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Be good at everything. Crying is embarrassing. Art is for people who are bad in math. Rich people are not your friends. Rather harsh lessons, but lessons which nevertheless peppered the childhood of illustrator Xinmei Liu while growing up in Shanghai. 

Today, Liu is able to reflect on these moral nuggets from a global and critical perspective, having spent her college years in New York City, where she currently resides. Inspired by Chinese propaganda posters during the 80s and 90s, her series Model Citizen Guidelines illustrates the slogans from her youth, casting a wry and ironic look at the principles and platitudes she was taught as a kid and later found problematic. 

Meant to be seen as pages of a fictitious schoolbook, the body of work “aims to use humor and sarcasm to provoke thought and raise questions about conventional ideas on what constitutes ‘good behaviour’ and ‘good values’ in society,” Liu says. The child-friendly imagery, clean lines and pleasing colors used to render Model Citizen Guidelines starkly contrast with the messages they carry: a child with his clothes on fire rushing to the finish line of a race (“Suffering is good for you”); the stoic expression of a boy whose bloody dismembered finger sits on a chopping board (“Crying is embarrassing for boys”); a sex-segregated escalator (“Boys and girls should stay away from each other.”) Cheeky yet significant to the times, Liu’s work is a call for “a renaissance of critical thinking”; a stunning piece of visual literature for anyone who grew up accepting what was laid out before them without question.

Liu earned her MFA from New York’s School of Visual Arts, and her work has been featured in the New York Times, Amazon publishing, Medium and Shanghai Museum, among others. Follow her website and Instagram.

Boys and girls should stay away from each other
Xinmei Liu Model Citizen Guidelines
Rich people are not your friends
Suffering is good for you
Xinmei Liu Model Citizen Guidelines
Mind your own business
Xinmei Liu Model Citizen Guidelines
Crying is embarrassing (for boys)
Focus on your books, not your looks
Art is for people who are bad at math
Be a team player
Xinmei Liu Model Citizen Guidelines
It’s always your fault
Xinmei Liu Model Citizen Guidelines
Be the leader

Images © Xinmei Liu / with permission

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