A Conversation with the Artist

On October 27, 2008, Melissa Chiu, Asia Society Museum Director and exhibition cocurator, sat down with Yang Fudong to discuss Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest. Below are excerpts from the interview:

Melissa Chiu (MC): What was your initial inspiration for the Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest film?

Yang Fudong (YF): I didn’t have a clearly defined idea for the work. It was based more on a feeling, in Chinese gan-jue….In college, I was deeply impressed by the idea of the Seven Sages, or Seven Intellectuals. I felt that they were open minded, free spirited, and genuine. They acted based on their emotions. They were idealists and thinkers. Later on when I began to make art, I felt that I wanted to create a series on this subject…

MC: How did you come to bring together the idea of idealistic youth in the Seven Intellectuals film with the very traditional idea of the Seven Sages?

YF: My impression of the traditional version of the Seven Sages is that they seem to be an anonymous group. It was not their identity that was important but their spirit. They have had a strong influence on later generations because they were active when they were young. In making the film about contemporary youth, I was more concerned with the idea of a group—a group consisting of seven young people today. This is very interesting: you do not know what the future of these young people will be. The film is about the future.

MC: What kind of message would you like to give to audiences seeing Seven Intellectuals for the first time?

YFD: The number “seven” in the film’s title indicates that there are seven people in the film. It is about a group of young people. Their future is not foreseeable. What they do is based on how they feel. Another important point is the disparities between real life and utopian life. This is intended as a question, not an answer. How do we act when we face these disparities? It has been said many times that Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest is a “road” film. There is no result, no answer. Because of the fast pace of life and work today, many young people are always in a hurry. I hope that when people sit and watch the film, they will have something to think about.


Find the full interview in the book, Yang Fudong: Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest, available at Asia Store.

Video Excerpt

View an excerpt from: Yang Fudong (born 1971, Beijing). Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest, Part I, 2003. 35mm black-and-white film transferred to DVD, sound. 29 minutes, 22 seconds. Asia Society, New York: Promised gift of Harold and Ruth Newman