Beijing East Village was an avant-garde artist commune set up in the early 1990s on Beijing’s eastern outskirts, between the third and fourth ring roads. Known locally as Dashanzhuang, the village was quick to gain international renown under the name East Village after it began to attract artists at the beginning of 1993 with low rents and proximity to the center of Beijing. The name East Village, which soon appeared as the signboard at the entrance to the village, referenced New York City’s avant-garde artist circles residing in downtown Manhattan, with whom the Chinese artists shared a community of ideas as well as a similar approach to experimental aesthetics.
East Village dwellers included performance artists in large part, as well as musicians and photographers who documented the life of the village. They had typically come to Beijing from the Chinese provinces, often to escape official job allocations and to search for the possibility of an alternative lifestyle at the margins of society. With a shared sense of aesthetics, the “East Village artists,” as they referred to themselves, lived in seclusion beyond Beijing’s artistic mainstream. The commune was disbanded by the police in June 1994 – after a series of performances that led to the arrests of Ma Liuming and Zhu Ming, other artists were ordered to leave the village and the local population was banned from renting living space to artists. Scattered around Beijing, the East Village artists carried out several more actions together (including Zhang Huan’s To Add One Meter to an Anonymous Mountain), yet in mid-1995 they parted ways for good to pursue their artistic activities outside the group. Artists associated with Beijing East Village include Danwen Xing, Cang Xin, Yingmei Duan, Gao Yang, Li Guomin, Ma Liuming, Ma Zongyin, Rong Rong, Tan Yeguang, Wang Shihua, Xu Shan, Zhang Binbin, Zhang Huan, Zhu Ming and Zuoxiao Zuzhou.