258 FAKE

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The following address plate is affixed to the outer wall of Ai Weiwei's studio in Beijing:


The same plaque may be seen outside the studio in the opening shot of this video. Thus, it would seem that Ai Weiwei's studio is located at 258 Fake St. in the celebrated Caochangdi arts district of northeast Beijing. So far as I know, however, there is no "Fake St." in Caochangdi. Furthermore, in his guise as architect (he collaborated on the Bird's Nest [Beijing National Stadium]), the address of his design studio is given as:

FAKE Design

Caochangdi 258
Chaoyang District
100102 Beijing
Beijing

Caochangdi doesn't really have street names, which is why it's so hard to navigate. Some galleries make maps like the one here to help people get around (Fake is across from Boers-Li).

Let us assume that "FAKE" is a Pinyin (alphabetical) transcription of two Chinese characters.

Probably the most frequent pair of characters that can be matched with "FAKE" is fǎkē 法科, which would mean "section of the law" or serve as an abbreviation for fǎlǜ kēxué 法律科学 ("legal science"), neither of which would be appropriate in this instance.

Next would be fākē 发科, which could refer to humorous actions and expressions in traditional opera, passing the traditional civil service exam, etc. This, too, would not make sense in the present context.

There are a few other possibilities, but most have been used primarily in pre-modern times, are of much lower frequency, and are unsuitable for the sign outside of Ai Weiwei's studio.

Far more frequent today is fǎkè 法克 (lit., "law-subdue / overcome" or "Franco-Croatian"), as in the name of the fǎkè yóu 法克鱿 (scientific name Pedicabo Squid [from the first line of Catullus' "Carmen 16": "Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo"]), i.e., "fuck you".

Consequently, the FAKE on Ai Weiwei's address plate (and in the name of his design studio) = "fuck", a word that he is quite fond of.

I'm not sure whether the managers of Caochangdi systematically assigned numbers to the various studios in the district. If they did so, then 258 is simply a number, but if Ai Weiwei picked that number himself, then it is sure to be pregnant with meaning. Contemporary, hip Chinese are given to punning on the names of numbers. With that in mind, a friend comments:

The only plausible homophone that comes immediately to mind for èrwǔbā 258 is ài wǒ ba 愛我吧 ("love me") which makes sense in context if you read "Fake" as if it were Pinyin. There are brands out there that use similar homophones — a brand of Taiwanese (?) women's cigarettes is called wǔ'èrlíng 520' ( wǒ ài nǐ 我愛你 ["I love you"]) and has little hearts in the filters — but I'm just guessing here.

Another friend suggested:

258 could have no meaning at all, but I'm going to over-interpret for a moment: Perhaps "258" (二五八) is a scrambled version of "250" (二百五), the latter meaning "not all there."

Last minute notes on 258 provided by Jason Q. Ng:

This recent Times article says 258 is the street address.

Further color images flutter past on a dozen monitors in “258 Fake,” an ebullient document of his life centered on a studio populated by friends, assistants and cats. (Mr. Ai calls his studio Fake, and 258 is its actual street number.)

Foursquare lists the exact address as 草场地258号, Beijing, Beijing (link plus map).

Looks like "草场地" is indeed enough of a marker for that street 258 Fake is apparently on. Though 258 Fake isn't listed on Google or Baidu Maps, the address for 256 is located at the spot which corroborates the Foursquare marker for 258 Fake.

I went through Baidu Maps and wrote in what the numbers were for that area into the attached/below image. [VHM: omitted here, but available upon request] I have no idea what the logic of the numbering system is. If Baidu's addresses are right, it seems pretty haphazard.

Oh, I almost forgot. In styling his studio "FAKE", Ai Weiwei is almost certainly also taking a sardonic dig at the epidemic of fakery that plagues Chinese society and culture.

[Thanks to June Teufel Dreyer, Joan Lebold Cohen, Anne Henochowicz, Kara Simon-Kennedy, Brendan O'Kane, and Kellen Parker]

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19 Comments »

  1. Jason said,

    April 30, 2014 @ 9:58 pm

    Here's the image of the 草场地 map, with street numbers filled in according to Baidu Maps: http://i.imgur.com/LUKiE5n.jpg

    (if you want to poke around yourself, here's the link to the area in Baidu Maps; zoom in and click around on the businesses to get their addresses: http://j.map.baidu.com/5P39r)

    Thanks for the neat article Victor, especially relevant now with the Ai Weiwei exhibit here in Brooklyn garnering a lot of attention.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    April 30, 2014 @ 11:00 pm

    From Kira Simon-Kennedy:

    I'm not sure if this is relevant, but I just realized the map I sent from Pékin Fine Arts is a little outdated — Boers-Li gallery closed its Caochangdi space and moved to 798 in 2010. Here's a more recent one from CCD Workstation – Weiwei's studio is just marked as 258.

  3. Bruce Rusk said,

    April 30, 2014 @ 11:57 pm

    Although it's definitely among the pre-modern usages, and likely unrelated to this sign, Poem #158 (hmmm…) in the Book of Poems is titled "Fake" 伐柯 ("Hewing an axe-handle"), and can be read as a description of how artistic invention is based on previous models, an entirely apt reference for Ai Weiwei's artistic credo. In Legge's translation:

    In hewing [the wood for] an axe-handle, how do you proceed?
    Without [another] axe it cannot be done.
    In taking a wife, how do you proceed?
    Without a go-between it cannot be done.

    In hewing an axe-handle, in hewing an axe-handle,
    The pattern is not far off.
    I see the lady,
    And forthwith the vessels are arranged in rows.

  4. ahkow said,

    May 1, 2014 @ 12:13 am

    @Bruce Rusk:

    That is a great poem and image that have been quoted in Gary Snyder's poem Axe-handles:


    There I begin to shape the old handle
    With the hatchet, and the phrase
    First learned from Ezra Pound
    Rings in my ears!
    “When making an axe handle
    the pattem is not far off.”

    And I see: Pound was an axe,
    Chen was an axe, I am an axe
    And my son a handle, soon
    To be shaping again, model
    And tool, craft of culture,
    How we go on.

    http://languagehat.com/axe-handles/

  5. John Rohsenow said,

    May 1, 2014 @ 3:28 am

    Perhaps he should open an institution of higher learning and sell
    T shirts that say Fa-ke U.!

  6. Ginger Yellow said,

    May 1, 2014 @ 9:45 am

    I had assumed it was a riff on Homer Simpson's terrible made-up address he gives to the police when being arrested: 123 Fake Street. The joke being, so I thought, that it might foil the Chinese authorities if they came to arrest Ai Weiwei.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    May 1, 2014 @ 10:47 am

    Just want to say that I think Bruce Rusk's mention of the axe-handle poem is excellent. It's the sort of thing that a Chinese artist would have in mind as he pursues his craft, especially since many of Ai Weiwei's works involved the sculpturing of wood.

  8. Mark Dunan said,

    May 1, 2014 @ 11:53 am

    This almost certainly has nothing to do with Ai Weiwei, but in Japan these numbers together, pronounced ni-go-hachi are used to describe something that's slipshod or imperfectly done, as in 2 x 5 ?= 8.

    (I learned it when living in Shiga prefecture and I don't think it's used very much outside of that area. I haven't heard it said in Tokyo, for example.)

  9. L said,

    May 1, 2014 @ 1:12 pm

    "humorous actions and expressions in traditional opera, passing the traditional civil service exam, etc."

    Maybe this is only because I am not a sinologist, but this use of "etc." threw me.

  10. Jen Tang said,

    May 1, 2014 @ 1:26 pm

    When my husband and I got married, a couple we know gave us $218 in cash at our wedding banquet. My husband explained this to me as a verbal pun, to wish us "prosperity together." That is, instead of reading 2/"er" – 1/"yi" – 8/"ba," read it as 2/"er" (the two of you) – 1/"yao" (要/should) – 8/"fa" (发财).

    Is it possible that Ai has something similarly "punny" in mind for 258?

  11. Bob said,

    May 1, 2014 @ 6:43 pm

    along the street, or inside a building, address plaques do not cite the name of the street or the building. The resident's name is printed instead. Here, 258 FAKE, 258 is the street number, and FAKE is the name of the resident/company. Mr Ai use FAKE to pull a little joke to the world here.

  12. Carl said,

    May 1, 2014 @ 7:27 pm

    二百五 is 205, not 250.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    May 1, 2014 @ 8:29 pm

    @Carl

    In defense of my friend:

    205 is èrbǎi líng wǔ 二百零五

    250 is èrbǎiwǔ 二百五

  14. Victor Mair said,

    May 1, 2014 @ 9:39 pm

    Some examples of street names with numbers may be found here.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    May 2, 2014 @ 6:13 am

    @Bob

    "Mr Ai use FAKE to pull a little joke to the world here."

    That was the main point of the original post and many of the comments thereto.

  16. Ray Dillinger said,

    May 3, 2014 @ 1:03 am

    If I remember correctly, isn't it the intersections or neighborhoods rather than the streets that are given names in traditional Chinese cities?

    I could have misunderstood this but I think it's the case that the more familiar (to us westerners) convention of naming streets or thinking of them as having an identity that remains with them for more than a block or so, is a relatively recent innovation as applied to surface streets there.

    Highways etc of course have an identity that stays with them for the distances between cities at least, but ISTR street names as I understood them just not being a thing there.

  17. JB said,

    May 19, 2014 @ 4:17 pm

    @Bruce Rusk

    That reminds me of the Western children's song There's a Hole in My Bucket.

  18. JB said,

    May 19, 2014 @ 4:17 pm

    @Bruce Rusk

    That reminds me of the Western children's song There's a Hole in My Bucket.

  19. JB said,

    May 19, 2014 @ 4:18 pm

    (Sorry for the double-post. Internet's slow.)

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