Will the world become a better place?


Will the world become a better place?


-Magical realism, dystopia and spiritual homeland in contemporary China


NCAF Screening of Contemporary moving-images




Yang Fudong 

Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest, Part V



Cao Fei 

Haze and Fog



Chen Zhou 

Life Limitation


Tue-Sat 12:00-17:00,Closed on Sunday & Monday   




Out of Wang Bing and Xue Bing’s personal collections, the founders of New Century Art Foundation, we have selected three short films for this edition of film screening, which includes Yang Fudong’s Seven Intellectuals in the Bamboo Forest (2003-2007), Cao Fei’s Haze and Fog (2013) and Chen Zhou’s Imitation of Life (2017). Together, these three works portray the fate and circumstances of the contemporary Chinese (especially young urban dwellers) and project their spiritual state. Either with regards to the real significance or the linguistic features of these moving images, the three works have formed an interesting and in-depth dialogue. Each, capturing a specific moment from the past decade, focuses on a specific group of people – the young people living in the Chinese metropolis (centered in Beijing and Shanghai), and paints the portrait of their life journeys within a temporal parameter.


"Seven Intellectuals of the Bamboo Forest" is an excellent allegory. Those intellectuals, who have lost their voices under stringent power of the Wei and Jin Dynasties, drank and cited poetry in the forest to preserve their dignity and spirit. Yang Fudong adopted this subject matter, to tell the stories of a group of youth living in the modern city of Shanghai about their nihilistic wanderings between reality and aspirations. The time when Seven Intellectuals in the Bamboo Forest was shot, was when this Chinese metropolis began to undergo accelerated construction and this wave of development that has continued to the present. In which, a tremendous rift emerged between the spirit of traditional culture with the unsophisticated textures of reality. Yang Fudong allows the wonderous and confused youth to walk out of the city, to go to the forest, field and deserted islands, to return to a bucolic lifestyle. People eventually had to return to the city, to work in factories, play table tennis in ruins, and do social dance at luxurious clubs. Without any spoken language, this moving-image was woven together with body contacts, actions, and gazes in conveying the desolate, distraught yet complex moods of its protagonists.  


If the Seven Intellectuals of the Bamboo Forest still brought us the poetic and nostalgic sentiments, then Cao Fei’s Haze and Fog has fully effaced these last warmth and lyricism. Those living in the city Beijing under heavy air pollution and caged in a constellation of buildings, the "smog" on their spirits had turned them into "zombies”. “People don’t know where to go without the guidance of a greater spirit, illuminating wisdom, ‘good’ art… there is only gray and dust under the smog, like the kind of insidious corruption, eroding all kinds of things. What was once rotten has decayed, what was pure and noble has also become bygones. People could not find an exit, their obsessions with their mobile phones, on which they jump from social network to e-commerce further incarcerated them to seclusion. They prefer indoor shopping malls because there would be at least one café that provides them with free Wi-Fi. They have become foodies, for the sake of snapping pictures even before tasting the food, so they could publish their last sense of “freedom” and their unprecedented “nihilistic sense of existence”. (“Land of Smog – An Interview with Cao Fei”, Art World) In this short film, Cao Fei has magnified people's alienations in the real world through her imaginations (their numbness, cruelty, contradictions and conflicts, disorder and disconnect), yet her song at the end of the film still made the attempt to preserve something precious for this world.   


The story takes place in 2016, Shanghai. The youth in Seven Intellectuals in the Bamboo Forest have yet to live in a time of virtual reality with the advent of technology a decade ago, but ten years later, in Chen Zhou’s Imitation of Life, young people have to address the issues of "how to play the roles of one's life in this rapidly developing metropolis, how to negotiate one's relationship with the ubiquity of screens, new technology and media, how to communicate with others, to manage one's loneliness, and how to build the framework of one’s own from this time. As the spaces of the virtual, oneiric, quotidian, urban, bodily, on mobile devices, and interpersonal overlap… these youth are lost among them or exist in parallel in all of them. (Film critic Guo Rubing’s comment of this work)” It seems the screen and the virtual world have brought the distance between people and things closer, when in fact they have created irreconcilable separations. In Seven Intellectuals in the Bamboo Forest, we are shown the direct contact between physical bodies and the gazes between people, while in the virtual time all relationships are mediated by various types of screens and apps.


 “Will the world become a better place?”  is a somewhat Confucian question. Liang Shuming’s father, Liang Ji dived into Jishuitan with the hopeless answer to this question; while Liang Shuming deliberated and explored its answers with great resilience his entire life. Michel Foucault proposed the notion of "dystopia", to a large extent offered a mirror, in which we see ourselves being part of it without actually existing in it. These artists have unfolded the layers of reality and perceptions through the unique language of the moving image, where they've provided us with subtle and rich reflections on the self and the world in our perception and thinking.


Text/Chang Xuyang


Introduction of the films



Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest, Part IV (zhu lin qi xian)


Single-channel film

35mm b&w film transfered to DVD

70 minutes


Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest (2003-2007), a series intended to expand to ?ve sequels in total, is Yang Fudong’s attempt to develop a grand worldview in the form of an epic tale of a group of individuals defying the times in which they live. The title is borrowed from a popular legend of seven intellectuals who sought refuge from the chaos of the Warring States Period in a bamboo forest, where they indulged in serious talk unsullied by worldly matters. It is used as a metaphor for the resistance of the young Chinese who feel unable to keep up with the pace of change in China and, as a result, experience a kind of identity crisis. Showing no regard for normal social behavior, these intellectuals drank to excess, romped around naked, and composed re?ned verses that expressed their feelings of resentment towards the age in which they lived. The five-part series focuses on seven young men and women in different settings, beginning with a mysterious mountain popular among Taoists, then proceeding to an urban setting, a rural setting with ?elds and paddies, and an island, before moving back to the city.


Haze and Fog

2013, Video, colour, sound



Cities, when morphed into magical metropolises, are possessed by both the magic’s fanciful illusion and its devilish terror. This film will not explore the good and the evil of the magic, nor the heroics and the human drama in that apocalyptic world. The film will explore how the collective consciousness of people living in the time of magical metropolises emerges from seemingly tedious, mundane, day-to-day life where the magic reality is created through struggles at the tipping point between the visible and the invisible.


Enveloped in heavily polluted air, Beijing, the largest surrealistic city, seems to have fallen into a Dense Fog of online video games and is ready for the most barbaric and savage visual consumption and Hollywood-style ablution. The artist imagines some humanoids appearing in a wild forest located in the outskirts of Beijing. Beginning with a few inexplicable attacks, we enter a magic realism drama that superposes the current reality in China.

Life Imitation

2017, Video, colour, sound



A virtual futuristic vison of a dark new world mediated through gaming, chatrooms and sexting, which exposes the conjunctions of technology, communication and gender. Structured through a dexterous mix of verité footage of young life in China, mobile phone screens and the ultra-violence of Grand Theft Auto that represents American life, Life Imitation focuses on young women exploring their identities and pushing their boundaries in the real and the virtual worlds. These characters occupy liminal spaces alienated from mundane daily life, but unfulfilled in the on-line world. They stare at their phones as if in expectation of a lifechanging revelation from beyond, but all that comes is what has come before. Strange and compelling, the film creates an almost post-human identity, one that cannot exist outside the digital, but that strives unsuccessfully to fulfil the very human desires of bodily contact and emotional exchange.


Introduction of the Artists


Yang Fudong was born in Beijing in 1971. He graduated from the China Academy of Fine Arts, Oil Painting Department in Hangzhou. He is among the most successful and influential Chinese artists today. He was one of finalists shortlisted for the Hugo Boss Prize in 2004 and received this honor as the third Chinese artist after Cai Guoqiang and Huang Yongping. Now he works and lives in Shanghai.


Yang Fudong has participated in prestigious international art events including Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, U.S.A. (2017); Bentu - Chinese Artists In A Time of Turbulence and Transformation, Foundation Louis Vuitton, Paris, France (2016); La Biennale de Lyon 2013, Lyon, France (2013); Sharjah Biennial 11, Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (2013); 17th Biennale of Sydney 2010, THE BEAUTY OF DISTANCE: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age, Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia (2010); 52nd International Art Exhibition Venice Biennale, Think with the Senses-Feel with the Mind, Venice, Italy (2007); The 5th AsiaPacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT5), Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), Queensland Art Gallery, Queensland, Australia (2006); FACT Liverpool (Liverpool Biennial 2004), Liverpool, U.K. (2004); 50th International Art Exhibition Venice Biennale, Dreams and Conflicts. The Dictatorship of the Viewer, Venice, Italy (2003); Documenta 11, Kassel, Germany (2002); 4th Shanghai Biennale, Urban Creation, Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai (2002); Yokohama 2001: International Triennale of Contemporary Art, Yokohama, Japan (2001); 7th International Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, Turkey (2001); Useful Life, Temporary Space, Shanghai (2000); Art for Sale, Shanghai Plaza, Shanghai (1999); Post-Sense Sensibility, Alien Bodies and Delusion, Beijing (1999) etc.


Cao Fei

(b. 1978, Guangzhou, China), currently living and working in Beijing, is one of the most active representatives of Chinese young artists internationally. Cao Fei merges influences from social commentary, popular aesthetics and Surrealism with documentary conventions in her films and installations. Her works reflect the rapid and unstable changes in Chinese society today and explore perception and reality in places as diverse as a Chinese factory.

Selected Solo Exhibitions:

Cao Fei, K21 Kunstsammlung, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, 2018

A hollow in a world too full, Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong, 2018

Cao Fei, MoMA PS1, New York, 2016


Selected Group Exhibitions:

Prison Architect at Forum Expanded, 69TH BERLINALE, Berlin, 2019

One Hand Clapping, Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum,New York,  2018

On Struggling to Remain Present When You Want to Disappear, Kadist, OCAT Shanghai, Shanghai, 2018


Chen Zhou 

(b. 1987, China) currently lives and works in Shanghai. His first feature, Life Imitation (2017), received the New: Vision Award at the CPH: DOX Film Festival, Asian Perspective Award at DMZ film festival, and was nominated in the Official Selection of 61st BFI London Film Festival. He is also selected as the artist of Art Review Future Greats 2018. His latest project, Blue Hole was exhibited at White Cube Hong Kong in 2018.


Selected Solo Exhibitions:

Kaufman, AIKE, Shanghai, 2014

I’m not not not Chen Zhou, Magician Space, Beijing,2013


Selected Group Exhibitions:

Emerald City, chi K11 Art Foundation Pop-up Space, Hong Kong, 2018

Cold Nights, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, 2017

2nd Asian Film and Video Art Forum (AFVAF), National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, 2017

After Us, chi K11 Art Museum, Shanghai, 2017