Zheng, Two Rich Men, New Year’s Eve, Beijing (1999).
Influenced by the earlier work of August Sander and Diane Arbus, Liu Zheng
has created an extensive series of contemporary portraits that reflect
a dark vision of the people of mainland China. In these works, he seeks
to isolate archetypal traits of his countrymen as revealed in unusual
situations. Acutely sensitive to what he calls the “unhappy, tragic
elements” of Chinese culture, Liu says, “When I am shooting
pictures ostensibly depicting moments of relaxed leisure, I am really
aiming to show that the persons in these scenes are neither relaxed nor
In the past two decades, China’s urban life has been completely
transformed. A massive building program has created sprawling skyscraper
cities, and at the same time tens of thousands of city dwellers have been
displaced from the inner city to the outskirts. These conditions have
brought about a growing alienation between the city and its residents:
they no longer belong to each other. The works in this section both reflect
and respond to the new textures of China’s metropolitan culture.