Zhong Biao Defines Harmonious Society

China Digital Times


In the soon-to-be-published Zhong Biao Dictionary one finds a definition of “Harmonious Society,” that slogan of contemporary Chinese politics that has led to much ironic comment about what it means to be “harmonized” by authoritarian force.  A portion of Zhong’s definition, in my tentative translation, as follows:



h. xi. sh. hu., g. ji. g. w.i










In a harmonious society, each to its rightful place. Once material conditions have been met, limitless tolerance for infinite diversity of values emerges. Thus, reconciliation of desires of individuals and needs of the community is achieved. Institutionally speaking, there is the guarantee of security for individual trajectories, with social systems operating peacefully without incident, each to its own and without transgression.


The entry, which seems optimistic to the point of irony, is worth noting as well for the text in red at the opening of the sequence.  “Harmonious Society” is glossed in two ways, first using the words in question he xie 和谐, and next using what is referred to in parenthesis as “colloquial” (俚) meaning “River Crab” 河蟹.   River crab, homophonous with “harmonious society,” is coinage of Ai Weiwei, and his “River Crab Festival” in Shanghai on November 7, 2010 was political performance art involving a tasty meal of crab served to, as far as I can tell from the video, hundreds of people.  The video is produced by An Xiao Mina and his available HERE. This event took place long after Ai had begun making himself unpopular with authorities, and shortly before the Shanghai studio which can be seen in the video was torn down by Shanghai authorities.

Zhong Biao, as has been noted, is an almost studiously apolitical painter.  Yet, he includes the “slang” for Harmonious Society in his definition, a rather provocative move, to my mind.   It remains to be seen if this line remains in the published work (I have only a late draft at my disposal).  We will see.



2 thoughts on “Zhong Biao Defines Harmonious Society

  1. 道仁/Darren says:

    This is great! I’m really looking forward to seeing this dictionary. Has Zhong decided on an painting that he would like to pair with 和谐 / 河蟹?

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