Xiao Lu
Translated from the Chinese by Archibald McKenzie
With a Foreword by Gao Minglu
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    What forces continue to oppress and restrain women artists in contemporary China? Some powerful answers are provided in this fictional memoir by Xiao Lu, whose art played a pivotal role in the “China Avant-Garde” exhibition that opened four months before Tiananmen Square erupted in violence. Her dramatic personal story is emblematic of the challenges facing many talented artists in contemporary China.

    eISBN: 978-988-8053-51-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xvi)
    Gao Minglu

    Although Xiao Lu’s Dialogue is written in the form of a novel, it is based on a true story. However, it is not only the story of a single individual. At the same time it presents a particularly important event in the history of Chinese contemporary art. All the names in the book are fictitious, but they are based on the authentic character of real people. For instance, in the novel, Xiao Lu’s name becomes “Xiao Xiao”, and the real person behind another important character, called “Lan Jun,” is Tang Song.

    I began the preparations for the China Avant-garde Exhibition...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-2)

    When you enter my apartment in Hujia Lou in Chaoyang, Beijing, you see my work Dialogue in the middle of the living-room. I eat every day at the L-shaped table in front of it. I designed the table to go with it.

    The days pass. I don’t know what day it is. I look outside. The ginkgo leaves are almost gone. It must be well into winter. I make myself a bowl of chicken soup. I sit at the table, thinking, chewing. I stare through the couple in my work carrying on their dialogue.

    Blue jazz calls me. I stare...

  5. Chapter 1
    (pp. 3-12)

    On 12 April 2004, on the “What’s New” page of Meishu Tongmeng,¹ the biggest contemporary art website in Beijing, its Editor-in-chief, Wu Yi, published my new work Fifteen Gunshots…from 1989 to 2003 and added the following editorial note:

    Revisiting Xiao Xiao’s famous shooting at the ’89 China Avantgarde Art Exhibition, we see in her new work Fifteen Gunshots…from 1989 to 2003, the process by which a work with feminist characteristics is misread by society and by its era….

    About Fifteen Gunshots...from 1989 to 2003

    Heaven knows love.

    Earth knows hate.

    Ghosts know having

    Neither love

    Nor hate.

    Fifteen years ago,...

  6. Chapter 2
    (pp. 13-23)

    Once inside the hairdresser’s, I said to the young woman behind the counter: “Could you get someone to wash my hair, somebody with strong hands; I’ve got a bit of a headache.”

    “Sure, I’ll go and get you a young guy.”

    I sat down in a swivel chair in front of the mirror, looked at myself. My face looked tired, subdued in spirit, and I shook my head.

    A young male hairdresser came, stood in front of the mirror, placed a large bottle of plainly packaged shampoo on the glass ledge. He energetically pressed the plunger on the bottle and...

  7. Chapter 3
    (pp. 24-37)

    The ringing telephone woke me from a deep dream. I grabbed the receiver by my bedside and asked in thick voice: “Who is it?”

    “It’s twelve noon, how come you’re still not up?” It was the voice of my best childhood friend Yan Jie.

    “I’m getting up now. Lately my natural clock has been confused about night and day.”

    “OK then! I’ll let your brain wake up first.”

    The dishcloth gourd vine outside the window had put forth some more tender green shoots during the night. In the noon-day light, they were languidly raising their tendrils towards the sun, and...

  8. Chapter 4
    (pp. 38-46)

    There is a conundrum which has long bothered me. It is about how I feel towards my own body; many of my actions are inexplicable. Sometimes I seem to be living in thin air, or between protective screens that cut me off from the world. Often when I can’t distinguish clearly between right and wrong, straight and crooked, I either ignore the elusive things which weigh on the deepest part of my heart, or I instinctively wish to forget them completely. I often say to people: “If you can’t think a problem through, don’t think about it.”

    It’s easy to...

  9. Chapter 5
    (pp. 47-56)

    Four years of life at the Subsidiary High School came to an end. In leaving Beijing, I only wanted to leave that demonic temptation which was entangling my body. Wei Bo was all advice and instructions: “Whatever happens, don’t tell your parents when you return! If you say anything about it, other people will despise you.” A terrible look shone out of his eyes.

    “Me?!” My throat tightened as if I had swallowed a dead fly which I could neither gulp down nor cough up. The old man’s manner softened. He squeezed some money into my hand: “Take this, go...

  10. Chapter 6
    (pp. 57-71)

    In turmoil, I mounted my bicycle and roamed the campus. People! They were like balloons released into the air, drifting hither and thither with the wind. The ultraviolet rays of the sun dazzled my eyes. I thought of a saying: “if you don’t want it known, best leave it undone.”

    If you lose your way, you sometimes do crazy things. One day, at a particularly close girlfriend Meng-meng’s place, I said in a totally blasé way: “Help me find a man.”

    She looked at me. “Have you gone man-crazy?”

    “It’s not that at all.”

    Meng-meng’s small room was very messy,...

  11. Chapter 7
    (pp. 72-82)

    “You’re mine, in your bones you’ll always be mine.” In the Zhejiang Fine Arts Academy’s Class of ’88 students’ souvenir notebook, Yu Jian wrote this sentence to me.

    “I’m your what?”

    “You’re my woman forever.”

    “Nice idea, but no way!”

    After I graduated from the Academy I was assigned to work at the Shanghai Oil Painting and Sculpture Institute. Assigned there at the same time were Yan Jing, a female graduate of the Sculpture Department of the Zhejiang Fine Arts Academy, and my classmate Yin Xiong.

    This Oil Painting and Sculpture Institute, situated in Hongqiao Road in Shanghai, was a...

  12. Chapter 8
    (pp. 83-98)

    The fifth of February 1989 was the last day of the lunar calendar, the eve of the Spring Festival, the traditional Chinese New Year’s Eve. On this evening, young and old in every family gather to eat a meal together. Everybody sits by the television set to watch the Spring Festival Gala. They gossip about the year that is almost over and about the trivial little events that have occurred in and about the home, for everyone has to stay awake until midnight. When the clock strikes twelve, an ear-splitting sound of fireworks bursts out, and only then can the...

  13. Chapter 9
    (pp. 99-108)

    Just after four o’clock in the afternoon, I arrived at the front gate of the National Art Museum of China, where I saw a notice posted: “The China Avant-garde Art Exhibition is temporarily closed due to an incident.” Later I learned that Song Liwei had written this. I said to the security guard at the door: “I am Xiao Xiao. I am the one who fired the gun, I want to go in and give myself up.”

    “Go, go, go! Clear out! Whether you’ve fired a gun or not, whatever trouble you’ve stirred up, nobody’s allowed to come in here!”...

  14. Chapter 10
    (pp. 109-122)

    We returned to Hangzhou. Standing outside my parents’ house, I stopped and stared at the mat in front of the door and scraped my shoes back and forth on it. It was like when I had done something wrong as a child and was reluctant to go home. I accidentally knocked my head against the door. My parents opened it and looked at me strangely. “You’re back!”

    “Nh.” I waited for them to start asking me questions.

    “Yu Jian is in Hangzhou. He’s been here a number of times looking for you.” My mother didn’t say a single word about...

  15. Chapter 11
    (pp. 123-132)

    After more than ten hours I flew into Sydney, Australia, the largest island nation of the south Pacific.

    Leaving the airplane, I saw through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the airport a deep blue sky, without a shred of white cloud. I had seen this kind of blue in Lhasa in Tibet. A friend came to meet me. When the car entered the built-up area, there were rows of houses on either side of the streets, painted in various colours. The vegetation and the flowers were luxuriant. It looked just like the world of children’s storybooks. There were lots of cars...

  16. Chapter 12
    (pp. 133-144)

    An Australian art critic John Clark wanted to see some works. I brought out some of Lan Jun’s pictures and left. “Why don’t you show him some of your own works?” Elsa asked me in the doorway.

    “My works?”

    “Don’t forget you’re an artist too. Go back and get your works,” she said very forcefully. Looking at her, I went back to my room and brought out some photographs of my own work. In the first-floor apartment, John Clark browsed through Lan Jun’s works one by one, and finally said to me: “I’d like to see your works.”

    “I’ve only...

  17. Chapter 13
    (pp. 145-155)

    Those were the happiest days of our lives, receiving the Australian government’s unemployment benefits, sleeping as late as we liked every day, making love whenever we liked, going to the beach to see the sun rise, eating fresh-baked bread straight from the oven on the sandy beach at dawn. We rolled in the sand and ran out into the sea to rinse it off. The sun would emerge from the ocean like the yolk of a great duck’s egg, stirring strong desire in us. The mist in the air would be scattered by an enormous warm current, and the light...

  18. Chapter 14
    (pp. 156-164)

    In November 1997, Lan Jun and I returned to China after spending our “eight years war of resistance” in Australia.

    Returning to China and to Hangzhou, we discovered that China had undergone a great internal change. Under Deng Xiaoping’s liberalizing reform policies, the greatest change was that many people had become rich. In 1989 when I left China, the concept of money was symbolized by the “ten-thousand yuan household”. But now even the figure of up to ten million is not an unattainable dream, and it occurs among the classmates and friends of your former life. Everything was changing, and...

  19. Chapter 15
    (pp. 165-172)

    My childhood friend Meng-meng persuaded me to come to America for a holiday. My mood wasn’t good, and I didn’t really want to go, but she sent me the plane ticket. “Come over immediately. Do it for me. I now live in a big house with a garden, and if you don’t come over, I’ll sell it immediately.” I didn’t think that this playful statement was intended seriously, but one year later she really did sell her house and garden, and moved to an apartment in New York to live.

    Meng Meng was a good friend from college, the same...

  20. Chapter 16
    (pp. 173-181)

    When there is nothing else to believe in, one sometimes turns to spiritual beings for help.

    “I want to go to Shang Tian Zhu Temple to burn incense.” I had rung my friend Wu Ling after midnight.

    She mumbled: “Do you have go now? It’s very late.”

    “I really want very much to go now.”

    “All right!” She asked no further questions. Shortly after, her car arrived downstairs. “Get in then.” We exchanged glances. The car sped south along Nanshan Road, she put on a CD, and music began to play, slowly bringing with it sadness. A pall of gloom...

  21. Chapter 17
    (pp. 182-192)

    I felt as if I had slept for a whole century. I just didn’t feel like waking up. The telephone kept ringing, but I didn’t feel like taking it. Finally I picked up the receiver.

    “It’s Guo Ping, we met in Beijing, do you still remember me? We were talking about your work Dialogue.” It was a female voice.

    “Oh, I remember now, how are things, is anything up?”

    “I am ringing on behalf of Song He, who collected your work Dialogue in 1989. For various reasons the work wasn’t protected carefully, and is now completely destroyed. I wonder if...

  22. Chapter 18
    (pp. 193-202)

    I don’t know whether cutting off my long hair for the first time in fifteen years was a farewell to the past or a self-inflicted punishment for that past.

    Afterwards I went to a hairdressing salon and had my jagged hair tidied up and dyed. When I returned to 798, many people didn’t recognise me: “Xiao Xiao, you seem a different person.”

    The psychological and external transformations caused a change of mood. After the extreme psychological shocks and thrills experienced by someone undergoing great upheaval follows a kind of over-stimulated prostration. I suddenly felt extremely tired and wished to return...

  23. Postscript
    (pp. 203-207)
    Xiao Lu

    Encouraged by Elsa I took up my pen to write down some events of the past, events whose sweetness and bitterness only I could know. This good friend whom I had met in Australia, had, after her divorce, finished her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Australia and then returned to Hong Kong, where she has completed her doctoral degree. She is presently pursuing a career in the film industry. The new Elsa has a new Chinese name, Yang Yeeshan.

    I wish to express my deep gratitude to Archibald McKenzie for translating this novel into English. Without his translation, I could...