Xu Bing was born in Chongqing China in 1955. His mother was a librarian and his father was the head of the history department at Peking University. In 1975 the Cultural Revolution was coming to an end in China. As a part of Mao Zedong's "re-education" policy he was moved into the countryside and forced to work as a sign painter making propaganda.This experience eventually became the foundation to the work he would make. In 1977 he returned to Beijing and enrolled in the Central Academy of Fine Art to study printmaking. He earned his masters in 1987, and later in 1990, moved to the United States because of the pressure being put on artists after Tiananmen Square. He lived in the States until being appointed the new vice president of the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2008.
Xu Bing often uses calligraphy and sculpture in his work to explore his experiences with communication. He is most known for his piece Tianshu or Book from the Sky. This installation was made of rows of hanging scrolls that filled a room. On these scrolls were over 4,000 character that he had designed to look like like Chinese text but were actually meaningless.
Another piece he is known for is New English Calligraphy, a projected he started after living in the United States for four years. He designed characters that were made to look like Chinese but are actually made out of English words. He then gave lessons on how to write in these characters. When New English Calligraphy is displayed he often uses nursery rhymes to give an example.
Xu Bing started his tobacco projects when he was invited to be the artist-in-residence at Duke University in 2000. He was interested in the Duke Family history which led him to tobacco. This led to a series of work using cigarettes, and tobacco. The most known of these is a tiger skin rug made from around a half a million cigarettes. Tiger-skin rugs are a symbol go human dominance. “It confirms our superiority by transforming one of nature’s fiercest predators into a lifeless skin beneath our feet.” Xu Bing also compares the way fur and skin rugs can glamorize hunting with the way smoking can often be glamorized. Other projects that were a part of this series included prints on tobacco leaves, a tree with branches made of matches, and a compressed cube of tobacco with the words “light as smoke” on the top o