For decades, Chinese photographers lived in a twilight of legitimacy, their work permitted only if it served the interests of the Communist state.
Clampdowns on artistic freedom were random but frequent. Only in recent years have some artists emerged to international acclaim, snapped up by dealers, fêted in shows that have shown China to be a thriving and vibrant artistic nation. And now Britain is to get its first glimpse of the work. Today, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London unveils the first major survey of Chinese photography and video from the past decade.
The exhibition, Between Past and Future, features 60 works by 40 artists including its brightest stars - even if the names of Wang Qingsong, Hong Hao, Qui Zhijie, Sheng Qi and Liu Zheng may not be household ones in the UK.
Some works update themes from traditional Chinese art, such as Wang Qingsong's 31ft photographic reinterpretation of a famous 10th-century scroll painting about a disillusioned government official. Others, such as Zhang Dali's scenes of Beijing's massive urban transformation, explore the country's turbulent recent history.
Many clearly reveal the forced element of secrecy that was a feature of working conditions for so long, notably in performance art, presented quickly and once only to avoid official intervention, but captured on film or in photographs.
Kate Best, the V&A's curator, said the show featured "very tough, slightly masochistic work". She added: "They definitely tested the boundaries of what was possible. There was a point when artists were having to find ways to circumvent state censorship. Only very recently have exhibitions [in China] stopped being cancelled unexpectedly."
Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China runs from today until 15 January.Reuse content