We must first clarify this idea—what is Chinese culture? The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the way we interact with each other, romantic relationships, sense of languages, ways of speaking—do these belong to culture? Are we immersed in 5000 years of culture? As a purely modernist artist, would I have more profound, more deeply felt feelings toward Chinese culture than the ordinary person? I have read some of the pieces of Chinese literature that you mentioned; nevertheless, with the exception of Dream of the Red Chamber and some Tang poetry, the others cannot touch my soul. The essence of Chinese culture that I contemplate is the potential force of ideas like “the unity of heaven and man.” In the past 5000 years, our people have not been conscious of this power, because we have been isolated and closed to the world, and we lack a spirit of independence. Yet we are supposed to have this power—an ethnic group that has existed for thousands of years must possess some eternal elements. If you don’t develop these elements, however, then they will forever remain in darkness and never see the light of day, which also means they will never be able to truly exist. My method is to use Western culture as a hoe to unearth our ancient culture, so we can realize its proper value. Western culture has been “divided” for thousands of years. I want to now join the two shores—earth and sky, the material and the immaterial—and combine them into one. And for that task, I have some advantages: namely, the nourishment and enlightenment I receive from 5000 years of history.
There’s loads of good stuff in this interview with Can Xue over at Asymptote. [via Asymptote]