Credit Lucas Schifres-Bloomberg-Getty

Credit Lucas Schifres-Bloomberg-Getty

Yue Minjun, 50, has become one of China’s most recognisable artists thanks to his iconic, guffawing self-portraits. He is also one of the country’s best selling: his piece Execution broke all records for Chinese contemporary art when it sold for £2.9 million at Sotheby’s London in 2007


Like I do most mornings, I had congee (a sort of rice porridge) with pickled vegetables. I was born around the time of the Three Years of Natural Disasters – the period known in the West as the Great Famine. During this time food was scarce. I grew up eating very basic vegetable dishes and today my diet is much the same.


I mostly work from my home in Beijing. I like to eat here, so I employ a cook who knows how to make home-style Chinese dishes the way I like them. Yesterday, I ate tudou si (thinly-shredded strips of potatoes, fried with hot peppers), bocai (sautéed spinach with garlic) and da baicai (Chinese cabbage) – these are all foods I grew up with. There is a saying, “chi de bao, chi de hao, chi cao”, which loosely translates as “when you are younger, you eat until you are full; when you are a bit older and have more money, you try to eat well; when you are older still, you like to return to your roots”. This has been the case for me.


I ate a simple meal with my family. We normally have breakfast, lunch and dinner around the same time each day. I used to be a night owl in my younger years; now, I try to lead a more regular, structured lifestyle. I sometimes go out to eat. When I do, I go with artist friends to local Beijing restaurants. We like to drink baijiu (a clear Chinese spirit distilled from sorghum, with an ABV of about 40-60 per cent) with our meals.

First appeared in The Times on January 19, 2012.