Related themes

Migration and Movement

Artists move around the world, shifting their identities, cultural traditions, and artistic techniques.

Three Gorges Dam Migration

Yun-Fei Ji
(Chinese, born 1963)

2009. Woodcut scroll, composition (image): 13 3/8 x 120 11/16" (34 x 306.5 cm); sheet (full sheet): 17 5/16 x 337 3/16" (44 x 856.5 cm)

Begun in 1994 and completed in 2006, the Three Gorges Dam was built to curb flooding of China’s Yangtze River and provide hydroelectric power for a portion of the country’s population. But this massive public works project was also controversial, since it swamped more than 1,000 historical and archeological sites, inundated villages with water, and forced millions of people to relocate.

In Three Gorges Dam Migration, Chinese-born Yun-Fei Ji focuses on the people who were displaced by this epic construction project, who he calls “floating weeds,” using a term he adapted from an ancient Chinese phrase. He worked in the style of classical Chinese landscape painting and developed his narrative into a hand scroll measuring 10 feet long. But Ji subverted the traditional serenity of Chinese landscape painting with images chronicling the problems the dam brought with it. Among bamboo shoots and rocks, for example, he shows children impatiently pulling on their mothers’ shirts, a woman sleeping on the ground, and displaced families surrounded by bags filled with their belongings. He also incorporated fantastical imagery into his scenes, including a monstrous beast. At the ends of the scroll, Ji included calligraphy describing Chinese leaders’ longstanding wish to tame the Yangtze river.

Yun-Fei Ji, quoted in Benjamin Genocchio, “Exploring Utopian Dreams of Chinese History,” New York Times, January 16, 2005.
Yun-Fei Ji, quoted in Benjamin Genocchio, “Exploring Utopian Dreams of Chinese History,” New York Times, January 16, 2005.

A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.

A setting for or a part of a story or narrative.

A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

Decorative handwriting or lettering.

The method with which an artist, writer, performer, athlete, or other producer employs technical skills or materials to achieve a finished product or endeavor.

A distinctive or characteristic manner of expression.

A spoken, written, or visual account of an event or a series of connected events.

The natural landforms of a region; also, an image that has natural scenery as its primary focus.

Past and Present
In his work, Yun-Fei Ji uses traditional techniques to explore contemporary concerns: “I use landscape painting to explore the utopian dreams of Chinese history from past collectivization to new consumerism.”1

A Child of the Cultural Revolution
Yun-Fei Ji came of age during the Cultural Revolution, which he describes as “a time of immense chaos and confusion throughout the country.”2 Led by Mao Zedong and lasting from 1966 to 1976, the Cultural Revolution was an immensely destructive movement that aimed to transform China into a communist country.