Dreams of All Different Sizes

Asia Society Northern California partnered with the Asian Art Museum on “China Today: Society and the Individual,” the second part of a two-part series organized in conjunction with the Museum’s newest exhibition, 28 Chinese

“There is no average Chinese dream but a lot of different dreams,” stated Eric Fish, the author of China’s Millennials: The Want Generation. He described China’s Millennials as increasingly individualistic, more world-savvy, open-minded and confident compared to their parent’s generation. Yet, this generation is also shouldering the challenges of a slowing economy. Unemployment runs high among new graduates; and cynicism runs deep among the Millennials who believe that they may have “missed the boat” to upward mobility and economic opportunity; and that without corruption and nepotism, it is nearly impossible to get ahead in Chinese society.

Sasha Welland, Professor of Anthropology and Gender, Women & Sexuality at University of Washington, highlighted how artists who came of age in the 1990’s are “an in-between generation,” sometimes nostalgic for the 1980’s when the government directive to “serve the people” were clear. Now squeezed between market demands and state enticements to provide a global image for China, contemporary artists are at crossroads regarding their own reactions to new freedoms and artistic constraints.

Xiao Qiang, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of China Digital Times spoke of “de-coding China’s internet” by focusing on the “resistance discourse” that the new generation of netizens are utilizing on-line. Memes and word plays that populate Chinese blogs, texts, and Internet often contain subversive political content and “act as a barometer for what’s happening in people’s hearts and minds" in the symbolic sphere. Lisa Rofel, Professor of Anthropology at University of California, Santa Cruz, moderated the event as each panel member highlighted China’s lively public sphere that survive despite Xi Jinping's increasingly repressive regime.

As Jeremy Goldkorn, the Founder and Director of Danwei cautioned, however, “when someone says there is something new [going on in China], be skeptical!” 

Part one, 28 Chinese: Chinese Art Now was held on June 11, 2015 at the Asian Art Musuem.