Letters from Xiao Lu to Gao Minglu about the shooting of her work Dialogue at the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, in 1989.

2020-08-01 18:52 0

First letter from Xiao Lu to Gao Minglu about the shooting of her work Dialogue at the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, in 1989.

Sourced from http://www.artda.cn/view.php?tid=105&cid=21

Mr Gao Minglu: Greetings!

      The copying of the work Dialogue has been completed. For now it is in the studio in Dashanzi, Beijing. I have now returned to Hangzhou.

      On the 15th of last month, I held a “Party” [in English] to celebrate the completed copying of Dialogue. Li Xianting was also there. He said he was in the process of carrying out a revision of some outstanding historical issues, and proposed to interview me. This is the first time in fifteen years that he has come to interview me, and is also the first time I have talked to him about the real sequence of what occurred at the shooting incident.

      Mr Gao, I remember how, when I last met you in Beijing and suggested that I would like to see what everybody else said about this work, you said: “You needn’t see anything. You are the creator. You should write the truest account.”

      On every occasion when I took up my pen, what I felt in my heart was difficult to express in writing. This was a stretch of history that was closely linked to my personal emotional life and to the history of Chinese modern art, and I found it impossible to face.

      Mr Gao, when I had calmed down a little, I adopted an objective attitude and wrote that “Explanation of the Shooting of the Work Dialogue in the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, in 1989” . Perhaps I made errors in the numerous specific conversations and details, but I was clear about the larger events.

      In these days I have repeatedly remembered the situations and my real state of mind in that year, and I feel that I follow my feelings in doing things to such a high degree. My emotions led me to create the original Dialogue. What made me want to fire that gun was also emotions. Emotions made me not say a single word to the outside world for fifteen years, and now it is still emotion that makes me speak about the true circumstances shooting incident to you, to Li and to others. When I looked clearly at all this, I not only ask myself what the connection was between the background of these true conditions and my inner world. I don’t know how I should explain myself with regard to this historical mistake. As Li asked me: “At the time, when I mistakenly added the name of Tang Song, why didn’t you say something?” “Because he and I had become a couple.” My answer leaves both of you non-plussed, I am sure. I don’t know what, for men and women, is, in this world, the most important thing in their lives.

      When I was writing up a series of random factors in the Shooting Incident, I couldn’t help asking myself, against the background of all this randomicity, which elements were necessary? From the position of art history, there was at least this one point: it was not a pre-meditated incident, and even less an incident that Tang Song had planned. Tang Song was only relevant to the incident, and he was completely irrelevant to the begetting of the work. Mr Gao Minglu, if I were a highly rational person, if I had so thoroughly thought out the consequences of this shooting, I should perhaps never have fired the gun, for after all, it was in breach of the law. If it had been in a country with a properly functioning legal system, Li Songsong  and I might have received a jail sentence. Li Songsong lent me the gun and I fired it. As for Tang Song , he was at best someone with inside knowledge. It was exactly because I was in China in that era that I had no legal conceptions in my head, and it was exactly the uncertainties of the law in China that led to the social character of this work.

      When I think back on the events of that year, many of the connections between chance and necessity were indispensably linked. The apparently random events were closely interlocked, and if any one of them had been missing, the gun-shot incident could never have taken place. However, the main thread that ran through all of them was the demands of my conscience, for even if it had been someone else’s suggestion or prompting, none of all this could have taken place without that demand: you have the right of choice between doing it and not doing it, and ultimately there is something that needs you to fire the gun.

      I don’t know how the outside world discussed this work. For so many years, I have read very little about it, and the little I have read has been fortuitous. It also feels very foreign to me, and on the whole I feel that these writings have little to do with me. Indeed, the true meaning of this work lies in its resurrection. It is a life that I conceived, yet its extension has already transcended the significance of the work in itself. As for myself, it extends to the present. The time when I recreated the work turned out to be a time of facing up to it again. The emotional life of fifteen years earlier, which had taken Dialogue for its medium, became a conclusion, also through Dialogue. If one were to take a deterministic view of it, it would simply be a vicious circle. A fortnight after Tang Song formally raised separating from me, a telephone call from Beijing came demanding that I reproduce this work. When Tang Song became aware of this, and again wished to control this work, I firmly said: “No!”

      Mr Gao Minglu, I don’t know what kind of business everything I am saying today is from the point of view of your and your colleagues’ art history. As you said, it is two kinds of discourse, but my thoughts and feelings are that kind of loss. Indeed Dialogue is a work made by a woman but spoken by a man.

      When one sees these things clearly, or rather, when you have lost some things, what is important to me, and what is real? If we use the expression: ‘the present moment’, I have no choice. Mr Gao Minglu, in art and society, in art and the individual, between men and women, everybody is looking for a standpoint. If the standpoint I thought I had was shattered, what was the significance of the meaning of life as far as I was concerned. When I denied all the past with Fifteen Gunshots, what did the future mean for me? Was it still the same as that year when I having finished shooting was still not very clear about the consequences to which that had given birth?

      I cannot say for sure, when you face a period of history, your feeling is nevertheless so helpless. People become very small, somewhere and somehow you seem to be pushed along by history, and you also seem to be interconnected with history. In that case, the fragments of history and thought, in many interconnections and mutual checks between points in the darkness, are telling me that the misreadings between objectivity and subjectivity in history can all become possible. Each individual person, applying her or his insights into life within her or his limited space, must interpret interpret self and others, and at the same time face history.

      Mr Gao Minglu, many people ask me: “Why did you have to fire the gun?” It is very difficult to explain in one sentence. I think that for me, art is perhaps a means of saving oneself, a device of survival. The form of firing a gun happened to coincide with my inner needs, allowed me a temporary respite. I suppose that this has to do with psychology.

      Mr Gao Minglu, there is something I cannot work out. Is a work of art based in the human being? Or is it based in its meaning? In modern art, is it how things are said that is important, or how things are done? I think that these are two lines of thought, but that the second must depend on the first. Perhaps some people created works taking the second line as their starting point. I don’t know. However, speaking for myself, I think that if I hadn’t produced that work at the time, if I hadn’t done my best to get hold of a gun, if I hadn’t fired the gun, then would nothing that happened later have eventuated, and would all meaning have been out of the question? There is now a phenomenon, namely that curators are leading artists. Perhaps my problem that year lay there: the artist had disappeared.

      I hope to receive your guidance.

Xiao Lu, 

Manjuelong, Hangzhou, 4 February 2004.


Xiao Lu’s second letter to Gao Minglu about the shooting of the work “Dialogue” at the Chinese National Art Museum (Beijing) 1989.

Sourced from: http://www.artda.cn/view.php?tid=105&cid=21

Dear Mr Gao Minglu,

      In a book Trends published in Taiwan, there is an article written by you about the Great Exhibition in 1989. There is a photograph in it that reminds me of certain states of mind I experienced that year. In the picture, Tang Song is holding forth while I sit beside him with my head lowered. The presentation in the photograph is indeed a very true record of us at the time. It dates from the day after we talked to Li Xianting. On the evening of that day we were in a dormitory of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. If I remember correctly, Fei Dawei was also present, and that’s when the picture was taken.

      Perhaps there is a phenomenon that I indeed created. As for the circumstances at the time, when we came out of the Dongcheng Detention, how to explain this work was an urgent priority. Although I was very clear about the state in which I had created this work, I had before the shooting been completely incapable of foreseeing the state of affairs that developed afterwards. The size of the wave generated by this ball had already completely bamboozled me. I remember facing you theorists at the time and really suffering from stage fright. Tang Song on the other hand was much more alert to what had occurred. He grasped the right to the discourse and interpreted this work according to his own format, thus becoming its spokesperson. As for my state at the time, I was actually really rather dizzy, which was another reason why he could intervene. For these fifteen years I have not said a word in public. In fact, this means I relinquished the right to the discourse from the beginning. A great big lie enveloped this work, and I didn’t know how I should explain it. Its real connection with me was in fact this period in my emotional life.

      Mr Gao, I am thinking whether the reason why this work is influential is that its social character is the main factor established by it, but if I am allowed to say something against my will, before I had made this work, how could I have foreseen the future. This would be untrue in my case, because this gun was only a fruit that I threw, that’s all, but the size of the splashes raised by it was a product of the particular historical situation.

Xiao Lu

Sincerely yours with all best wishes,


Third letter from Xiao Lu to Gao Minglu about the shooting of her work Dialogue at the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, in 1989.

Sourced from: http://www.artda.cn/view.php?tid=105&cid=21

Dear Mr Gao Minglu,

      In our conversation, you suggested clearing up some matters through the format of an exchange of letters, and you hoped that I would be able to write some things down. People are like inductors: they present various discourses according to their various mental states. I sometimes wonder whether the purpose why I am desperately looking for a result is to achieve a fair statement or a path of self-liberation. I am like someone who has fallen into an abyss and is praying to heaven. At the same time I am unable to resolve a series of questions and can only dissect my inner world one question at a time. Because it is closest to me, I can touch its pulse and know whether it still exists.

      The world is made up of men and women. According to traditional Chinese conceptions, they should undertake different roles. Looking through China’s history, with its plot after plot to usurp power, between plotting big and plotting small, the words of absolution sought to justify all the devices, sometimes really appear so pale and weak. Within this kind of consciousness, it is somehow perfectly justifiable to seek fame and fortune by any means. I am not someone who cares for fame and fortune. In asking history today to return the reputation that should have belonged to me all along, it is the format of Tang Song’s behaviour that has made me see a world that I wish neither to face nor to accept. I despise what he did from the bottom of my heart. To that phrase of mine of the time, “It’s OK with me” , I have added a heavy “NOT”   

      Simone de Beauvoir in her book The Second Sex (Le deuxième sexe) writes: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” (“On ne naît pas femme, on le devient.”) My experience on the other hand is that one is born a woman. The inborn maternal character of women gives us an instinct for self-sacrifice. As long as she is willing, she is capable of giving up all of herself. A popular saying goes: “Man is heaven, woman is earth.” However this must be a true heaven, in which case, the earth under it will encompass all of it. Heaven and earth become one, which originally should be the most favourable natural state. What need then to overthrow heaven? Mr Gao Minglu, I am an idealist and dedicated to love. It is the demand in my nature for an unreal vision. From my raising the gun again and again, one may see the extreme limits of what my inner world cannot accept. People grow between heaven and earth. The formats of their actions are closely linked to nature. Cause and effect correlate to one another, which nobody can change. The human heart is like an atomic core. Only you yourself know what’s in that core. It may ignite. It may emit light. At the same time, it may explode.


Xiao Lu

19 March 2004.


Traslated from Chinese by Archibald McKenzie