China’s strategic embrace of globalisation following the ‘open door’ reforms of 1978 has resulted in one of the most remarkable examples of social and economic transformation in human history. After more than a century of imperialist subjugation, civil war and violent revolution, the world’s most populous nation has not only caught up with the West, but now leads the charge towards a ‘new world order’. China’s impact on the global economy can no longer be denied – but could it also change our fundamental ideas about art, politics and power? To what extent have these ideas already been influenced by historical connections and conflicts with China, both real and imagined?
This MA Special Option explores the dynamics of China’s global interactions from the early 20th century to the present day through the lens of art, visual culture and critical theory. Rather than think of artistic influence as a unidirectional flow of ideas from the West to ‘the rest’, this course maps out a more complex and ambivalent picture of global exchange in terms of what Rey Chow has called trans-medial and discursive ‘entanglements’ – interrogating dominant narratives of modernism and the ever shifting definitions of the contemporary. We look at how Chinese artists and intellectuals have adopted and adapted foreign ideas, artistic styles and philosophical perspectives as a means of socio-political critique, cultural renewal and resistance; and give equal attention to how ‘China’ has been employed by international artists and critical theorists in the same vein. It examines the impact of wider geopolitical events and technological developments on the production, reception and commodification of art, and looks at how art has been mobilised as both a weapon of geopolitics and a tool of cultural diplomacy. A central area of study is the role of the international mass media and the rise of popular and digital culture, networked communications and user-generated imagery in the shaping of national and global imaginaries.