Piece of the Week: “Hope” by Yuan Hua Jia, The Fight for Positive Space in China


In art, blankness can sting.

The white space in literature. An unexpected silence in music. A dramatic pause in theater. And so on…

Our Piece of the Week, Hope (35.40”X23.60”) by Yuan Hua Jia, uses negative space to send a powerful message about the Chinese housing market.

Given the political impulse of the painting, Jia’s play with positive and negative space is profound.

The complicated, loan-laden housing market of China sets up a difficult tension between renting and buying a home for ordinary citizens. Buying a house is “an extremely painful experience that requires more than just money, it requires courage,” says the artist, whose position is freighted with personal experience.

The financial aspect of homemaking has an oxymoronic quality that hinges on the distinction between a house and a home. The callous process could leave families unaccommodated in the negative space of the city.


The painting is powerful in its clarity and simplicity. It is a cityscape, modeled after a photograph of the Beijing skyline. The majority of the canvas is a vast yellow-hazed sky. The buildings in the background and the light bulb in the foreground mingle positive and negative spaces in a way that visually enacts the uncertainty of physical space in the Beijing housing market.

Before 2015, there was no government-issued restriction on rent prices. Landlords could skyrocket their prices wildly. For ordinary citizens, the rent-salary relationship became predator-prey chase.

But, in 2015, conditions turned around; this change is what gives the painting its optimistic exuberance and hopeful title.

The Chinese government passed a policy that controlled rent prices giving ordinary citizens secure footing on which they can create homes. For many, this meant a conversion of that negative space into positive.

The strung, single light bulb that hangs in the upper right corner is a symbol of that hope. The filament and metaphorical source of the light is a reproduction of the Tiananmen gate, a symbol of the Chinese government. The artist reveals that the yellow background is light from the bulb, as if the splendor of optimistic buoyancy shines over the entire city.

The political message is encoded into the colors of the painting. Amid the territory of earthy tones, the red hue of the Tiananmen gate is stark. This is an image of government support and hope for the future.

Jia and his family were one of the many who found themselves within this national trend of struggle who now have the light of hope for a home.

See more of Yuan Hua Jia’s art on UGallery.