The New Social Environment#655

Socially Engaged Art in Contemporary China and the Legacies of Socialist Realism

Featuring Yanhua Zhou, Jiao Xingtao, and Paul Gladston


7 p.m. Eastern / 4 p.m. Pacific

Art historian Yanhua Zhou and sculptor Jiao Xingtao join Rail contributor Paul Gladston for a conversation. We conclude with a poetry reading by Jen Soong.

In this talk

Yanhua Zhou

A photograph of Zhou Yanhua
An associate professor at Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Yanhua Zhou received her Ph.D. from the University of Arizona in 2021. Her research interests embrace contemporary Chinese art and visual culture, global socially engaged art and rural studies. Her research appears in peer-reviewed journals such as Journal of Contemporary Chinese ArtChina Information, and After publishing her first monograph in Chinese entitled Artistic Engagement: The Aesthetic Paradigm of Socially Engaged Art, Yanhua is currently revising her dissertation into her second book project entitled Art for the New Masses: Social Engagement, Identity and Aesthetics in Post-socialist Rural China.

Jiao Xingtao

A photograph of Jiao Xingtao
Contemporary artist Jiao Xingtao is also the professor and vice-president of the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Chongqing. Since 2018 he has been leading various socially engaged rural art projects in Southwest China, including Qitang Experimental Field and Lotus Hole: Chongqing Village Art Festival. His most recent work as an artist is conceptual, a comment on the consumerist excesses of today’s society. He transforms objects—often packaging, such as a discarded Hermès box—with scale and fibre glass to make pieces of statement art.

Paul Gladston

Photo of Paul Gladston
Award-winning critical theorist and cultural historian Paul Gladston is the Judith Neilson Chair Professor of Contemporary Art, University of New South Wales, Sydney and a distinguished affiliate fellow of the UK-China Humanities Alliance, Tsinghua University. He is co-editor of the book series Contemporary East Asian Visual Cultures, Societies and Politics and was founding principal editor of the Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art. His recent publications include the collected edition Visual Culture Wars at the Borders of Contemporary China (2021) and the monograph Contemporary Chinese Art, Aesthetic Modernity and Zhang Peili: Towards a Critical Contemporaneity (2019). He was an academic adviser to Art of Change: New Directions from China, Hayward Gallery, London (2012).

The Rail has a tradition of ending our conversations with a poetry reading, and we’re fortunate to have Jen Soong reading.

Jen Soong

Photo of Jen Soong
The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Jen Soong grew up in New Jersey and now resides in northern California. An alum of Tin House and VONA, her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Audacity, Jellyfish Review, Cosmonauts Avenue and Waxwing. She received her MFA in creative writing from UC Davis. Her memoir-in-progress is a reckoning of myth, migration and memory.

❤️ 🌈 We'd like to thank the The Terra Foundation for American Art for making these daily conversations possible, and for their support of our growing archive.