Graffiti in China – Chinese Graffiti?

  • Minna Valjakka
Keywords: contemporary graffiti, graffiti images, contemporary art, art areas, visual culture


This article focuses on the emergence of graffiti in Beijing and Shanghai as an intriguing part of the contemporary art scene. Approaching graffiti through the framework of visual culture and analyzing both the visual and social aspects of creating graffiti images, I argue that contemporary graffiti in these cities can be regarded primarily as creative self-expression emphasizing aesthetic intention and a renaming process, not as vandalism. Deriving primarily from information gathered during my fieldwork in Beijing and Shanghai, I also discuss the development of graffiti in China and its characteristics. In the Euro-American context, graffiti is still commonly regarded as criminal activity that destroys public property. This allegation, however, fails to take into account how the international graffiti culture has become an enduring genre of art with strong emphasis on style and aesthetic evaluation. Although creating graffiti is a controversial issue in China also, graffiti nevertheless exists, especially in the so-called art areas (districts known for their numerous art galleries, artist studios, art-related activities and, occasionally, art museums), or in the surrounding neighbourhoods.