Foreword to Luo Fei collection of writings
Associate Professor of Chinese Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
The theme for the 18th biennial conference of the European Association of Chinese Studies (第十八届欧洲汉学学会双年会议) in Riga, Latvia, in 2010, was “Culture is Crowded Bridge” (文化：一座拥挤的桥梁). This theme may sound peculiar, but also tells something more than just the imagery intended on the surface. I think it is applicable to this collection of Luo Fei’s writings. Culture can be a bridge, art can be a bridge, and both the artistic and curatorial work of Luo Fei, alone and through TCG Nordica, is such a bridge. However, it is not only a bridge between cultures and countries, between China and Sweden or other Nordic countries. Art can be a bridge between areas or spheres within societies, and open our eyes for what is truly important, for truths and expressions of feelings, ideas and emotions we cannot express otherwise.
Even before becoming a bridge between minds, ideas and entities, art and other cultural expressions are important parts of our societies. As a sinologist, my own research has primarily dealt with contemporary Chinese intellectuals and their religious faith, but also the more general discussion of “a threefold crisis of faith” (三信问题，即信心、信任、信仰), as well as religious and ethnic policies in China. To my mind, “ultimate concerns” (终极关怀) and faith are very basic starting points for any human being, no matter what decision one is about to take, for work or personal reasons. When economists, political scientists, politicians and different analysts make macro level analyses about the World or specific countries or areas, they often tend to neglect art, faith and other less “tangible” phenomena. Facts and numbers are very important to understand a situation, but if no consideration is taken to the underlying human emotions, faith and artistic expressions, much is lost.
As someone working with academic research in humanities (人文学), one often becomes involved in discussion of the meaning of humanities. In recent years the debate in the Nordic countries (北欧国家) has focused on how to make humanities more “useful” for society. But how to measure such a thing? And what is useful? The question as such makes me think of the futility sometimes expressed in some of Luo Fei’s art works, e.g. “Let’s blow this piece of paper” (让我们吹起这纸), which is seemingly pointless or sisyphean (西西弗斯式), but also very playful. This playful attitude paired with a serious reflection on self, life, art and faith is something often lacking in academia. Such “cross-fertilization” between academia (学术界) and art on questions of life, faith and art would not least benefit academia, maybe also art circles. Luo Fei and some of the artists he is involved with are consciously and unconsciously doing such things all the time. This is very encouraging and inspiring!
In my research I have also looked in to the issue of modernity and what alternative forms it may take in the Chinese context. I have specifically looked at the phenomenon of “Cultural Christians” (文化基督徒)② from the 1980s, and while they may have lost their role today, their perspective of creating a modernity (现代性) on different grounds, with room for faith and free cultural expression, is still highly relevant and equally valid. However, the focus of such a perspective in contemporary China has shifted from established academia to independent scholars, writers and artists. Today they are those in the “avant-garde” for investigating such fundamental issues, and what Luo Fei and those around him are doing is part of this perspective. In my opinion, they will play a role in dealing with the “three-fold crisis of faith”, possibly of more substantial value than other official efforts.
Our societies, Western, North European or Chinese, need this other perspective, from the side, from below, from inside, and we get some reflections of this “other other” (其他的他者) in what Luo Fei is doing and writing. The expression jianghu (江湖) often has connotations that would be considered mostly negative, such as “fake” (假的) or “shrewd” (狡猾), but I find that its inherent notion of itinerancy or vagrancy, as well as free moving, is most appropriate in this context, not least since Luo Fei was involved in the art project called Jianghu in 2005-06. One could also relate it to the free spirit of the artist, even the Daoist concept of xiaoyao (逍遥). In the context of Luo Fei, Nordica and Yunnan, I see Luo Fei’s and his colleagues involvement in the Jianghu art project as symbolic for involvement, for crossing boundaries, and turning peripheral and marginalized things into focus points, and turning things upside down, provoking our thoughts. Through his own work, his work with TCG Nordica, Luo Fei, is an important bridge builder between artists, between art and society, opening up for reflection on art, faith and social concerns, and also inspiring us in far away Nordic countries to think differently and engage with China outside the more clearly defined fields of academia or business. Let us hope for an even more “crowded bridge” in the years to come, that many more can meet and experience together, and be inspired to express and share, in art and through art. Luo Fei is a good guide to get us on to that “crowded” bridge.
① Fredrik Fällman(杨富雷) is also Board Member, Institute of Sino-Christian Studies, Hong Kong and Board Member, Areopagos Foundation, Norway.
② Cultural Christian as a phenomenon appeared in the 1980’s, with Liu Xiaofeng being the major influence. They were those young and middle-aged intellectuals who sought the “ultimate concern” or who interpret faith from the perspective of philosophy, literature and theology. They renounced the ceremony, fellowship and some doctrines of Christianity, and they simply called themselves “Christians”, not “Christian believers”. Very few of them were baptized. This had been particularly stressed by the institutionalized church, mostly attributed to Bishop Ding Guangxun introducing the term “cultural Christians”. Here “culture” could be (ought to be) the important component of faith and the process of redemption, and Christ could be the “Savior of Cultures”. This idea was influenced by the American theologian, Richard Niebuhr.