Great Wall Mural, Bank of China, Dalian China

Today in my ongoing series of photos from my travels: this beautifully horrible mural of the Great Wall of China, fronted with rubber plants, on display in the Bank of China lobby in Dalian, China. Link


  1. The funny thing is that there’s no such thing as a “Great Wall”; it’s a marketing construct. There are hundreds of miles of walls, to be sure, constructed over two millennia, but they are not all connected, and are of no unified design. Everybody sees the same photos of a bit of one wall, and imagines the rest. As marketing, it’s brilliant, but it would have made as much sense for Nixon to say of Paris, “This is truly a Great Apartment Complex”.

  2. Heh, the only way for those plants to be even more chinese, is if they would have clear plastic bags over them.

  3. ‘m jst gng t cm t nd sy wht w’v ll bn thnkng: y’v trvld rnd th wrld, Cry, nd ths pctrs r th bst y’v gt? Rlly?

  4. I’m surprised they let you take a photograph INSIDE the bank. What if you had tried that in a bank in the US? SWAT? National Guard?

  5. Just pretend the painting is meant to be ironic, and it’ll fit right in.

    Rob, I guess the idea is probably to show some of the odd little details he noticed along the way, rather than the the big shots that everyone’s seen before, or the standard photojournalist schtick of snapping some children begging in the street or a toothless fisherman standing in front of his boat.

  6. I think the painting is awesome. Please, someone of the patronizing pov, critique this and explain just why it is so horrible.

  7. It looks like the cover to an Anne McCaffery book. All it needs is a guy riding a dragon in the background. Maybe some dragon eggs, too.

  8. Just for clarification: What’s so horrible about this painting? Did you just need to add an adjective for the sentence to feel complete, or what?

  9. I’ve taken a Chinese art history class and I’m not understanding what’s horrible about the painting. The dramatic hills in the upper right echo classic Chinese landscape painting. (see ) Classic Chinese paintings were sparing with color; if they used them, they used uncomplicated washes of a single color — this paintings has two predominant colors, mimicking this effect. Line is the most important element in Chinese painting — here, the serpentine lines of the wall twist like a dragon over a misty landscape. I imagine this was intentional.

    If this painting is horrible in some way, perhaps it is lies in the location it inhabits – it may be incongruous within the lobby of this bank. The nationalistic pride may seem tacky, but I think it is well founded – rather than painting a political figure or scene, the painting honors a genuinely wondrous heritage of the nation.

  10. Seyo (8) and others, the mural’s not awful. Overall it’s got a nice, punchy overall decorative effect. However, from the viewpoint of western painting, it does have some awkward aspects. The perspective’s wonky on all but a couple of the towers, and the size of the towers seen at a distance is inconsistent in proportion to the wall. The rock formations at the upper right are conventionally picturesque, borrowed from other paintings, and look nothing like what’s actually there.

    In general, the landscape is semi-imaginary and simplified, and the techniques used to paint it owe something to the furniture-store school of art. You can see that most clearly in the double row of trees just to the right of center. They make no sense. The land there should be falling away in folds, as it does on the opposite side of the wall. If you look at the tower closest to the center, you can see it sits on a hilltop. The construction of that tower, the tower behind it, and the wall that connects the two, implies that there’s a steep dropoff on the other side of the central tower. The landscape to the left of the wall fits with that. That double row of trees on the right doesn’t fit at all.

    (Since I started writing this, Madprime has come in and posted about how the hillside at upper right echoes classic Chinese paintings. This is true. The artist who created this mural is synthesizing multiple traditions and techniques.)

    Back to the western critique: if you look at the overall topology of the painting, those two rows of trees are floating in mid-air. What they really are is two overlaid repeats of a conventionalized representation of “single row of trees,” like you’d see on a riverbank or at the edge of woods. They don’t make sense next to each other, and neither makes sense where they are. They’re just laid in to fill that awkward space to the right of the ridgeline.

    Basically, the mural is more an iconic representation of the Great Wall (or rather, the famous section of it in Beijing) than a painting of a specific view of the wall looping across specific hillsides. If photography didn’t exist, this is what you’d see on postcards from the area. It’s nifty artwork for a bank — you seldom see anything that interesting on the walls of U.S. banks — but if you worked there and had a desk facing it, you might gradually become aware of some of its wonkier details.

  11. Is that the main branch in Zhongshan Square? That’s a pretty nice building, for China. Their aquarium there is really impressive, too. I agree with you about the painting, but from a Chinese perspective this is probably one of the better paintings around. I lived in Dalian for years, and I remember thinking that Bank of China, as cheesy as it looks to us, is probably one of the best-designed places in the city. Sometimes I thought that the words “cheesy” and “tacky” are best translated into Chinese as “beautiful.”

  12. If we’re disemvoweling Rob for insulting Cory’s photo, maybe we should disemvowel Cory for insulting the bank’s mural.

  13. I guess if you don’t understand Chinese painting styles or culture (or just don’t care), you might find it “horrible”. Otherwise, if you really were a world-traveler and took the time to learn and understand the places you visited; you might actually appreciate them rather than just constantly ridiculing.

  14. Actually, as an Art major who studied Art History, this painting reminds me of the work of Thomas Hart Benton, and some other landscape artists of that time (1940’s)

  15. You know, I would have sworn I just posted a longish comment about some of the problems that mural has if you’re coming at it from the viewpoint of western artistic tradition. Until you can get around to reading it, consider substituting goofy, wonky, or awkward but sort of endearing in Cory’s description. Thank you.

    Mattymatt, your suggestion has been noted and will be given the consideration it deserves.

    Bitman, no points awarded for me-toos.

    Jeff, I don’t think that’s true. You don’t think it’s true. I doubt anyone here believes it. So why say it?

    Sam, that’s not a wave. That’s tule fog that’s inexplicably bending upward to follow the hillside, topped with the famous two rows of trees (see earlier comments).

  16. Am I the only one who has found that clicking on the link takes you to a Flickr error page (“This photo is private”)??

  17. De gustibus non est disputandum. That said, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to make disparaging remarks about public/institutional artwork one dislikes. All you people asking “what’s so horrible about it?”, note that the post called it “beautifully horrible”, to my eye acknowledging that it follows a certain canon and standard; but just because something is canonical and culturally-motivated doesn’t mean it can’t be bad. If a bank had paid for a mural of dogs playing poker or of Elvis on black velvet, I don’t care how good the execution, I’d still laugh.

    Want this painting to be unremarkable? Remove the Great Wall. We’ve all seen the Great Wall. This ain’t it. The artistic hubris of pretending to aim for a real representation of a real landscape is what elevates it from “yawn” to “lol, kitsch!”. Remove the Wall and it’s an “imaginary landscape”; or add some flying dragons and melted clocks and call it a “surrealist reïmagination of the Great Wall”, that’d probably be good too… This is in the uncanny valley of “beautifully horrible”.

  18. what is the social context of this mural? Does it serve the same function as say, the “decor” in a western McDonald’s restaurant? Would that be a fair analogy? And similarly intelligent to art-critique?

  19. Annamaria: You’re right! Good call, that.

    RugerRedhawk: Disemvowelling. It’s a penalty for speech that goes over the line. It can also be used instead of deletion for other offenses — for instance, coming back to Boing Boing as a sockpuppet when one’s permission to post has been suspended.

  20. Damn them for violating conventions of western perspective, using elements of decoration and not trying for a realistic, photograph-like portrayal of the subject! It is so horrible and wonky! Nothing like the razor-sharp perspective and harmonious to the eye creations of, say, a BB credential holding artist like Amy Crehore.

  21. Teresa said, “Jeff, I don’t think that’s true. You don’t think it’s true. I doubt anyone here believes it. So why say it?”

    Thank you so much for telling me how it is. I said it because was trying to make a funny statement regarding art. You didn’t think it was funny? You’re picking again. But thanks for the attention, I’ll try to do –better(?)– next time.

  22. The painting also has a very blue foreground and yellower background, creating an inverse perspective. Also, modern art that imitates ‘classical’ art is usually referred to as kitsch, or in other words “beautifully horrible.”

  23. (sounds like a bunch of aliens standing over a cow pie in a pasture, speculating on the quadruped “artiste’s” motivations)

  24. Notably, in Eastern art tradition imitation is honored rather than deprecated. That said, this shouldn’t be labeled as simply “imitation”. It is using some stylistic elements common to traditional Chinese artwork and familiarity with these might help one appreciate the mural. Certainly the mere usage certain stylistic elements is not enough to qualify as “kitsch”! This isn’t imitation, it is a novel synthesis of traditional Eastern and Western painting styles.

    To familiarize yourself with traditional Chinese landscape painting, you can look here:


    My Chinese coworker tells me that the Great Wall is very often compared to a dragon. I think that’s credit due to the artist, that I could see that in the painting. I’m not saying this is a masterpiece, but (in my opinion) I do not think it is “goofy” or “kitschy” or “awkward”.

  25. “Hey Wang!”

    “Yes, Second Cousin?”

    “Uncle Liu down at the bank has an empty wall to fill, it’s lunch for a month if you do it by next Tuesday”

    “Thank the heavens! I was down to eating paint again. The usual OK?”

    “Yeah, like the last three… whatever.”

  26. It’s ironic that a site that decries undue oversight and lauds transparency would edit a contradictory post.

    “‘m jst gng t cm t nd sy wht w’v ll bn thnkng: y’v trvld rnd th wrld, Cry, nd ths pctrs r th bst y’v gt? Rlly?”

  27. I find the mural absolutely lovely! It’s just the plants and floor that didn’t match.

    Please read up on Ancient Chinese style painting. I prefer understated colours and lithe lines to the riot of colours with random style that seem to sell for so high in Western modern art shows. What’s with the paintball platters?

  28. re: floating trees / #16 posted by Teresa Nielsen Hayden

    Chinese art, like many colourful Chinese folklores, does not remotely follow the laws of physics. The English dragons have wings, the Chinese ones are like snakes that swims through the air, sans wings. Snakes too big for any eye to see in whole at once.

    With that in mind, the floating trees in the foreground are structured like waves coming up against the dragon body of the long wall.

    …and perhaps narrow-minded /English/ and new English(white-American) would be more accurate than ‘The West’. Since I bet the French would understand this, they have the much-mocked impressionism, who were originally much derided by stiffnecks who aimed only to reproduce what’s right in front of their eyes, as close to photographic as possible.

  29. Hello Cory, I would love to read what cameras you have used in your travel. Digi ? Film ? SLRs ? P & S? Fixed Glass AF or Manual? and what has been your favorite to travel with. Just a fan of photos on the go looking for more info.

    Thank you,

  30. You can say what you want. It’s not like you have an 8 foot wide fleece wall hanging that looks like this in your dining room.

  31. #40: Well, I don’t think we need to go crazy and elevate the bank mural to the same sort of status as masterpieces of Chinese painting. I don’t think its going to be setting the art world on fire, in any culture.

  32. Thanks, Anna Marie (#23); I was trying to remember the North American artist whose work the Chinese mural reminded me of.

    Here’s a link to a Thomas Hart Benton painting that shares a lot of characteristics with the Chinese mural: The Trail Riders

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