Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Dai Jianyong coined the phrase 'chrysanthemum face' for his work, which depicted the Premier sporting a moustache and screwing his eyes up

Jamie Fullerton
Thursday 28 May 2015 20:37
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Xi Jinping as depicted by Jianyong Dai, an artist based in Shanghai
Xi Jinping as depicted by Jianyong Dai, an artist based in Shanghai

A Shanghai-based artist has been detained for depicting President Xi Jinping pulling a funny face and sporting a large moustache, seemingly the latest episode in Chinese authorities’ crackdown on dissent in the arts.

Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), the advocacy group, said Dai Jianyong was detained after he circulated a photoshopped picture of President Xi sporting a moustache and screwing his eyes up. Mr Dai, who coined the phrase “chrysanthemum face” for his work – the flower is a Chinese slang term for anus – was accused of “creating a disturbance” and faces up to five years in prison if he is convicted. Mr Dai is also known for posting photos on social media, including showing himself and others scrunching up their lips and eyes.

His plight may not have been helped by the social media users who claimed that Mr Dai’s image of the President resembled Hitler, despite the superimposed moustache being far larger than that of the Nazi dictator.

Wendy Lin, CHRD’s Hong Kong coordinator, said that the crackdown on artistic expression in China “has got worse, and Dai’s detention shows that humour, an expression of speech, is also under attack,” according to Quartz news website.

Mr Dai’s wife, Judy Zhu, said that the artist had been detained close to their home. “It was just a playful thing he did,” she told AP. “I don’t think there was that much political intent behind it.”

Last October Mr Xi, who has taken a hardline approach to dissent since coming to power in 2012, declared that Chinese artists should work to promote socialism, demonstrating an attitude towards the arts that mirrored Mao Zedong’s. Chinese state media was keen to point out that Mr Xi’s speech echoed one that Mao gave 72 years before it.

Mr Xi said that art should “embody socialist core values in a lively and vivid way”, “uphold Chinese spirit” and “rally Chinese strength”. He added: “Fine art works should be like sunshine from blue sky and breeze in spring that will inspire minds, warm hearts, cultivate taste and clean up undesirable work styles.”

Following the speech, the country’s State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and TV suggested it would send artists and media workers to live in rural areas so they could “form a correct view of art”. The country’s media watchdog said that the initiative would allow participants to “unearth new subjects” and “create more masterpieces”.

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