East Village Beijing 北京东村


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East Village was home to some of the most radical contemporary Chinese artists, musicians and writers during the early 1990s. Amidst the ruinous housing of the East Village, individuals hosted a number of influential performance works using the human body as subject and medium. This literal embodiment of art marked a significant departure from current artistic trends focused on traditional means of artistic expression.
East Village (1993-1994)
East Village (1993-1994)


Nature & Origins

Ma Liuming, Fen/Ma Liuming’s Lunch I (1994)
Ma Liuming, Fen/Ma Liuming’s Lunch I (1994)
The East Village, located in an east suburb of Beijing, was an especially impoverished area home to a large population of migrant workers. Founded in 1993 by a loose collective of artists, the village's name was inspired by the New York City artist district in the U.S. The locale soon became known for a series of experimental art performances. Among the first artists to take up residency in the East Village were Cang Xin, Ma Liuming, Rong Rong, Zhang Huan, Zhu Min, Duan Yingmei, Gao Yang, Kong Bu, and Li Guomin. Unfortunately, little time would pass between the village’s inception and social interventions. Responding to complaints by local residents who were scandalized by performances, which were often conducted in the nude, police arrested many of the East Village artists. Photographer Xing Danwen recalls shouting, "He was only boiling potatoes!" when authorities came to arrest artist Ma Liuming while cooking naked in one of the villages’ courtyards for a performance.


The catalyst for many of the most famous East Village performances occurred in October 1993 when British artists Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore made a visit to the East Village while their exhibition Gilbert & George Visiting China was being shown at the China Art Gallery. Disappointed by the lack of respon
Zhang Huan,12 Square Meters (July, 1994)
Zhang Huan,12 Square Meters (July, 1994)
se to his work, Ma Liuming switched on a Pink Floyd track, climbed onto a chair, and proceeded to puncture a bag filled with red paint letting it drip over his exposed torso while facing the British duo. The work was later titled Dialogue with Gilbert and George (1993). Although Ma's performance failed to elicit the desired response from Gilbert and George, the artist had discovered an effective means of expressing his frustration with an unresponsive audience. Following Ma’s example, other artists began to participate and stage their own performances. Notable works include Zhang Huan’s,12 Square Meters (July, 1994), Zhu Ming’s Untitled: Bubble Piece (April, 1994), and Ma Liuming's Fen/Ma Liuming’s Lunch I (1994), which the artist spent the better part of three months in jail for making. 

Eventually those artists that evaded apprehension and wished to continue living in the East Village were forced to restrict aspects of their performances. In 1994, police officially closed the village and evicted all of the resident artists. Like those living at Yuanmingyuan Village, many East Village artists chose to relocate to the newly formed Songzhuang Artist Village. In 2001 the remnants of the East Village were destroyed to make way for a city park.  


Artists who resided in the East Village during the early 1990s are considered pioneers of contemporary Chinese performance art. The documentation of these performances also became an important part of the East Village legacy. East Village photographers such as Xing Danwen and Rong Rong were considered crucial participants in the art making process. By acknowledging the photographer's role as a significant participant in artistic performances, photography as an art form gained considerable recognition.


Manuela Lietti 玛瑙: “Beijing’s Art Districts: From Creative Hubs to Entertainment Centres”.

Thomas J. Berghuis: Preformance Art in China, Beijing: Timezone 8 (2007)

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