This chapter focuses on the artworks produced by Zhang Dali, Dai Guangyu and Jin Feng, whose subject matter involves common people, and it engages with three crucial discursive formations: violence, socioeconomic inequality, and utopian dreams. These artists are producing a ‘history from below’ (to borrow E.P. Thompson's expression): rescuing the common people from ‘the enormous condescension of posterity.’ They are making ordinary people assume the importance of the extraordinary. From the point of view of aesthetics, they are enacting a total revolution of the senses and in Rancière's words, making ‘heard as speakers those who had been perceived as mere noisy animals.’
Keywords: urban transformation, urban aesthetics, Zhang Dali, Dai Guangyu, Jin Feng, Beijing
Urban transformation in China constitutes both a domestic revolution and a world-historical event because it represents the largest construction project in the planet's history (Friedmann 2005; Wu 2007; Logan 2002). Various scholars have described it as an ‘urban revolution’ (Campanella 2008), since China would seem to have achieved ‘more success than failure’ in the ‘thirty years of urbanization’ (Xu 2013). Renowned Chinese writer Yu Hua, however, describes the transformation of the urban landscape and its inhabitants as a story of violence. Violent eviction has become the norm in China's urban revolution (Hsing 2010). Yu Hua uses the allegory of warfare to tell the tragic story of forced eviction, and concludes, ‘Even in a war, you give your enemy some time to surrender.’ He further argues that ‘Behind the situation is a developmental model saturated with revolutionary violence of the Cultural Revolution type’ (Yu 2011: 127).
Top-down regulatory urban development, often associated with deterministic policies of economic growth, property development, and planning control, has caused physical destruction and disruption of lifestyles and neighbourly ties, consequently resulting in dislocation, loss and precarity (Butler 2009: 25). The urban revolution (Lefebvre 2003), the persistent thread of violence, and, ultimately, the mechanisms of exclusion-inclusion derive from a reconfiguration of the meaning of living in a cityscape characterized by the juxtaposition of ruins, rubble, and warfare amid glittering and sleek high-rise buildings, echoing a master narrative of modernity, newness, forwardness, and progress.