The Forbidden City, the obligatory tourist site in Beijing, is a vast compound. Here dynasties of Chinese emperors lived for five hundred years until dethroned early in this century by Sun Yat Sen's revolution.

museum stub
Ticket stub for the Forbidden City.

The 55 yuan (about $7 US) admission price to the compound is no bargain. Only a short time ago, a ticket could be had for pennies, a fare more in keeping with prices found in traditional enclaves around Beijing.

Receipt for meal with Ma Liuming and friends dinner receipt

Seventy yuan (about $9 US) bought dinner for seven in a family restaurant near Ma's studio. (Note that the proprietor, on his own initiative, helped London pad her expense account by writing a receipt for 370 yuan.)

A monetary chasm separates traditional ways from modern living. The conflict between old and new has torn Beijing asunder. Streams of dusty old bicycles and one-story brick homes persevere cheek by jowl with traffic-jammed cars and glittering skyscrapers. The city's maturation is not a process of graceful growth. The new institutions are simply being hacked out of the existing society.

Beijing's artists, probably reflecting a divided populace, do not speak with a unified voice concerning the kaleidoscopic changes that dominate the Beijing experience. "Go slow" is one mantra often repeated by artists. Others eagerly reach for the promise of a new society. Well aware that China in this century has lurched from one extreme to another, these artists hope that modern international institutions will form the basis for a balanced, stable society.

If you have any information about media art in China, please send it along. Barbara London welcomes questions and comments about her dispatches. Write to video@moma.org.

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