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Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds East Lake is the largest lake in the city of Wuhan, known in China as “the city of a thousand lakes.” In March 2010, the public found out that a piece of land on the north shore of East Lake had been sold by the government to a real estate developer. In particular, 450 mu (about 74 acres) of water area would be reclaimed. The plan was to build an amusement park, a luxurious hotel, a shopping mall, and a gated area for high-end apartments.

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 seconds Two artists in Wuhan, Li Juchuan and Li Yu, decided to initiate an art project to respond to this controversial transaction. They titled the project “Everyone’s East Lake.” They set up a website and invited the public to carry out artistic actions around the lake. Everyone could participate, as long as their work was physically connected to the lake. In their call for participation,

Skip to 1 minute and 13 seconds Li Juchuan and Li Yu wrote: “Does East Lake belong to everyone living here? Do we have the right to know how it would be changed before it happens? Let’s get close with the shores and waters right now, for it might be the last chance for us to enjoy East Lake freely.”

Skip to 1 minute and 35 seconds Within two months, about a hundred people completed 60 works. In addition to artists, there were singers, poets, and scholars. Some came to Wuhan from other cities. Many works occurred without audience. For example, Du Qingchun and Tantan drafted a letter in Classical Chinese, and performed witchcraft near the construction site. They burned the letter so that the ghost of East Lake could receive it.

Skip to 2 minutes and 9 seconds A few works did attract media attention. Dressed in a fish costume, Chen Lin walked around East Lake holding up a sign that read “Reclamation is Crime! Every Fish’s East Lake!” Chutian Metropolis Daily, a popular local newspaper, reported the next day, an environmental activist dressed as a fish protested against the reclamation project.

Skip to 2 minutes and 37 seconds The Social Architects, a group of intellectuals, staged a series of activities to give meaning to ordinary sites around the lake. First they coined names for eight street junctions. They wrote the names on bricks collected from nearby sites, and buried these “name plaques” at the junctions. Afterwards they gathered in a lakeside park for a recital. They read aloud texts, poems, prose, advertisements, or research reports, related to each junction. They recited an excerpt of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, in Chinese and then in English. Xu Chi, who translated Walden into Chinese in the 1940s, used to live near East Lake. The Social Architects named one of the street junctions “Walden.”

Skip to 3 minutes and 32 seconds Probably the most exciting work was a BMX lake jumping event organized by Liu Zhenyu, a young artist and BMX enthusiast.

Skip to 3 minutes and 42 seconds Let’s watch a video clip:

Skip to 4 minutes and 2 seconds This fun event was a defiant gesture against the real estate developer who was going to build an amusement park. Liu Zhenyu, the organizer, insisted, “We don’t need the amusement park to amuse us.”

Skip to 4 minutes and 20 seconds “Everyone’s East Lake” did not stop the real estate project. But it did succeed in creating a space, however limited, for public expression. It also brought the participants and audience closer to the lake, intellectually, emotionally, and physically.

Case study: "Everyone's East Lake"

In 2010 artists Li Juchuan and Li Yu initiated this project as a response to a controversial real estate project on the north shore of East Lake, the largest lake in the city of Wuhan. Within two months, about a hundred participants completed 60 artworks around the lake.

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Discovering Socially Engaged Art in Contemporary China

City University of Hong Kong