The Social Contract: Shida in Four Cities

When 26 Nov 2019
2:00PM - 4:00PM
Where Columbia University
403 Kent Hall 1140 Amsterdam Ave.
New York, NY 10027
United States

This event will open with a presentation of manuscripts and texts from Northwest China, followed by a screening and concluding with a conversation between Jing Y. Ng, Professor Lily Chumley, and Tenzin Yewong Dongchung, moderated by Zoe Meng Jiang

The Social Contract: Shida in Four Cities is the second film in Jing Y.’s larger project “Teachers of Art.” At the center of the film is Shida, the founding teacher of the first Thangka (a Tibetan Buddhist painting) training class in a test prep school for college art entrance exams in China’s increasingly urbanized Northwestern Region. In four “chapters,” each concentrating on a different social group within Shida’s life, the film explores the living and working conditions of people in Lanzhou, Huzhu, Jiuquan, and Xining — cities of different scale scattered in the gateway territories that link the rest of the China to Xinjiang and Tibet. Activated by the filmmaker’s questions and her new social contacts, Shida and his friends, be they old or new, Han, Muslim, Tibetan, or Christians, discuss their attitudes towards each other, towards others, the Party, and the world. What emerges is an unusually grounded yet fragile picture of the value of art: as a form of working life, with deep demands, constant constraints, and occasional freedoms.

Jing Y. Ng is an artist and writer. Her films, publications, and installations embody her method of “using art and documentary approaches to create self-made citizenship” in a period of political difficulty. They add up to a unique profile of a major dynamic between the Party and the people in Chinese society today: while the Party maintains power by surrendering the dream of a communist future to capitalism in the present, the people are asked to exchange socialism for a chance at becoming rich right now.

Lily Chumley is Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at NYU. She is the author of the book Creativity Class: Art School and Culture Work in Postsocialist China. The book describes the massive expansion of China’s art school system over the 30 years of reform, from 1978-2008. Drawing on years of fieldwork in China’s leading art academies and art test prep schools, Chumley combines ethnography and oral history with analyses of contemporary avant-garde and official art.

Tenzin Yewong Dongchung is a Ph.D. student in the East Asian Languages and Cultures Department. Her research interests include the material culture of Tibetan Buddhism and Sino-Tibetan history during the Qing dynasty.

Zoe Meng Jiang is a PhD candidate at the Department of Cinema Studies at New York University. She has published in English and Chinese on topics of gender and feminism, social practice and moving-image media.

This event is sponsored by the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University.