Smarty Pants
Smarty Pants
Feb 19, 2021
#167: Red Star Avant Garde
Play • 20 min

So much of the story we hear about China today concerns Covid-19, or the economy—how over the past few decades, it has risen from poverty and ruin to become a global powerhouse. But there’s a story beneath the surface, of the artistic avant-garde that resisted rule from above and inspired generations of ordinary Chinese citizens to seek freedom of expression. From their countryside re-education posts to the abandoned warehouses of Beijing and the short-lived Democracy Wall, Chinese artists flourished at the edge of acceptability—until the entire edifice came crashing down with the Tiananmen Square massacre. Madeleine O’Dea joins us to talk about her book, The Phoenix Years, which follows the lives of nine contemporary Chinese artists to tell the story of how art shaped a nation.


Visit the episode page for portraits and archival images of the artists and their work.


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Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek.


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