candle's blog

quotes from shanzhai: desconstruction in chinese by byung-chul han


"transformation takes place not as a series of events or eruptions, but discreetly, imperceptibly, and continually"

"not creation with an absolute beginning, but continual process without beginning or end, without birth or death"

"some temples actually consist almost entirely of doors and windows that shut nothing off"

"recognizing the changeable course of things, correlating with it situationally, and deriving benefits from it"


"authentic trace"

"the original is determined not by a unique act of creation, but by unending process, not by definitive identity but by constant change"

"according to plato, the beautiful or the good is something immutable that resembles only itself"

"a chinese masterpiece never remains the same in itself"

"it is regularly overwritten by connoisseurs and collectors"

"the work itself is subject to continual change and permanent transcription"

"the work empties itself out to become a generative, communicative locus of inscriptions"

"not just individual works but an artist's entire oeuvre is subject to transformation as well"

"he is a signifier without identity, who is always being loaded with new significance. the origin turns out to be a retrospective construction"

"the artwork is presented like a living creature that grows, sheds its skin, and transforms itself"

"it is quite possible for the master's true originals to be removed from his oeuvre, while forgeries that suit contemporary taste are included"

"the forgeries have more art-historical value than true originals"

"in ancient chinese artistic practice, learning takes place specifically through copying. moreover, copying is considered a sign of respect toward the master. one studies, praises, and admires a work by copying it"

"he who succeeds in such a forgery of a master's work gains great recognition, as it provides proof of his ability. for the connoisseur who authenticated his forgery, the forger is equal to the master"

"if a forger borrows a painting from a collector, and when returning it hands over a copy unnoticed instead of the original, this is not considered a deception but an act of fairness"

"the rules of the game say that everyone should own the paintings they deserve"

"this is an extraordinary practice from ancient china that would put an end to today's art speculation"

"yesterday this picture was worth millions. experts and art lovers from all over the world came to see it. today it's worth nothing and nobody would even cross the road to see it for free. but the picture hasn't changed. what's different?"

"the idea of the original is closely linked to that of truth"

"if a forger painted as well as a master, then he was indeed a master and not a forger"

"in this case the the sensitive issue was that the forger was none other than the most famous chinese painter of the twentieth century, chang dai-chien"

"most of these old pictures were no mere copies, but rather replicas of lost paintings that were known only from written descriptions"

"by creating 'ancient' painting that matched the verbal description recorded in catalogues of lost paintings, chang was able to paint forgeries that collectors had been yearning to 'discover'"


"here art is a communicative, interactive practice that constantly changes even the artwork's appearance. subsequent viewers of the picture take part in its creation. the more famous a picture, the more its fame makes it subject to alterations"

"from the start chinese paintings are designed to facilitate later inscriptions. with areas of the picture left empty as communicative spaces, they directly invite viewers to inscribe themselves"


"a replica workshop was set up on the excavation site itself. but they were not producing 'forgeries'. rather, we might say that the chinese were trying to restart production"

"but in reality this temple complex is completely rebuilt from scratch every twenty years"

"we could even say that the copy is more original than the original, or the copy is closer to the original than the original, for the older the building becomes the further it is from its original state. a reproduction would restore it, as it were, to its 'original state', especially since it is not linked to a particular artist"

"we might also say that originals preserve themselves through copies"

"back in the seventeenth century, excavated artworks from antiquity were treated quite differently from today. they were not restored in a way that was faithful to the original. instead there was massive intervention in these works, changing their appearance"

"mass production that nevertheless allows variations and modulations"

"it negates uniqueness in order to increase the efficiency of the reproduction"

"chinese painting too uses modular technology. the famous chinese treatise on painting, the manual of the mustard seed garden, contains an infinite row of component parts from which a painting could be composed or indeed assembled"

"combining and varying elements become more important"


"technological or aesthetic modifications give them their own identity"

"they can adapt very quickly to particular needs and situations, which is not possible for products made by large companies because of their long production cycles"

"the ingenuity of shanzhai products is frequently superior to that of the original"

"in this way it has established itself as an original"

"gradually its products depart from the original, until they mutate into originals themselves"

"in china, cultural products are often not attributed to any one individual. they frequently have a collective origin and do not display forms of expression associated with an individual, creative genius"

"they cannot be unequivocally ascribed to one artist who would emerge as their owner or even their creator"

"their attraction lies in how they specifically draw attention to the fact that they are not original, that they are playing with the original"

"playful enjoyment in modifying, combining, and transforming the old"

"the creativity inherent in shanzhai will elude the west if the west sees it only as deception, plagiarism, and the infringement of intellectual property"