Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Art, self-promotion or defaming culture?

By Fang Zhou (China Daily) Updated: 2015-06-05 07:50

Although there have never been any set criteria to define the boundary between art and pornography, art depicting the human form in the name of "beauty" should, in the eyes of most people, at least not excessively offend or challenge the ethical and moral bottom line of society.

So, when a set of photos showing a nude female model straddling a marble dragon head in the Forbidden City were widely circulated on the Internet, the "art" in the eyes of the photographer was by no means recognized by others, who took a more prurient interest in the photos. Aside from straddling the stone dragon head, photos also showed the naked woman striking suggestive poses in the rest of the palace.

In response to public outcry, Wang Dong, the photographer who first posted the series of photographs online on May 17, said that he "did not intend to deliberately defame any culture or civilization".

He said that "it is ridiculous to see some people accusing me of offending them".

However, offend some he did.

In the years since the launching reform and opening-up in the late 1970s, Chinese society has become increasingly tolerant and diverse, and people have embraced different lifestyles and cultures, including some Western ideas and practices that were previously denounced as decadent and degenerate, including "nude art". It is not the nudity that has provoked the outcry over these photos, but the fact that they were shot in the Forbidden City, the well-preserved palace of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (1644-1911) that has profound cultural connotations for the Chinese nation.

Although nude photos have lost their shock value nowadays as they have become more commonplace, most Chinese people still believe that a certain amount of discretion should be displayed by the photographer and such photo shoots take place in private or proper places, or at least without the presence of the elderly and children.

The photographer does have the right to make his works in his private space, but he should not choose a public place like a museum to try and provoke a response in the name of art.

Just as some netizens said, it is justified to shoot those pictures on the beach or in a private house, but to shoot at a renowned historical site like the Forbidden City that is being visited by tourists, including children, is inappropriate and simply intended at self-promotion. At the same time, to have a naked model straddle a marble dragon head in the palace, a symbolic artifact that has cultural and historical significances, reflects the photographer's lack of respect for the country's cultural relics, heritage and traditions.

According to Chinese law, a person who exposes his or her body in public or behaves in an indecent manner can be detained for five to 10 days. The photo shoot may also have broken the law if Wang did not obtain prior permission from the Forbidden City or if other visitors found it disturbing. A recent statement from the Forbidden City's management, in which it denounced the nude photographs for damaging its reputation and dignity, indicates that no such consent was sought or given.

Whether or not Wang will face charges is not yet known, and while he has successfully made a name for himself, it remains to be seen whether that will help or harm his career. But what is certain is his shooting of a series of nude photographs in the Forbidden City and their circulation on the Internet has caused very bad social effects, and it reveals the existence of loopholes in the management and preservation of the country's cultural relics.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily.

Most Viewed Today's Top News