The Middle Kingdom

Award winning British artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien discusses making ‘Ten Thousand Waves’ and his experiences in China. Interview by Monica Chung.


撰文:Monica Chung

Written by: Monica Chung


Translated by: Shoran Jiang



Images by courtesy of:Isaac Julien


‘…I’ve promised, my little girl

To come home when the tree blooms

We’ll pick the fruits and sell them to pay for your school

But the wind is cold

My back broken from bending over the sea

Cockling, cockling in the quicksand

The sea is rising to my chest…’

 Wang Ping, ‘Small Boat’



In 2006, the award winning British filmmaker Isaac Julien commissioned the Chinese poet Wang Ping to write a poem.  This was Isaac’s response to the tragic incident that befell 23 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay in the northwest of England; cut off by high tides, the workers were drowned on the evening of February 5th 2004.


Ping’s poem ‘Small Boat’ became the genesis for Julien’s ‘Ten Thousand Waves’.  This widely acclaimed nine-screen video installation, that holds the Morecambe Bay tragedy at its centre, intertwines Chinese cultural icons with mythic imagery, drawing on events both past and present in China.


20 July 2011 – just before Isaac sets off for a summer vacation, we have tea in his Bloomsbury apartment, to discuss ‘Ten Thousand Waves’ and more…


MC for Monica Chung

IJ for Isaac Julien


MC: What inspired you to make ‘Ten Thousand Waves’?


IJ: It was because of the Morecambe Bay tragedy – I just thought, wow, they came from so far in search of a better life and this really rang with me because my parents came for a better life.


MC:It didn’t make a difference to you then, their nationality?   It was because of the long journey they had made, in search of better opportunities and fortune?


IJ: Absolutely, that’s why, in a way, China found me. Forget White Cube and all of the fashioning, it wasn’t to do with that. (White Cube, the London contemporary art gallery recently announced its plans to open a gallery in Hong Kong).

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