He then begins his series of the Masks showing the dissimulation of people behind social conventions applicable to all, erasing the originality of each personality. At the same time Zhang Xiaogang's Big Family expresses a similar discomfort of identifying the personality but in an opposite way : individuals are all physically different but their bleak lives are interchangeable.
The red scarf of the Young Pioneers is a rallying symbol of Zeng's masked characters. It also expresses the pride and unease of his own difference. This recruitment is offered to almost all schoolchildren as an incentive to enter the party line but the young Zeng, too bad a pupil or perhaps too emotional or undisciplined, never got it.
It is usually difficult to decide in a Zeng Mask image whether or not we see the real face of a character. This rule has two rare exceptions: self-portraits without the artificial smile and groups where the repetition of the same lines on all the figures reveals the presence of the masks.
Mask 1996 No. 6 is an oil on canvas in diptych for a 200 x 360 cm total size. Eight young Chinese people with the same smiling face, differentiated by their height and their hairstyle, are lined up like for a group photography, with hands on the shoulders of others to simulate their comradeship. Everyone has the red scarf confirming their lack of freedom.
Sold for HK $ 75M including premium by Christie's on May 24, 2008 from a lower estimate of HK $ 15M, No. 6 suddenly attracted the attention of the art market on the young painters of the Chinese social mockery, Zeng, Zhang and Yue Minjun, obscuring for a few years the variety of Chinese painting subsequent to the events of Tiananmen Square. No. 6 is back, to be sold on April 3 by Poly in Hong Kong, lot 173.
SOLD for HK$ 105M including premium