Liu Zheng, « New Documents » of China: between harsh reality and romanticism.

In 1994, the artist Lui Zheng has started his photographic project, The CHINESE, in the idea of capturing the atmosphere of the populated streets of china, grasping moments in which archteypal chinese characters, such as provincial drug traffickers, coal miners, children, Toaist priests, street eccentrics are encountered. This project remind that of Diane Arbus or that of August Sander.

In this prospect, Liu Zheng wanted to seize the incredible transformation China has experienced since the 90’s, when economical modernization would dialogue with ancient traditions, enhancing the ambivalent of China in the 21rst century.

Playing with the Maoist romantic representation of workers, peasants, soldiers, he infuses a sense of everyday drama, tragedy and absurdity, as the characters are often shown in often in unexpected situations.

This project took place while the chinese experimental art was, and is still, slowly trying to gain prominence, the aim of the artist, moreover, being to capture truth behind an archetypal vision of the entire chinese culture. That is all the more important as we know that photography in communist China served as officially controlled press photography.

Unlike the images of communist propaganda, Liu Zheng’s photographies are like mirrors, reflecting not only the joy, whimsical attitude and innocence, but also sorrow, loneliness and pain.

For instance, Xinjiang girl working in a textile factory (1996) show the cruel reality of child workers. The  gaze is longing for help, and reveal the cruel exploitation of her body. This exploitation exposes the ugly side of capitalism, which multinationals to exploit children in the name of progress.

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Xinjiang girl working in a textile factory, 1996

The Four beauties identifies with China collective legend, that of the the four beauties, Xi Shin, Diao Chan, Wang Zhaojun, Yang Gufei. The tragedy of human perils is given form as the beautiful heroins sacrified to the emperor. Liu Zheng strives to break with the traditional chinese fascination to these beauties by depicting them with a strong « earthiness » that would contrast with the sacred image of the collective psyche, that of the traditional chinese painting. Thus, the artist blurs the borders between history and reality in the chinese culture, performing an intricate balancing act between harsh reality and romanticism.

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Four beauty, Diao Chan, 2003

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A rural boy in school uniform, 2000

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Three country stripers, 2000



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