Originally trained as a painter, the artist arranges scenes he then captures on camera, and in which he himself is often included. This is also the case with the large-scale triptych Past, Present and Future, which serves as a reflection upon the history and future of the Chinese people.
The three photographs in question portray groups of people in the tableau vivant style. With their detailed scenographic arrangement of the subjects, these scenes recall the monument outside the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong in Tienanmen Square in Beijing, which - with the heroic overtones typical of the representation of institutional power in socialist regimes - symbolizes victory over imperialism in the form of a triumphal military procession. Each of the three photographs stands for a specific time period. The photo on the right refers to the past and is comprised of seventeen figures on a war footing, wearing clothes and uniforms covered in mud, and arranged on a wide pedestal. The artist has portrayed himself as he stands at the foot of this monument, gazing at its figures from a removed position, his head wrapped in a bloodstained bandage. Through digital manipulation of the image, the artist has made himself smaller than the other figures. Set against the monument he faces, he holds not a weapon but a bouquet of flowers in one of his hands.
On the left-side panel, Present, the same subjects are featured as workmen, with work-tools and protective lenses - signs of the economic drive of the country. The group, again portrayed as a monument, is covered in a silver hue. Here too the artist is shown as an outsider, this time a young citizen with a Western-style baseball cap and a small dog on a leash. As he faces these figures marked by rigid, stylized poses - a homogeneous and uniform silver-coloured block - the artist stands aside, like an isolated individual.
In the central picture, Future, all the figures are golden. Carrying flowers and baskets of fruit, they look straight towards what lies beyond the frame of the work, directly addressing the public. This frontal composition, designed by Wang Qingsong himself, no longer reflects traditional socialist sculpture. Here, in a golden age yet to come, it is the artist who is the central figure. A pair of cymbals in his hands show him as the character giving rhythm to the composition and acting as the guide to this utopian future society.