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The Contemporary State Of Confucian Ideas

Zhang Huan raises the question of how contemporary society reflects the ancient philosopher’s ideas.
February 15, 2012, 5:36pm

Chinese artist Zhang Huan‘s solo show “Q Confucius” just closed its curtains at the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai. It was the artist’s largest show to date, consisting of a series of new works that explore concepts of Confucianism, an ideology that has had massive influence on every aspect of Chinese life over thousands of years. Huan’s works comment on the role of Confucianism within current social conditions in China.


"Faced with rapid economic and societal changes and energy and climate challenges, how can we achieve sustainable development? What responsibilities come along with China's rise to international importance? Where is the sense of spiritual belonging for contemporary Chinese?"

Q Confucius No.2, Silicone, Steel, Carbon Fibre and Acrylic, 380 × 980 × 660 cm, 2011

An enormous Confucius statue is located at the center of the exhibition hall. Huan based this piece on an ancient portrait of Confucius which was completed during the Ming dynasty. Built out of silicone and steel, and completed with a pulsating heart, the statue is submerged in water from the waist down.

Huan created three of the paintings in this exhibit using his own signature method of ash painting.

Q Confucius No.6, Monkeys, Tree, Pneumatic Device, Steel Bed and Wire Net, 1200 × 1400 × 600 cm, 2011

Enclosed in a 12m high metal cage, a robotic Confucius moves mechanically and repetitively on a metal bed. Also in the cage are nine monkeys. Huan initially intended to place 200 monkeys in the enclosure, however, technical difficulties spared robotic Confucius the agony.

A 20-ton tree trunk housing colonies of billions of ants sits in a concrete room outside the museum, in the center of Union Church Square. Huan simulated the ideal temperature and humidity for the ants to thrive. The ants are expected to gradually consume the tree, signifying the limited amount of resources on our planet. Zhang hopes this particular work can be permanently exhibited at the Bund so that people can witness the tree diminishing.

Images Courtesy of Design Boom China