The Avant-Garde and the Popular in China examines avant-garde performance as an important political force shaping popular culture in modern China, focusing on artist and activist Tian Han. This is the first book to analyze Han's art and activism and to explore how an important group of Chinese performing artists invested in politics and the pursuit of the avant-garde came to terms with different ways of being popular in modern times. The book traces Han's trajectory through key moments in the evolution of twentieth-century Chinese national culture, from the Christian socialist cosmopolitanism of post-WWI Tokyo to the urban modernism of Shanghai in 1920s and 1930s, then into the Chinese hinterland during the late 1930s and 40s, and finally to the Communist Beijing of the 1950s, revealing the dynamic interplay of art and politicsthroughout this period. The figure of Tian Han exemplifies the instability of conventional delineations between the avant-garde, popular culture, and political propaganda. Understanding Tian Han in his time sheds light upon a new generation of contemporary Chinese avant-gardists (Ai Wei Wei being the best kwn), who, half a century later, are similarly engaging national politics and popular culture. Luo shows how, rather than a landscape of alienated avant-gardists resisting institutional control on the one hand and a top-down, molithic Socialist culture on the other, we find a cultural milieu where the avant-garde engaged creatively with popular forms and where both the avant-garde and the popular converged upon political engagement.
Liang Luo is Associate Professor of Chinese Literature and Culture at the University of Kentucky, USA.