Socially Engaged Public Art in East Asia

Space, Place, and Community in Action

Meiqin Wang (Ed.)

by Minna Valjakka (Leiden University, The Netherlands), Stephanie Cheung (The University of the Arts London), Meiqin Wang (California State University, Northridge), Wei Hsiu Tung (National University of Tainan, Taiwan), Yanhua Zhou (Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, China), Hiroki Yamamoto (Kanazawa College of Art, Japan), Hong Kal (York University, Canada), Yuxiang Dong (Virginia Commonwealth University)

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[...] this book is a milestone in the writing of Chinese and East Asian histories of art that will be equally useful to artists, curators, educators, scholars, and students worldwide.

[Extract from book review appearing on the journal 'Sehepunkte' (Rezensions journal für die Gesichtwissenschaften), Ausgabe 23 (2023), Nr. 7/8, issn 1618-6168; Reviewer: Anna K. Grasskamp]

This anthology elucidates the historical, global, and regional connections, as well as current manifestations, of socially engaged public art (SEPA) in East Asia. It covers case studies and theoretical inquiries on artistic practices from Hong Kong, Japan, mainland China, South Korea, and Taiwan with a focus on the period since the 2000s. It examines how public art has been employed by artists, curators, ordinary citizens, and grassroots organizations in the region to raise awareness of prevailing social problems, foster collaborations among people of varying backgrounds, establish alternative value systems and social relations, and stimulate action to advance changes in real life situations. It argues that through the endeavors of critically-minded art professionals, public art has become artivism as it ventures into an expanded field of transdisciplinary practices, a site of new possibilities where disparate domains such as aesthetics, sustainability, placemaking, social justice, and politics interact and where people work together to activate space, place, and community in a way that impacts the everyday lives of ordinary people.

As the first book-length anthology on the thriving yet disparate scenes of SEPA in East Asia, it consists of eight chapters by eight authors who have well-grounded knowledge of a specific locality or localities in East Asia. In their analyses of ideas and actions, emerging from varying geographical, sociopolitical, and cultural circumstances in the region, most authors also engage with concepts and key publications from scholars which examine artistic practices striving for social intervention and public participation in different parts of the world. Although grounded in the realities of SEPA from East Asia, this book contributes to global conversations and debates concerning the evolving relationship between public art, civic politics, and society at large.

List of figures and table


Grant Kester
University of California San Diego

Introduction: Public art in action
Meiqin Wang
California State University, Northridge

Chapter 1
Gendered tonalities: urban publicness through street art and murals by and for women in East Asian cities
Minna Valjakka
Leiden University, The Netherlands

Chapter 2
At the threshold: Hi! Hill—Art In-Situ, a case study of community-based public art
Stephanie Cheung
The University of the Arts London

Chapter 3
Public art in rural China: the case of Dongtou village graffiti festival
Meiqin Wang
California State University, Northridge

Chapter 4
Environmental aesthetics in Taiwan: revival through socially engaged public art practice and creative placemaking
Wei Hsiu Tung
National University of Tainan, Taiwan

Chapter 5
When public art becomes the “mass line”: a case study of Dinghaiqiao Mutual-Aid Society
Yanhua Zhou
Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, China

Chapter 6
Art as a socio-political intervention in the public sphere: an alternative historiography of public art practices in post-war Japan
Hiroki Yamamoto
Kanazawa College of Art, Japan

Chapter 7
Public arts of occupation in South Korea
Hong Kal
York University, Canada

Chapter 8
Repoliticizing the depoliticized: social practices of new workers in Picun
Yuxiang Dong
Virginia Commonwealth University

Author biographies


Meiqin Wang received a doctorate degree in Art History from the State University of New York at Binghamton and currently is a professor of Art Department at California State University Northridge teaching Asian art history courses. She researches contemporary art from China in the context of commercialization, globalization, and urbanization of the Chinese world and has written on topics such as artist villages and cultural industries, art and urbanization, and socially engaged art. Her major publications include two research monographs ’Urbanization and Contemporary Chinese Art’ (2015) and ’Socially Engaged Art in Contemporary China: Voices from Below’ (2019), as well as a co-edited volume entitled ‘Visual Arts, Representations and Interventions in Contemporary China’ (2018).

socially engaged art, art activism, cultural activism, civic activism, informal life politics, community art, participatory art, arts-based rural reconstruction, environmental aesthetics, placemaking, grassroots public sphere, publicness, translocal public spaces, regional connectivity, vernacular culture, mutual aid, avant-garde art, urban redevelopment, new workers

See also

Bibliographic Information

Book Title

Socially Engaged Public Art in East Asia

Book Subtitle

Space, Place, and Community in Action





Number of pages


Physical size

236mm x 160mm


74 B&W

Publication date

September 2022