London has tracked down a fast internet connection. Yu Huang, along with a buddy who recently returned from New York, have formed a computer company called 5415 Company. The number is the phonetic equivalent of "I am a wild tiger." As their first major project, the partners are compiling a "Yahou" type of database for China, which they will mirror in New York.


nine point palace Detail of installation "God Playing Chess N1. Dragon beneath Earth" (1989)

Xu fingers the key area on a Chinese chess board - the box called the nine point palace. The box has nine points, which are numbered so that the three numbers along any of the six lines in the box adds up to nine. The center point of the box is known as "nine-five," another name for the emperor. "All people are fascinated by numbers," Xu contends.

More importantly, Xu sees Chinese chess as a metaphor for the way China differs from the West.
The king and queen, for example, on a western chess board can range over the whole board, but in the Chinese version of the game, the emperor and queen are confined to the nine point palace box.

"Chinese men only have one wife," Xu assures London. The shapes at the edge of the board are Xu's version of chess pieces. Inquiring about the identity of the pieces -- which one is the king or the queen - London discovers another difference between the chess games. The emperor in Chinese chess has two queens. In this instance the game is archaic and does not apply to modern China.

"Playing Chess with Voltaire N1. Rival Camps of Culture" (1992) chess board

On a Chinese chess board, Xu has set up the ultimate showdown between China and the West. For team China, Xu has selected 16 artist friends, and arranged their busts to face their western antagonists - 16 busts of Voltaire! Voltaire is also a familiar figure among artists. His is the bust that they draw, over and over again, in traditional drawing class. For Chinese intellectuals, Voltaire embodies the Enlightenment, the driving force of Western achievement.

In the years since Xu exhibited his chess installations in Germany, he has developed a distinctive style. His canvas is thick with paint and history, reminiscent of Anselm Keifer. True to his past, Xu remains a master of the chess metaphor. His beloved chess pieces are embedded in his recent canvas along with other detritus of Chinese history.

When Xu Jiang cleans and puts away his brushes, he transforms into the Assistant President of the China National Academy of Fine Art. The only other national academy is the Central Academy in Beijing. In these two schools, students are selected through a national rather than regional competition. The lucky ones who pass muster are given a free art education, which must eventually be paid for in service to the country after graduation. detail Founded in 1928 as the first fine art school in China, the National Academy in Hangzhou introduced Western art into China. The first director of the school believed that traditional Chinese art would be enriched by admixing western art. The second director thought otherwise. Chinese art is very different, he advised, and a gap should be maintained between Chinese and Western art. The issue is still unresolved.

Assistant President Xu talks about two trends in Chinese art - (05:42 min RealVideo) - to blend or to break with Western art.

After the talk with Xu, London realized that she had not yet contacted a single traditional artist. An understanding of the tension between contemporary artists and their traditional art brethren, who overwhelmingly dominate the Chinese art scene, is essential to understanding the social matrix of contemporary art. London resolved to meet with a traditional artist within a few days.


Shi Hui, a teacher at the Hangzhou Academy, began her career as a tapestry artist. She had trained in one of the Academy's institutes run by Maryn Varbanov, a noted Roumanian tapestry artist. His institute flourished in the days China pursued a "fraternal" relationship with Eastern Europe.

In 1989 Shi decided to leave behind Eastern European influences. She shifted to working in hemp, cotton, and rice paper pulp, which unifies the other two materials.

Shi Hui with her constructions.

Shi's work will be included in a group show, "South of the Yangtze River," March 1998 in Vancouver.

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