"Yi Ke Sai Ting", One Racing Canoe

A parody to Peter Doig
oil on wooden panel
35 × 45 cm



I was impressed by the Latin world's tradition of ex-voto paintings that are commonly seen in churches and chapels, especially in harbour cities. Offerings from believers who survived dangerous incidents depicted in the paintings, they were often painted on wooden panels by amateurish but skilful hands with bizarre compositions which I found refreshening and inspiring. In France, the votive paintings are often inscribed with the word EX-VOTO while in Italy the inscription is usually P.G.R. or G.R.(Per) Grazia Ricevuta.

My childhood memory for summer is full of images of flood on TV. As I lived by the Yangtze River, those images were particularly striking to me. Natural disasters have always been the wonderful show time for the Communist Party — as it usually goes in the propaganda media, those reports emphasized much more on how great and correct the government was in leading the fight against the floods rather than demonstrating the actual conditions of the people who became homeless, as if wishing to ask the audience to express their gratitude, for the grace received, P.G.R.

At least the government cared to make shows back then. The official media nowadays mostly broadcast overview shots of the floods taken by drones as if they were travel channels screening beautiful landscapes; individuals are hardly visible and the President is never present.

Such contrast made me recall the images of the former President Jiang Zemin inspecting the flooded areas that have been lingering in my mind since my childhood, so I painted one, as a parody of an ex-voto painting. I imitated the old CCTV logo with the letters P, G, R (P and R are overlapping). The image of a small boat on the immense water naturally reminded me of Peter Doig’s canoe paintings, therefore I made the composition and some brushstrokes similar to Doig’s work, with an extra flavour of traditional Chinese landscape painting (shanshui) — in fact the ancient shanshui paintings’ yellowish or brownish tone (caused by light and humidity over time) often reminds me of the colour of muddy flood. At the same time, in accordance with the regulation of traditional Chinese figure painting, I enlarged the size of Jiang Zemin (while the young Wen Jiabao by Jiang’s side comes second in size).

In the recent decade there has been a subculture of jokingly or ironically idolizing Jiang Zemin among a number of Chinese netizens, largely stimulated by the huge frustration related to the current stifling political environment. Jiang’s unconstrained and Western-like style seemed much preferable in comparison and has become an inexhaustible source of numerous internet memes and slang (often nonsensical). For example, he once made a remark in English: “Exciting!” Thus the Chinese transliteration
一颗赛艇 (yi ke sai ting), meaning “a racing canoe,” became a keyword of the subculture (it is also the title of my painting). The surname Jiang means River in Chinese, therefore the racing canoe somehow makes a certain Dadaist sense. Netizens also hybridized ancient sayings or poems with Jiang’s phrases. For example, changing 水能载舟,亦能覆舟 “Water can carry the boat, but it can also overturn the boat” — a famous saying describing the relation between the ruler and the common people — into 水能载舟,亦可赛艇 “Water can carry the boat, and it can also have a canoe race (reads as ‘yi ke sai ting’, or ‘exciting’)”.

There are other references of this subculture in the painting: the number PLUS1S written on the boat, referring to the slang “+1s” or “extending one second”, an internet collective joking act of “donating” one second of one’s life to Jiang in order to extend his life infinitely. The watch on Jiang’s wrist is another one: wearing a watch is
戴表 daibiao, which has the same pronunciation of the word “represent” 代表; and Jiang’s guiding socio-political theory is called “The Three Represents.” However, I preferred not to be too literal and painted only one watch.