Cao Fei, Building “RMB City”


In her Beijing studio, Cao Fei discusses the inspirations, process, and challenges behind developing and building a virtual urban environment within the digital realm of Second Life for her project, “RMB City” (2007). Comparing the virtual landscape of “RMB City” to the styles of traditional Chinese brush paintings, Cao draws connections between the past and the present, Eastern and Western cultures, and aesthetic sensibilities developed from her upbringing.

Cao’s work reflects the fluidity of a world in which cultures have mixed and diverged in rapid evolution. Her video installations and new media works explore perception and reality in places as diverse as a Chinese factory and the virtual world of Second Life. Depictions of Chinese architecture and landscape abound in scenes of hyper-capitalistic Pearl River Delta development, in images that echo traditional Chinese painting, and in the design of her own virtual utopia, “RMB City.” Fascinated by the world of Second Life, Cao Fei has created several works in which she is both participant and observer through her Second Life avatar, China Tracy, who acts as a guide, philosopher, and tourist.

Cao Fei is featured in the Season 5 (2009) episode “Fantasy” of the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” television series on PBS.

Cite this page as: Art21, "Cao Fei, Building “RMB City”," in Smarthistory, August 27, 2021, accessed May 18, 2024,