Xu Bing, Tianshu 天書, Book from
the Sky

Beijing, AD 1988


Book from the Sky, which in its complete form is a room installation, ranks among the most discussed and best published works of contemporary Chinese art.

Xu Bing’s volumes are composed of 4,000 self-invented characters which cannot be decoded. Whether in its full form or as a single volume, this work provokes fundamental questions about Chinese identity and its relationship to the written word, which has long been intertwined with concepts of authority and morality. 

The artist believes that writing is the essence of culture, and his subversion of it alerts us to the ever-present need to communicate and the dangers of distorting or eliminating intended meaning.

Object details

Four printed book volumes made as a set. Ink on paper, blue paper covers and thread binding. All contained in a walnut box.

Height: 45.9 cm (covers (each volume closed))
Width: 30 cm (covers)
Depth: 2 cm (Closed)
Width: 52 cm (Open at double page)





    K. Spears (ed.), Tianshu: Passages in the Making of a Book, (London, Bernard Quaritch Ltd., 2009)

    C. von Spee, The Printed Image in China, (London, British Museum Press, 2010)