I chose a piece of student artwork from an art gallery in Xi’an as my cultural artifact. Throughout our time in China, our tour guides and the students we met emphasized how important it is for Chinese students to complete their education so they will be able to support themselves and their parents. The owner of the art gallery explained to us that the art students at a local university had created this art in hopes of selling it to help subsidize the cost of their college education. The lengths these students go to to pay for their education emphasizes the importance of education in China and the commitment students have to completing their degree so they can fulfill their duties to their parents.
The students’ commitment to education reminded me of the way families support each other for the sake of bettering the family as a whole in Chinese culture. For example, parents support the student as he/she prepares for the Gao Kao and goes through college (parents typically pay for college, support as much as possible). Students persevere through college and do whatever they must to earn the degree so they can get a good job and support their parents in their old age. This cycle of give and take underscores the deep ties Chinese people have to their families, and the art students’ commitment to finishing college is a clear manifestation of this familial loyalty.
Of course, the Chinese practice of young people taking care of their parents is quite traditional, and the way that practice is upheld is changing some with the new global economy. Our tour guide explained that it is becoming more common for Chinese college graduates to move to a bigger city (or remain in the city where they attended school) to find a job instead of moving back to their hometown to be with their parents. However, the Chinese focus on education as the best way to support the family and improve their situation remains. This educational focus is underscored by the lengths the art students go to to ensure they will be able to fund their college education, devoting time and resources to creating art that they hope will sell for a profit.
I also appreciated the juxtaposition of young and old in the painting I bought at the gallery. The painting was done by a college student, representing youth and hope for the future. However, the subject of the painting is a bouquet of peonies, the national flower of China, and a traditional symbol. The painting is also surrounded by a silk frame, silk being one of China’s most ancient and prominent products. I like thinking about how the young student used the beauty and connection that people feel to China’s national flower and traditional practices to produce art and continue working toward completion of a college degree.