Sociological interpretation of Liu Qiming’s “Red Envelope” and “Circle of Friends”

Sociological interpretation of Liu Qiming’s “Red Envelope” and “Circle of Friends”

By Liao Liao


From human emotions to games: Liu Qiming’s “Red Envelope”

History, politics, and public issues have been the thread running through Liu Qiming’s artistic creations from beginning to end. While his earlier works were more of a projection of history and politics onto the artist’s personal psyche, starting with “Red Envelope,” the focus of his works no longer centers on the artist’s personal feelings, and Liu Qiming begins to explore the identity of the artist to explore the Internet and public space.

“Red Envelope” by Liu Qiming, Internet Behavior, Variable Dimensions, December 2014, WeChat Platform on Mobile Internet.

As early as 2014, when WeChat red envelopes were just launched, the artist sensitively captured the difference between the game nature of WeChat red envelopes and the human nature of traditional red envelopes, and realized the hidden Internet culture behind WeChat red envelopes.

Red envelopes are an indispensable part of Chinese festivals and ceremonies. From weddings and housewarming parties to birthdays and Chinese New Year, red envelopes assist and witness all major symbolic changes in life. It is somewhat like a gift in the West, but the emotion, relationship, and face wrapped in our red envelopes are Chinese culture that is difficult for Westerners to understand.


Chinese red envelopes are both like gifts and bonuses. Like gifts, red envelopes carry blessings and expectations but are not as personal and unique as gifts. Like bonuses, red envelopes are also real money, but we are not as pleased to receive red envelopes as we are to receive bonuses because we know that we are only temporary caretakers. The emotions, relationships, and face behind the red envelopes also dilute the satisfaction and contentment of cash in hand.

“The Red Envelope” by Liu Qiming.

Emotion, relationship, and face are everything in Chinese life. If we have ideals, then the ideal is to have thick emotions, broad relationships, and great face, and the important nutrient that nourishes this ideal’s growth is red envelopes.

There is no banquet that does not disperse, and there is no red envelope that is not used up. As an emotional lubricant for relatives and friends, a catalyst for weddings, new homes, and other ceremonies, and a tool for interest exchange, red envelopes contain not only cash but also Confucian ethical order, commercial culture’s mutual benefit, and the hierarchical order of power regulation. Red envelopes create, maintain, and strengthen Chinese interpersonal relationships.

The “electronic red envelopes” launched by WeChat, Alibaba, and other platforms in the past two years are changing the definition of traditional red envelopes. In 2014, artist Liu Qiming created the work “Red Envelope.” On the WeChat red envelope platform, the artist shared 1 yuan with 100 people, resulting in interesting interaction and influence with these 100 participants. This work subverted the “emotion, face, and relationship” in traditional red envelopes. It neither allows the issuer to receive deeper emotional returns nor does it give him any face, as there is only one cent. A one-cent red envelope will not establish any interest relationship.

“The Red Envelope” by Liu Qiming.

The “one-cent electronic red envelope” uses the simplest method to reveal the cultural characteristics of the Internet: sharing, interaction, equality, and games. At the same time, the artist allows us to rethink the interpersonal relationship structure constructed by the “traditional red envelope.”

Liu Qiming’s “Red Envelope” hits the essence of “red envelope culture”. “One cent electronic red envelope” not only inherits the social function of traditional red envelopes, but also has no burden of human relationship debt, no expected return, and no short-term utilitarian purpose. It is just a spontaneous emotional expression and a voluntary gift. The giver and receiver of red envelopes in the game are equal in status and power, regardless of age or seniority.

“The Red Envelope” by Liu Qiming.

If traditional red envelopes revolve around human relationships, face, and connections, then the biggest principle of electronic red envelopes is fun and joy. The most important difference between electronic red envelopes and traditional red envelopes is that one is responsibility and the other is a game. Compared with the symbolic meaning and exchange value carried by traditional red envelopes, electronic red envelopes are more like a game. In the Internet age, red envelopes have transformed from a tool of obligation, human relationships, and exchange to an equal and relaxed collective carnival game.

Liu Qiming’s work “Red Envelope” may seem plain today, but two years ago, when WeChat red envelopes were just introduced, Liu Qiming was able to capture the subversion and deconstruction of traditional culture by WeChat red envelopes, and magnify the gaming characteristics of Internet culture in his work. This is the keen, sensitive, and agile quality that an artist must possess when focusing on public topics.


The Meaning of Images in Liu Qiming’s “Moments”

Liu Qiming’s “Moments” continues the artist’s consistent attention to public topics. As a contemporary artist, it is interesting to choose “images” from the WeChat Moments as the theme. In ancient times, literati paintings established a set of cultural elite aesthetics and ideal lifestyles through the creation, appreciation, exchange, and sale of images, thus isolating themselves from the common people. Today’s artists constantly share or repost various images in their WeChat Moments. The political news images shared by artists are no longer for building an aesthetic circle, but rather to obtain as much recognition as possible.

“Moments·Group NO.01” by Liu Qiming, oil on canvas, organic glass, 120x120cm, 2015.

“Moments” is not simply a collection of images. In fact, the work reflects various characteristics of images in the internet era.

The densely packed and layered images in the video collection of “Moments” show the scene where we are surrounded by images today. It implies that in the internet era, images have replaced words as the representation of the world and become the main rhetorical means for constructing public discourse space.

The images in “Moments·Groups” are fragmented and lack contextual explanation, symbolizing a characteristic of image dissemination: images exist independently of context and discourse. The way people think in the era of images is fragmented, disconnected, and two-dimensional, as opposed to the complex and coherent ideas represented by text.

“Moments·Group NO.02” by Liu Qiming, oil on canvas, organic glass, 120x120cm, 2015.

Liu Qiming selected images spread in “Moments” rather than those in the news media, expressing the role of images in consolidating consensus. People form a community of values and emotions through sharing images in their WeChat Moments, and images form a consensus and identity recognition among people with the same values. Images also serve as the glue of “Moments.”

When we see the massive amount of images presented in “Moments·Groups” on social media, we not only deeply feel ourselves surrounded by images, but also are reminded of another issue: images are more capable of stimulating our senses than words and language. In the face of the impact of massive images, watching becomes a direct visual stimulus and reaction. Faced with the visual impact of disasters and violent scenes time and time again, our hearts gradually become numb. The more we look at the brutal images, the more they seem like a simulated, safe, and exciting visual spectacle, gradually losing their impact and shock, and also eroding the meaning of the real events themselves. The massive images presented by artists remind us that we may treat image narration as instant consumption, while ignoring the profound essence behind the events.

“Moments·Group NO.03” by Liu Qiming, oil on canvas, organic glass, 120x120cm, 2015.

Liu Qiming also tried to depict the “images in Moments,” but Liu Qiming’s painting is not a simple repetition of photographs. Under the artist’s brush, various news images are transformed into somewhat crude, distorted, and unclear paintings. However, unlike Richter’s blurred treatment of characters in news photographs in his photorealistic paintings, Richter’s paintings reflect his ambiguous attitude towards political ideology as an artist.

Liu Qiming’s “photographic painting” implies that the real scene is transformed into photography, photography is then transformed into painting, and painting is then transformed into the audience’s understanding. In the process of several transformations, the meaning of the image may be distorted, misread, and misplaced, becoming increasingly blurry. The artist suggests the distant distance between “painted images” and real scenes. The artist uses painting to repeat the image, reminding us that images are not just real projections, but can also cause illusions, distortions, and fabrications.

Liu Qiming’s “Friends Circle Group” exhibition site.








▲ 《红包》 刘骐鸣   互联网行为  尺寸可变  2014年12月  互联网手机微信平台






▲ 《红包》 刘骐鸣





▲ 《红包》 刘骐鸣






▲ 刘骐鸣 《朋友圈·群》展览现场





▲ 《朋友圈·群NO.04》 刘骐鸣   板面油画、有机玻璃   120X120CM    2015年


《circle of friends in wechat》Liu Qiming/video/5 minutes/2014-2017
▲刘骐鸣 《朋友圈》影像作品//2014-2017