On Pei Jing’s Bared at Tiananmen

By Yuanyuan Tang

Many people might think of Chinese art as not aging. However, as the times of stability were abruptly interrupted by violent political or social revolts in Chinese history, those revolts inevitably resulted in cultural changes, thus reflected in the arts. Therefore, evolved as artists’ innovative attitudes toward the established foundations of traditional Chinese art, postmodern Chinese art has gone through lots of transformation in the past thirty years.

Pei Jing’s Bared at Tiananmen is a powerful and dynamic postmodern paradigm featuring the artist’s mixture of iconic imagery and ideas. The painting depicts two nude figures standing in Tiananmen Square, where Chinese citizens used to demand more freedom against the policies of the Communist government. These two figures are wearing Red Army caps, surrounded by sunflowers – a signifier of loyalty to President Mao – and other suggestive symbols like butterflies. The vibrant colors that Pei Jin applied in the painting are also eye-catching and powerful: the gradual changing blues on both the sky and the ground adds layers of mystery, yet the bloody red Tiananmen illuminates the story behind.

The government’s violent crackdown of Tiananmen Square in 1989 was a politically significant event on a global scale. Members of the Communist Party who had sided with the protesters were violently purged, which was not allowed to be publicized in China. Even though nowadays, this painting would be prohibited from display. By portraying the tension between desiring the freedom of expression and remaining loyal to the Communist Party, the artist shows his ways of questioning contemporary cultural standards, as well as challenging authority and history.

On Bared at Tiananmen, the humiliated yet freakish postures of the two figures uncover the fragility of freedom in modern China. While they cover up the body, these two figures introduce us to take an in-depth look and contemplate their sophisticated natures. Besides, they are also staring into our eyes, sharply returning the gaze of repressive hierarchical authority. When we recall masses parading through streets, students occupying the Square and army tanks grinding down boulevards in 1989, Tiananmen Square on Pei Jin’s painting has become a global iconography of regime violence as much as a tragedy in the history of revolt.

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Bared at Tiananmen

Pei Jing


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