Chinese Artists Go “Back to the Land”

Chinese Artists Go “Back to the Land”

A new video by Leah Thompson and Sun Yunfan of ChinaFile looks at a group of young Chinese who are moving from cities to the countryside in order to preserve local heritage, help develop rural areas, and escape the urban grind. Thompson writes:

We see [artist] Ou [Ning]’s effort as connected to a global “back-to-the-land” tradition that often follows the growth of cities and related urban problems. But within China, experiments like the Bishan Project—as Ou and his collaborator, Zuo Jing, have dubbed their efforts—are collectively described as part of the “new rural reconstruction movement (NRRM).” To call their efforts “rural reconstruction” ties them to a historical movement, led mostly by Chinese intellectuals who became enamored of Progressivism while studying in the U.S. in the early decades of the 20th century and returned to China fueled by a quest to uplift and modernize their nation’s countryside.

But while today’s rural reformers view themselves as heirs to this earlier movement, they are more interested in reviving rural traditions than replacing them. In response to what they see as the damaging impacts of globalization on rural areas, they focus their efforts on “sustainable development,” reviving local culture and bridging the gulf between rural and urban life. In 2013, Zuo published a map in his Bishan Magazine, which we have translated here. It identifies 50 current projects that Zuo classifies as part of this movement.

ChinaFile has translated and posted Zuo’s map.

While some young Chinese are choosing to move to rural areas and escape the country’s rapid urbanization, the official media regulator the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television is also sending some journalists into the countryside to learn from their rural compatriots, in a move reminiscent of Mao Zedong’s campaign to send intellectuals to labor in rural areas.


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