Coined by the curator and critic Gao Minglu, 85 New Wave defined a nationwide avant-garde movement that emerged in China in the mid-1980s

During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, China had been forced to renounce much of its traditional culture and heritage as part of Mao’s purge of the educated class. (Mao Zedong, commonly referred to as Chairman Mao, governed the People’s Republic of China from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976).

When the Cultural Revolution ended in the mid-1970s, there were few galleries, museums or educational establishments left to support artistic practice. 85 New Wave emerged in the mid-1980s as an explosive answer to this repression. 

Between 1985 and 1989, some seventy-nine arts organisations across the country were founded: putting on exhibitions, staging conferences and writing manifestos. It was also a time of radical politics, with the student democratic movement spearheading a more open society, although this was to end in a brutal suppression after the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

Many Chinese artists of the 85 New Wave, such as the Xiamen Dada group in Fujian and the rational painting movement in Northern China, were inspired by innovations in art happening in Europe and America.