Just a while ago I had some thoughts about the difference between artists and thinkers. What initiated that thought mostly was this modern Chinese art market - so unbelievably "prosperous' that somebody even compared it with Renaissance in European history. I know there is not much comparable in between these two different art periods, because among modern Chinese artists, we rarely see sincerity, the pure passion in art creativity (I am not say there is none, but indeed it is rare, especially compare with the population of artists in China). Most contemporary Chinese artists produce massive amount of works just for money and fame. And they are all very successful, maybe more successful than any time in history and anywhere in the world.
I have no right to judge Zhang, Xiaogang's art. Zhang is a good artist with excellent skills, but he is also a very shrewd "businessman" when in handling art market. If we consider Chinese art market is nothing more than a huge complicated interpersonal network, Zhang is the one at the axis of this network. Around him, there are many art critics and artists who pursue "success". I am sure there are some sincere artists among them but most of them, just like Zhang, know very well what/when to paint, what not to (not only they will not offend Chinese government, they also know very well how to please art dealers, or western art critics). And when get famous, they know what to say, what not to.
Ai, Weiwei is one of different persons. He seems to care about something. I don't know him as much I know Zhang, but based on what I read online, he seems to be a honest person, which is rare within artists circles. And of course this "caring spirit" gave him trouble.
China is at her peak time in economy, and many people consider this period as her most glorious time in history (the signs of "glorious era" flash everywhere in China), as economy is only thing matter to many Chinese people. And art, both the art with and without quotation marks, seems to be a perfect decoration to this "glorious time" - when everybody is happily slaved!
Who said that art is not practical?