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Chen Zanxi’s Sugarcoated Bullet series combines Chinese and foreign icons to create a satirical commentary on the state of revolutionary ideals and traditional values in modern Chinese society. The title of Sugarcoated Bullet: Elegant Pursuits comes from the classical phrase “风流韵事” which refers to the refined pursuits of a cultured person such as poetry, chess, calligraphy and music. The phrase, however, has also become a euphemism for an illicit romantic affair. On the left is Yang Zirong, the iconic soldier-hero from the revolutionary opera Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy. On the right, Yuji, the loyal concubine from the traditional Beijing opera Farewell my Concubine, is performing a sword-dance before committing suicide next to her defeated king. Behind them is a traditional Chinese paper cutout with the symbol for “double happiness,” which is often associated with wedding celebrations. Between these role models from revolutionary and traditional Beijing Opera, the artist has superimposed the licentious Kate from Cole Porter’s musical Kiss me Kate; here shown here playing the role of Katherine in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. The color red, highlighted in the Yang Zirong’s Red Army insignia and the traditional “Double Happiness” pattern is also highlighted on the lips and clothing of Kate and Yuji.

A word from The Artist

“Sugar-coated bullet” refers to medicine coated with sugar, except that here the medicine is replaced with a deadly bullet. It is a metaphor for using clever disguises to trick people into happily welcoming an enemy attack.

Chairman Mao created this phrase soon after the founding of People’s Republic of China in order to guard against backsliding. It was a warning to those party members whose revolutionary spirit was slack to be on guard against the enemy’s hidden efforts to invade or entice defectors.

Ever since China’s policy of reform and opening, our achievements and economic developments have captured the world’s attention. This prosperity, however, also brings some negative aspects. While fast-food culture delivers speed and convenience, some precious qualities from our traditional culture are quietly being destroyed.

Sugar Coated Bullet: Elegant Pursuits


By CHEN Zanxi 由陈赞西创作
Display: in cm

30.5 x 30.5cm | Series of 100
$35.00 each  100 remaining
40.6 x 40.6cm | Series of 300
$59.00 each  300 remaining
61 x 61cm | Series of 200
$199.00 each  200 remaining
76.2 x 76.2cm | Series of 50
$399.00 each  50 remaining
111.8 x 111.8cm | Series of 10
$999.00 each  10 remaining
Prints are created with archival-quality pigment inks and 100% cotton rag acid-free paper.

Each print comes with a certificate of authenticity numbered and signed by the artist.

Dimensions are for the size of the paper on which the image is printed - not the image itself. All prints have a white border to allow for framing.

Revenues from each purchase are shared with the artist.

A Closer Look

Yang Zirong is the main character in the Beijing Opera Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, based on the novel Tracks in the Snowy Forest. The story is based on an actual 1946 incident from during the Chinese civil war. A member of a Red Army reconnaissance team, whose actual name was Yang Zirong, successfully disguised himself to infiltrate a gang of bandits and bring about their destruction.

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