A game called Mahjong
Beijing 2008 is a painting by Chinese-Canadian artist Liu Yi 刘溢. Completed in 2005 and exhibited at a New York art fair the next year, this work was soon posted on the Internet and raising heated discussions around the world. Many people including netizens and art critics believe there are political messages in the artwork. Recently, following the storm on South China Sea, the painting is being dug up again.
First, let’s look at the portrait hanging on the wall. Who’s he? He is a combination of three former influential leaders of China: Sun Yat-sun, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong, as the man’s face carries each of the three leaders’ facial features. What does it mean? I think to me perhaps it means China, separately and together, is an unsolved, frustrating situation within differing ideologies and identities. The figure hanging on the wall is always very important. He is the only one who wears clothes, gazing rather unmoved at the women in different state of undress.
The one with the tattoos on her back is China. On the left, focused intensely on the game, is Japan. The one with the shirt and head cocked to the side is America. Lying provocatively on the floor is Russia. And the little girl standing to the side is Taiwan.
And what about the tiles they are holding? China’s visible set of “East Wind” signifies China’s revival as a world power. Additionally, it signifies the military might and weaponry that China possesses has already been placed on the table. China appears to be in a good position, but we cannot see the rest of her hand. The tattooed woman is also handling some hidden tiles below the table.
America looks confident, but is glancing at Taiwan, trying to read something off of Taiwan’s expression and at the same time seems to be hinting something at Taiwan.
At a first glance, Russia appears to be disinterested in the game, but if you look closely, one of her feet strokes America coyly while her hand passes a hidden tile to China. Double dealing superpowers exchanging benefits in secret. Japan is all seriousness, staring at her own set of tiles and is oblivious to the actions of the others…If the women’s real game is that the loser strips off a piece of clothing? Some people seem to think the artist rather suggests that the final victor lies between China and America. And while America is capable, they are playing Chinese Mahjong, not Western Poker. She does not even remember to cover her lower body while playing by the Chinese rules, how much chance at victory does America really have?
Artist Liu Yi: “…My magic is about dreams of the masses and society.” Liu is an excellent storyteller.