If He Doesn’t Support Artists, Then He Is Not A Gentleman
Hi Art, September 2014
Every time when Guo Degang’s crosstalk performance comes to the end, he always sings the Big Truths. In its lyrics: "If he doesn't support artists, then he is not a gentleman." It means, if the rich want to show off their richness in front of the poor, they had better spend money on seeing performances and sponsoring art, which will make them look higher up on the pecking order. In fact the lyrics only speaks of artists' wish. If it were the fact, then it doesn't have to be sung everyday and everywhere. After years of training and education, a general tacit understanding has been reached, and all Chinese can habitually determine what the real truth is: for example, if "the situation is excellent" is mentioned, it indicates that the current situation actually is not very good; if "stability and unity" is mentioned, it indicates that it's neither stable nor united lately; "harmony" indicates disharmony, and so on. "If he doesn't support artists, then he is not a gentleman", while the truth should be "there is no gentleman, and people don't support artists." Otherwise there won't be so many various interest groups seeking gain at the galleries' expenses in a small 798, no matter how slender their profit is, or how precarious they are now.
In recent years it seems not so common but in the past it indeed was often seen that a "tycoon" who stood in the middle of the street with a bag under his arm and even at about four o'clock in the afternoon with a toothpick in his mouth which made people wonder what he had eaten as lunch shouting at a phone about a reinvesting of several billions before he hailed a pedicab and went away on it. Pretending to be somebody who you are not while you are struggling for a meager livelihood makes people feel sorry for you and do not know whom to hate. In the old days when the rickshaw pullers outside the Beijing Qianmen said hello to each other they usually said: "Have you eaten?" This sentence is a greeting of giving each other face, a primer full of good will. The expected answer was "Yes, I have eaten", which meant this rickshaw puller had earned money that day and had used what he earned to have a meal, as well as indicating that his family have something to eat that day. Afterwards the greeting has been spread to all walks of life and become a greeting in line with national conditions, or a national greeting. Even when the central leadership meet with foreign guests, they also wish to let the first translator ask: "Have you eaten?" Having meal in time is the most important mission that our nation has dreamed of to accomplish for thousands of years. It's not only the temptation on the tip of the tongue, but also the realization of the value of existence of Chinese people. No matter what "ism" or party ruled this land in the history, after all the situational slogans such as development, reform, strengthening the national power, revitalization and so on they put forward, actually the only and absolute theme the central government and governments at all levels in every dynasty finally need to resolve is always whether people can eat enough or eat well.
Painters seem to be powerless on describing hunger. So far, I only remember Jiang Zhaohe's The Homeless People, in which the starving people are waiting in line desperately with an empty bowl in their hands. Later an oil painting depicting a farmer-like old man holding a bowl also appeared. Both paintings got nationally noticed at that time. Comparing with painters, it seems much easier for writers to write about hunger. Lu Wei, the screenwriter of the movie To Live, used to write about a painter friend who lived at Old Summer Palace: his main task everyday was not to conceive painting, but to contemplate how to eat the next meal for free. In order to have a meal he made a set of complicated plans, such as whose home he should eat in today, whose home he should eat in tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and two days after tomorrow, and how to eat without causing any embarrassment to each other, and so on. In those days everyone need rationed food stamps to exchange food, so if you went to somebody's home for meal, it was just a one-time trip, otherwise the people you visited won't have enough food for themselves in that month. You had to make a precise calculation on it. It would take too long to tell the suffering, hunger and tears in full.
Yu Hua, the writer who in my mind is the most worthy of a Nobel Prize in China, always shows special preference to describing hunger. In his novel Why There Is No Music he depicted an unusual man Ma Er: Ma Er can hold a whole shrimp in his mouth to eat the shrimp meat and spit out an intact shrimp shell by using his tongue only. Ma Er eats quickly, attentively, never raising his head before he finishes. In Yu Hua's another novel Classical Love he described a more cruel and bloody picture of hunger. The Classical Love subverts the traditional love story of a Cinderella boy and a rich girl pledging to marry each other without parental permission in the back garden of the girl's home before the lucky boy becoming the emperor announced number one scholar later, or similar self-deceiving fantasy. During the famine period, the gifted young scholar didn't become the emperor announced number one scholar, and the rich girl's home was destroyed. When the young man met the young girl again in a small restaurant, the young girl had become a "food person" in food person market. The description in this novel is much more vivid than Fantasy Tales by Ji Xiaolan. A "food person" is a human being whose flesh was going to be a dish on table. In famine years flesh of human beings was eatable.
In Zhong Acheng's The King of Chess the writer described the king of chess Wang Yisheng: "When he heard the clinking of aluminum dinner pails made by people taking food ahead, he closed his eyes, with mouth tightly shut, as if he felt sick. After he got his meal, he started to eat it immediately and quickly. His Adam's apple bobbed in his throat. His face was full of tension. He stopped his eating constantly and suddenly, by using his whole index finger, to wipe a grain of cooked rice or a touch of oil or soup caught on his lips or chin into his mouth. If a grain of cooked rice fell on his clothes, he would press his finger on it right away, and transferred it into his mouth. If the transferring wasn't successful and the rice fell on the ground, he would stop moving his feet at once, and then turned himself around to look for it. At this moment if he happened to meet my eyes, he would slow down the process. After he finished the eating, he carefully sucked his chopsticks until they are totally clean, filled up his dinner pail with water, sipped the thin oil slick first, and then with a face of reaching the other shore safely, sipped the remaining water." This is the sequela of hunger. In Cao Naiqian's novel collection I Have No Choice But To Miss You At Night there is a story called Dan Wa. In the beginning of the story Lao Zhuzhu's family had built a cave house and was going to install door and windows. Traditionally, in event like installing door and windows, every household in the village should send a labor to help, and when the job was finished, each labor should have a fried rice cake to enjoy. Dan Wa came home early that day, because in that day it won't deduct any workpoints if he did so. Thus when Lao Zhuzhu went to the collective fields to call for labors, Dan Wa was not there. The fried rice cake was so rare that villagers usually could only eat it once a year during Spring Festival. Groundlessly missing the opportunity to eat fried rice cake, Dan Wa was very unhappy. However, he was embarrassed to tell people the truth, so from the morning till night, he made trouble everywhere for a whole day. It's a story about gluttonous which is developed from hunger.
Throughout Chinese history, severe famines were recorded in every dynasty. Accumulated from generation to generation, every Chinese remains a large area in the brain to store the memories of hunger. No matter how much money we have, it's still difficult to get rid of the fear of hunger and the consequent insecurity. We have been fighting hard unremittingly around the bottom line of survival. A cultural scholar in Taiwan has pointed out that Chinese culture is still a primitive culture but packaged with packing sheets of benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom and trust. A primitive culture is a culture of survival, whose primary feature is that all labor and the value of judgment must be subsistence-oriented, refusing spiritual value. Translated into classical Chinese it is: You can risk your life for a bite of food, because anything else is nonsense.
When some painter buddies get together, there is always someone complaining that the real collector like Zhang Boju is rare, the real gentleman is rare, while there are so many speculators who buying and selling art for survival. In fact, nobody has it easy. Who wouldn't want to live with both money and face, but is it in line with our national circumstances? Look, restaurants which live well are everywhere, while how many galleries are living well?
August 17 2014, Sunday
最近几年好像不常见了，以前老能看见中午不知道吃了什么，下午四点嘴里还叼着牙签，夹着包站在马路中间冲着电话喊着再投几个亿，接着伸手拦了辆三蹦子扬长而去的大款。缺吃少穿还要装其实最累，让人心疼同情怜悯，不知道该恨谁。以前北京前门外拉车的车把式见面头句话就是：吃了吗？这话其实是特别给面儿同时又是含蓄充满善意的垫话，就等对方回答说吃了，表示已经比别人先拉着活儿挣着钱且还拿刚挣的钱吃了饭了，同时家里一家大小今儿有着落了！后来这句问候传到各行各业，成了特别符合国情的礼仪用语，成了国问，中央领导会见外宾也恨不得先让翻译问一句have you eaten？到点吃饭其实是我们这个民族这个国家几千年来魂牵梦绕的第一要务，不仅仅是舌尖上的诱惑，而且已经是中国人存在价值的体现。能不能吃饱吃得再好点儿成了历朝历代中央和地方各级政府，华夏土地上出现过的所有主义和政党，在提出发展改革强国振兴等等一系列应景的口号之后最终真正要落实和解决的唯一绝对主题。