Artists in China Beaten for Development

By M.E. Dodge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – A group of artists in one of Beijing’s best-known of art districts, the 798 factory complex, were beaten by an unidentified group who tried to evict them from their studios.
Left, Liu Wei, Liu Yi, Wu Yuren, Zhang Jun and Sun Yuan . The men are among the artists protesting the demolition of their homes and studios in the northern part of Beijing. Image courtesy of The New York Times.

This week, sixteen artists said they were beaten with bricks and batons by thugs trying to evict them from their studios. In response, more than a dozen of them mounted an unusual public protest in the center of Beijing to express their concern and voice their opinion against the demolition of art zones and the attacks.

In the early hours of the morning, it was reported that about 100 men wearing black coats and white masks were armed with wooden and iron bars and entered the Zhengyang art zone. The mob is said to have beaten resident artists with bricks and batons in an attempt to try and evict them from their studios.

Liu Yi, victim to the attack, described how a man grabbed his mobile phone as he rang the police. “When I tried to get it back, he got four or five people with sticks and iron bars to beat me. I fell down and he got other guys to watch over me so I couldn’t get away.”

The cost of Chinese expansion and demolition is the driving out of other sectors of society to make way for capitalistic growth. Though many are affected by development, artists are one segment of Chinese society in particular who have been forced to bear the brunt of development.

798 studio  demolished
The Red T art gallery in Beijing's 798 art district, demolished by the owner to make way for a car park. Image courtesy of The Guardian.

Contemporary artists in China face a difficult challenge in that they struggle to freely identify themselves as artists and have an even greater challenge in finding spaces to work. In 798 factory complex, studios have been replaced by commercial galleries, large institutions, shops and cafes, especially in the last decade. One of the causes of this is that foreign investors have taken an interest in contemporary Chinese art, which as inflated the cost of works abroad, but this has translated into soaring rents for artists in Beijing and elsewhere in China.

Some artists have signed contracts for periods of up to 30 years, and have spent a lot of time and resources on improving the studios. These artists are now threatened in 798 factory complex and other areas, such as Zhengyang and 008 zone, that their studios will be demolished by landlords and developers who are moving in.

One such artist, Wu Yuren, commented, “[People] assumed we would leave like cowards. They didn’t expect us to resist.”

In discussing the recent attacks, another artist said, “For artists it is very hard to believe the next place they rent will be safe. We all believe that as an international city [Beijing’s] development cannot be restricted to the economy. Culture and the arts are vital parts of its identity.”

Initially, officials played a minor role in the resolution of the attacks, as calls to the police reportedly went unanswered. However, in officials announced that the action of the artists is against the law, and that authorities consider the artists as “victims of a brutal assault.”

Artists were told that security facilities will be installed by March 4.

For more information, please see:

Beijing Today Artists Protest Demolition Threats – 25 February 2010

The New York TimesEvicted Artists Protest After Attack in Beijing – 25 February 2010

The Wall Street Journal Artists Protest Demolition Threats -23 February 2010

The GuardianBeijing artists say development is driving them out – 24 February 2010

Author: Impunity Watch Archive