Fairytales for Adults

He Yunchang


Once upon a time, or in 1997 to be exact, a young man went to Kunming’s Haikou market to buy two ounces of pork. The meat-seller considered this amount too small and absolutely refused to sell it to him. Finally the young man told the meat seller that he had worked as an engineer at a factory, and that he and his wife had both lost their jobs at the same time. The factory issued them with 50 pounds of rice and a very small amount of money each month. It had been a very long time since he bought any meat, and their five years old son did not understand the situation, and was fussing and shouting all the time and demanding to eat meat. Having heard this, the meat-seller immediately cut off a piece weighing 2 or 3 pounds and gave it him, absolutely refusing to take any money. The engineer took the meat back home, and after discussing with his wife, put rat poison into the pot in which the meat was cooking. After eating the meat, the family of three all died.


At the time I heard this distressing story my own circumstances were from good. It made me realize that there were countless thousands of other people facing similar situations, but however wretched their circumstances, and however great the pressure they were under, none of them chose to abandon life like that engineer. The sharp blade of reality can only pierce their limbs; it cannot wound their will. The persistence and tenacious spirit of these disadvantaged groups inspire me.


The following year I made An Appointment with Tomorrow along with some other photography and installation work. I was not deliberately attempting to dispel or oppose any particular real forces or circumstances; I just went on my personal feelings. I wanted to advocate the spirit of those groups, those other people that I admired so much. My performance works usually take place outdoors, because I like to fuse with nature. I have also made use of some heavy-duty machines, to increase the contrast between different forces; some of the performances are quite intense, but compared to the cruelty of reality they’re nothing.


There are perhaps limits to what an artist or an individual can achieve with effort. It is unlikely that I will be able to divide a river into halves, or move a mountain (by pulling it). It isn’t likely that I will succeed in moving sunlight, making a river flow in the opposite direction; or defeat a hundred men or a powerful army, but I did not give up, as many others have not given up and go on with their dreams.


Insight the house the light is dim, the orchids, jasmine, tea plants and crab-apple blossom are slowly dying. If I can just push down these four walks, then the sunlight will shine onto the bodies of my cherished plants—in this way it seems our efforts can certainly change some things.




When the weather is fine and my mood is just as fine, I like to sit still by myself in a quiet corner. Sitting still is an excellent way of improving physical health, and can also give rise to many fantasies. Fantasies are a goof medicine, gentle and plentiful, no harm can come from an overdose, and they can also give birth to inspiration — you can find a way to achieve the desire to follow your own inclinations.


When my mind is clear I know that reality can be improved, society should be a hotbed — no, a garden — where everyone can realise their dreams, even if just for a while. This sentiment contains not the slightest shade of pessimism. I am rather beguiled by fantasies and a bit stubborn — or let’s say persistent, it sounds nicer. I stay in the garden, paying no attention whatsoever to New Age whatever, for when your will is persistent it’s easier to get thins done. And always in a time of dullness or difficulty, fantasies keep you on your feet, keep you moving forward.


I like to make a thick mixture of nothingness, warmth and sharpness. When my enthusiasm is aroused it is loaded with a sort of false appearance, the result of a specific formula I use to present my ideas. They might be photographic images, graffiti, performances, or whatever else fits. I am used to wandering in all directions in the open and wild, or the light being a little dim, or it being a little cold and damp, but you can always fantasize. Those flies that manage to get into any kind of dress or protective headgear you many wear cannot prevent you fantasizing as you please, or creating a space for the audience’s fantasies.




I choose the methods that I like, but I am unable to deal with questions from the audience about my work. To give a definite answer is equal to setting up a trap — it is harmful to the artist and especially to the audience. I have no right to demand that everyone makes the same choice, and furthermore, many of the audience are more intelligent.


So let's make a hypothesis: (1) Many years later, over tea or after dinner someone jokes about the idiot who was so deluded he thought he could move a mountain by pulling at it. The one who could divide a river into two halves; move sunlight; make a river flow backwards; defeat a hundred men in a wrestling contest; and out-drink another hundred.


(2) After 300 years the stories are still being told. People will tell of a man who tried to move a mountain until he vomited up 30 liters of blood; of a madman who tired to cut a river in half and drowned in the attempt. The story of a trickster who said he could move sunlight ended up being exiled to Uranus; of a vagabond who died while tying to wrestle a hundred men, and of a drunkard who drank with a hundred men and also died vomiting blood.


(3) Another thousand years go by, and the legends are somewhat altered. There once was an oriental master who moved three mountains, 3000 kilometers with a wave of his hand; a bodhisattva who could strike a river with the palm of his hand and split it in two, and who then slept for 30 years in the middle of the river bed. A sorcerer who stopped the sun from ever setting, which in winter made the snowflakes melt before they floated to the ground, and the real estate agents turn to selling umbrellas. There was an immortal who with a snap of her fingers caused the river to flow backwards for a thousand miles, then she bent over to pull on silk stockings and tie her shoelaces. There was a wanderer who in one day fought a hundred bandits, and faced with a powerful army, chopped off the general's head as easy as pulling something out of his pocket. There was a Taoist priest who had a drinking contest with a hundred people, and as he drank another 5000 people also fell down dead drunk. The audience can hypothesize all they want, for the actions are all in fact close to illusions.



To be all day immersing oneself in fantasies and manufacturing illusions is close to absurdity — children, don’t try this at home.




April 1st, 2002

He Yunchang in his studio.
An Appointment with Tomorrow, 1998
Dialogue with Water, 1999
Dialog with Water, 1999
Moving a Mountain,1999
Wrestling: One and One Hundred,2001
Golden Sunshine,1999