林昱（Aimee Lin） 亚洲意味着什么？在地理之外还有别的意义吗？
孙歌 对。经过了西方至少一、二百年来的强力打造，我们习惯于谈一个区域就必须找出一个代表来谈论它的“一”。现在，我们要用“多”来谈这个区域，大家还没有形成这个习惯，这是我们讨论亚洲艺术的前提。为什么需要这个前提，因为亚洲艺术是一个不能够被统合的艺术，所以它是多种多样的。中国哲学家陈嘉映提出了一个“个殊性”的说法，就是把个体和特殊性结合起来。每一个“个殊性”（individual peculiarity）的载体叫做“个殊者”（peculiar individual）。我认为亚洲艺术是由无数个个殊者构成的，但是我们要说的并不是一个拼盘，如果是拼盘，亚洲艺术就不存在了，是一盘散沙。在个殊者之间是要发生关系的，这个关系我们必须用亚洲原理解释，这个关系是什么意思，是说每一个个殊者和其他的个殊者绝对不可能一样，而且他和其他的个殊者重合的部分，也不是绝对相同的。在建立关系的时候，个殊者之间没有优劣之分。这个东西从欧洲原理里面是不可能产生的。所以当各种个殊者之间只能通过相互理解、通过自我开放，通过对自己的超越来达成建立关系的目标时，这个亚洲艺术就形成了。这就牵扯到我们要改变必须用欧洲的现代性和后现代作为媒介来进入亚洲艺术的欣赏习惯。我们现在的欣赏习惯是把自己的文化先翻译成英语，然后再拿这个英语进入其他的文化 。
林昱（Aimee Lin） 现居上海的策展人、作者和艺评人，复旦大学比较文学硕士。曾是《艺术界》杂志创始副主编（2010-2012）、《ArtReview Asia》联合创始人和主编（2013-2019）、北京长征空间总监（2019-2021）。除了写作和艺术评论，林昱同时是一名独立策展人，曾在北京、上海、柏林、伦敦和纽约等地策划艺术家个展、群展和其他种类的艺术项目，她目前也是纽约视觉艺术学院大中华区代表，并因此往返于中国与纽约。
Sun Ge: Asia as Principle
Interviewed and edited by Aimee Lin
I. What does Asia mean?
AIMEE LIN What does Asia mean? Does it possess meaning beyond its geographical connotations?
SUN GE Of course. Asia is
more than a spatial concept, which is to say, it is more than a geographical
concept, and it is also more than a political-historical-geographical concept.
In academia, there is now a field called political historical geography in
which various political, cultural and historical questions are discussed in the
context of where they happened. Asia is indeed a compound concept of politics,
history and geography, but in addition to that, I believe it has an important
alternative function, one that is often overlooked: its spiritual fūdo character.
AIMEE LIN What is fūdo?
SUN GE Fūdo refers to the natural geographical characteristics possessed by a given region or geographical space. The combination of these characteristics with the particular spiritual life of people via social activities is called fūdo. [Fūdo, or Fengtu, is a term used by Japanese philosopher Tetsuro Watsuji (1889–1960) in Fūdo: ningen-gakuteki kōsatsu (1935), translated in English as Climate and Culture (1961). The term signifies ‘wind and earth… the natural environment of a given land’.] So the concept of Asia is at the very least a particular natural geographical space that bears the weight of political, historical and spiritual culture produced by human activity within it. The various spiritual products of society and the humanities are discussed within the context of a particular space.
AIMEE LIN ‘Asia’ was originally a name that outsiders used for a specific geographical space. Does Asia, or the concept of Asia, mean something to the people who live within this space?
SUN GE Prior to modern times, ‘Asia’ did not have any connotations of subjective identification, but in the twentieth century that changed. From the Crusades, when the term referred only to Asia Minor (Anatolia), until the turn of the twentieth century, as Europe gradually subjected the world to colonialism, the Asia discourse of the West was consistently one in which Asia served as Europe’s ‘other’. During the powerful classical period of the Islamic world, this ‘other’ was a formidable foe. In modern times, this ‘other’ has become a source of comparison – evidence against the predominance of European culture. Until the end of the Second World War, European ideology did not acknowledge that Asia could be an equal counterpart with which mutual understanding was possible. Even then, such a relationship was merely a possibility. And to this day, this possibility remains relatively marginal in Europe.
As for Asia, it was not
until the end of the Second World War that a relatively widespread trend
emerged in which the meaning of ‘Asia’ was reversed in order to connote a
subjectively identified political symbol. At that point, one could no longer
say that Asia was merely a concept created by the West. This change in the
symbol was marked by the Bandung Conference of 1955 [the meeting of African and
Asian states that anticipated the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement of
countries]. Of course, that was just one phase of its evolution. In terms of
major historical trends, the general development of the Asia discourse began in
the twentieth century as ‘Asia’ was transformed into a symbol of
self-identification in some societies in the Asia region. Japan was the first
place where this self-identification occurred. The growth of Asianism in Japan
reached its peak with Japan’s victory in the 1904–5 Japanese–Russian War. The
Japanese saw this war as a war between races: a victory of the yellow race over
the white race. In his speech on the ‘Three Principles of the People’ ,
[Chinese revolutionary] Sun Yat-sen recounted how, on his boat trip on the Suez
Canal, an Arab asked him if he was Japanese. At that time, Arabs rarely
expressed their sense of solidarity with East Asia, but the Japanese–Russian
War had contributed to Arabian identification with Asia as part of the yellow
race. The unfortunate thing is that Japanese Asianism accompanied war, and
their methods of war were imitations of European colonial methods. So Japan’s
path was not one of genuine Asianism; it was a path of Europeanism. This
Europeanism was most typically exemplified by the Second World War and Japan’s
invasion of East and Southeast Asia. Japan’s colonialism, along with its
methods of advancing the war, was completely in the mould of early European
Therefore, if it can be
said that Asianism exists in Asia, then this Asianism has many faces, and
tension exists between them. But we can say without value judgement that in the
late nineteenth century a trend emerged in which several different parts of Asia,
in many different forms, began to cast off the cultural symbols of the Western
‘other’ and adopt subjective symbols of self-identification. It was a
historical trend, and so the earlier period of history in which ‘Asia’ was
named by the West cannot be used to explain the use of the nomenclature of Asia
by Asian people after the turn of the twentieth century.
AIMEE LIN Then what changes have occurred in the meaning of this idea of Asia since the end of the Second World War?
SUN GE After the Second World War, this idea of Asia was used at the Bandung Conference in the context of Afro-Asia – ie, Africa and Asia – and the national independence movements of the two continents. At that point, a core aspect of Asian identity was the national independence movements at the state level. During the process of Asia’s rise during the 1950s, the principle significance of Asia as a political unit was political subjectivity. Other than Japan, the vast majority of Asian regions had experienced either direct or indirect colonisation. In this context of being discriminated against and feeling humiliated, Asia experienced a sharp surge in solidarity in the 1950s. Asia is not like Europe in that it cannot be roughly integrated on the basis of a single religion. There are at least three major civilisations in Asia, and more than three main religions that cannot be easily integrated. However, the Bandung Conference symbolised a period of integration during the 1950s in which the concept of Asia was spread vigorously through virtually the entire region. As these states gained independence and sovereignty, so the situation changed.
AIMEE LIN Roughly when did that happen?
SUN GE I would say it happened as the Cold War structure began to disintegrate. Asia began to split up during the 1970s, because at the time the entire continent was facing a developmental problem: how to achieve modernisation. The result was all sorts of dialogue, exchange and cooperation between Asia and the West. Thus, after the 1970s, a new round of colonialism began, but this time in an invisible form. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in the early 1990s, Asia was faced with the question of forming new alliances. So new coalitions, like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation or the BRICS countries, are in fact symbols of Asia’s reorganisation of international relations. In these circumstances we discover that Asia is already incapable of acting, in terms of geography, as an independent unit in order to emphasise its identity. For example, the Six Party Talks in Northeast Asia are a major thing for Asia, but nobody raises an eyebrow at the participation of two non-Asian states (Russia and the United States). By means of the Second World War, the United States had already completed its internalisation in Asia, and especially in East Asia. These circumstances have led some people to say that Asia has not been established as a reality. From a geographical perspective, Asia does indeed seem unable to cast off the countless claims of other regions. The solidarity of the 1950s symbolised by the Bandung Conference has indeed disintegrated.
II. Asia as Principle
AIMEE LIN So the integration of Asia as a geographical space was not achieved.
SUN GE That’s right. But if
we recall our initial discussion, we said that Asia is more than a geographical
concept. It is also an amalgamation of political, historical and spiritual
culture. It symbolises people’s spiritual activities, and the fūdocharacter of social and artistic activities. In this sense, I believe that
today we have reached a stage in with we can reorganise and rephrase the
discussion by treating Asia as a set of principles.
AIMEE LIN You have previously written about the question ‘how does Asia mean?’ But it sounds quite new when you mention ‘Asia as principle’.
SUN GE I reached this step
quite recently. In my opinion, the present Asia discourse is still off the
mark. If Asia does not have its own principles, then it truly is no more than
field material within the framework of Western discourse. To date, that is how
Asia has been treated in Western and Chinese scholarship, but I believe that we
should now produce Asian principles. However, producing Asian principles is not
only for the benefit of Asian people. I think it is a historical responsibility
for the benefit of humankind. Asian principles are simply principles that are
relative to European, African and Latin American principles. The discussion of
them is not an intellectual activity intended to resist or replace the West.
AIMEE LIN Before we start discussing Asia as principle, I want to ask you: do art or culture play a role of shaping the identity of Asia or the idea of Asia?
SUN GE Art and culture give
form to spiritual energy. The spiritual activities of humans must have form
before they can present themselves to us. Art utilises the form of direct
observation to communicate this spiritual information. I can say that, to date,
the art I have been exposed to, such as the fine arts, theatre and film from
East Asia, are Westernised in the mainstream. Their Asian-ness is insufficient.
AIMEE LIN Are you saying that the reasoning behind it lacks that awareness of so-called Asian subjectivity, and it unconsciously uses Western methods or Western perspectives?
SUN GE Yes, it uses Western
perspectives. The most typical example is Zhang Yimou: all of the expressions
of Chinese-ness in his films are intended to cater to the requirements of
Hollywood. Of course, there are other ambitious artists who are not as superficial
as Zhang Yimou. They are more inclined to seek an Asian element, but these
artists, including art curators, have an essentially Western field of vision.
For example, one deeply rooted idea in the minds of contemporary artists and
curators is modernity. If you do not let them talk about modernity, they
basically cannot function. This is a trend that exists today, and I do not
believe that it should be negated, because in a certain sense it expresses the
consequences of Western infiltration of all of Asia, from politics and
economics to culture. But in fact, there are fringe cultural and artistic
activities in which comparatively Asian elements are developing. This
development requires nourishment, but I believe that Asian intellectuals seem
to have not yet reached this point. It requires a process.
AIMEE LIN Can you give an example of the cultural activities you mentioned?
SUN GE One example is the
Japanese playwright Sakurai Daizo. His Tent Theatre is extremely Japanese. The
performances draw on the lives of ordinary, lower-class Japanese people. It is
a very special artform. Sakurai is very imaginative, but the number of intellectuals
who can appreciate his Tent Theatre is limited. Yet Sakurai has received
acclaim throughout East Asia. Young intellectuals are especially fond of his
plays because his methods are very fresh. But the Asian element that he
contains must evolve. Another example is the printmaking activities in the
Korean city of Gwangju. There are also some artistic activities in Okinawa,
such as photography. That area retains its original religion, which resembles
shamanism. There is a photographer who photographs a sacrificial ritual that
takes place every February in the Miyako Islands [the largest archipelago in
Okinawa Prefecture]. But this kind of genuinely indigenous artistic or literary
activity that does not utilise Western concepts and hermeneutics is to date
very difficult to circulate and share widely. This is a basic fact, but this
wellspring possesses powerful vitality. It will not disappear.
AIMEE LIN Perhaps the explanation lies in the mechanisms of acknowledgment and circulation in contemporary art. After all, the people within these mechanisms have no ability to see and understand this kind of art.
SUN GE I think this is a
matter that requires a bit more time, and moreover, it is not just a matter for
Asian people to resolve. The status and function of the Western intelligentsia,
or one could even say the entire Western world, changes. The Western intelligentsia’s
conception of Asia is also changing. I think that ambitious intellectuals,
whether they are Asian or Western, will not be satisfied solely with questions
of so-called modernity and postmodernity when the reality of our lives is so
diverse and abundant. The day will come when everybody’s experience will be
fresher and more abundant. In this sense, art and culture can play an extremely
important role, but to this point, they have really not done much.
AIMEE LIN There are some Westerners who believe that the language barrier is the reason that Western people define Asian identity through culture. They can only mechanically imagine other cultures. What do you think of this opinion?
SUN GE I think it is
definitely one factor, but it does not tell the whole story. The lack of
understanding of Asia in the West is in a certain sense due to the excessive
autonomy of the West, which has only just begun to change. When Westerners
begin asking this kind of question, it demonstrates that they have begun to
recognise the problem. Yet to this day, the majority of Western European and
North American intellectuals lack genuine curiosity about Asia, and the reason
for this is certainly not the language barrier.
AIMEE LIN Is it a kind of insularity in their own cultures?
SUN GE That goes together
with the historical trends in politics and economics of recent times: the West
going forth to conquer the whole world from an advantageous position. Culture
cannot be separated from politics and economics, even though they each have
their own characteristics. Cultural people in the West with a genuine awareness
of Asia are definitely on the fringes.
AIMEE LIN There are very few.
SUN GE But I believe there
are some. When I discuss the China question with Western European and North
American intellectuals, they first trot out a few frameworks, such as
modernity, postmodernity, rationality, individual rights, scientism and
evolution. All of these frameworks in fact constitute the quite mature cultural
structure of modern Europe, and Western intellectuals have been instructed
within this cultural system to see them as normal. But the question is, what do
they do when they are faced with the East, which does not share these
traditions but only imports parts of those elements (from those frameworks)? It
seems that every Western intellectual I encounter always tries hard to take
whatever unfamiliar experience he or she witnesses and hesitantly cram it into
these frameworks, and use them to interpret it.
AIMEE LIN When you put it that way, the necessity of Asia as principle becomes apparent, because to them as well this is a huge challenge, a very difficult task.
SUN GE Yes. ‘Asia as
principle’ is not an empty phrase. It means that we must redefine what is
universal. We must start from this perspective: any intellectual or spiritual
activity is endemic, ie, governed by fūdo. This means that you cannot take your
European or North American partial experience to other regions and treat it as
a global experience shared by all humankind. This kind of approach should be
negated right from the start. This is the demand that Asia as principle makes
of humanity. At present, if you view Asia from the perspective of European
principles, then you will use an allegedly universal imagination to view Asia.
So you will search for modernity in Asia, and search for scientific
rationality. It is not just Westerners who do this. Asian people also do this.
AIMEE LIN That is because in our minds we have already become like them due to our education and academic training. But our lives, and our physical and sensory experiences, go beyond that mental aspect.
SUN GE Everybody with this
kind of educational background has trouble interpreting the change that is
occurring in the various Asian societies. For example, how should we interpret
the present high degree of mobility, or more specifically, the massive phenomenon
of migrant labour in Chinese society? The point is not to give a basis of
legitimacy to the existence of every society. This is a kind of intellectual
work, so it is not about affirming or negating. What we want to do is to
understand. I do not make art, but from the perspective of intellectual
history, this issue is extremely pressing. This is what compels us to discuss
Asian principles. I think Asian principles in their most simplified form are a
universalism based on the premise of the coexistence of a diverse plurality of
AIMEE LIN When you say physical phenomena, is that the fūdo you mentioned?
SUN GE That’s right.
III. The Prerequisite for Asian Art
AIMEE LIN From your perspective as a scholar, is there such a thing that can be called Asian art, and if so, what constitutes the so-called Asian-ness of this art?
SUN GE This is truly a big
question. First of all, I think the existence of Asian art is not only possible
but necessary. However, the existence of Asian art is definitely a diverse
existence. So when we talk about Asian art, the prerequisite is that it does
not have representatives. We cannot say that Western art has definite
representatives – in fact it is very easy to name several different schools of
Western contemporary art. I believe that Asian art is the same. But there is
also a way in which it differs from Western art, in that there is no
‘primariness’ that encompasses Asian art.
AIMEE LIN It has no unifying characteristic.
SUN GE That’s right. Over at
least the last one or two centuries of forceful moulding by the West, we have
become accustomed when discussing a given field to identify a representative
and talk about their primariness. What we should do now is discuss the plurality
of a field, but people have not yet formed this habit. This is the prerequisite
for discussing Asian art. The reason we need this prerequisite is because Asian
art cannot be unified. It is varied and plural. The Chinese philosopher Chen
Jiaying has proposed the terminology of ‘the particular’, which emphasises the
combination of the individual and the characteristic. I think Asian art
comprises countless particulars, but what we want to talk about is not a
buffet. If it is a buffet, then Asian art does not exist, because it is too
dispersed. There are relations between the particulars, and we must use Asian
principles to interpret these relations. What is the meaning of these
relations? Well, the various particulars are absolutely not the same, and the
ways in which they coincide with each other are also not uniform. In
establishing these relations between particulars, there is no good and bad.
This idea does not comport with European principles. Asian art takes form when
we have the goal of establishing relations between the particulars through
mutual understanding, through self-liberation and through the individual’s
transcendence. This is related to the need for us to change our practice of
appreciating Asian art on the basis of European modernity and postmodernity.
Our current custom of appreciation is to first translate our culture into
English, and then use it to enter other cultures.
AIMEE LIN Are there some aspects of this idea of Asia that contradict or oppose the Western world and its theories?
SUN GE Yes, but I think that
point is not so important. Opposing the methods of the West has been necessary
thus far, but as soon as you oppose something, you become subject to the
limitations of your opposition.
AIMEE LIN You are ‘countered’.
SUN GE Yes, which means that this part of the production of knowledge is transitionary, and not particularly constructive. For example, postmodernity is restricted by modernity, so it cannot be free. Asia is restricted by the West: an unavoidable historical fact. If you want to work towards genuine self-liberation from this state of being restricted by the West, I think criticism is ineffective. You must relativise the West, not negate it. The crucial thing is to build our own framework of understanding and organisation that includes the effects of the Western infiltration of Asia. Negating and opposing the West has no constructive function. The establishment of Asian thought and culture requires structural construction. At present, two relatively familiar methods of Eastern intellectuals are those of critiquing the West and reforming the West. These two modes are both significant, and they are both closely linked to the West itself. But I believe that they are transitionary. They form the foundation on which we must engage in our own construction, unrestricted by the West and not predicated on opposition to the West. We must imagine more freely and build more autonomously.
AIMEE LIN Is this idea of Asia driven by competition and opposition, or by cooperation?
SUN GE A little bit of each.
If we’re talking about the economy, then it is definitely competition, and
cooperation, which serves the needs of competition, is always provisional.
Politics is similar. But I think competition and cooperation are a difficult terminology
to use to understand the realm of culture, and particularly the creation of
spiritual products. In fact, I think the creation of spiritual products in Asia
AIMEE LIN What do you mean by intermediary?
SUN GE I mean that I treat my counterpart as a medium, and draw on their work and their spiritual production to fuel my own imagination and creative motivation. Intermediary means that my work is not entirely their work, and their work cannot interpret my work, but if we did not understand each other, then my work would not be the way it is. For example, the spiritual production between China and Japan has to date been imagined in an extremely material form, which is a low-level way of thinking. The truth is that we should take the next step, into a field of greater quality. The relationship between China and Japan should be intermediary, or reciprocal, which is neither competition nor cooperation.
AIMEE LIN This year is the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Historical factors have created an extremely powerful state of psychological tension between, for example, South Korea and Japan, and China and Japan as well, which has still not dissipated. Can art or culture, through certain means, dissipate this tension?
SUN GE There are several ways
to look at this. Ideally, culture will transcend borders, and in this way it
can dispel the imagined opposition between different societies created by
national tension – for in fact this opposition exists only in the imagination.
But the truth is not that simple. When cultural workers do their thinking and
creating, it is their mother tongue that determines their identity. The vast
majority of cultural people rarely reflect on this self-identification. If
culture is to transcend the tense mentality between nations, then cultural
people must first reflect on the very presupposition of their
self-identification, and then form an identity for themselves that is greater
than their national unit. I believe that people who cannot transcend this
specific unit cannot create truly world-class spiritual products. This is not
to say that if you transcend your national unit then you have no nationality.
No, what I want to emphasise is that of one’s fixed cultural characteristics,
one’s mother tongue, is certainly a fundamental source of one’s creative
practice, but one need not treat one’s nationality as an absolute
presupposition. I believe that there are various levels of depths in cultural
identity. If a cultural identity reaches the depth of human spirit, it will
reflect it [human spirit] by means of nationality, while resisting an abstract,
AIMEE LIN I am reminded of certain artists and curators who live abroad. They can freely travel to the most distant parts of the world, but their spirituality seems somewhat lacking. Once a person completely ceases to believe in nationality or their original culture, they may be able to depart a place, but they ultimately never arrive at a new place.
SUN GE Yes, I think that is
very accurate. Artists with no roots have no prospects.
IV. Contemporary Art as the Production Platform of Asia Discourses
AIMEE LIN Recently, new cultural and art organisations or institutions have been established in Hong Kong, Gwangju, Shanghai, Singapore and the oil-exporting states in the Middle East. They all proclaim the intention of establishing their position on a regional scale. Together, they appear to present the formation of a regional field of vision. What effect does this trend have on our Asian-ness or our self-identification as Asian people?
SUN GE This is a very
encouraging phenomenon, because when the Bandung Conference was convened in
1955, the only people talking about Asia were politicians. Today, the biggest
change is that our politicians are still talking about Asia, but Asia is no
longer a presupposition for them. But to people in the worlds of art and
culture, this trend you mention is a symbolic change that represents the
imagination of Asia and the formation of its subjectivity, guided by the
cultural world at different levels of society – although I use that word
reluctantly. Some people who do academic research are still content to treat
Asia as either a field for the West or a big buffet. As for China, it is
treated by some intellectuals as a representative of Asia, just like Japan was
previously. So when the artworld invites me to talk about Asia, I recognise
that contemporary art has already become an important platform for the
production of Asian principles. It also symbolises the transition from the
politics-driven period of the Bandung Conference, where the subject was Asian
independence movements at the state level, to a culture-driven period in which
we search for principles.
The various biennials in
the region may take place in Asia, but the content of the exhibitions are
basically a big buffet of their own region. In a lot of places, when they say
Asia, they are really talking about themselves. Sometimes they switch to talking
about Asia, so what is the difference between the two? It lies in whether or
not you are able to deeply explore the principles of your own culture, and if
you are, whether or not you are able to use open, principled, relativised
methods to transcend yourself. The ability to transcend the self is one of the
most important characteristics of Asian-ness. When you discuss a local culture,
you can take the approach of Asian principles. This culture of yours can
possess Asian-ness, and you can use the approach of Asian principles to address
your local issues, which are otherwise merely a particular situation. So I
don’t think the question of being a particular region is that important. The
crucial thing is how you do it. Conversely, we see many events with ‘Asia’ in
their title that assemble large quantities of Asian things to exhibit, but the
Asian-ness of these events is in fact quite shallow. But regardless, I think it
is an important phenomenon that Asia is now obtaining attention.
AIMEE LIN On the subject of the Third World, you once said that each state’s understanding of the centre of the Third World is different. When we discuss Asia, we face the impulse of different states to establish a world or an Asia in which they are at the centre. In these circumstances, there are many blind spots in how states within Asia relate to and acknowledge each other. Each of us inhabits a specific reality and culture, and we require an operational solution to overcoming these blind spots in our fields of vision. If we can do that, then we can see and understand the regional situations within Asia.
SUN GE To elaborate on that point, I would say that the problem can be identified. In what circumstances should we seek to understand ‘the other’? For example, though I am a Chinese person, I have the desire to understand the Middle East. The blind spot is a problem of motivation, not a problem of knowledge. Where does this motivation come from? We can see that most intellectuals in the Third World today, particularly in the mainstream, have quite complete repositories of European and American knowledge. Even if they do not speak English, they read the European classics in translation, and quote them authoritatively in discussions. But they have no interest in Africa, no motivation. They think it is a place that does not produce ideas or principles. This kind of blind spot is the result of the prevailing Western-centric power structure of knowledge and reality. Moreover, whenever a new nation-state is formed, it reproduces this paradigm. So you cannot locate this problem solely in the West. All of the societies of Asia are like this. They put themselves at the centre and actively respond to the demands of the dominant culture. To an extent, this situation will be resolved by history. This is not something that we can rely on artists to guide us through by emphasising certain ideas – that is useless. We must pay attention to the limitation of the effectiveness. Artists can do some work, for example urging people to resolve certain problems in Chinese society. But the solutions to these problems are not easy to identify. Accessing the resources of other regions of Asia can be very helpful if they can be transformed into the intermediary of reflection, and will naturally lead to new ideas.
AIMEE LIN I have recently been observing artistic exchanges between China, Japan and South Korea (not including art programmes sponsored by government cultural or diplomatic initiatives). As an observer, I sense that China is the state that least cares about other Asian states. How do you view this issue?
SUN GE I think there is some
truth to your observation, which is related to the anxiety that has afflicted
the entire state since it was established in 1949. In 1958, the national slogan
was chao ying gan mei: ‘Surpass England and Catch Up with the United States’.
This was because our enemies came from the West, which was also the source of
our modernised imagination. Once the state had been established and society
began to develop, that is to say, during the reform period that followed the
Cultural Revolution, the political modes inherited by the intellectual class
were transformed into cultural modes. So you see our leading intellectuals are
those who studied in Europe and the United States. Their discourse is
essentially an English-based discourse. Their only contribution is either to
critique or to reform Europe and the United States. Given this framework, our
imagination of international relations in the cultural field essentially runs
on a Western track. As a consequence of these circumstances, the present effort
to develop an Asian imagination is a nascent one. This fact influences the
fine-arts world as well as other fields that overlap with the intellectual
world. There is a certain historical logic to our neglect of other Asian
states, of our neighbours, but that is not a justification. Now, things are
beginning to change. In recent years, curators are always dragging me out to
talk about Asia, which has led me to recognise what I just mentioned: cultural
people have moved to the front. The artworld has moved to the front.
Interviewed on 5 August 2015, the Chinese text was proved and edited by Sun Ge and Aimee Lin and translated into English by Daniel Nieh. The English text was first published in the Autumn 2015 issue of ArtReview Asia and re-edited in 2023. Use of the text is for non-profit purposes only.
SUN GE Born in 1955 in Changchun, Jilin, China, Sun Ge studied Chinese literature at Jilin University and is a professor at the Institute of Literature in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Interested in the issue of East Asia from early on, she has conducted comparative research on the literatures and philosophies of China and Japan across the boundaries of academic disciplines and departments. Her fields of interest include modern Chinese literature, the history of modern Japanese thought and comparative cultural studies. Her major works include How Does Asia Mean? (2001), Space of Pervasive Subjectivities: The Dilemma of Discursive Asia (2002), The Paradox of Takeuchi Yoshimi (2005), The Literary Position: Masao Maruyama’s Dilemma (2009), Why Shall We Talk About East Asia: Politics and History in Situation (2011), Japan and China in History of Thought (2017), History and Humanity: Reflection on Universalism (2018), In Search of Asia: Another Way of Knowing the World(2019), From Naha to Shanghai: Living in Critical State (2020).
AIMEE LIN Curator, writer and critic based in Shanghai. Master of Comparative Literature from Fudan University, Shanghai. Formerly founding editor of LEAP(2010-2012), co-founder and the Editor of ArtReview Asia (2013-2019), and Director of Long March Space, Beijing (2019-2021). Parallel to her practice in writing and art criticism, Lin is an independent curator and has been organising solo and group exhibitions and multi-disciplinary programs in Beijing, Shanghai, Berlin, London, and New York. Lin currently works as the Greater China Representative of the School of Visual Arts, for which she travels between China and New York.