This study aims to trace how artists in postsocialist China have adopted the discourse of body art and reshaped its import of sociopolitical criticality. In this article, “body art” implies the use of the human body as the primary material of artistic creation and the performance of actions of cruelty, modification, and endangerment on the artist's body. Through an engagement with theories of embodiment, biopolitics, and postsocialism, this article argues that body art represents one way in which the corporeal assumes a new centrality in China's post‐1978 avant‐garde and popular culture, as both a reappropriated territory of self‐expression and an alienated object of consumption and surveillance. To do so, it discusses body art by Yang Zhichao 杨志超 (b. 1962), focusing in particular on a performance artwork titled Jiayuguan 嘉峪关 (Jiayu Pass, 1999 – 2000) and its documentation by the artist. As a result, this article shows how body art encapsulates the tension between dystopian negativity and regenerative potential at the heart of the postsocialist condition.

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