From a very young age, Tang Zhigang was exposed to an environment of extreme political bureaucracy. His father was an official in the Red Army and his childhood was spent at the Kunyang labour farm, where his mother was a prison warden, bestowing upon him a unique introduction to the institutionalized world that was to become a prevalent part of his later life. Later, as a soldier, art teacher, and painter of propaganda for the Political Department of the Army, Tang was exposed to a diverse and often incongruous set of daily activities, yet in his mind the connection between teaching children and political adult meetings is clear. He has stated:
"Apart from preparing the setting for all kinds of meetings, writing slogans and taking pictures. I was also responsible for the Art Education of the children in the army. So while the adults were 'in meeting', their children were raising their hands to answer my questions. It is easy to associate the two scenes". -Tang
Tang's insight into the links between children's behavior and adult folly inspired his iconic Children in Meeting series, canvases that depict familiar scenes of officialdom, populated entirely by children in military uniforms. The bland regimented settings remind the viewer of the monotony of bureaucratic life, while Tang's economical and painterly attention to detail reveal his investigation into human nature and the effect of power upon it.
In Children's Meeting (Lot 1036) from 2001, the reduced and essentially uncluttered setting highlight the highly symbolic image of the three figures seated behind a formally set table, implicating the viewer in the position of a supplicant or petitioner hoping to extract some approval from this trio. The setting is immediately recognizable as one constantly encountered within a highly bureaucratized society. The incongruity of the identical white mugs adds a touch of pompous civility to the scene. The long rectangular table and institutional lighting hanging at regular intervals over the figures almost suggests a space of interrogation, offset by the baby blue table cloth and small pink toy car at the foot of the desk. The boys have been given distinct personalities and characteristics. In various but distinct poses of distraction, indifference, and self-absorption, their chubby cheeks read less of youth than of the moral turpitude and corruption that too often accompanies positions of power.
As a child growing up in communist China, Tang's life was recorded through a series of staged family and official group photographs, most of which were taken against a simple cloth-curtain backdrop. The theatricality of such settings suggests a forced pretense of civility, a trope that has been used by numerous artists of Tang's generation to comment on the habits and forms of that period. He sees his children as "successors of socialism". As such, the disarming humour of his works is darkened by the revelation of how serious affairs are being handled like child's play, and that these habits are quickly ingrained into every subsequent generation. In earlier works, Tang's palette was firmly rooted in military drab tones, focusing especially on images of political posturing. Here however his palette incorporates more "pop" and pastel colours, suggesting that these social forms have already been rendered kitsch, satires of themselves. The object of his ironic humour then is less of hollow institutional showboating, but instead of an endemic level of institutional morass and indifference, a position that renders Tang's depiction of the figures as humourous as it is maddeningly accurate