"Yi Ke Sai Ting", One Racing Canoe
A parody to Peter Doig
oil on wooden panel
35 × 45 cm
My childhood memory of summer is full of images of floods on TV. As I lived by the Yangtze River, those images were particularly striking to me. Unlike China’s current political scene when the coverage of the floods is centred on overview shots of the floods taken by drones (as if they were travel channels screening beautiful sceneries) and is marked by the absence of the President, floods used to be an opportunity for the Communist Party to demonstrate its greatness and correctness in leading the fight against natural disasters.
The scene of the former President Jiang Zemin inspecting the flooded area is exemplary of such propagandization surrounding natural disasters. The theatricality of this news image recalls the Latin world’s tradition of ex-voto paintings that are commonly seen in churches. 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.
I simulated the old CCTV (China Central Television) logo , replacing its letters with P, G, R (P and R are overlapping). The image of a small boat on the immense water also reminded me of Peter Doig’s canoe paintings. I imitated the composition and some brushstrokes in Doig’s work, adding an extra flavour of traditional Chinese landscape painting (shanshui), with the ancient shanshui paintings’ yellow-brownish tone (caused by light and humidity over time) recalling the colour of the muddy flood. At the same time, in accordance with the regulation of traditional Chinese figure painting, Jiang Zemin’s size is enlarged (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 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 the painting). The surname Jiang 江 meaning River in Chinese, the racing canoe somehow holds 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—to 水能载舟，亦可赛艇 “Water can carry the boat, and it can also have a canoe race (i.e. ‘yi ke sai ting’, or ‘exciting’)”.
There are other references to 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 (which evidently didn't work out in the end, for Jiang died in Dec 2022). 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.”