TROUBLEMAKER is a label artist Zhao Jianhai welcomes. ''I think China, especially in the artistic field, needs trouble. They need change. It is a good word for me,'' he said, as he began wrapping himself in strips of red cloth, his face painted wildlyand a gong clutched in his hand. Outside the Mandarin Oriental hotel, Zhao was performing part of his year-long tribute to mark the 100th anniversary of Mao Zedong's birth. Entitled Mao 4253, the performance art project is taking place around the world - in Beijing, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Kuala Lumpur, San Francisco and culminating in New York. Zhao will poll 36,500 people regarding their general opinion of Mao, using a broad cross-section of respondents for more detailed interviews. The responses will be edited for publication along with their photographs and signatures. Zhao and several other enthusiasts quoted from Mao's Little Red Book, shook tambourines and played the gong while onlookers wondered what was going on. Was it a protest? Were they selling something? Shouldn't the Mandarin be alarmed about the ruckus? In addition to the hours Zhao spends on Behaviour 31 outside the hotel, he is in the process of completing 100 paintings as part of the project. Several are on display at the Mandarin Oriental Fine Arts Gallery along with some of his previous works. Originally from Taiyuan, Shaanxi province, Zhao has been hailed for his artistic sensibilities. At 16 he was chosen in a nationwide competition to become one of 40 students in the middle school attached to China's Central Academy of Fine Arts. He graduated at the top of his class. In 1983, he joined a class of 12 to study at the academy, where he majored in woodcuts. Again he graduated at the top. His final ''exam'' was a series of lithographs of Tibetan peasants. In 1986, he had spent months alone, walking through China, exploring Tibet, living on his wits. He was captivated by Buddhism and Tibet. So inspired was Zhao by Tibet, that he felt a need to expand his artistic world. He began performance art. But his first performance came at a bad time. On December 23, 1986, he and three fellow artists staged China's first ''action air art'' on the campus of Beijing University. They stripped to their underwear and wrapped themselves in bolts of red, white and black cloth. They danced to gongs. They rodebicycles. They unwrapped the cloth and painted each other's naked bodies. Hours later, hundreds of Beijing University students staged the first of that winter's pro-democracy protests. Hardliners put two and two together and came up with Zhao as the scapegoat. And so, while other graduating members of his art class were assigned plum positions, Zhao was sent to teach kindergarten in a village outside his native Taiyuan. He stayed a few months, then sneaked back to Beijing, rented a room and started painting again. In 1987, he applied for a visa and passport to the United States where he wanted to study art. After lengthy delays, he received it and went to San Francisco.He has stayed there since, banging his gong.