Introduction

During the 1980s, the New Enlightenment Movement emerged as a bottom-up intellectual project calling for “thought liberation” to unshackle China from Maoist dogma (1). Echoing the nationwide fervor for free thinking and individual liberty, the rehabilitation of humanity became an imperative for Chinese intellectuals. The central question faced by artists and writers was how to redefine the “human” after the ten-year period of turbulence and dehumanization brought about by the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) (2). As a pivotal part
of this intellectual movement, a book series titled Marching Toward the Future (1984–88) dedicated itself to introducing cutting-edge theories from Western humanities and natural sciences to China’s cultural scene. In one of the 1988 volumes, The Philosophy of Humans, the series’ chief editor, Jin Guantao, extolled the uniqueness of humans in nature and celebrated “the great bravery of human rationality.” (3) Proposing a new society centered on humans, Jin’s statement gestured toward the modernization of humanity, which he conceived as a pressing issue to tackle when rebuilding Chinese society in the so-called “New Era” (1978–1989)—a historical reorientation toward economic reform and technological advancement. This idealistic, if not romanticized, vision of humanity, however, was challenged and complicated by the rapidly changing reality of the post-Mao 1980s. When China launched its own technological revolution, how did an increasingly industrialized and automated society mediate the imaginary of an enlightened humanity? How did the state project of modernization reshape the humanity of workers—the most progressive class in modern China?

In order to answer these questions, this study critically examines a changing mode of bodily aesthetics and the reconceptualization of the “human” in Pond Society members Zhang Peili (b. 1957), Geng Jianyi (b. 1962), and Song Ling’s (b. 1961) early paintings (4). I find these figure paintings revealing, because they depart from a highly idealized representation of a “new socialist person” in post-Mao visual culture, while exposing an increasingly precarious status of humanity. Most recent studies have tended to focus on the collective art projects of the Pond Society, but very scant attention has been paid to the early paintings created by individual group members. This study fills this void by investigating how the enigmatic paintings of Zhang, Geng, and Song correspond to each other, while addressing different aspects of techno-politics in the 1980s. In addition, I propose a new means of contextualization that highlights their acute political sensibility towards the potential threats brought about the so-called “automation fever” to Chinese society, particularly to the Chinese working class. Seeing their paintings as an incisive response to the rise of a technocratic society, I analyze how these artists’ peculiar rendering of machine-like workers, medical devices, and bodybuilders speaks to the changing mode of production, the politics of labor, and the reengineering of socialist bodies in post-Mao China.

The “New Man” Reconfigured

In order to show a fantasized imagery of an enlightened “new man” in the 1980s, my essay starts with a visual analysis of Meng Luding (b. 1962) and Zhang Qun’s (b. 1962) epic painting titled New Era: The Revelation of Adam and Eve (1985). Using this work as a point of departure, I want to discuss how the figure paintings of Pond Society members challenge the state-endorsed “new man” model and evoke a fluid imagination of machinery modernization. While New Era marked the starting point of the ’85 New Wave Movement, it also fabricated a heartening myth of an upcoming new epoch. This mythmaking process was realized through the depiction of new types of the body that deviated from the tradition of socialist realist painting. Using the technique of linear perspective, the two painters direct the viewer’s gaze to the central vanishing point where a female character is suspended in the air and walking through a channel consisting of numerous frames. As she steps out of the last frame, the glass screen breaks apart into fragments. By freezing this miraculous moment, the artists envision a liberating New Era that breaks away from the confines of the past and marches fearlessly towards the future. The central female figure is rendered as a determined-looking modern woman. Her appearance resembles the representation of female teachers and technicians in Chinese films of the 1980s (i.e. Miao-Miao, 1980). The woman wears an elegant white blouse and black jeans, which make her look calm and confident. She holds a plate of apples with her left arm and gently lifts her right hand to offer the apples to other characters in the painting.

Placing the female figure at the vanishing point, the artists render her as a mother goddess who possesses the power to enlighten the nation and to inspire the people. As feminist cultural critic Dai Jinhua precisely describes, in the 1980s, engineers, teachers, and scientists were elevated as the “new socialist god.”(5) They replaced the heroic images of workers and peasants and turned into the “new men” of the New Era (6). As visualized in this painting, this female intellectual is depicted as emitting light. In the act of imparting the fruits of knowledge to the gigantic nudes at either side of her, the light radiating from her body illuminates the “perfect” proportion of these anatomic bodies. Referring to the style of scientific naturalism in renaissance art, Meng Luding and Zhang Qun highlight the sublimity and monumentality of these nudes. By creating a visual aesthetic of order and stability, the artists suggest that the Chinese Adam and Eve are the specimens of the new socialist person equipped with modern science and rationality. They are empowered to move beyond what Marx termed the “prehistoric stage of human society” and to create a superior civilization based on scientific principles and human values (7).

Inviting viewers to imagine how a “new socialist person” is revitalized by the “light of science,” Meng Luding and Zhang Qun’s New Era registers the shifting political consciousness of the 1980s. While Chinese political elites previously extoled the importance of proletarian revolution, now they embraced science and rationality as the only path to achieve the resurrection of humanity and the rejuvenation of the state (8). The power relationship laid out in this painting corresponds with the growing enthusiasm for technological reform in the 1980s. After Hu Yaobang, the then General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), published an essay titled “Smash Superstition, Master Science” in the popular magazine China Youth in 1978, science was endorsed as the remedy to cure the personality cult of Mao (9). Hu Yaobang’s article not only stirred a nationwide fascination with scientific knowledge, but also propelled the rise of a technocratic society. As sociologist Børge Bakken aptly describes, since the early 1980s, party leaders with a background in natural science and engineering gradually replaced professional revolutionaries in governing the state (10). The elevation of technical intelligentsia led to a new mode of organizing social, political, and biological life. Adopting cybernetics as a theory of systematic social control, Chinese political elites considered human labor, behavior, and even human life as a part of a control system that can be regulated through scientific methods (11). In line with this rising tide of technocracy, Meng Luding and Zhang Qun’s painting helped produce the new socialist subjects of the New Era—a growing knowledge class. Their glorification of science, however, obscured a newly developed mode of state control and its alienating effect on humanity.

In contrast to the highly idealized representation of the “new socialist man,” Zhang Peili drew attention to the reengineering of subjectivity and corporeality in an emergent technocratic society. In the same year, 1985, he created a series of paintings that drastically contradicted the heroic nudes and uplifting tone of New Era. As exemplified in Midsummer Swimmers (1985), the artist depicts four male figures standing at the side of a swimming pool, facing away from the viewer. Departing from the grand narrative and the great soul depicted in New Era, Zhang Peili uses geometric lines and cool tones to render a desolate urban space. By eliminating cultural and religious references, the artist formulates an austere composition with no explicit power relationship or political agenda. The four swimmers are distanced from each other and exhibit no interaction or communication. The skillful combination of blue, white, and grey evokes a feeling of machine-like coldness and a sense of isolation. In recent scholarship, critics such as Gao Minglu have attributed Zhang Peili’s removal of sentimental imagination to his detachment from the idealism and heroics of the ’85 New Wave Movement (12). Such an evaluation, however, is insufficient to unfold the post-Mao labor politics revealed in his paintings. As I see it, the lifeless, standardized configuration of the swimmers not only demystifies the social imaginary of the “new socialist god,” but also functions as a bodily manifestation of new modes of industrial manufacturing and labor management in an incoming information society.

In Midsummer Swimmers, the lean bodies positioned against the backdrop of a bleak urban space replace images of bustling factories filled with passionate and masculine workers in propaganda posters of the Mao era. This changing bodily aesthetic is closely tied to an increasingly technologized society in post-Mao China. Along with the nationwide circulation of American futurologist Alvin Toffler’s book The Third Wave (1980), his visits to China in 1983 fueled the craze for machine-based manufacturing and programmable automation (13). That same year, Zhao Ziyang, then Chinese premier, gave a talk entitled “A Worldwide New Technological Revolution and Our Strategies,” which endorsed the mechanization and computerization of China’s heavy industries (14). These events not only registered China’s growing enthusiasm for integration into global information capitalism, but also stirred the popular imagination of a hyper-technologized New Era. Corresponding with the country’s aspiration to modernize its manufacturing system, the flat torsos, slender arms, and emotionless presence of the swimmers are reminiscent of technical workers equipped with professional knowledge and skills. As shown in the 1986 CCTV documentary New Steel City, in the newly built Shanghai BaoSteel plant, the cool looking, well-trained technical workers took over heroic images of the “ironman” in the Mao-era (15). The close-ups of their hands on operating handles and control panels not only suggest the obsoleteness of heavy manual labor, but also declare that the “new steel city,” China’s national myth of the 1980s, was no longer achieved through workers and peasants, but, rather, through computerized equipment and automated production lines.

In addition to the disappearance of heroic proletarian bodies, the machinelike young males in Midsummer Swimmers are in dialogue with the bloom of management science. As a political strategy, management science started to thrive as a technique to motivate the labor force and improve productivity in the 1980s (16). As literary critic Li Haixia succinctly argues, management science functioned to supervise the part of humanity that failed to adapt to machine-based production in an emergent industrial society (17). While this new technique of quality control enabled an increasingly entwined relationship between humans and machines, it also led to a shift from the heroism of Maoist labor to a standardized, professionalized workflow. As visualized in Midsummer Swimmers, the four male figures look identical—they all have elongated bodies, same hairstyle, and all wear blue swimming shorts, like a uniform. Their consistent physiques could be seen as parallel to machine-made products emitted from a streamlined factory. The swimmers standing on the starting blocks are rendered in slightly different poses as if they are at different phases of diving into the pool, and their stiff and mechanical gestures make them look like robots programmed to perform a sequence of tasks. Unlike the highly moralized depiction of model workers in socialist realist paintings, the absence of emotion and the pessimistic tone of Midsummer Swimmers signify the changing political implications of labor. As automated manufacturing replaced labor-intensive industry, workers gradually lost their masculine corporality and moral aura. The laboring bodies no longer functioned as a patriotic sign to elevate public morality and as a means to proletarianize Chinese society (18). Instead, the machine-dominated factories and the declining enthusiasm for labor fundamentally dissolved the revolutionary subjectivity of workers and reduced them into isolated, powerless individuals.

Echoing the mechanic body depicted by Zhang Peili, Geng Jianyi responded to the inhuman side of management science and automation in a satirical way.  In his 1991 collage The First Series of Eight Steps, Geng employed sequence photography to break down a young man’s act of laughing into eight steps.  He reprinted the photos on cheap Xerox papers, transforming a vivid laughing expression into rigid, dull-looking photocopies. He then attached numbers and instructions beside each movement, which mimics charts of gymnastic exercises and product illustrations. The step-by-step instruction shows viewers how to perform a proper gesture of laughing through precise movement of facial muscles. Geng’s study of a human expression suggests that not only the human body but also human emotion had been reduced into an object for industrial physiology. The flesh-and-blood body, mental vigor, and sensibility had become a “scientific problem” that needed to be resolved and optimized.  

Geng’s deployment of human expression, here the laughter, has its particular implications in an increasingly technologized society. As the mechanism of human emotion became an object to be studied, maneuvered, and controlled by management science, laughing was no longer a natural expression of joy and pleasure, but became the mechanical motion of a programmed automaton. In order to maximize production efficiency, the “weakness” of humanity, such as negative moods and physical fatigue, needed to be abandoned through scientific approach of work. Instead, the mental state of excitement and euphoria was normalized as an ideal working mode. Treating the act of laughing as a hysteric, morbid symptom of an automated society, Geng unveils that the industrial science has reconfigured human workers into a tireless production machine.

Prosthesis, Bodybuilding, and Human Engineering

Echoing the deteriorated proletarian bodies in Song Ling’s painting, Zhang Peili reflected on the impact of technology on biological lives through his depiction of medical devices. From 1986 to 1987, he created a sequence of large-scale paintings titled X?, featuring medical gloves in pairs or individually from various perspectives. Rather than depicting them as static objects, the artist animates the gloves by twisting and stretching them in different directions. Playing skillfully with light-dark contrasts, Zhang Peili features the folds and wrinkles on the glossy surface of the gloves, which produces a subtle sense of movement. Through careful manipulation of color, size, and composition, the artist renders the medical gloves as being simultaneously lifeless yet alive. While the slightly splayed fingertips make the gloves look like a living organism, the pale grey or tan color of the rubber surfaces evokes the terror of death and is reminiscent of a prosthetic hand. 

Situating the medical gloves on the threshold between life and non-life, the eerie sensation evoked by X? series points to a shifting perception of human life. Growing up in a family of medics, Zhang Peili was well aware of the achievements in medicine during the post-Mao era. In 1978, hand reconstructive surgery, later known as the “China Hand” in media coverage, marked the first example in the world of a tactile and movable rebuilt hand (30). In this case, the Shanghai-based surgeon Yu Zhongjia reconstructed an amputated hand of a young worker with artificial metacarpus and free toe grafting (31). While the case of the “China Hand” was touted as a Chinese miracle that re-humanized a disabled young worker, this inventive surgery also implied a changing connotation of life. By combining organic body parts with artificial materials, biological organs could now be reinvented and reinvigorated through surgical technology. Echoing this early form of producing an artificial organism, Zhang Peili used numbers and lines to dissect his painted gloves as if performing a surgery on a body part. By collapsing the distinction between biological hands and surgical instruments modeled after the hands, his uncanny portrait of medical gloves suggests that human life has been transformed into industrial products that can be assembled, engineered, fixed, and reproduced through medical science.

Although the various gestures suggested by the gloves remind viewers of the hand of a surgeon, neither the body of the doctor or the patient is visible in these paintings. The oppressive tone and absence of human bodies, for me, imply the elimination of human subjectivity brought about by modern medical equipment. Since the 1980s, computed tomography, magnetic nuclear resonance, and angiogram have been adopted as the new means of diagnosing diseases and monitoring therapeutic procedures (32). Visualizing internal biological structures without touching upon or opening up human bodies, the machine-mediated diagnosis process replaced the intimate physical interaction between doctors and patients. The caring “barefoot doctors” of the Mao era were substituted by robot-like, emotionless doctors wearing white masks and medical gowns (33). By erasing laboring bodies behind the gloves, Zhang Peili alludes to an increasingly invisible process of diagnosis: as computer-based medical devices measure and assess our internal features, human bodies and their health status are turned into a set of data and parameters. Attending to an increasingly abstracted human body, Zhang Peili urges viewers to rethink what life has become in a society where medical devices possess the power to define what a proper life is and manage every aspect of our biological life. 

In 1989, Zhang Peili created a series of paintings around the theme of bodybuilding. One of them, Bodybuilding—The Charm of 1989, features a female bodybuilder wearing a red bikini rendered in the style of a propaganda poster. By combining the skill of chiaroscuro and the principle of “red, bright, and shining” in revolutionary art, the artist highlights her proportional muscles and glistening skin (34). Holding a trophy with her right hand, the woman confidently displays her muscle-bound body. On her right side, the bold black number “57.5 kg” registers the precise weight measurement used to define a healthy modern body. In contrast to the spectacular nudity of the bodybuilder, Zhang Peili includes a half-length portrait of a proletarian heroine from the model operas in the background.  Despite being rendered in a muted tone, the performer’s dramatic gesture demonstrates her dedication to the proletarian revolution. 

Zhang Peili’s juxtaposition of a sexy bodybuilder and a revolutionary heroine sets up an uncanny connection between the “fitness fever” of the 1980s and the revolutionary utopianism of the Mao era. While the public display of a bikini-clad “gym body” encapsulates the reformist ethos around the opening up of the country, it also signifies a collective fantasy of a modern body engineered and maximized through scientific means (35). The obsession with a machine-trained modern body was in line with the propagation of “somatic science” in the 1980s. Promoted by rocket scientist Qian Xuesen, “somatic science” emphasized the critical role played by a human-machine interface in activating the potential power of human bodies (36). Likewise, bodybuilders of the 1980s believed that biological bodies could transcend their “natural state” and be enhanced by fitness machines. Calling attention to this peculiar manifestation of physical culture, Zhang Peili captures the contradictory impulses of the 1980s; eager to bounce back from the traumatic wound of the Culture Revolution, it ironically retained the Maoist-mania for remolding a revolutionary “new man.” (37)

Although the social class of bodybuilders remains ambivalent in Zhang Peili’s paintings, the proliferation of fitness clubs was tied to the rise of automation and mechanization in the 1980s. As the increasingly automated factories marginalized manual labor, some workers extended the site of labor to the field of physical training. As shown in a 1983 documentary titled To Keep in Good Shape, a large number of bodybuilders were factory workers who worked out in their leisure time (38). By inserting their bodies into fitness equipment and mimicking machine motions, workers not only adapted themselves to a mechanized production mode, but also became a part of the human-machine system. The physical transformation of the workers into a cybernetic organism served as an effective means to re-heroize their withering bodies and to reimagine themselves as science-equipped, physically perfected “new men” of the New Era.

Demystifying the 1980s

The standardized, disintegrated, and artificially enhanced bodies in Zhang Peili, Geng Jianyi, and Song Ling’s paintings point to the contradictory condition of labor and the unsettled status of humanity in 1980s Mainland China. Working against the didactic style of Socialist Realism, both of these artists refused to create an “art serving for the people,” but, rather, critically reflected upon the identity crisis of the working class caused by the rising tide of techno-utopianism. In their paintings, the artistic reconfiguration of a worker’s body serves as a politically contested site where technology, control, and subjectivity converge. During the 1980s, Alvin Toffler’s forecast of an upcoming information age stirred nationwide excitement for a hyper-technologized New Era (39). Rather than blindly following the frenetic fantasy of a futuristic, automated society governed by scientists and engineers, Zhang, Geng, and Song developed a calm and stern style to disclose the hidden crisis of modernization. Unlike their avant-garde predecessors who indulged in the myth of national rejuvenation through science, these artists turned their attention to mundane workplaces such as factories and hospitals. Seeing these places as the major sites impinged by the “Third Wave,” they looked into the rise of Taylorist mode of labor management, which sought to optimize the coordination between workers and machines. By acutely capturing the anxiety, uncertainty, and helplessness experienced by workers, they scrutinized how automated production systems emerged as a disciplinary apparatus that transformed workers from the subject of proletarian revolution to an object remolded by industrial standardization. 

For Zhang Peili, Geng Jianyi, and Song Ling, the reconfigured boundary between humans and non-humans, life and non-life, signifies an increasingly alienated status of socialist subjectivity. Though the issue of alienation emerged as a favored topic in the proliferating discourse of humanity studies (renxue), Chinese intellectuals tended to focus on the “socialist alienation” resulting from the Cultural Revolution (40). Bringing to the forefront the renditions of the deteriorated laboring body, Zhang, Geng, and Song drew attention to a new type of alienation generated by a technologized mode of state control and social engineering. In the 1980s, the Chinese workers were threatened by the joint force of de-politicization and technocracy. As the Maoist “new man” model gradually lost its political appeal, such tendencies urged workers to seek an alternative means of reinventing their subjectivity. On the one hand, workers were disoriented by the dazzling ideological debates during the “culture fever.” (41) On the other hand, they became increasingly subject to the disciplinary power of technocratic governance. While China’s transition from class-based, revolutionary politics to a science-oriented technocratic society that stripped industrial workers of their heroic status, the state efforts to re-organize human labor and biological lives around a machine-driven society further undermined the unification of the working class (42). As manifested in Zhang, Geng, and Song’s paintings, the compulsive process of portraying inorganic life forms and the absurd human-machine integration brings to the surface the estrangement of socialist subjects from their humanity. Their paintings hence unsettle the idealism of the 1980s “New Enlightenment,” transforming an end-of-labor myth into an end-of-humanity metaphor.  

Besides the issue of human alienation, Zhang, Geng, and Song’s paintings also problematize the rise of scientism in the 1980s. As Chinese reformists embraced a technological determinist view of the future, they perceived technology as a self-propelling force transforming a society at all levels without human intervention (43). While the neutrality of technology resonated with the collective abhorrence of affective mobilization in Maoist mass movements, it also collided with the national impulse to heal the historical trauma caused by the Cultural Revolution. Following the tradition of the May Fourth Movement in the 1920s, Chinese elites readopted scientism, along with democracy, to replace traditional Marxism-Leninism and to reformulate the predominant ideology of the New Era (44). However, as science was legitimized as the new religion in post-Mao China, it was ironically framed as the precondition of democracy and was made equivalent to the connotation of democracy (45). This depoliticized stance of technological determinism downplayed the importance of human elements and resulted in a contradictory situation for Chinese workers; while the introduction of new technology kept impoverishing the bodies of laborers and alienating their identity, they still desired to revitalize their physical condition and social status through the means of technology. Being elevated as the only path to achieve modernization, science was endowed with the miraculous power to cause harm and give salvation at once. 

The technocratic model of power seemed to give rise to a post-socialist subjectivity by tantalizing the disempowered working class to mimic machines and to become one with an automated production system; yet, the nationwide obsession with new technology simultaneously formulated an illusion of a new epoch free from its revolutionary past and seamlessly transforming into a classless hyper-industrial society. Such an illusion concealed the profound structural change, ideological rupture, and class contradiction in post-Mao China (46). As Zhang Peili’s satirical portrait of the bodybuilder suggests, the Maoist mania for human engineering still haunted the public fantasy of a modernized national body. The persistence of techno-utopianism eventually made the 1980s another era of mythmaking. Corresponding with the fissure between economy and politics, neoliberalism and state socialism, the disoriented, fragmented, and hysteric laboring bodies in Zhang, Geng, and Song’s paintings encapsulate the personality split and self-negation of socialist subjectivity during the post-Mao era.

Notes

(1) Xu Jilin, “The Fate of an Enlightenment—Twenty Years in the Chinese Intellectual Sphere (1978-98),” in East Asian History, no. 20 (2000), 179.

(2) Wang Jing, High Culture Fever: Politics, Aesthetics, and Ideology in Deng’s China(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 23.

(3) Jin Guantao, The Philosophy of Humans (Chengdu: Sichuan People’s Publishing House, 1988)

(4) The Pond Society was an experimental artist group established by Zhang Peili, Geng Jianyi, and Song Ling in 1986, Hangzhou.

(5) Dai Jinhua, Jingcheng Tuwei: Nüxing, Dianying, Wenxue [Breaking Through the Mirror City: Women, Films, and Literature] (Beijing: China Writers Press, 1995), 42.   

(6) The new socialist men of the 1950s and 60s were rendered as selfless workers and peasants who pushed the proletarian revolution and class struggle to the next stage. See Cheng Yinghong, Creating the “New Man”: From Enlightenment Ideals to Socialist Realities (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2009), 48–126.

(7) Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1904), 13.

(8) Hua Shiping, Scientism and Humanism: Two Cultures in Post-Mao China (New York: The State University of New York Press, 1995), 7.

(9) “Pochu mixin, zhangwo kexue” [Smash Superstition, Master Science], in China Youth no.1 (1978). The first issue of 1978’s China Youth was banned by authorities for the problematic essays in it. See Kalpana Misra, From Post-Maoism to Post-Marxism: The Erosion of Official Ideology in Deng’s China (New York and London: Routledge, 1998), 24. 

(10) Børge Bakken, The Exemplary Society: Human Improvement, Social Control, and the Dangers of Modernity in China (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 51.

(11) Bakken, 57.

(12) Gao Minglu, “Contemporary Chinese Art Movements,” in Gan Yang, ed., Cultural Consciousness in Contemporary China (Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, 1989), 36–96.

(13) Liu Xiao, “The Curious Case of a Robot Doctor: ‘Human,’ Labor, and Expert Systems,” in Frontiers of Literary Studies in China 10, no. 4 (2016), 652.

(14) Zhao Ziyang, “Yingdang zhuyi yanjiu shijie xin de jishu geming he womende duice” [A worldwide new technological revolution and our strategies], in Journal of Chinese Economy, no. 1 (1984): 3‒9.  


  1. 15.New Steel City, directed by Zhong Yuan, China Central Studioof Newsreels and Documentaries, 1986.

(16) Li Haixia, “Xin de kexue yu renxing xintiao de dansheng—dui xinshiqi gaige wenxue de renshi” [New Science and the Birth of Humanistic Principles: New Understanding of Reform Literature in the New Era], in Wenxue Piping [Literature Critique], no. 6 (2010), 73.

(17) Ibid.

(18) Rachel Funari and Bernard Mees, “Socialist Emulation in China: Worker Heroes Yesterday and Today,” in Labor History, no. 3 (2013), 247.   

(19) Song Ling, “Song Ling: zhenzheng de ‘guannuan’ shi ‘ziwo’ de chanwu” [Song Ling: The True ‘Concept’ is a Product of ‘Self’], interview by Cao Siyu, Hi Art, August 6, 2014, http://www.hiart.cn/feature/detail/36cequs.html/.

(20) Ibid.

(21) Lincoln Cushing and Ann Tompkins, Chinese Posters: Art from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2007), 51.

(22) Cheng, Creating the “New Man”, 79.

(23) Yu Hong, Labor, Class Formation, and China’s Informationized Policy of Economic Development (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011), 11.

(24) Jiang Xinsong, “Haiwai jiqiren fazhan he women de celue” [Overseas Robot Development and Our Strategy], in Robots, no.1 (1987), 3.

(25) Ching Kwan Lee. Working in China: Ethnographies of Labor and Workplace Transformation (London, New York: Routledge, 2007), 17.

(26) Dan Schiller, Digital Depression: Information Technology and Economic Crisis (Urbana, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2014), 15.

(27) Yu, 12.

(28) Sigrid Schamlzer, The People’s Peking Man: Popular Science and Human Identity in Twentieth-Century China, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 61.

(29) Wang Hongzhe, “Cong ‘chijiao diangong’ dao ‘dianzi baogong’: zhongguo dianzi xinxi chanye and jishu he laodong zhengzhi” [From ‘Barefoot Electrician’ to ‘Digital Baogong’: The Techno-politics of Labor in Chinese Electronic Information Industry], Open Times 261, no. 3 (2015), 34–48.

(30) China Hand, directed by Li Xianjuan, August First Film Studio, 1986.

(31) Yu Zhongjia, Reconstructive Microsurgery (Fengyang Hefei: Anhui Science and Technology Press, 1999), 60.

(32) “Fuhe xinshidai xuqiu de Quanshen CT saomiao” [The Full-body CT Scan that Fulfills the Needs of the New Era], China Medical Tribune, July 25, 1986.

(33) Chunjuan Nancy Wei, “Barefoot Doctors: The Legacy of Chairman Mao’s Healthcare,” in Mr. Science and Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution: Science and Technology in Modern China (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2013), 251–80.

(34) Julia F. Andrews and Kuiyi Shen, The Art of Modern China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 189.

(35) Orville Schell, Discos and Democracy: China in the Throes of Reform (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1988), 78.

(36) Qian Xuesen, Yu Yuanjing, and Dai Ruwei, “Yige kexue xinlingyu: Kai fang de fuza juxitong jiqi fangfalun” [A new area of scientific studies: Open complex systems and the methodology], Ziran zazhi (Chinese Journal of Nature), no. 1 (1980): 3–10.

(37) Cheng, Creating the “New Man, 126.

(38) Weile Jianmei [To keep in good shape], produced by China Central Studio of Newsreels and Documentaries, 1983.

(39) Michael Kane, Created in China: The Great New Leap Forward (Park Drive, U.K.: Taylor and Francis, 2007), 63.

(40) Wang Ruoshui, “Tantan yihua wenti [On the problem of alienation], Xinwen Zhanxian [The battle front of news] 8 (August 1980), reprinted in Wei rendao zhuyi bianhu [In defense of humanism] (Beijing: Joint Publishing, 1986), 186–99.

(41) Liu Kang, “Subjectivity, Marxism, and Culture Theory in China,” Social Text, no. 31/32 (1992), 114–40.

(42) James Hudson, William Hurst, and Christian Sorace, “Workers in Post-Socialist China: Shattered Rice Bowls, Fragmented Subjectivities,” in Yin-wah Chu, ed., Chinese Capitalisms: Historical Emergence and Political Implications (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 100–22.

(43) Wang, “From ‘Barefoot Electrician’ to ‘Digital Baogong’,” 48.

(44) During the May Fourth era (1915-1921), Chinese liberal intellectuals called for the replacement of Confucianism with Western science the democracy. After six decades, China’s cultural elites referred back to the May Fourth tradition, readopting these two notions to replace the ideology of traditional Marxism. See Ouyang Guangwei, “Scientism, Technocracy, and Morality in China,” in Journal of Chinese Philosophy, no. 30 (2003), 177-193.

(45) Dai Jinhua, Yinxing Shuxie: Jiushi Niandai Zhongguo Wenhua Yanjiu [Invisible Writing: Cultural Studies of 1990s’ China] (Beijing: Peking University Press, 2018), 50.

(46) Geremie Barmé, In the Red: On Contemporary Chinese Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 174.

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The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Greater China Research Programme

AAA relies on your generous support to grow, activate, and make freely accessible our collection of materials on art in Asia. Please consider making a small donation to our 2021 Annual Fundraiser, ending on 29 Oct.