Captured Humanity

Captured Humanity

The Rent Collection Courtyard was a product of the Cultural Revolution in China.  Commissioned in 1965, it was originally comprised of 114 ceramic sculptures created by a collective of 18 students and teachers of the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute.  Depicting the oppression of peasants by a wealthy landowner, Liu Wen-Tsai, the massive work was designed to be exhibited in the courtyard of Liu’s former mansion.  It was considered an important and powerful work, and was taken to be exhibited in Beijing in an augmented form, enlarged to 119 figures.  The work was divided in six sections: Bringing the RentExamining the RentMeasuring the GrainReckoning the AccountsForcing the Payment, and Revolt.  The final section received considerable augmentation for the Beijing version, with peasants carrying Maoist signs.

During the 70’s, the original sculptures were copied in fiberglass by the collective, so they could be toured throughout China for purposes of political education.  Although a partial re-creation was shown in Venice in 1999, the originals (or rather, their copper-plated fiberglass casts) were not seen in the West until 2009. 

The photos here are from the 2010 exhibition of the original copper-plated fiberglass version, at the 8th Gwangju Biennale in Gwangju Metropolitan City, South Korea, which included only 101 of the figures.  Examination of these photos suggests that the sixth section, Revolt, was eliminated from this 2010 show.


In 1965, a group of students and teachers at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in Chongqing were commissioned by the provincial government of Sichuan, China, to create a series of 103 life-sized social realist sculptures depicting the exploitation of the peasant farmers at the hands of a wealthy landowner, Liu Wen-Tsai. The sculptures were to be installed in the courtyard of Liu’s former manor house, which was converted into a museum of class struggle following the creation of the People’s Republic Of China.

The ‘Rent Collection Courtyard’ was born from the socialist movement of making realistic sculptures to educate the illiterate and is a series of emotive statues that fight, beg and plead as collectors come for the rent they cannot pay. Originally rendered in humble materials such as wood, clay, and straw, the sculptures are re-made in fiberglass by Zhao Shutong, Wang Guanyi and the Rent Collection Courtyard Collective, produced from 1974 to 1978, so that it could be toured all over China.

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