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Artist interview: Chen Yun

Artist interview: Chen Yun
In other East Asian countries where there are more social movements, including India, the young people have certain channels to let off their passion. It’s the passion for things other than just consumption. In China, we hardly have these channels. Everyone will use the time for consumption, or to get another qualification for jobs. That’s our overall situation. However, the young people possess a lot of fresh knowledge. The knowledge seems to be useless at first sight. It’s not true; the knowledge is extremely useful. But they have to positively recognize the value of their new knowledge and new feelings. Otherwise we will always retreat to the past.
Although we can reflect on ourselves by knowing the experiences of the past, we also need to absorb the new experiences. It’s also important for me to learn from the young people. It’s a generally accepted view that China has entered a particular phase of economic development.
We hear this kind of comment again and again: In the past one century, every generation in China would have a better life than their parents. It won’t happen for this generation. That’s to say, they won’t have better conditions, if not worse. They won’t have a better life as their parents imagined and expected. The rising days have gone. But from another point of view, that’s a good beginning. First, do they still have to devote themselves so much in working, as conventionally required? Second, do they have a chance to create new jobs? It’s not just starting a new business; businesses conventionally merely focus on things like increasing employment. The brand new job should be real and cutting-edge.
I believe they will have new jobs. The social conditions are less favorable, so it’s a chance. Just like the young people in Taiwan and Hong Kong; they have entered such a phase already. The young people won’t have a “better future,” but they can’t yearn for the 1970s when their parents encountered the economic boom. I think we are living in a very interesting moment.
Sometimes we make use of an old form. Only within the frame of old forms could we do new experiments. A friend of mine is a novelist. She was born in 1986, quite a young author. She was frustrated by obstacles in her writing, We all love her novels. She grew up in the workers’ community in Shanghai, and this social background influences her decisions. She couldn’t cope with the obstacles. One of the obstacles was the depletion of stories. She had a feeling of entering a time without story. Therefore, she wanted to come back here again to discuss with the local residents, talk about the nature of stories and the ways to create a story. But the invitation didn’t get much response.
They didn’t want to make stories. Because the residents are living in stories; they don’t worry about the end of stories. It’s we who feel an end of our stories. Or, as a novelist, we are anxious about the end of stories. They don’t share such an anxiety. For weeks the young novelist had a hard time explaining to the neighbors what she wanted. In the end, we decided to figure out first what the locals wanted. Just like a childcare service, they were in need of knowledge about local policies, about medicine, about health management, about daily life. We were able to invite people to talk about a specific body of knowledge.
When the locals described their problems to the experts, they would bring out their stories. And they knew how to actively offer something more. We affirmed the value of their stories. Because we offered free talks, we were actually trading and interacting with the locals. Then our presence became natural; it was also natural that they exchanged stories for knowledge. Otherwise all the things we tried to do would be deemed to be awkward. That’s how we use an old form to solve a contemporary problem.

We interviewed Chen Yun in April 2016, in the alley where Dinghaiqiao Mutual Aid Society is located. In this excerpt, we asked her two questions:

  • Why is it important to involve the younger generation in this project?
  • How do they bring new knowledge to the community?
  • This article is from the free online

    Discovering Socially Engaged Art in Contemporary China

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