Preparing for the Games


Should Cities Regulate Graffiti?

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.

Encourage individuality

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 Shanghai.

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 cryptic messages.

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 themselves.

Chen Zhuoying (Shanghai resident): I like the graffiti. It decorates the wall much better than unauthorized street advertisements.

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.

Restrain graffiti

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 graffiti pollution.

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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Editor: Zhang Zhiping