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Winnie Won Yin WongVan Gogh on Demand: China and the Readymade

University of Chicago Press, 2014

by Carla Nappi on May 26, 2015

Winnie Won Yin Wong

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Reading Winnie Wong's new book on image production in Dafen village will likely change the way you think about copying, China, and the relationship between them. Based on fieldwork that included artist interviews, studio visits, and participant observation alongside local officials, bosses, interpreters, foreign artists, buyers, and traders, Van Gogh on Demand: China and the Readymade (University of Chicago Press, 2014) takes readers into the production of images in a village in Shenzhen. After establishing what we're talking about when we talk about "copying" and "copies" in this context, Wong guides us through a series of media and spaces that collectively upend several assumptions that are often brought to understanding Dafen and its painters specifically, and copying and creativity in China more broadly. Indeed, understanding what Dafen painters are not is a crucial first step toward understanding what is happening in their work and home lives. Dafen painters, we learn, are not "especially unfree victims" of global capitalism or of totalitarian communism in a way that prevents them from making original and creative art. (In fact, Wong challenges us to think again about what and where "creativity" is, and how and by whom it is produced as a value.) Dafen painters do not work on a typical mass assembly-line. And their paintings are not simply "forgeries" of Western masterpieces. After coming to understand this, we learn about the painters and their work by visiting their workshops, reading about their life trajectories and the different sorts of training they receive, exploring propagandistic TV dramas and documentaries about them, and peering into some of the ways that artists working outside of Dafen (in Beijing, in Germany, in Amsterdam, and beyond) have understood and engaged with Dafen painting practices. It is an arresting and masterfully argued study and should be required reading for anyone interested in labor, art, and/or the history of authenticity and copying in modern China.


Julie SzeFantasy Islands: Chinese Dreams and Ecological Fears in an Age of Climate Crisis

May 19, 2015

Julie Sze's new book opens by bringing readers into the wetlands of Dongtan, introducing us to an ambitious but unrealized project to create the "world's first great eco-city." Fantasy Islands: Chinese Dreams and Ecological Fears in an Age of Climate Crisis (University of California Press, 2015) considers Dongtan, the Chongming Island eco-development, suburban real estate developments, and […]

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Lu ZhangInside China’s Automobile Factories: The Politics of Labor and Worker Resistance

May 10, 2015

China's automobile industry has grown considerably over the past two decades. Massive foreign investment and an increased scale and concentration of work spurred the creation of a new generation of autoworkers with increased bargaining power. At the same time, China entered the global competition in mass-producing automobiles at a stage when the level of that […]

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John K. NelsonExperimental Buddhism: Innovation and Activism in Contemporary Japan

May 7, 2015

In his recent book, Experimental Buddhism: Innovation and Activism in Contemporary Japan (University of Hawaii Press, 2013), John K. Nelson delves into the historical circumstances that have led to the declining fortunes of Japanese Buddhism and explores recent and ongoing attempts by Japanese Buddhist clerics to render Buddhism relevant to Japanese society once again. Based […]

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Michael Nylan and Griet VankeerberghenChang’an 26 BCE: An Augustan Age in China

May 5, 2015

Michael Nylan and Griet Vankeerberghen have produced a landmark volume. Chang'an 26 BCE: An Augustan Age in China (University of Washington Press, 2015) collects 19 essays (plus an Introduction and an Afterword) devoted to exploring the built environment and archaeology of Han Chang'an, sociopolitical transformations in the late Western Han, and leading figures of the […]

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Rajika Bhandari and Alessia LefébureAsia: The Next Higher Education Superpower?

May 5, 2015

The development of higher education in Asia has been as dramatic as the region's rapid economic rise. The landscape of this diverse and ever-changing sector is thoroughly explored in Asia: The Next Higher Education Superpower? (Institute of International Education [IIE] and the American Institute For Foreign Study Foundation, 2015). Dr. Rajika Bhandari, IIE' Deputy Vice […]

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Stuart YoungConceiving the Indian Buddhist Patriarchs in China

April 25, 2015

In Conceiving the Indian Buddhist Patriarchs in China (University of Hawai'i Press, 2015), Stuart Young examines Chinese hagiographic representations of three Indian Buddhist patriarchs–Aśvaghoṣa (Maming), Nāgārjuna (Longshu), and Āryadeva (Sheng tipo)–from the early fifth to late tenth centuries, and explores the role that these representations played in the development of Chinese Buddhism's self-awareness of its own position […]

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Janet GyatsoBeing Human in a Buddhist World: An Intellectual History of Medicine in Early Modern Tibet

April 24, 2015

Janet Gyatso's new book is a masterfully researched, compellingly written, and gorgeously illustrated history of medicine in early modern Tibet that looks carefully at the relationships between medicine and religion in this context. Being Human in a Buddhist World: An Intellectual History of Medicine in Early Modern Tibet (Columbia University Press, 2015) looks carefully at the "double […]

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Albert L. ParkBuilding a Heaven on Earth: Religion, Activism, and Protest in Japanese Occupied Korea

April 24, 2015

Christians, like other religious people, have to manage the relationship between their belief in supernatural forces and an afterlife on one side, and how those beliefs impact their daily life on the other. This was especially difficult for Korean Protestant Christians (and members of an indigenous religion influenced by Christianity, Ch'ŏndogyo) during the Japanese Colonial […]

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Mao Dun (David Hull, trans.)Mao Dun’s Waverings

April 17, 2015

David Hull's new translation of Mao Dun's Waverings (Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2014) (Research Centre for Translation, Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2014) is both a beautiful literary work and a boon for scholars and teachers working in the field of modern Chinese studies. Waverings is the second work in the Eclipse trilogy, three books that […]

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