A Metaphor for Identities in Transition through Urbanization and Globalization: Tofu and One Hundred Surnames

  • Yang Jing


The Chinese artist Chen Qiulin has been taking displacement and the resulting unrest in people’s identity as her persistent theme since the early 1990s. Focusing on a series of her works made since 2004 dealing explicitly with tofu and Chinese surnames, this paper examines her exploration of identities in transition in the context of China’s mass urbanization and globalization. By showing the artist’s conceptual evolution, her preference for materials and mediums, and her exhibition strategy, this paper explores two issues. First, it illuminates how the artist has transformed “tofu” and “surname” into a metaphor for the dilemma of identity under the urbanization in China. Second, it discusses how the artist has integrated her trans-cultural experience with Chinese migrant communities in Australia, to reflect the continuity and fluidity of cultural identity under global migration. The Tofu and One Hundred Surnames series provides a useful case study for examining the complexity of identity transition in Chinese contemporary art, which was previously not fully recognized.


Keywords: Chinese contemporary art, symbolic mobility, identity, memory, displacement, transition, diaspora, urbanization, global migration

maalis 18, 2019