Bishan from a distance

As a rural reconstruction project, the “Bishan Project” has major problems accessing funding. As can be seen from our current resources, going through art projects seems to be the best way to alleviate this problem. I curated the 2011 Chengdu Biennale, and so the Bishan Harvestival joined as part of it, and this way I was able to transfer some resources over. But that funding was, in reality, not enough, so I had to go out myself and look for more. As it turned out, the local government approved of the Bishan Harvestival, and so gave us the job of organizing the Yixian International Photo Festival. We accepted, albeit with the intention of merging it with the Bishan Harvestival; drawing from government-sponsored art projects has thus far been our only effective means of securing financial resources.

Although we have set about this project on cultural terms, our interests are not only cultural. The key issues of the countryside are not cultural, but economic. In rural areas both the government and the people are equally realistic. If your actions bring no economic benefit to the area, they won’t see the point in them. Thus, although our work has set off on cultural terms, we’d still like to be able to implement it economically: we want to improve the economies of rural areas. We want to find more people willing to buy houses in Bishan. As more move in, after a while bookshops, restaurants will appear, and a local economy will slowly and organically form. If we can make Bishan popular, then the ticketing regulations of the popular nearby Wannan villages will be automatically annulled.

Villagers can themselves naturally enter into the construction of a local economy. They can open guesthouses and restaurants. The equal participation of villagers in this process is very important. If everything comes from the outside, then this is more akin to occupation; it is imperative that we mobilize a portion of the villagers to contribute. If their economic conditions are good then they’ll be able to open shops themselves, or turn their old houses into guesthouses. The focus should be much more on them. We can simply help them to make plans, give them advice, and find resources for them.

But at the moment we’re not investing. We don’t even have any money. We can only get hold of funding through various large-scale exhibitions— this at the moment is our biggest problem. Besides this, changing the perceptions of both the government and local people is proving difficult. At the core of our work is a concern for the subjectivity of the villagers, but at the moment, their notions are entirely centered on profit. As they see it, if we come and give a boost to the local economy, everyone will be happy. Maybe only one or two local cadres understand what we’re trying to do, while most people simply hope that we can bring some kind of economic advancement. This is the first step. We have to actually go there. If we don’t, then we have no status. Or people will simply think that we’re a bunch of artists playing around, having fun, and not helping in any way.

First we have to change the government and the people’s view of us: if they want something done, then we do it. That way we’ll gradually win their approval, and once they start to believe that we really have the capabilities to improve the area economically, then we can start to focus on the things we want to do, including our more political, “anarchist” experiments. Basically, at the moment I haven’t brought up this term in our conversations, as “anarchism” has too many different connotations. There’s no point mentioning it to rural cadres or villagers if the best educated people in cities don’t even fully understand it. Genuine anarchism is in fact a very warm, idealistic, and beautiful model for society. It has little to do with violence, resistance, and anti-establishmentarianism—at its core is mutual beneficence and autonomy.