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Wu Yongfang, the Hunger Artist


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The Hunger Artist reappeared on our radar several years after his original performance, when some old photographs of the event were posted on the Tianya virtual community website, causing an unexpected storm of controversy. Staring directly into the camera, the severely emaciated Wu Yongfang sits upright, naked except for a white loincloth wrapped around his waist like Gandhi, leaving almost nothing to the imagination. As we look in through the iron bars that separate him from the audience, we find that the room in which he sits is as austere as a prisoner’s cell, furnished only with a mat and a cot. An exterior view reveals this “prison cell” to be a temporary bamboo hut perched on the roof of a geometrical three-story modern building. The bamboo adds a fashionable flavor of environmental awareness to the modern structure. From the captions that accompany the photos, we learn that the building houses the real estate offices of Company X, which organized and sponsored the event. The temporary hut, designated the “Fasting Room,” was designed and constructed especially for the Hunger Artist using recyclable materials. Now, years after the event, Company X has launched a new marketing campaign for its “Free Spirit Leisure Villas,” a huge, 5,000-acre luxury waterfront development, which makes use of the Hunger Artist’s performance.

The crux of the debate raging online is the following: the Hunger Artist’s detractors maintain that although hunger remains a chronic social problem that must be eliminated, the economy of Country Y has been growing steadily and the lives of the people have improved significantly; but if the Hunger Artist persists in displaying images of poverty and backwardness to domestic audiences and to the entire world, is he not building his artistic success on the backs of the disadvantaged? His supporters, on the other hand, maintain that the Hunger Artist’s actions demonstrate his immense courage, as he risks his life to shock us into confronting reality.

After several thousand related posts appear on the Internet, people on both sides of the debate begin to suspect something: could this controversy be just a new marketing ploy on the part of the real estate company?

Wu Yongfang responds to questions from the crowd:

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