Out of the Dark: Works by Xiaoze Xie


Stanford Department of Art & Art History presents
Out of the Dark: Works by Xiaoze Xie 

"I think a banned book is a battlefield, a site of power struggle; a banned book is where society, politics, art and literature converge."

Out of the Dark is an online showcase of Xiaoze Xie’s recent paintings from The Library Series, the video Transience, and Forbidden Memories (Scrutiny and Objects of Evidence), a research-based project focusing on the history of banned books in China. Virtually displayed to scale in multiple spaces in the McMurtry Building, Xie’s recent work employs a variety of mediums, including painting, installation, photography, and video, to explore time, memory, history, and the issue of censorship.

Single-channel video with sound. Duration: 12 min 32 sec.

Transience is slow-motion video work inspired by book-burning events throughout history. Combined with meditative guqin music, the flying, theatrically-lit books imply that memory, knowledge, and thoughts are being tested in the extension of time and space.

Forbidden Memories

Xie has systematically photographed more than 100 premodern Chinese books in various public collections (Scrutiny), and acquired over 800 books published from the early twentieth century to the present day (Objects of Evidence). The premodern titles, from the early Ming to the late Qing Dynasty (15th-19th c.), exemplify various categories of books banned for religious, philosophical, political, and moral reasons in late imperial China. The modern books collection includes publications banned in the Republic Era (1911-49), the early years of the People's Republic (1950s), the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), and recent decades.

Scrutiny (Premodern Books)
2014, printed 2018-19
Archival inkjet prints



Back-Pushing Sketch

Attributed to Yuan Tiangang, Tang dynasty (618–907)

Qing dynasty (1644–1911), hand-copied and hand-painted


Banned since Song dynasty (960–1279) for being a prophecy.


《推背圖》,唐 袁天罡著 清鈔本,於北宋作為谶書被禁直至新中國成立後


The Imperative Doctrines for Human Nature and Longevity

Unknown author

Qing dynasty, 44th year of Kangxi reign (1705), block-printed


Banned in Qing dynasty, Xianfeng reign (1851–61) for “bewitching people.”


《性命圭旨》,道家著作,作者不詳 清康熙四十四年刻本,於清朝咸豐年間因“蠱惑愚民”被禁


A Book to Keep Hidden

By Li Zhi (1527–1602)  

Ming dynasty, Wanli reign (1573–1620), block-printed


Banned in late Ming through Qing dynasties (1573–1911) for challenging traditional scholarship.


See more from Scrutiny (Premodern Books)


《藏書》,明 李贄著 明萬曆刻本,因挑戰傳統學術於明代清代多次被禁

Objects of Evidence (Modern Books)


斯大林論列寧/Stalin on Lenin
外國文書籍出版局 1942/Foreign Language Books Publishing Bureau 1942


Banned by the Nationalist Party of China government during the Republic era (1911-49) for advocating Marxism, communism, and Soviet Russia.



魯迅自選集/A Personal Anthology of Lu Xun
魯迅著/Lu Xun
天馬書店 1933/Tianma Bookstore 1933


Banned in the 1930s. From a list of banned books found in Postscript of Qiejie Ting Essay Collection II by Lu Xun, published in 1935.


愛麗絲漫遊奇境記/Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
[英]卡洛爾著,何君蓮譯 /L. Carroll, translated by He Junlian
啟明書局 1937/Qiming Book Company 1937


Banned in Hunan Province in 1931. Provincial governor He Jian considered it an offense to human dignity as animals speak human language in the book.


雙城記(1-2)/A Tale of Two Cities (Vol.1-2)
[英]狄更斯著,奚識之譯/Charles Dickens, translated by Richard S. C. His
上海三民圖書公司印行 1935/Shanghai San Min Book company 1935


During the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), most classics of Western literature were banned and inaccessible to the general public.  

Virtual installation view of Objects of Evidence (Modern Books).


See more from Objects of Evidence (Modern Books)

The Library Series



Clockwise from top left: 

Chinese Library No. 65, 2018. Oil on linen. 48 x 72 in.

Chinese Library No. 55, 2012. Oil on linen. 98 3/8 x 98 3/8 in.

Chinese Library No. 66, 2018. Oil on linen. 48 x 72 in.


Chinese Library No. 54, 2012. Oil on linen. 78 3/4 x 185 in.

Xiaoze Xie, the Paul L. & Phyllis Wattis Professor of Art at Stanford University, is an internationally recognized artist who has exhibited extensively in the US and abroad. Recent solo exhibitions include Eyes On: Xiaoze Xie at the Denver Art Museum (2017–18) and Xiaoze Xie: Objects of Evidence at the Asia Society Museum in New York (2019–20). His work is in the permanent collection of such institutions as the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Oakland Museum of California, San Francisco Asian Art Museum, and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Xie received the Academic Award in Painting in the Third Nanjing International Art Festival (2016) and the Painter and Sculptor’s Grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation (2013).

Xiaoze Xie wishes to thank the librarians, scholars, authors, editors, curators, photographers, filmmakers, gallery staff, research and studio assistants, and friends who have helped to make this project possible, and support from Stanford University, Peking University, Fudan University, Denver Art Museum, and Asia Society.