Author

Tingting Hu

Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

Art

First Advisor

Krista Van Fleit

Abstract

The beginning of the twentieth century in China is marked by intellectual-led revolutionary activism that looks for a modern national collective that distinguishes from the dynastic past and the semi-colonized current. Intellectual Guo Moruo is devoted to the historical trend through a dual-identity as a cultural leader and a lyrical poet. This element of activism has evolved along with the twentieth century up until post-Cultural Revolution China, when the coming of the Internet and digital technology allowed for new forms of activism, such as online mobilization and digital-camera videos as critical social engagement. Artist Ai Weiwei emerges as a leading civil activist at the time.

However, how the different historical times produce room for different forms of activist engagement, and how the new form of activist practices in return shapes the societal body, remains unstudied. This project examines modern Chinese activism through a comparative study of Guo Moruo’s revolutionary activism in the May Fourth era and Ai Weiwei’s civil activism in the post-Cultural Revolution times. Special focus is paid to Guo’s literary practice in lyrical poetry and his cultural practice as a leader in a literary society (Creation Society), as well as Ai’s civil practice in online activist projects, and his visual practice in the documentary-making post Sichuan earthquake. This project decodes the various powers exemplified through different activist forms, particularly poetry and documentaries, in order to understand the complexity embedded in China’s modern activism that has witnessed every critical transition in China’s long century of modernization.

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