Wang Qingsong’s digital work Follow Me, exclusive to Sedition, is based on a photographic work of the same title from 2003. Wang set up a four metre wide and eight metre long blackboard in Beijing’s Film Studios and covered it in Chinese and English slogans and terminology mirroring the changes in Chinese history, culture and society brought about by recent decades’ economic growth. Texts were mainly taken from Chinese English language textbooks and manuals, in particular the most popular English language-teaching series on China State Television called “Follow Me”, first introduced in 1982.
“Follow Me” had sixty programmes that were aired for 12 years, recorded 10 million viewers, sold over 30 million textbooks, and set the Guinness record for people learning English as a foreign language. However, it was more than a language programme: it was a first glimpse of the West. Wang: “Farmers, workers, soldiers and students, even monks at the Lama Temple enjoyed watching the program which provided a window (into the world how) foreigners (...) live.”
Twenty years later - after China’s rapid economic reforms and development accompanied by dramatic socio-cultural change - the country is modernising, growing, opening; on the back of a generation of millions of Chinese who first learned about the West through “Follow Me”. Wang himself enjoyed watching the programme while studying at high school. However, according to the artist, he never fully managed to keep up with lessons: “At least on the surface, China is communicating well with the rest of the world. However, when I look at myself, I see a ‘backward’ guy, still failing to speak English. Such thoughts inspired me to create Follow Me. (...) it has been my dream to realise the well-known slogan ‘China Walks Towards the World, and the World Learns About China’.”