Visual Culture in Communist China

observing, analyzing & re-presenting the art of twentieth century china

Blogpost: Visual Analysis

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Zhang Xiaogang. Bloodline: Big Family No.3, Oil on Canvas. 1995. Image source: (


The painting “Bloodline – Big Family No.3” is from the critically acclaimed Bloodline series. It was painted in oil on canvas and it is 179 x 229 cm in dimension. The idea for this painting came from family photos from the artist’s childhood. However, because of his traumatic childhood experiences, growing up in the era of cultural revolution, you can see the child in the painting is wearing a revolutionary uniform with the red armband. This send a message to the viewer that the child is the product of the revolution.  The formal quality and composition of a studio photo setting further enhances the tension and uneasy feeling of the painting. The orderly fashion of the painting also reflects the social structure during the cultural revolution. Where people were forced to follow the ideas of Mao’s revolutionary ideas. Also, a near identical features between the figures, from long nose to tiny mouth and eyes make the viewers feel as if the figures were stripped away of their unique identity. Plenty of art historians and critics describe the painting as “timeless” and there are a few visual elements to support this statement. First, the artist’s use of surrealist style make it feel as if the figures are not of the world and even though there is a sense of reality from Chinese cultural items like such as the uniform, the red armband and pin of Mao. The painting still has the feeling of disconnect from reality, further supported by the emotionless expression and the foggy background. This sense of disconnect was also shared among the figures in the painting. Traditionally, Chinese family have a strong bond between the parents and the children but in this painting you can see no relationship between the family. The mother is not leaning towards her son or the father putting his hands on the shoulder and the only connecting between them is the thin red thread. This type of disconnect is common among the family during the cultural revolution. Since many families got separated and sent to camps, which creates drifts within families.


Clarke, David J. Art & Place: Essays on Art from a Hong Kong Perspective. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1996.

Lu, Hsiao-Peng. “Art, Culture, and Cultural Criticism in Post-New China.” New Literary History28, no. 1 (1997): 111-33. doi:10.1353/nlh.1997.0011.

Zhang, Yue. “Governing Art Districts: State Control and Cultural Production in Contemporary China.” The China Quarterly219 (2014): 827-48. doi:10.1017/s0305741014000708.


One Comment

  1. I find it interesting how Zhang Xiaogang indicates his identity of being a product of the cultural revolution through both his subject matter and his style. Ai Weiwei’s art also portrays this same identity, like the significance of sunflower seeds to those living in poverty in China during the cultural revolution. The artist’s choice to elongate the subjects’ noses and shrink their mouths and eyes to convey their lack of autonomy is successful, along with their placement and more formal composition to indicate lack of choice during the cultural revolution. Compared to Ai Weiwei’s work, Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline: Big Family No.3 is less abstract. Their similar backgrounds and inspirations for creating art make both artists interesting to analyze, as their artworks differ immensely.

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