By Jeff J. Brown
Pictured above: Shenzhen’s amazing Buji Graffiti Wall, shot on a footbridge crossing the Buji River, from the southern end, looking north. Around the bend is the whole northern section. There are more than 250 works of outdoor art.
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Please note: photos referenced by number can be seen via the SharePoint link at the end of this article. I would like to thank my friend Liu Xi for helping me decipher many of the Chinese characters. She is a Chinese teacher and struggled to interpret a few of them, which is a part of the outdoor art scene.
I spent most of a day exploring Honghu Park, in eastern Shenzhen, called the Luohu District, as I had heard there was the Buji Graffiti Wall inside. I had a picture or two I got online, from 2016 to show the guards at the main entrance on the east side. When they told me that they had never seen anything like this in the park, I got worried it had been removed. Apparently, they had never been on the west side of Honghu, where I discovered and explored this artistic mother lode.
Honghu Park includes a cigar shaped lake about two kilometers long, which is very beautifully landscaped and forest covered. In fact, in Chinese, Honghu means Hong Lake. After entering on the east side, I went north to the end of the lake and curved over to the west side.
Voilà! I crossed a footbridge traversing the Buji River, to get to the west border of the park, which is a high wall. The wall is in fact a flood retainer for the Buji River, hence the name of the graffiti wall. The Buji runs parallel to the lake, unconnected to it. Its clear waters flow shallowly and rapidly, coming out of a series of dam lakes in the mountains to the north, on the way to Shenzhen Bay and the South China Sea towards the south.
Once across, I had to climb through a fence to explore the northern section of the wall, while ignoring a sign asking me not to. However, the well-worn path through the grass there indicated that I was not the first to do so, and would surely not be the last.
I later realized that this “forbidden” section was the oldest part, as most of the panels were faded and worn. I suspect what happened is artists put these up, the government are park management let it go, so Shenzhen’s creative set just kept working its way in the other direction.
Following their lead and inspiration, I continued south along the Buji River, walking on a very good paved path, admiring the talents of Shenzhen’s artistic citizens. Little did I know at this point that the wall continued for another 1.5 kilometers. I was just getting warmed up!
Most of the works were very creative, a few mundane. Many were in the style of the zany, block letters seen so much all over the world in wall paintings. Each art piece was usually about 3-4 meters long and 1-3 meters tall. Some were mind-blowingly fabulous, with incredible underground comic images of people, cartoon characters, monsters, animals and cityscapes.
For Westerners, there were some interesting cultural icons, like Eminem (#133852), Peppa Pig (#143120), Bart Simpson (#141143), Gene Simmons of Kiss (#144509) and Ghostbusters (#144458). One had Alice-in-Wonderland mushrooms (#135217). Another one showed a mad scientist with a laboratory flask and holding a small packet (#140757). Whether these were in reference to hallucinogenic drugs, I can’t say. I did not see one marijuana leaf, even though you can spot people on the streets all the time sporting it on hats, backpacks and t-shirts.
The word ASK was seen in a number of the works, suggesting seeking knowledge or questioning authority. This is what Mao Zedong preached to China’s 99% during his era, 1949-1978. The nation’s elites didn’t like it one bit, especially during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution.
Foreigners may be surprised that Chinese wall art can be sparing of Chinese characters. However, when you think about it, Mandarin is art in itself, being an iconographic language, and can be wildly expressive. As I explained in The China Trilogy, calligraphers are held in as high esteem as the finest Chinese painters So, by eschewing Chinese words, one can be considered countercultural.
However, a few panels are worth noting for their linguistic messages. #135138 mysteriously wrote, bacteria/microbe green tea. #135607 simply had Hong Kong and Taiwan, but in complicated characters, not the simplified ones used on the Mainland. Given all the imperial, geopolitical history concerning these two parts of China, there may have been a hidden message here. #135637 said the last day. #141836 said, Friendship Hall M and then signed by Huaxing ? Noodles, with the third word being undecipherable. However, interestingly, Huaxing was the name of the anti-Qing Dynasty Revolutionary Party, set up in 1904, which helped launch the Chinese’s long march to communist liberation in 1949.
Several of them, like the Gene Simmons portrait and #140005 wrote style (or mode) party, suggesting an interest in fashion. #142856 said, chickens have chicken taste, which sounds mundane, unless you know that this bird name is also used for prostitutes. #144303 simply says, you are really weird, man! A few included, 4PM, suggesting the time of day when school or work is over, and one is then free to relax and enjoy life.
Two others really stood out. #143107 was the image of a traditional Chinese tomb. Up top, it said, Internet, Didi Scan (a QR code app), Tomb Sweeping (the traditional day of mourning), aim for the price difference. This concern for being frugal was repeated in the left column, spend as little money as possible. This was paired in the right column with, Sweep more tombs. There were various words like, early bird ticket, fun hall and prosperity. There was a bizarre juxtaposition of spirit tablets (listing all the names one’s ancestors at a tomb) with for rent. Underneath this was apparently this artist’s hall of fame of dead people.
First was Song Yueting, who was a famous Taiwanese singer with a hit LP called Life’s a Struggle. I’ll say, he died of bone cancer at 24 years of age. Next was Biggie paired with a skull of death and 2Pac with a gun. Both were famous American rap singers who died very young in a hail of bullets. Curiously, next came Diana and a car, suggesting an interest in the young princess’ short life. Then came Michael Jackson and a syringe. No ambiguity there. Below that was Zhang Guorong, aka Leslie Cheung and a building, which means something, when you know he died falling out of a window at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, aged 46. This Hongkonger was considered to be one of founders of Cantopop. Then there was the corporate symbol for Apple, with Steve Jobs and Stephen Hawking paired side by side, two unique geniuses. Lastly, there was Deng Lijun, aka Teresa Teng, one of the most famous Taiwanese singers who ever lived. She died of an asthma attack at age 42. So, out of all these people who meant something to this artist, Stephen Hawking was the only one who lived a full life. In any case, a thoughtful and fascinating work of art.
The other one that was quite interesting was #143228, but was materialistic, not spiritual and cultural, like the one above. It the top two corners were prosperous and strong on the left and democracy on the right. Interestingly, these are two of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Core Socialist Values, what I call the Twelve Virtues of Communism. Words and phrases included old school/authentic, commercial sponsor, food-seduce-seek personal fortune and fame, armor piercing bullet/shell, legally make friends, Shenzhen internet friend date, take a group photo, woman standing here, Instagram follow with the hashtag @sardar_adil and underneath that handsome. There was also Luzhou tattoo, maybe being the name of a shop, along with thank you. Others included here paired with rising/standing up; also, location @Honghu Park. Then there was Captain Dragonfly paired with toy store. She was a Marvel Comics supervillainess and under that, big hunt/pursuit/search. One interesting line was English no good. Did they mean their language level, the language itself or the nation of people? Maybe all three and a rejection of Western values? Go figure.
But then, in the middle, from top to bottom in linear fashion, was, take a photo, Meitu Xiuxiu (a very popular app to airbrush and touchup portraits to Vogue cover perfection), make the skin on your face smooth, put it on your (Wechat) Moments and finally reserve a hotel room, which is something all young people like to do to get out of the house or school dormitory, for a night or weekend to party and be together.
All kinds of messages here from patriotism to consumerism to shallow vanity. Does this define some of today’s Chinese youth?
Given China’s prudish social nature, a couple of them stood out. One in the central section showed an erect, ejaculating penis spraying semen into the air, while writing in Chinese, masturbation sensation (#140330). Another one in the southern section was clearly that of a wide-open, flowering vulva, with the clitoris and labia inviting a long, introspective regard (#142134). It had absurd algebraic formulas pointing to it, all using the letter “b”. Bi in Chinese is pronounced “bee” and means pussy or cunt. Above it was a thumbs-ups arm looking like an erect penis, saying “GOOD!”. Very clever, indeed.
The Shenzhen government is showing great indulgence by not removing these two. I’m not sure many cities in the West would leave them in such a large public park.
There was a number of them dating from 2014 and even further south, weathering was starting to cause some of them to peel and fade. Others were unfinished, which was a little strange. I guess the artists ran out of inspiration or supplies. Maybe they got too drunk, stoned, or their partners didn’t show up.
There seemed to be very little poaching of previous art works and only a few were tagged by spray painters, so respect for the artists seemed quite high. What poaching that was seen was dated 2018, so I guess some young Sino-studs decided that four years of fame and glory were enough. A few of them in the central and southern sections were humongous, over ten meters long and 3-4 meters tall, really impressive. Many of them were signed by teams of several artists, and you could see why. Hours and hours of collective effort went into creating a lot of the works.
A while back, I posted photos of wall art in Beijing (see link below), found on the old Airport Road, between the Fourth and Fifth Ring Roads. It was very nice too and a couple of them were quite political. But in terms of scale, the art wall in the capital is minuscule compared to Shenzhen’s expansive, daring project.
Most Westerners are brainwashed by the Big Lie Propaganda Machine (BLPM) to think that communist-socialist China has a repressed, censored art scene. Nothing could be further from the truth. I wrote a review about an art exhibit in Shenzhen, which was very politically and socially challenging. See below. I continue to go see very iconoclastic and anti-establishment art shows in Sinoland. There is no shortage of them.
Shenzhen’s Buji Graffiti Wall photo and video collection:
Photos of Beijing’s Graffiti Wall:
Shenzhen art exhibition review:
Why and How China works: With a Mirror to Our Own History
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