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Tian Tian Xiang Shang – Every Day We Look Up

July 3, 2012

Danny Yung on Critical Thinking, Creativity, and Advocacy Arts

A well-known expression from the 1950s, tian tian xiang shangmaking progress every dayis a reference to Chairman Mao Zedong’s message to school children in China, a reminder to work hard and boost their aspirations for the future.

“Creativity is very, very important to social development, political development, and cultural development. Of course, when we talk about creativity, it is not just talking about creativity in art and culture, in singing and dancing, but more so as alternative ways of thinking, critical thinking. I think creativity is the most important energy that can be generated from critical thinking. Likewise, creativity also leads to critical thinking.”

- Danny Yung, June 2012

“Tian Tian Xiang Shang” Japan School Development Programme. Photo courtesy of Danny Hong Kong artist Danny Yung, Artistic Director at the Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Arts, began creating little boy caricatures and drawing comics in the 1950s as a primary school student in Hong Kong. As Danny explains, “In those years, the phrase ‘tian tian xiang shang’every day we look upwas written on the wall of every primary school in China … the slogan was written in huge characters stretching over the entire front wall, and it appeared quite threatening to the schoolchildren.”

After 33 years of continuous development, caricature drawings and conceptual comics, Danny had created a thematic, minimalistic form of a boy, standing in the simple posture of a bystander. In 2007, Danny held a comic exhibition in Shanghai entitled “Tian Tian Xiang Shang,” developing the form of the boy with his finger pointing up, his head and eyes looking to the sky—shedding the impression of the little boy as simply an onlooker or bystander. Danny called this little boy “Tian Tian.” Danny Yung and Tian Tian. Photo courtesy of Danny Yung.

“My expectations for artistic creativity were all carried out in the Comics Exhibition of 2007,” says Danny. “I have always wanted to stimulate and inspire our society to be more innovative through creativity, and hope that creativity could help promote and maintain public spaces, to stimulate thinking and enhance communication, to create a more open, equal and interactive platform.”

In 2012, a series of creative workshops and exhibitions titled “Tian Tian Xiang Shang: Creativity-for-Community and School Development Programme,” began in Hong Kong and Japan. The exhibition and workshops aim to inspire creativity among students, providing a platform for collective creativity and artistic exchange, as well as to provoke dialogues among practitioners of local creative industries. Calling the objective “knowledge through exploration,” Danny hopes that by stretching the extent of Tian Tian’s possibilities, a creative synergy with multi-cultural force will be formed. 

“Tian Tian Xiang Shang” Japan School Development Programme. Photo courtesy of Danny Yung.In a June 2012 interview with HRIC, Danny talked about the development of Tian Tian, his work with children, and the close relationship between critical thinking, creativity and advocacy through art.


Danny Yung is an experimental art pioneer. He is the founder and Co-artistic Director of Zuni Icosahedron, and Chairperson of the Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture. In the past 30 years he has been deeply involved in many different fields of the arts, particularly theatre, cartoon, film and video, and visual and installation art. He has worked in more than 100 theatrical productions as director, scriptwriter, producer, and stage designer. He is a passionate advocate of experimental arts and new art forms. He champions dialectical thinking and has made significant contributions to providing platforms for both acclaimed and budding artists to explore and practice theatre art in Hong Kong, as well as across Europe, Asia, and the United States. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential artists in Hong Kong and the region.