Yesterday marked the 60-year celebration of the Communist revolution in China. I briefly watched a video of a military parade on the avenue in front of what had once been the imperial palace, “The Forbidden City”, in the middle of Beijing. The president of China was in the reviewing stand, watching the various platoons of troops goose-step past, and the tanks; of course- the tanks- rolling past Tiananmen Square. I could not help but notice that the music played by the bands was Western, as was the style of military uniforms, the clothes worn by the onlookers, and the design of the military hardware. All Western in origin. The only visuals I could see that were strictly Eastern were the old palace itself and the flocks of costumed dancers wearing designs of various Ethnic origins. (It is also a fact that, when any of these people dare to act on their ethnicity in any political way, they are squashed like bugs.) I suppose the truth in what I saw is that people of the West developed a strong visual and musical vocabulary for “power”, “might”, and “national pride”, so it would be natural for other peoples who don’t feel that their vocabulary is on the same grand scale, to borrow it from us.
On my visit to three Chinese cities that I have mentioned before, I was hard-pressed to find scenes that looked peculiarly Asian. The Chinese government seems proud to destroy remnants of the past in order to construct the future. In my painting of a little back street in Shanghai, I came as close as I could to a setting that was both modern and particularly Chinese. In Shanghai, our guide was pleased to show off all the high-end stores that rival anything I’ve seen in New York. In fact, they are identical to stores in New York. My first reaction to all the glam was, “Nooooooo! Turn back before it’s too late! Why in the world would you people choose to emulate our weakest traits, rather than our very best? You are not going to be one bit happier with all this expensive stuff than you were without it!” But, I suppose the lesson regarding stuff is only learned by wallowing in excess until it dawns on the possessors that there are higher aspirations in life. I certainly wish the Chinese well in learning their lessons and charting their future. The decisions they make affect us all.