Yuxin Jiang
Notes on The Instagram Project

It was almost Christmas time in 2019. I was at the Charing Cross Library. A book caught my eyes with its contents.

I. Face
II. Economy
III. Industry
IV. Politeness
V. The Disregard of Time
VI. The Disregard of Accuracy


The book is called Chinese Characteristics, written by an American missionary in the late 19th century. I have never thought the Chinese, a complex population living on a vast land could be so neatly summarised into twenty some characteristics. Somewhat intrigued to see what the author has to say in his succinct and definite profiling, I borrowed the book, and walked into the chilly dark streets of London. Prior to discovering of this book, I have been fascinated by the photos and video clips about the Chinese on Instagram. So much so that I decided to make work about them, which is what has become The Instagram Project.
The subject depicted feels absurd and at places uncivilised throughout Chinese Characteristics. The same in much of the content on Instagram. It became apparent to me that the legitimacy of these textual and visual discourses came from a white perspective centred world view.

Here is an example.

The same inappropriate behaviour seems hasn’t changed for more than 100 years. But why is this behaviour deemed inappropriate in the first place?

What constitutes a good sleeping environment and sleeping manners is a matter of belief shaped by societal and personal circumstances instead of a matter of universal fact. In the case of the Chinese sleeping described, the behaviour is shaped by many thinkings different from the West including a very different understanding of what’s good for the body, the idea of efficiency in relation to a specific kind of working condition, a different take on the idea of the public and the private, and so on.

Coming back to The Instagram Project, it is a series of experiments about how do we make sense of what we see.