Artist Arrested in Beijing Over Tiananmen Square Homage

Guo Jian covered a diorama of the square with ground pork, but is it a publicity stunt?

Guo Jian Photo: © Guo Jian
Guo Jian Photo: © Guo Jian

Australian artist Guo Jian has been arrested in Beijing following an interview with the Financial Times in which he described a work he created to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Chinese government’s crackdown in Tiananmen Square, which began on June 3, 1989.

Friends told the Guardian that the 52-year-old artist sent them a text message within hours of the publication of his article with the FT‘s Tom Mitchell on the evening of May 30th. According to fellow artist Melanie Wong, who spoke with the Sydney Morning Herald, Guo told her over the phone that he was being taken to a detention center and would be released in 15 days.

Guo Jian is renowned for his paintings and mixed media work in the style of cynical realism. However, for the work in question, The Square (2014) Guo created a diorama of the Tiananmen Square and covered it with 160 kg (352 lb) of ground pork.“I wanted to do something privately to mark the anniversary,” Guo told the FT. “But I should have covered [the diorama] in plastic first. It would have been easier to clean up.”

He says the meat quickly turned gray-green and began to smell. Previously, the diorama depicted a construction site in the middle of the square, alluding to China’s mass-urbanization in recent decades.

Guo’s was no distant homage to the horrendous crackdown that left a death toll estimated anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand individuals. As the protests intensified in the lead up to the massacre,  he jumped his university gates and became one of the square’s hunger strikers, lasting seven days before being taken to the hospital.

He returned to Tiananmen square in time for the June 3-4 crackdown, escaping soldier’s bullets by a stroke of luck: teargas blown back in the soldier’s faces, according to the FT‘s account. He moved to Sydney in 1992, where he was granted Australian citizenship. However, he returned to China in 2005.

Guo Jian, The Square (2014) Photo: © Guo Jian

Guo Jian, The Square (2014)
Photo: © Guo Jian

Guo’s current location remains unknown. However, the Australian department of foreign affairs and trade told the Guardian, “The Australian embassy in Beijing has contacted Chinese authorities to seek further information on the reported detention of Mr Guo Jian and to underline our strong interest in the matter. The Australian government stands ready to extend all possible consular assistance to Mr Guo.”

Also speaking to the British daily, Amnesty International said that Guo was one of around 50 people who have been detained or “vanished” (as is the common parlance in China) due to varying acts of remembrance of the 25th anniversary. Victims’ families have also allegedly been targeted. And the country’s censors are said to be cracking down on words and phrases related to Tiananmen Square in the blogosphere.

“He along with the scores of others detained for peacefully speaking out about the bloodshed of 1989 must be immediately released,” an Amnesty spokesman told the Guardian, going on to suggest that the crack down in 2014 has been “harsher than in recent years.”

Another artist, Chen Guang, was also detained three weeks ago after a performance vaguely related to the 1989 crackdown, according to the New York Times. The performance was filmed by an unnamed international media outlet in a studio complex in eastern Beijing. Chen is known for his paintings which depict the aftermath of the massacre.


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