. He "perceives all the messages of the past and the present brought by a gust of wind". He takes a nap by a lumber and "reads the entire meaning of life by the sound of a fallen tree that cracks"(quoted from my interview with Liu Liangcheng). Liu writes about a village, but what he constructs is a philosophical world of his own. As a thinker, he does not rely on the canons. Instead he reaches the destination ...


Autonomy: Utopia or Realpolitik

[ 2013-01-05 21:29:25 | 作者Author: OUNING ]

Flowchart of basic consensus decision-making process, by Grant Horwood(Frymaster).

Autonomy: Utopia or Realpolitik

Ou Ning

Autonomy is a key word for anarchism. As for anarchism, Peter Kropotkin provided the following explanation in the 11th edition of The Encyclopedia Britannica: “The name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government — harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being.”(1) The term “anarchism” comes from the Greek “anarchos” (αναρχία), meaning “without ruler,” and this etymology points us to its core idea: that there is ...


Reimagines Rural China

[ 2012-06-06 05:32:51 | 作者Author: OUNING ]


Polymath’s Paradise
Ou Ning Reimagines Rural China

By Madeleine O’Dea, Modern Painters, June 2012

When I ask Ou Ning how he would answer that perennial dinner party question, What do you do?, he laughs. It’s not easy for one of China’s true polymaths, but he gives it a try. “I’m a cultural worker,” he offers modestly, before teasing out the twists and turns of a career that has taken him from underground poet to concert promoter to star designer to documentary film-maker to curator to biennial director to think-tank animator to literary editor and, finally, to where he finds himself presently, plotting how to revivify his country’s rural life, which has been denuded by 30 years of runaway economic reform.

Ou was born in 1969 in Suixi, a small fishing village on the western tip of Guangdong Province, to a poor family who normally would never have been able to send their son to university. But when he was 10 years old, China’s government made a decision that would transform his family, his village, their home province of Guangdong, and the country as a whole. For the first time in the history of the People’s Republic of China, the door was opened to foreign investment, initially through a series of special economic zones. The first of these, a coastal hamlet called Shenzhen, would play a special role in the Ou family’s fortune.

Situated just over the border from Hong Kong, Shenzhen’s economy exploded once its new status was established, and the government was soon dispatching recruitment trucks deep into the countryside in search of labor for the city’s burgeoning factories. One day a truck rolled into Ou’s village, and his sister decided to take the chance and jump aboard. It would be her factory wages that would ultimately pay for Ou to attend university.

His sister still lives in Shenzhen, but according ...


推荐日志Selected Content What Wukan Means

[ 2012-06-05 04:48:55 | 作者Author: OUNING ]

What Wukan Means

Ou Ning

Essay for Asia Society's ChinaFile project.
Original link: http://www.chinafile.com/what-wukan-means

It began, in the early stages, as a secret mobilization. Then came the protests, marches of ever-larger numbers, direct confrontation, occupations, blockades, anarchy, media exposure, a case of accidental death, the involvement of higher levels of authority, negotiation … until, finally, after two years and eleven months, on the 2nd of February 2012, in Guangdong province, in the county of Lufeng, the village of Wukan at last held a democratic election.

Given the evolution of events, what took place in Wukan could be called a revolution. True, when compared to the waves of large-scale protests that broke out around the world in 2011, it may look like just a minor case of local unrest. It failed to spur a more widespread campaign. But it deserves to be seen, at least, as a micro-revolution—one ...