Blood brothers ... Jiawei Shen, right, poses with Guo Jian, in Beijing. Their lives and the Australian arts scene were shaped by the events of June 4, 1989. Photo: Ricky Wong
Dozens of artists, writers, musicians and poets settled in Australia after the Tiananmen Square massacre, writes John Garnaut in Beijing.
JIAWEI SHEN rose to stardom in the Cultural Revolution when Chairman Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, took a shine to one of his masterpieces, Standing Guard For Our Great Motherland.
Shen inspired a generation of Chinese propaganda painters such as Guo Jian. But it was only because Guo joined the hunger strikes in Tiananmen Square that they finally got to meet - on the streets of Sydney.
"I saw him peddling portraits for people on the streets of Darling Harbour," said Guo. "He is a hero, not only to me but to my whole generation."
Shen was one of dozens of Chinese artists visiting Australia on June 4, 1989, thanks to a remarkable network of Australian artists, scholars and officials in China at the time.
Guo later followed friends to Australia after his involvement in the protests killed any hope of finding decent work in China.
They and dozens of other Chinese painters, sculptors, writers, musicians and poets were able to become Australians after Bob Hawke's tearful decision on June 9, 1989, to override his bureaucrats and relax Australia's visa laws.
"We opened the door and welcomed the people and Bob Hawke made them Australians," said author Nicholas Jose, who was Australia's cultural attache in Beijing in 1989.
"It caused this extraordinary cultural link," said Jose. "It was an unprecedented wave of migration that transformed Australia, in a sense."
On Tuesday night Shen and a dozen other renowned Australian-Chinese artists met in Beijing for a kind of Tiananmen reunion, following their Coming Home exhibition at Beijing's 798 arts district.
They have all been shaped both by June 4 and the new world of Australia. Mostly they feel at home in both countries. But they each have vastly different stories to tell.
Shen adapted his Soviet realism skills in more than 5000 street-side portraits and 10,000 cartoons on the streets of Sydney. He won the Mary Mackillop Art Award in 1995 and has been a finalist in the Archibald Prize 11 times.
He is working on the portrait of the former prime minister John Howard.
Xiao Lu took time in Australia to "mature" and wrest back control of a sensational 1989 work which marked the beginning and perhaps the end of Beijing's avant-garde movement and became an emblem for June 4. It involved shooting two live bullets into an installation called Dialogue.
"Politics came looking for me, though I had no interest," he said.
Guan Wei discovered the Australian ocean, the landscape and the history and politics of immigration, which began to creep into giant mural works.
Lin Chunyan learnt to mix oil paints with bees wax and turpentine to express movement like he could with Chinese ink. "June 4 helped China develop and find its way forward," he said.
John Deng made a new family in Goulburn, where he learnt to relax and relinquish control.
Zhou Xiaowei caught a plane from Anhui province to Melbourne and then a bus to remote Aboriginal communities, and has never looked back.
"From that moment I found my inspiration," said Zhou.
Guo said: "Australia is the place I discovered myself." But China has now relaxed enough for him to work there, too.