i went back to dafen with a friend and bought several souvenirs. i met a husband and wife who have a shop selling old ceramics, including mao busts and plates from the cultural revolution. unable to resist the irony i bought a plate of mao and lin biao. the quotation (published in the p.l.a. news on august 3, 1967) reads, “revolution is the liberation of productive forces, revolution is advancing the development of productive forces (革命就是解放生产力，革命就是促进生产力的发展)”。i then flipped through their collection of cultural revolution posters, all the while wondering, “what if they’re fake?!” however, authenticity wasn’t what stopped me from buying a poster; i didn’t purchase a poster because i wanted brighter colors. the vendor explained the black and white prints in terms of development: apparently china didn’t have color printing in the 1960s.
i also met a husband and wife who sell contemporary vases, as well as remnants from their former business importing russian folk art (by way of harbin). so i bought a small vase and am using it to hold pens and pencils. the folk art had me thinking again about the aesthetic politics of copying. i don’t look for unique folk art, but authentic, which is defined by continuing a tradition, usually through emulation–the big latin word for copying. in a nearby shop, a woman selling miao folk art, all guaranteed to be hand embroidered, reiterated this truth. repetition authorizes tradition. but repetition by whom? could i make a vase, or only appropriate the technique, no matter how accurate my interpretation?
so three examples of reproductions that aren’t forgeries–cultural revolution stuff, russian folk art, and miao embroidery, all sold in dafen. meanwhile, the shenzhen daily reports that huang ye (黄野), one of the most successful entrepreneurs in dafen, has a factory of over 200 employees, with 10 designers making “original” works within a particular tradition for sale in europe and the united states.huang ye has contextualized artistic reproduction in terms of italian tradition and global economics. in mandarin, these oil reproductions are called 行画 (hanghua). according to huang ye, the reproduction of classic works used to be based in italy. however, given economic development, this production moved to korea in the 1930s and 40s, with the orders and models coming from italy. in the 1960s and 1970s production moved from korea to hong kong, where the reproductions were called 韩画 (hanhua), eventually moving to china in the 1980s.
a final irony. the vendors of russian folk art also like indian religious iconography. behind their desk, they have placed a russian mary and guan yu, the god of wealth beneath two indian gods. when i asked, they said that guan yu was important in guangdong; all businessmen had a guanyu in their shop. the other gods were just aesthetically pleasing.
who’s to say that dafen hasn’t been revolutionized?