CHINA'S OBSESSION with writing on walls runs deep. In the classic novel Outlaws Of The Marsh, hero and leader Song Jiang makes his revolutionary declaration against the corrupt state with a poem drunkenly scrawled on a teahouse wall. During the Cultural Revolution, pesky neighbours could be eliminated by accusations posted on a community wall. When Deng Xiaoping made his play for openness and reform, he designated a wall in Beijing where people could freely write their thoughts. He may not have envisaged so many 'dangerous' thoughts and the so-called 'Democracy Wall' met a swift end. And last month came perhaps the most audacious assault of them all, the 'bombing' (as the art of graffiti is known) of the Great Wall of China. Today's graffiti is not only on the streets, but in advertising, branding and design, feeding an urban youth culture that is spreading from the population centres to the provinces like an unchecked wave. The 1980s saw a steady growth of political activism among students and youth that climaxed in the Tiananmen Square massacre. Students of the 90s learned that money would get you in less trouble than politics and could buy some of the freedoms that those a decade before had fought for. Dug into the new millennium, however, comes a generation volcanic in focus and scope. Too young to remember Tiananmen, their ignorance emboldens them. They've grown up on bootleg DVDs. Online, they have access to the world. They are only children; the focus of their parents' dreams. Family identity is disappearing, and in its place comes the tribe. Soft-spoken and doe-eyed, few would think 19-year-old 'Sic' capable of a bombing. The images scrawled on the Great Wall near Beijing last month were not hers, but other risky ones certainly are. Lithe in her movements and affectionate in her touch, the Guangzhou native fixes you with an even stare. 'Some people prefer doing the legal stuff,' says the female university art student. 'It's more obedient, but I like it on the streets. I guess my heart's not yet at ease.' Pinched by her mild manner and mellow smile, it's hard to imagine Sic sneaking out armed with a digital camera and spray cans on pre-dawn raids every weekend. But these are the tools with which she founded Made In Guangzhou (MIG), the mainland's first graffiti crew, and their online graffiti gallery. Her introduction came through a middle-school skater friend who recommended she check out some American and European graffiti sites. 'It was crazy,' she says. 'You could do it anywhere. It wasn't necessarily beautiful, but it was daring and brave.' Sic began scribbling 'tags' (stylised renderings of an assumed name) in her notebook and working up the courage to try it out on the street. Perhaps it was her father's advice that finally gave her the edge. 'At the time, graffiti didn't exist in China. My father had always encouraged me to be the first to do something; to be the best.' He wasn't talking about graffiti, but it didn't matter. At the dawn of the new millennium, with extra-wide markers in hand, Sic and classmate Sue began to 'decorate' the walls around their school. Graffiti was born in Europe and the United States as a reaction to an over-commercialised art world increasingly detached from the lives of the artists. A movement to bring art to the people who needed it the most - those living in poor conditions with ugly surroundings. Brought to Hong Kong by foreign students and visiting hipsters, it would take more than a decade for the trend to hit the mainland. By the mid-90s, Hong Kong crews such as MC Yan's CEA spawned the first generation of Chinese graffiti. As hip-hop and urban street culture grew, so did the crews. Hong Kong hip-hop collective LMF cut an album and featured graffiti art on the cover. It was clear graffiti could be so much more than simply writing your name on a wall. Eager to learn more, Sic began contacting Hong Kong artists online. It was second-generation Hong Kong crew FDC who gave Sic and MIG their first lessons - after chatting for a year they finally came to Guangzhou to work with MIG. They brought a 'piece book', or a photo collection of graffiti murals created by local and visiting artists. They worked on the outlines, fill-ins and effects that make up 'pieces', or large graffiti murals. Sic learned to understand graffiti's range. 'By showing us these pieces, they gave us direction but we couldn't copy. It was up to us to find and develop our own style.' This is where she stands out. In a male-dominated field, her work is unabashedly feminine. Vibrant and strong, her choice of bright, rich colours, sensual lines and cheerful illustrations seem to debunk the myth of graffiti as the medium of choice for urban malcontents and agro-males. That the Chinese woman is coming out from behind the silk curtain is undeniable. In Sic's work, she comes out with power, but also grace. 'I'm a girl and I wanted to do girl things. I started adding flowers. Now when people see the flowers, they know it's my work.' Hungry for recognition, she sought fresh ways to supercede rival crews. Graffiti is inherently local and therefore difficult to display to a broad audience. It is also fleeting, as walls are constantly painted over or, in the mainland's case, knocked down. 'The internet seemed the fastest and most direct way to promote our work,' she says. 'We were the first mainland crew with a website. In that sense, MIG is very advanced.' FBL, another Guangzhou crew, focuses more on the legal aspects of graffiti, such as advertising, design and branding. Asked why, crew member Li Dongyou laughs. 'Look at her face. If you were a cop would you arrest her? We're all guys, we have a much harder time pulling off illegal stuff.' Danger is integral to the art. It's what gets you shaking before a piece and laughing after. It becomes clear as Sic, loosening up, jokes about her favourite spots to hit. 'I love the bus depot. Public buses are exciting and their surfaces are perfect. There are guards, but there are also blind spots. We can't stay too long, but 10 to 20 minutes is enough.' If it's about getting seen, high-profile spots bring their own risks. She remembers bombing the exterior wall of a Guangzhou hotel on the Pearl River. It was ideal. Passing cruise ships would ignite her name with their high beams. They hadn't been working long when hotel security grabbed them. Finding the spray cans, they brought the MIG crew into their office. It was 3am and after repeated questioning, Sic realised security was still in the dark. 'They had no idea what graffiti was. We told them we were art students testing out our work on society. They assumed all artists were loons, unfathomable to normal people. They let us go, demanding we return the next day to repaint it.' A similar result ensued later that year when they were snared by the Public Security Bureau who discovered their cans and piece book. Aware of MIG's goal to dominate every wall in Guangzhou, they held them long enough to ascertain that their work had no political bent. China's reaction to the bombing of the Great Wall could be the litmus test. Although nothing political was written, the wall remains the most sacred structure in China. In a sense, the wall is a symbol of the sacrifice of the individual for the good of the state. Graffiti is a pure form of self-expression. Could the bombing of the wall be a crystallisation of China's growing individualism? 'Graffiti's message is that everybody can express themselves,' says MC Yan. 'This is a very difficult concept for Chinese. For more than 5,000 years, Chinese have been taught not to express themselves.'