China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This paper investigates the public art project “Dinghai Qiao Mutual-Aid Society,” a self-organized group located in a historical working-class neighborhood in Shanghai with a new and vibrant migrant population. It is a collectively run facility for learning, reflecting, and creatively working together, among others. In recent years, its program includes talks by artists and scholars, guided tours, collaborative cooking, film screenings, artists residences and inter-city exchanges. By exploring ways of gathering and producing art/knowledge, this project pursues interaction, assistance, and cooperation among neighbors under the principle of “mutual aid”. Mutual aid was a production mode of the People’s Republic of China during the Maoist era. It is an embodiment of the socialist “mass line,” the political, organizational and leadership method developed by Mao during the Chinese Communist revolution emphasizing the importance of people and insisting that “the people alone are the motive force in the making of world history” (Mao 1943). As a socialist discourse, the mass line was widely utilized in Chinese public art cases in Maoist era. Through exploring how Dinghai Qiao Mutual-Aid Society works with the mass line, this paper argues that by using mutual aid as an artistic strategy, this project seeks to redistribute the power of the mass in public spaces and promote the individual’s public engagements. Essentially, it reactivates the Maoist collectivist legacy in order to reconstruct the civil society in contemporary China.