Trojan Horses in the Chinese Countryside: The Bishan Commune and the Practice of Socially Engaged Art in Rural China

Date & Time

05.05. 2022, 3 PM (CEST)


online lecture via ZOOM:


In recent years an increasing number of urban artists have turned towards the countryside in an attempt to revive rural areas perceived to be in a crisis. This talk is concerned with socially engaged art projects in the Chinese countryside, with the artists and intellectuals who are involved, the villagers they meet and the local authorities with whom they negotiate – thus exploring the projects as practical examples of what happens when urban artists and activists practice in the face of power and people in rural China. The vantage point of this talk is the Bishan Commune Project; a socially engaged long-term art project initiated in rural China. In 2010 artist, editor, curator and filmmaker Ou Ning drafted a notebook entitled The Bishan Commune: How to Start Your Own Utopia. The notebook presented a utopian ideal of another way of life based on the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin’s idea of mutual aid. In 2011 the Commune was established in Bishan Village in rural Anhui Province. The main questions of this talk thus revolve around how an anarchist, utopian community unfolds to the backdrop of the political, social and historical landscape of rural China, or more directly: How do you start your own utopia in the Chinese countryside?


Dr. Mai Corlin Frederiksen has done extensive research into socially engaged art practices in China and Hong Kong. She is the author of The Bishan Commune and the Practice of Socially Engaged Art in Rural China (Palgrave, 2020) and the article “Aesthetics of Reciprocity: Socially Engaged Art in China and Hong Kong” in The Routledge Companion to Art and Activism in the Twenty-First Century (Routledge, forthcoming).