Xinyuan Wang is a post-doctoral fellow at UCL Anthropology. She is currently writing her second monograph – Ageing with Smartphones in Urban China.

These are 5 paintings from a larger scroll called ‘The Field Note’ consisting of 20 small paintings (31.5cm*384cm), presented on a traditional Chinese rice paper folding booklet. This series tells stories from an ethnographer’s point of view, including how to make local friends, how to deal with unexpected problems, get information, keep a balance between work and life, etc.

The paintings illustrate how Xinyuan, as ethnographer, did field work for her PhD in a small factory town in southeast China. Thus, it can be read as an autobiographical field note of doing field work, or a methodology book. This series is not only for anthropologists who may have some sympathy with the stories here, but also for people who are curious about anthropology and would like to know how an anthropologist works in her field site.

“I was originally trained in classical Chinese painting and calligraphy.. My research as part of the Why We Post project at University College London is an ethnography of the world’s largest ever migration: more than 250 million rural Chinese who have moved into the new factory towns and cities. I spent 15 months doing anthropological fieldwork in one such factory town in southeast China exploring the use of social media by these workers.

As I became involved in this work, I decided to also use my artistic skills to express my experience of being an ethnographer. I embarked on a series of paintings in which the calligraphy commonly included in the classical tradition is used to write the ethnographic fieldnotes that reflect the scene or portrait that I am painting. At the core of my work is a traditional unfolding ‘book’ that displays twenty such paintings, but in addition there are many single paintings and some modern art instalments.

The result shows how a new form of ‘fusion’ painting that combines classical and contemporary art traditions is able to express not only the fusion that corresponds to the changed lives of my informants, but also my personal experience as an ethnographer documenting these radical transformations in people’s lives.”