This chronology covers over forty years of development in Chinese contemporary art. It focuses on the intersecting paths of art production and important exhibitions and events on the mainland and overseas, with reference to the social context of China.



1970
 

Some faculty, students, and artists from Beijing and Shanghai are sent down to labour in farming villages in the countryside.

1971

The United Nations General Assembly restores the lawful rights of the People's Republic of China.

Lin Biao, Mao Zedong’s designated successor, is killed in a plane crash in Mongolia alongside some of his family members. 

Zhou Enlai appoints traditional artists to produce landscape and bird-and-flower paintings suitable for interior decoration and sale abroad. This is regarded as a refuge for professional traditional artists. 

1972

US President Richard Nixon makes an unprecedented eight-day visit to China, and meets with Mao Zedong.

A national exhibition celebrating the thirty-year anniversary of Mao’s speeches at the Yan’an Forum on Art and Literature opens in Beijing and Shanghai. Mao’s speech to artistic and literary workers in 1942 specified ‘Art Serves the People’ as the guiding principle for socialist literature and art. 

1973

Deng Xiaoping is called back to Beijing to assist Zhou Enlai to rebuild the economy and society.  

College students, faculty, and artists, including those from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, return from the countryside.

The first National Birth Planning Conference convenes in Beijing and full implementation of family planning begins, with emphasis placed on late marriage and later birth. This mandate progresses to become the one-child policy in 1980. 

1974

Traditional art—created with Zhou Enlai’s encouragement since 1971—is criticised as ‘black painting’ once again. A Black Painting Exhibition is held in Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi’an to educate artists to abide by the revolution’s philosophy, but it provides a new opportunity to learn about traditional culture. 

Zhang Wei, Yang Yushu, and Zhao Wenliang participate in the first No Name Group exhibition Underground Exhibition of Eleven Artists at the Fusuijing Building in Beijing. 

1975
Fusuijing Building

Fusuijing Building

Zhang Wei (born 1952, Beijing)


Chiang Kai-shek dies in Taipei at age 87.

The Hong Kong Museum of Art organises the first Hong Kong Art Biennial exhibition.

1976

On 5 April, large crowds lay wreaths at Beijing's Monument to the People's Heroes to commemorate Premier Zhou Enlai, who died in January. Poems attacking the Gang of Four are on public display, provoking a police crackdown. This is known as the April Fifth Movement. 

Mao Zedong, Chairman of CPC, dies in September, and the Gang of Four are arrested a month later.

The official art magazine Meishu (Art), inactive for ten years, resumes publishing.

1977

All colleges and universities including the art academies across China resume entrance examinations. Students become a potent force in the Reform and Open Door Policy and the new art movement in the 1980s. 

1978

In the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee, Deng Xiaoping’s core role in leadership is confirmed. 

The Democracy Wall in Xidan, Beijing, becomes a site for urban intellectuals to freely express their political views during the ‘Beijing Spring’ period.

Exhibition of French 19th Century Rural Landscape Painting opens in Beijing, and later travels to Shanghai.

1979
Yuanmingyuan: Rebirth

Yuanmingyuan: Rebirth

Huang Rui (born 1952, Beijing)


The United States and the People's Republic of China establish diplomatic relations.

The Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau shuts down the Democracy Wall.

The Stars Group outdoor exhibition opens in the garden of the National Art Museum of China. Feng Guodong, Huang Rui, Ma Desheng, and Wang Keping participate. When the police closes the exhibition, artists protest and march from the Democracy Wall to CPC Beijing Municipal Committee. The municipal government later accepts artist demands and the exhibition relocates to Beijing’s Beihai Park. 

No Name Group holds the first public exhibition No Name Art Group Exhibition in Huafang Studio in Beihai Park. 

1980

Hu Yaobang becomes the General Secretary of the CPC, and Zhao Ziyang later becomes the Premier of the State Council.

The first four special economic zones are established in Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Shantou, and Xiamen.

The 5th National Art Exhibition opens in Beijing. This is the first official national art exhibition since the end of the Cultural Revolution. 

1981

The collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston is exhibited in Beijing and Shanghai, with work by seventy American artists including Jackson Pollock. This marks the first exhibition of overseas modernist and abstract paintings in China.

1982

Several foreign art exhibitions open in Beijing and later travel to Shanghai, including the Armand Hammer Collection and Exhibition on 250 Years of French Painting.

1983

In October, Deng Xiaoping delivers the speech ‘Urgent Tasks for the Party on the Organisation Front and the Ideological Front’; this leads to the Anti-Spiritual Pollution campaign. 

A Picasso exhibition is held at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, for the first time.

Taipei Fine Arts Museum opens in Taiwan.

Liu Heung Shing’s photography book China after Mao is published in the United States.

1984
84-ink-5

84-ink-5

Wang Peng (born 1964, Chinese)


China participates in the 1984 Summer Olympics, held in Los Angeles, California, while most European socialist nations refuse to participate. 

China and United Kingdom sign the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong.

The 6th National Art Exhibition showcases 3,723 artworks. Many works are rejected due to the Anti-Spiritual Pollution campaign. In response, artists initiate art societies, organisations, and exhibitions, which becomes a nationwide avant-garde art movement known as the 85 New Wave. 

1985

Robert Rauschenberg’s Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI) exhibition opens at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing. The pop art, installation, and ready-made works shown in this exhibition has a profound impact on the 85 New Wave. 

Maryn Varbanov, a Bulgarian artist educated in China but living in Paris for over a decade, returns to teach contemporary fibre arts in Hangzhou. His fibre art class is the only course about modern art taught in China, and nurtured many prominent artists such as Gu Wenda and Liang Shaoji.

With the proliferation of the new art movement, artists advocate for ideological liberation and call for creative freedom during the 4th Congress of the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles—an organisation composed of nationwide associations of writers and artists directly under the state-level and the central government.

Magazines (Meishu Sichao) The Trend of Art Thought and (Zhongguo Meishubao) Fine Arts in China are established to introduce contemporary art theory and avant-garde art in China.

Art groups in Fujian and Shanghai organise New Figurative Exhibition and Exhibitions of Works by Young Artists from Fujian and Shanghai. Artists including Cai Guo-Qiang, Huang Yong Ping, Zhang Jianjun, Zhang Xiaogang, and Chen Zhen participate in these exhibitions. 

The exhibition 85 New Space, organised by Geng Jianyi and Zhang Peili, is held at Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, marking the beginning of the 85 New Wave Movement. 

1986

In major Chinese cities, students demonstrate against corruption and for political transparency.

Huang Yong Ping organises the first Xiamen Dada exhibition in Fujian, while Geng Jianyi and Zhang Peili organise the Pond Society exhibition in Hangzhou.

1987
The_Second_Situation

The Second Situation

Geng Jianyi (born 1962, Zhengzhou)


Taiwan ends martial law, which lasted thirty years.

CPC General Secretary Hu Yaobang resigns in the wake of the student protests, after which the Anti-Bourgeois Liberalism campaign is officially launched nationwide.

The magazine The Trend of Art Thought ceases publication.

1988
Mao Zedong: Red Grid No. 2

Mao Zedong: Red Grid No. 2

Wang Guangyi (born 1957, Harbin)


Six Small Turntables

Six Small Turntables

Huang Yong Ping (born 1954, Xiamen)


The Last Emperor, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, wins nine Oscars. China and Italy co-produced the film.

The preparation committee for the China/Avant-Garde exhibition is founded in Beijing, headed by Gao Minglu. This large-scale artist-organised public exhibition assembles and presents avant-garde works created since 1985 across China. 

1989

Hu Yaobang’s death sparks the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Zhao Ziyang, then General Secretary of the CPC, later resigns. While the army clears the square on 4 June, students, protesters, and soldiers are injured or killed. 

Jiang Zemin becomies General Secretary of the CPC and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.

The China/Avant-Garde exhibition opens in the National Art Museum of China in Beijing. It is the first public modern art exhibition shown in a Chinese national museum and it marks the conclusion of the 85 New Wave.

In Hong Kong, Hanart TZ Gallery organises the third exhibition of the Stars Group, The Stars: Ten Years. Previous exhibitions of the Stars Group were held in 1979 and 1980. 

Huang Yong Ping, Gu Dexin, and Yang Jiechang, three Chinese artists living abroad, participate in the exhibition Magiciens de la Terre at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

1990
 

The short-lived Wild Lily Student Movement in Taiwan begins. 

Shanghai Stock Exchange, China's first, is inaugurated, and a development plan for rural Pudong district is launched. This marks socialist China’s entrance into the marketisation era. 

Fine Arts in China stops publication.

Chine Demain Pour Hier, an exhibition of Chinese diaspora artists curated by Fei Dawei, opens in Pourieres, France.

Avant-garde artists, writers, and critics begin to gather at Yuanmingyuan, the Old Summer Palace in Beijing, where they form a live/work artist village. 

1991

Christie’s launches its first Chinese Oil Painting auctions in Hong Kong.

New Generation Art opens at the National Museum of Chinese History in Beijing. It is regarded as the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) graduation exhibition of 1989 because many artists could not participate in the graduation exhibition due to the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989. 

Big-Tail Elephant Group Art Exhibition is held at the Guangzhou Cultural Palace in January, featuring work by Lin Yilin, Chen Shaoxiong, and Liang Juhui.

An abridged version of China/Avant-Garde entitled I Don’t Want to Play Cards with Cézanne Anymore is held at Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, California.

Water (Standard Version from the Cihai Dictionary)

Water (Standard Version from the Cihai Dictionary)

Zhang Peili (born 1957, Hangzhou)


1992

Deng Xiaoping conducts an inspection tour of the new economic zones in south China and delivers a speech stressing the continuation of economic reform. Later, under the leadership of Jiang Zemin, the CPC Central Committee puts forward the concept ‘socialist market economy’. 

Documenta IX, Encountering the Others, is held in Kassel, Germany, and participating Chinese artists include Li Shan, Wang Youshen, Ni Haifeng, and Cai Guo-Qiang.

1992 Guangzhou – The First 1990s Biennial Art Fair (The Oil Painting Section) opens as the first avant-garde art exhibition sponsored by a private collector, and some works from the exhibition are bought by collectors.

1993

Johnson Chang Tsong-zung and Li Xianting curate China’s New Art, Post-1989 in Hong Kong, which subsequently travels to Australia and the United States. Several Chinese art exhibitions open around the same time, including China Avant-garde! at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin and Fragmented Memory: The Chinese Avant-Garde in Exile at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio.

Zhang Peili, Yu Hong, Wang Guangyi, Liu Wei, Li Shan, Geng Jiangyi, Feng Mengbo, and Feng Lijun are among the thirteen mainland and Taiwanese artists invited to participate in the Passggio a Oriente (Passage to the East) exhibition at the 45th Venice Biennale in Italy.

The First Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT1) is inaugurated on 17 September at the Queensland Art Gallery in Australia. It is the first project to focus on contemporary art of Asia and the Pacific; seventy-six artists are invited to participate, including Choi Yan-chi and Irene Chou from Hong Kong and Yu Youhan from mainland China.

1994

The avant-garde publication Black Cover Book is published privately in July and circulates underground. Its editorial board is comprised of Ai Weiwei, Zeng Xiaojun, Xu Bing, and Feng Boyi. Ai and Zeng subsequently edit and publish the White Cover Book and Grey Cover Book in 1995 and 1997 respectively. 

Many Yuanmingyuan village artists affected by the household registration system move to Songzhuang, Beijing.

1995
Untitled

Untitled

Fang Lijun (born 1963, Handan)


A Chinese version of Windows 95 is published in China. This is the Microsoft’s first edition of Chinese Windows.

The first Gwangju Biennale, Beyond the Borders, opens on 20 September with a focus on global citizenship that transcends divisions of ideology, geography, religion, culture, and art. Fang Lijun, Feng Mengbo, Lu Shengzhong, Song Dong, and Wang Jianwei participate in the Biennale.

The Taiwan Pavilion is inaugurated at the 46th Venice Biennale, exhibiting the work of Hu Chun-ming, Huang Chih-yang, Huang Chin-ho, Lien Te-ching, and Wu Mali.

1996
Breathing, Tiananmen Square

Breathing, Tiananmen Square

Song Dong (born 1966, Beijing)


Breathing, Houhai, Back Sea

Breathing, Houhai, Back Sea

Song Dong (born 1966, Beijing)


In March, the Shanghai Art Museum organises the first Shanghai Biennale, Open Space. The aim is to position Shanghai as the main gate to connect China with the West through art.

Qiu Zhijie and Wu Meichun curate Image and Phenomenon, the first video art exhibition at the China Academy of Art, Hangzhou.

Patrick Lee, Leung Chi Wo, Phoebe Man, Sara Wong, Leung Mee Ping, and Tsang Tak-ping found Para Site, the first independent art space in Hong Kong.

1997
Rainbow

Rainbow

Zeng Fanzhi (born 1964, Wuhan)


China’s former leader Deng Xiaoping dies. 

The United Kingdom hands over Hong Kong to China on 1 July.

Catherine David is the first female artistic director appointed to Documenta X. For the first time, Documenta has an underlying curatorial concept of investigating the function of art in relation to major shifts in global culture and politics at the turn of the millennium. Chinese artist Wang Jiangwei is selected to participate in Documenta. 

1998
Bloodline Series—Big Family No. 17-1998

Bloodline Series—Big Family No. 17-1998

Zhang Xiaogang (born 1958, Kunming)


Inside Out: New Chinese Art opens at Asia Society Museum and PS1 Contemporary Art Center in New York. Curated by Gao Minglu, the exhibition shows the work of fifty-one Chinese artists including Big Tail Elephant group, Gu Wenda, Huang Yong Ping, New Analysts Group, Qiu Zhijie, Song Dong, and Zhang Peili. It subsequently tours internationally.

A Century in Crisis: Modernity and Tradition in the Art of Twentieth-Century China is held at Guggenheim Soho. The modern half of the exhibition travels to Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

The first International Ink Biennale of Shenzhen is held at the Guan Shanyue Art Museum in December.

Chinese Contemporary Art Award (CCAA), the first of its kind, is founded by Uli Sigg.

1999

NATO launches air strikes against Yugoslavia. The Chinese Embassy is bombed during the strikes on 28 May, triggering anti-American protests in China. 

Portugal hands over Macau to China. 

Works by more than twenty Chinese artists are exhibited in d’APERTutto curated by Harald Szeemann at the 48th Venice Biennale. Huang Yong Ping is one of two artists showing work in the national pavilion of France. Cai Guo-Qiang becomes the first Chinese artist to be awarded the Golden Lion for his installation Rent Collection Courtyard.

Wu Hung curates Transience: Experimental Chinese Art at the End of the Twentieth Century at the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago. Twenty-one artists, including Xing Danwen and Yin Xiuzhen, participate in this exhibition, which tours throughout the United States.

Qiu Zhijie curates the first Post-Sense Sensibility exhibition in the basement of an apartment building in Beijing.

Still Life

Still Life

Ai Weiwei (born 1957, Beijing)


2000
 
Family Tree

Family Tree

Zhang Huan (born 1965, Anyang)


The 3rd Shanghai Biennale appoints Hou Hanru and Toshio Shimizu as curators. This marks a new beginning for biennales in China, led by international curators, focusing on contemporary art. 

Ai Weiwei and Feng Boyi organise the Fuck Off exhibition at Eastlink Gallery on 4 November, in which forty-eight participating artists—including Ai Weiwei, Cao Fei, Chen Shaoxiong, Gu Dexin, Lin Yilin, Yang Fudong, and Zheng Guogu—use different gestures and non-cooperative methods to express their understanding of the contemporary art system.

Non-profit organisation Asia Art Archive launches in Hong Kong with the intent to promote and preserve the international standing of Asian contemporary visual art.

2001
Duchamp Retrospective Exhibition in China

Duchamp Retrospective Exhibition in China

Shi Xinning (born 1969, Liaoning Province)


A Chinese fighter jet collides with a US surveillance aircraft, which is forced to make an emergency landing in Hainan, China. 

In January, Beijing is announced as the host city of the 2008 Olympic Games.

On 11 December, China becomes a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The Taiwan Pavilion at the Venice Biennale becomes a collateral event. 

Hong Kong participates for the first time at the Venice Biennale. The thematic exhibition is titled Magic at Street Level and features Hong Kong artists Leung Chi Wo, Ho Siu-kee, and Ellen Pau. 

The 798 Art District is founded in Beijing.

2002

Shanghai is awarded the right to host the 2010 World Expo.

Moganshan Road Art District is founded in Shanghai.

The first Guangzhou Triennial, Reinterpretation: A Decade of Experimental Chinese Art (1990–2000), opens at the Guangdong Museum of Art in November, curated by Wu Hung, Wang Huangsheng, Huang Zhuan, and Feng Boyi. It is a major retrospective of Chinese contemporary art.  

2003

Hu Jintao becomes the President of the People’s Republic of China.

During the 1 July protest, Hong Kong citizens march to oppose the Government’s legislative proposal to implement Article 23 of Basic Law and the handling of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic. 

China establishes a national pavilion at the 50th Venice Biennale but the first official exhibition is cancelled due to the outbreak of the SARS epidemic. China continues to be a national participant in the Biennale.

2004
It Looks Like a Landscape Painting

It Looks Like a Landscape

Liu Wei (born 1972, Beijing)


Calligraphy Peach Blossom Garden

Calligraphy Peach Blossom Garden

Yangjiang Group (Yangjiang, founded 2002)


During the Sino-French Culture Year, blockbuster exhibitions to celebrate Chinese contemporary art are organised in France. In June, Fei Dawei curates The Monk and the Demon: Chinese Contemporary Art at Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon with the support of the Guangdong Museum of Art and the Guy & Myriam Ullens Foundation. In July, Fan Dian and Yin Shuangxi curate China-Imagination: An Exhibition of Contemporary Chinese Sculpture in July at Jardin des Tuileries, Paris. This is the first time Chinese contemporary art is featured in an intergovernmental cultural exchange project. 

Wu Hung and Christopher Phillips curate Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China at the Asia Society, New York, in June. Over sixty artists and 130 works are presented. The exhibition tours to major international art institutions including Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

2005
Terrazzo 2005.4/5

Terrazzo 2005.4/5

Wang Guangle (born 1976, Songxi)


Blogging becomes popular in China. 

Major coverage of Chinese contemporary art appears for the first time in the June edition of Time magazine.

2006
Whose Utopia

Whose Utopia

Cao Fei (born 1978, Guangzhou)


Sotheby’s holds its first New York sale of Chinese contemporary art.

Museums Advisory Group (MAG) of the Consultative Committee on the Core Arts and Cultural Facilities of the West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong proposes to build M+, a museum for visual culture. 

2007

Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, created by Belgian collectors Guy and Myrian Ullens, opens in Beijing in November.

2008

An earthquake hits Sichuan on 12 May. Intellectuals use social networking, blogs, and bulletin board systems to demand an explanation about the local corruption that led to the collapse of a large number of poorly constructed schools. 

The Olympic Games open in Beijing.

The first edition of the Hong Kong International Art Fair opens in May at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Over one hundred galleries from Europe, America, mainland China, and Hong Kong participate, successfully positioning Hong Kong as an important international art market in Asia.

2009

In China, the social media platform Weibo’s popularity rises; this phenomenon drastically shifts the way public affairs are discussed in the media. 

The Academy of Chinese Contemporary Arts is established. Cai Guo-qiang, Fan Lijun, Wang Guangyi, Yue Minjun, Zhang Xiaogang, and Qiu Zhijie are among the twenty-two artists appointed as fellows of the Academy. 

2010

Expo 2010 Shanghai opens on 1 May with the theme Better City Better Life, signifying Shanghai’s new status as the next great world city. Including China, 192 countries participate in the largest Expo in history.

Google withdraws from China. 

The Minsheng Art Museum, funded by the China Minsheng Bank, is established in Shanghai. This attempt indicates the new interest in contemporary art in China’s financial capital market. 

2011

The Yongtaiwen railway accident on 23 July provokes discussions on social networks such as Weibo. This leads the government to improve information disclosure and emergency measures in relation to public safety incidents. 

Ai Weiwei is held in detention for eighty-one days. He is subsequently charged with tax fraud, but claims his activism around the Sichuan earthquake is the real reason.  

Guy and Myriam Ullens, Belgian art collectors, auction their collection of Chinese contemporary art. The sale sets new records for Chinese contemporary art. 

2012

Due to worsening environmental conditions, China releases a new set of Ambient Air Quality standards in February 2012. This is the first time that a PM2.5 standard is set in China. 

Xi Jinping is appointed General Secretary of the CPC, and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission. 

Art Basel acquires Hong Kong International Art Fair and renames it Art Basel in Hong Kong. 

Dr Uli Sigg donates 1,463 artworks from his Chinese contemporary art collection to M+ of the West Kowloon Cultural District. M+ acquires another forty-seven works from Dr Sigg’s private collection. Named M+ Sigg Collection, this holding of 1,510 artworks is the largest and the most comprehensive public collection of Chinese contemporary art in the world.