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Home  /  Inside China  /  Su Zizi 苏紫紫 - Lost daughter or strong woman?
Su Zizi 苏紫紫 - Lost daughter or strong woman? print version

su_zizi_761The story of Su Zizi 苏紫紫 is a great source of debates about modern values, art, pornography and internet media.

Last week, a new photography project by art student Su Zizi (苏紫紫), called 'Watcher' (kanke 看客), was published, bringing Su, a young photographer and model, back to the mind of the public and to the fingers of internet bloggers. Su Zizi is posing her nude body once again, and with new artistic ambitions, the question if to treat Su as an artist, a pornographic model or a working student, are still open wide.

人大女生 (renda nǚsheng), is the public nickname of Su Zizi (which already is not her real name), meaning "the Renming University (人民大学=人大) female student (女学生)". This choice of nickname is not arbitrary, as the irony of a nude model rising from the halls of one of China's most prestigious universities, is vibrating through the mind of most Chinese, when exposed to Su's story.

But the drama and juicy details represented in the body of the 20 years old Su don't end there. Su embodies female independence, sexual liberation, artistic aspirations, internet publicity, and also poverty and governmental violence.

Post 19Post-1990tion (90后) Su Zizi was raised by her grandparents in Hubei province, after her early parent divorce. In her youth, her grandparent's house was torn down by officials and the family was forcefully relocated. According to Su, back then she collapsed mentally, and then decided to build herself through education. After enrolling into the Renmin University art school , she engaged in many part-time jobs, before choosing more beneficial posts in nude modeling (裸模 luomo), earning 500 yuan (approximately $75) per shoot. Su claims that it was first money that brought her to skin exposure, though later, through the surprising support of some of her teachers, she started initiating nude art-photography projects within her art school.

     A photo from Su Zizi's new Kanke (看客) art project, representing, perhaps, her ambivalent relationship with officialdom

Nowadays Su can be more selective, staying away of any pornography format and posing for what she considers as art, either within her university or when collaborating with well known photographers.

People are intrigued by her life story, yet some are also rather suspicious of it. 'If she comes from a poor background, then how come she enrolled into a 10,000 annual-tuition art school?' was a rhetorical question raised by a China Daily column. 'Wanting to get famous in any cause', or the more emphatic 'being a lost soul', are two accusations Chinese netizens address towards Su. Renmin University teachers and officials are trying to keep their mouth shut on this matter, not wanting to repress student creativity, while also refraining from promoting nudity as a tuition-paying mine. 

But even if the most noticeable comments concerning Si Zizi are negative, the attitudes held towards her are much more complex. In the midst of the ongoing sexual revolution taking place in Chinese urbanities, Su can be seen as an independent soul, responsible for her own faith and willing to claim power. Her body photography is also seen by many youth as a modern format, witty and aesthetic at times, that China must learn to accept. After all, how much paternalistic righteousness can be expressed towards youth within a 1.4 billion people nation?!

The story of Su Zizi is more than a battle between tradition and modernity or conservative and liberal. This is a multi-layer representation of the falling barriers within the Chinese society, such as having a clever student posing nudity and yet remaining in the driver seat and establishing a meaningful career. The additional 'reality show' flavor of her poor background can even make this story socially inspiring. No matter what are public responses, such confusion is already a sign of growing openness.

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