The painter Hu Jie once lived in the Yuanmingyuan Artists’ Village1. Later, he filmed a documentary called “Seeking the Soul of Lin Zhao.” I saw it at a gathering of painter friends in Song Village2 and was quite shocked by it.
Lin Zhao and Zhang Zhixin were both followers of the Communist Party of China. But faced with reality, they went through painful reflections and expressed their doubts. They rebelled against the Party, shouted their cries for justice, and in the end died for the truth.
In memory of these two martyrs and to refuse to forget, we began developing the idea of creating statues for the soul of the Chinese nation.
In 1993, I initiated the “Performance Art—Lawsuit Against the Beijing Public Security Bureau for Violating Human Rights,” for which I was arrested and sentenced to forced labor. During this time, I was held in a rubber cell, put in solitary confinement, and tortured for three hours with electric shocks from six electric batons used simultaneously. In prison, I created more than 100 large acrylic and ink paintings and wrote “Divided by Life and Death,” a 450,000-character account of my life in prison. Part of my work was later included in my picture album, “Iron Roses’ Memory of China.”
In October 2006, I was once again put in prison for the crime of “subversion of state power.” While serving my sentence at the Luqiao Detention Center in Taizhou, Zhejiang Province, I wrote a 300,000-character rebuttal called “Performance Art Class Dismissed.” I tried to commit suicide so as to leave this life. What I didn’t expect was I would come back from the dead.
At the end of 2009, upon release from prison, I was allowed to return to Beijing. During the period of my [post-release] deprivation of political rights, I took the risk of once again being charged with a crime and, together with my wife Zhu Chunliu, started making the sculptures of Lin Zhao and Zhang Zhixin. Despite all kinds of threats and harassment by the police, we completed the clay sculpture of Lin Zhao. At a comments session on the first draft of the Lin Zhao clay sculpture, Professor Qian Liqun donated 10,000 yuan on the spot and proposed to raise money to cast the statue in bronze to make it everlasting. With the money raised from people domestically and abroad, we finally finished the two bronze statues of Lin Zhao and Zhang Zhixin.
On April 10, 2010, the Exhibition of Two Bronze Statues of Lin Zhao and Zhang Zhixin opened at the 798 Hong San Fang Art Zone, but was immediately banned by the authorities. Our original plan to display the statues at the 798 Art Square was also blocked by the authorities.
In such a huge China, there is not even a corner for the public display of the statues of these two martyrs. I once expressed my wish to donate the statues to Peking University and Renmin University of China—the respective alma maters of Lin Zhao and Zhang Zhixin—for display on campus. But they also politely turned me down.
On September 9, 2010, breaking through all kinds of obstruction, we finally set up the two bronze statues in my backyard for the public to view and to pay their respects. I also held a celebration for their completion, marking the birth of the “Garden of Iron Roses.” Since then, throngs of mourners have come to pay their respects and to lay flowers. Because of this, the authorities view the “Garden of Iron Roses” as a thorn in their eye and have closely monitored it.
During the brief blossoming of the “Jasmine” street protests in 2011, the authorities became so paranoid that the police wrapped up the statues to prevent people from coming and paying respect to them. The authorities also closely monitored my wife and me.
During that year, my wife and I holed up in our shabby home and compiled the “Iron Roses’ Memory of China” picture album. It’s a compendium in honor of good conscience and a sorrowful soul’s hope and cry for the spirit of the Chinese people. My gratitude goes to Professor Qian Liqun for writing the preface to the picture albums.
Naturally, this picture album cannot be officially published in China. We raised funds and found a printing house to print it privately. Still, it was stopped by the police. The money we paid for printing was also not returned. I thank the Human Rights in China Biweekly for publishing this picture album in installments on the Internet abroad.
I hope that “Iron Roses’ Memory of China” lives up to the praise of Professor Qian Liqun:
History freezes and crystallizes here. This is an independent civil society intellectual history that seeks freedom of thought and a history of the civil society movement that fights for democracy and against autocracy. The picture album constitutes a spiritual genealogy of the Chinese civil society: from the “May 19 ” call for a democratic movement by Lin Xiling3, the planting of the seeds of the “Spark” group in the 1960s led by Lin Zhao and Zhang Chunyuan4, the swan songs of Zhang Zhixin, Li Jiulian5, Zhong Haiyuan6, Lu Wenxiu, and Wang Peiying7 during the 1966-76 “Cultural Revolution,” to the rise of Beijing’s “Xidan Democracy Wall” at the end of the 1970s, and the ensuing Tiananmen Square Democracy Movement at the end of the 1980s.
“Iron Roses” is constructed as a history of civil society spiritual art. It is performance art; even more, it is spiritual resistance. What unfolded around the two bronze statues is a decisive battle between beauty and ugliness, love and hate, solemnity and coarseness, truth and absurdity, and life and death!
February 9, 2013
1. Yuanmingyuan Artists’ Village, located in a western Beijing suburb, was settled by a group of young artists in the 1980s, who transformed the area into a bastion of the new Chinese avant garde.^
2. Song Village, or Songzhuang, an art colony located in Tongzhou District, Beijing, is the largest and most famous artist community in Beijing. Originally representing the avant-garde, the area now accommodates more than 2,000 artists who paint in varying styles, ranging from the avant-garde to the academic.^
3. Lin Xiling was labeled a rightist in 1957, arrested as an anti-revolutionary in 1958, and sentenced to 15 years in prison. She was one of six rightists not reinstated during the Party’s 1978 rehabilitation campaign.^
4. Zhang Chunyuan was labeled a rightist in 1957 when he was a student in Lanzhou University, arrested in 1960 for organizing and publishing Spark magazine, and arrested again in 1961 after escaping from jail. He was executed in Lanzhou in 1970 and posthumously rehabilited in 1981.^
5. Li Jiulian was executed in Xin County, Jiangxi Province, in December 1977 for being a “couter-revolutionary.”^
6. Zhong Haiyuan was executed in April 1978 for “viciously attacking Chairman Hua.” After she was shot in the back, her kidney was removed by military doctor and transplanted to an injured air force pilot.^
7. Wang Peiying was arrested in 1968 for publicly supporting former President Liu Shaoqi, and executed in 1970 on the charge of “counterrevolutionary behavior.”^