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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. In Liberty, Chen has placed a pair of leaping dancers in the foreground. Just behind these figures stands the Statue of Liberty, and above are the streaking silhouettes of six F-16s.

The dancers are from the famous revolutionary ballet Red Detachment of Women, which was one of the “eight model plays” permitted in China during the Cultural Revolution. Set in the 1930’s Hainan, the ballet recounts the exploits of a detachment of revolutionary women who free prisoners and slave women from an evil landlord, while helping the Red Army to defeat the enemy forces. Notably, this play was performed for Richard Nixon during his historic 1972 visit to Beijing.

Although these characters each individually convey a sense of heroism and ardor, when jointly placed on a flattened plane they become static and artificial. This sense of one-dimensionality is further heightened by the painting’s simplistic geometric repetition; the entire composition is essentially a mirror image of itself, and the dancers’ X-shaped positioning creates a series of triangular forms that is reiterated throughout the painting. These genial, interlocking dancers bring to mind the symmetrical symbols of Gucci or Chanel. The juxtaposition of these images neutralizes any contradictions between these icons’ patriotic or ideological associations.

In Sugarcoated Bullet: Liberty the revolutionary women frolic with Lady Liberty, oblivious to the detachment of foreign fighter jets arriving overhead.

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: Liberty (2)


By CHEN Zanxi 由陈赞西创作
Display: in cm

30.5 x 22.9cm | Series of 100
$35.00 each  100 remaining
40.6 x 30.5cm | Series of 300
$59.00 each  300 remaining
61 x 45.7cm | Series of 200
$199.00 each  200 remaining
76.2 x 57.2cm | Series of 50
$399.00 each  50 remaining
111.8 x 83.8cm | 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

The Red Detachment of Women is one of the so-called "eight model plays" permitted in China during the Cultural Revolution. It is based on a novel, which is based on true stories from the Special Company of the 2nd Independent Division of Chinese Red Army in Hainan. The Red Detachment of Women was performed for US President Richard Nixon during his historic visit to Beijing in 1972.

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