A central and reoccurring theme of Zhang’s paintings is his reminiscence of Beijing’s old Hutong culture. Born and raised in Beijing, Zhang expresses his love and memories for his home city through the medium of tempera and oil.
Contrary to the skyscrapers and the high-rise apartment buildings in modern society, Hutong culture signifies a naturally formed relationship of love and caring among neighbors. The emergence of the newly built fake Hutong buildings after taking down the real ones reflects the awkward conglomerate between Western modernity and Eastern tradition. Just as the many Starbucks in Eastern countries adopting conventional Oriental looks, the core of these cultural hybrids might be the outcome of compliance towards cultural imperialism, or maybe even Self-Orientalizing.
Thereby, beyond their intrinsic aesthetic values, Zhang’s artworks convey social responsibility that beckons the appropriate preservation of traditional Beijing cultures an an entirety amid the ever-evolving industrialization and commercialization in China. Through his paintings, the symbol of Beijing Hutong serves as an epitome of societal recollection of the old and simple days.
By Joyce Zhang, 2020.12.3
“The Fate of Old Beijing: The Vanishing Hutongs”
credits to Jonah Kessel, Ami Li, Kit Gillet