AAH 194: Visual Culture in Communist China

Union College, Spring 2022

Author: Joseph McDonagh

Art through Arson

During the 1980’s Huang YongPing co-founded an artist group which became known as the Xiamen Dada group. The group was considered one of the more radical avant-garde groups emerging from China at the time for their unique styles, and their cultural critiques. Xiamen Dada became part of contemporary Chinese art history in 1986 when their works were on display at the Exhibition of Modern Art which was held in Xiamen People’s Art Museum. Their works gathered mass attention, and critiques when the group decided to publicly burn their works at the end of the exhibition in defiance of the cultural, and political revolutions going on in China at the time. Primarily the group was protesting the leader of the People’s Republic of China, Deng Xiaoping, and his desire to return China to a socialist government with more Chinese characteristics (Doryun, 2015). This act of arson sent shock waves through the art community as people were puzzled as to why an artist would destroy something beautiful that they created themselves. Huang, and other members of the Xiamen Dada group chanted “Without destroying art, life will never be peaceful.” (Dawei, 2022). This idea of finding peace within destruction coinciding with China reopening its doors to the west after its painful cultural revolution goes to show how even in the most trying of times there is still hope for a better future. Continuing further with this idea, it is evident through the progression of Huang’s works throughout his career that he is able to use forms of destruction to create new ideas and styles. In essence works like Xiamen Dada, Reptile, and Theater of the World served as pedestals for Huang allowing him to mix different styles from different cultures, specifically traditional Chinese culture and modern western culture that was beginning to flood China. For my exhibition I would like to incorporate fire somehow (maybe a fire pit around campus) and begin a sort of maze throughout campus showing Huang’s different works and how he was able to draw attention to his work through destruction.

I decided to move away from the snake idea we spoke about because I find dadaism very fascinating and I feel this would be a fun topic to continually work on leading up to the final essay.

Post exhibition burning. Xiamen Dada.


1. Zhi, Jiang. 2017. “Eyes Wide Open: How Chinese Contemporary Art Went Global | Christie’s.” Www.christies.com. 2017. (“publicdelivery.com”, 2022)https://www.christies.com/features/Art-and-China-after-1989-Theater-of-the-World -8579-1.aspx. (Jiang Zhi, “christies.com”, 2017)

2. Lin, Xiaoping. 1997. “Those Parodic Images: A Glimpse of Contemporary Chinese Art.” Leonardo 30 (2): 113. https://doi.org/10.2307/1576420.

3. Chong, Doryun. 2015. Review of Huang Yong Ping: Change Is the Order of the Day. Informit. March 1, 2015.

4. Holmberg, Ryan, and Huang Yong. The Snake and the Duck: On. Sept. 2009.

– This is a great .PDF excerpt that I found online from “Yishu: Journal of

5. “Huang Yong Ping’s Controversial Theater of the World – Public Delivery.” 2022. Publicdelivery.org. April 14, 2022. https://publicdelivery.org/huang-yong-ping-theater/#Who_was_Huang_Yong_Ping. (“publicdelivery.com”, 2022)

6. “Fei Dawei on HUANG YONG PING.” n.d. Www.artforum.com. Accessed May 12, 2022. https://www.artforum.com/print/202001/huang-yong-ping-81612.


Huang Yong Ping’s Theater of the World

Close up view of Wooden table with mesh wire underneath bridge structure.

The installation shown below is called “Theater of the World” done by Huang Yongping in 1993. The installation includes two main structures: first the arching metal frame that bridges over the second structure, a wooden four legged table with a transparent octagonal wire mesh cage on top of it (Jiang Zhi, “christies.com”, 2017). In the original piece the bridging structure housed snakes and turtles together, while the cage below was equipped with heating lamps, and housed live spiders, scorpions, crickets, cockroaches, black beetles, stick insects, centipedes, lizards, toads, and snakes (“publicdelivery.com”, 2022). Naturally housing all of these different species together led to some of them eating one another. This led to international outrage as animal rights activists gathered over 800,000 signatures to remove the work, and were actively protesting before the works installation in New York threatening violent retaliation if installment was not halted (“publicdelivery.com”, 2022). This public pressure forced organizers to remove Yongping’s installation along with two other pieces from Guggenheim’s new exhibition of contemporary Chinese art, Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World (Jiang Zhi, “christies.com”, 2017). The organizers decision to remove the work from the exhibition due to threats of violence is extremely ironic. Through his work Huang was attempting to highlight humanity’s natural propensity to turn to violence, especially during this time period where the world is feeling the aftermath of the World Wars, and the Cold War (Jiang Zhi, “christies.com”, 2017). Huang wanted to show the world a completely natural, raw, and uncensored version of how animals survive in nature. Having the installment completely transparent as well allowed his audience to observe the animals in their natural form attacking one another to see first hand just how cruel nature can be. This was done purposely to draw on the long history of war, oppression and poverty not just in China, but the rest of the world as well (Jiang Zhi, “christies.com”, 2017). In a way Huang is attempting to illustrate that the cultural, and political divide between the east and the west boils down to humanity’s natural tendency to commit violent acts. 



  1. “Huang Yong Ping’s Controversial Theater of the World – Public Delivery.” 2022. Publicdelivery.org. April 14, 2022. https://publicdelivery.org/huang-yong-ping-theater/#Who_was_Huang_Yong_Ping. (“publicdelivery.com”, 2022)
  2. “Theater of the World and the Bridge by Huang Yong Ping.” 2017. The Guggenheim Museums and Foundation. October 6, 2017. https://www.guggenheim.org/audio/track/theater-of-the-world-and-the-bridge-by-huang-yong-ping.
  3. Zhi, Jiang. 2017. “Eyes Wide Open: How Chinese Contemporary Art Went Global | Christie’s.” Www.christies.com. 2017. (“publicdelivery.com”, 2022)https://www.christies.com/features/Art-and-China-after-1989-Theater-of-the-World-8579-1.aspx. (Jiang Zhi, “christies.com”, 2017)


Huang Yong Ping

Huang Yongping was born in 1954 in Xiamen, located in the Fujian province which is in the south west region of China. Huang was considered one of the most recognized artists of the 1980s for his innovative, yet controversial works. His work began to be considered controversial when he started to burn his pieces when they were completed. However this unique practice of anarchic art began to put Huang in the national spotlight allowing him to travel west to Paris where he spent much of his later life. Growing up in China Huang was morphed by western philosophy, art, and teachings however as he spent more time in France his artwork began to reflect styles more typically see in the east. This allowed Huang to explore works with more politically posed messages that outraged not only the Chinese, but Americans too as he mixed the two cultures in his works showing the divide between eastern and western ideologies.  

Joe McDonagh

Hello, my name is Joe McDonagh. I am a senior electrical engineer who plans on graduating this June if all goes well this spring term! I live on Long Island and love to play sports. After graduation I hopefully will find a job and begin my engineering career. I took this class to fill a requirement, however this course in particular was of interest to me because I believe it would give me an opportunity to learn something new before graduating. Looking forward to a fantastic last spring term here at Union !

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar