Should Cities Regulate Graffiti?
while still a new phenomenon to most Chinese, is becoming more familiar
among teenagers in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. A recent
report by Xinhua News Agency discusses the trend. The report said
a small business on Ruijinlu Road, set in a narrow lane in downtown
Shanghai, has a special graffiti wall, two meters high and four
meters long, which catches the eyes of passersby.
The scrawl has also caught the attention of
local officials, who claim the graffiti wall is an illicit blot
on the city’s appearance.
But that is not true for the lane’s residents.
Most of them are quite tolerant, and some even have a positive view,
even though in most cases they hardly understand the abstract expressions
made in colorful paint and grotesque shapes.
They note that before the graffiti, the wall
was covered with flyers advertising medical treatments and other
businesses. The bills were removed, but soon reappeared. For the
residents, graffiti represents an improvement.
However, to the officials, the wall represents
a major challenge, whether covered with ads or graffiti. Since there
are no specific rules to deal with the situation, officials must
refer to regulations on city appearance and environmental sanitation
to remove the offending material and repaint the wall over and over.
Some argue that graffiti cannot be defined merely
as individual expression. Lawyers say the regulations on city appearance
and environmental sanitation should be enforced, any commercial
or artistic use of public space should be approved by the government
and graffiti in a public area has no legal protection.
Eventually the wall has triggered a lasting
debate on the necessity of enacting rules to curb graffiti and to
accommodate it under proper control.
Liang Genxiang (Vice Chairman of the
Shunde Municipal Painters’ Association, Guangdong Province):
Graffiti is a popular art and style that is commonly seen in Western
countries such as the United States, Britain, France and Russia,
in particular among young people. In an attempt to relieve social
pressure, these people look for a medium to manipulate and the mould
to suit their needs.
Some graffiti can be understood as a concrete
manifestation of high artistic value and proficient skills, spurring
the scholarly interest of collectors and artists.
In China, it has been regarded as a tag of vitality,
passionate and impetuous, restless and rebellious.
Whether graffiti can be considered art or not
is an open question. As far as I am concerned, art needs passion.
In Paris, most artists and musicians grow up in the street culture.
Thus we cannot deny the existence of talented graffiti artists in
Of course, some of the individual emotions displayed
in graffiti are in response to social problems, but some are direct
expressions of the artists’ inner feelings. If the graffiti
is not radical and extreme, we should be tolerant. Maybe through
organizing some interest groups or giving lectures we can lead them
back to normal artistic development, or the urban planning department
could designate a certain area for the artists to express their
zeal and creativity.
Zhong Qiu (graffiti artist from Shunde
City, Guangdong Province): I am a designer, but have been
involved in graffiti for a couple of years. Late at night, on billboards
and commercial buildings, we indulge in the world of imagination.
I have had about 100 such works throughout the city.
Graffiti also requires drafts. As important
as it is, one letter may take several hours sometimes. Every graffiti
artist has his symbolic logo, such as specialized calligraphy, indicating
I started with skateboarding, then hip-hop,
now graffiti. It seems that I can easily find myself in graffiti,
and it fits in with my lifestyle.
Wang Xuejing (sociologist in Beijing):
In their manner of representing their individuality, teenagers
find themselves. I don’t think we should bother about this.
It takes the pressure off, and is healthy. If it was forbidden,
these young people might look to other options, even wrong or illegal
ones, which would cause bigger damage to society and the young men
Chen Zhuoying (Shanghai resident): I
like the graffiti. It decorates the wall much better than unauthorized
In my opinion, it should be encouraged. The
graffiti will inspire [the artists’] creativity. However,
the government should locate the graffiti in an appropriate space.
Graffiti is also controversial in the United
States. But for those active in gang graffiti, it reveals the culture
and can easily be elevated to the category of “art form.”
Shanghai could allow certain types of graffiti
to enrich our urban life, in my view.
Jiang Yang (journalist at Beijing
Daily Messenger): Graffiti is a street culture sprouted
from punk. It generates fresh ideas during its evolution with more
professional artists participating in the genre, such as the styles
of Japanese comics, American hip-hop and Taiwan picture books.
In fact, to me, it is a primitive impulse. Look
back to your school days, doodling in a notebook, expressing dissatisfaction,
which is the starting impetus of graffiti. It might not be open,
but rather a sort of private expression. For individuals, it can
be political, humane or even nothing. In some cases, the artists
have no idea of what to say, or are ambiguous about what exactly
they are drawing. They just want to show uneasiness, emptiness or
rage. The desire for graffiti is swelling secretly, worthy of the
continuous attention of vigorous youth.
Though controversial, it still prevails and
spreads. The Berlin Wall, torn down and left behind in history,
was well known for its world collection of graffiti too.
Subways in New York and buses in Los Angeles
cannot escape from the illicit marks, cartoons and racy slang. The
police set up a special team to clear up the eyesores all over the
city at a cost of almost $4 billion every year.
The reality is that suitable canvases are important.
We should reject the signatures on historical relics or graffiti
containing violence and pornography. But it is lovely if it is healthy,
for example, proclamations of love, or a graffiti wall at home or
in a workshop, or a public space devoted to artistic graffiti or
even in cyberspace.
Wu Ming (Shanghai resident): Arts
should be done in workshops instead of public walls. It is definitely
We should raise public awareness of the protection
of public facilities and property, which we all own. A clean and
agreeable living environment is beneficial to people. I advise a
self-disciplined campaign to prevent more people from throwing garbage,
spitting and creating graffiti in public places.
Wang Qiubo (editor at Brand Times):
The government should play a leading role in punishing
those who are ignorant of public sanitation. For example, the traffic
keepers employed by government departments educate and persuade
those who break the traffic rules. So it should be the same with
graffiti, which I think should be restricted.
Liu Guilin (retired worker living in
Zhonggusi Hutong, Beijing): I cannot bear it. I don’t
like most graffiti. It is visual pollution and damaging to culture.
Government officials should think about how
to control the rampant graffiti, or maybe develop rules on punishment.
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