Lydia Chen arrived in the United States at age five. Her parents had left war-torn Shanghai to make new lives in Hong Kong, Brazil, and then the United States. She holds a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and master’s degrees in journalism and Asian studies from the University of California at Berkeley.
She worked in Beijing in the late 1980s, where she met young artists eager to learn about Western modernity and individualism. While in graduate school, she wanted to explore how memories of the Cultural Revolution, new ideals, and the shock of the 1989 Tiananmen events affected the lives of artists in Beijing. She interviewed dozens of artists, finally focusing on Su Xinping, Xia Xiaowan, and the team “Blue Belly” as her main characters. Her master’s thesis was the short documentary, Inner Visions: Avant-Garde Art in China.
From 1997 to 2002, Lydia lived in Beijing, witnessing the flourishing of international business and education in China. Upon returning to the United States. she worked as a university administrator supporting East Asian Studies at Stanford and Harvard University.
She later reconnected with Su Xinping, Xia Xiaowan, and Heiyang and Mushi to plan for a follow-up documentary. She received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar grant in 2015-16, which greatly supported her research for Art in Smog.
She enjoys engaging with students and audiences interested in a humanistic view of China, and in the power of art to leave a subjective record of time and place.