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Shanghai-based artist takes bold stand against Chinese corruption with paintings

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 9th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Artist Zhang Bingjian's latest project is easy on the eye - but with a virulent point to make as well. The Chinese artist, now based in Shanghai paints his portraits in the same rosy pinks used directly in China's 100-yuan bill which still bears the monstrous dictator Mao Zedong's face. The portraits are a "Hall of Fame" - or "Shame" depicting Chinese officials who have been nailed for corruption.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Zhang's artwork is intended to raise the issue as well as encourage the public discussion of corruption. He has hundreds of paintings in his "Hall of Fame" of corrupt officials who have already been sentenced.

"It doesn't matter if they have been found guilty of corruption for ten yuan or one million. This is just to make people think, seeing how it will end and making them reflect more," Zhang said. "This is the real power of art."

Between the ages of 6 and 16, Zhang suffered along with his country during the Cultural Revolution, a decade-long campaign led by Zedong that resulted in "ten years of catastrophe" as millions of people died in a national binge of self-destruction.

Zhang was told as a child that children in the U.S. were hungry and had no heating in the winter. This version of events came crashing down after he moved to the University of South Carolina to study a master's degree in visual arts, and learned that a turkey cost roughly three dollars.

"That period of time really helped me to see from a distance and have a vision much more clear of my country," Zhang says.

The "Hall of Fame" paintings are made in the south of China, where millions of copies of paintings are made with cheap labor and materials. "For me this is a way of showing the whole process of Chinese economy exports from provinces like Shenzhen, Guangzhou or Zhejiang," Zhang says.

China has recently been placed number 80 out of the 176 countries in Transparency International's index of state corruption. This rating will remain on the table for the term of China's newest Communist Party leaders.

"This year China just ranks in the middle, better than other countries like Russia [ranked at 133]," Professor Hu Xingdou of the Beijing Institute of Technology says.

"China is not the worst. The ranking shows that the country has done a lot in anti-corruption over these years, but still not enough."

Last year saw a host of horror stories related to China's corruption. Among them were revelations of the vast wealth held by Premier Wen Jiabao, to the downfall of Chongqing party Chief Bo Xilai, whose wife was convicted of murdering a British businessman.

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