Soldier in front of Beijing's Olympic Bird's Nest Stadium
In recent years, I have explored the Chinese contemporary art, especially those political pop art works repeatedly using Mao or Tian An Men as the "China symbol".
When I was in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics, it wasn't difficult to notice an overwhelming number of soldiers marching in almost every corner of the capital city. Granted, they were there to ensure public security. However, catching repeated sight of them does easily associate China with a scene of soldiers, people in uniforms and such, especially to the curious minds of western explorers.
Thus it isn't surprising that these "symbols" dominated the Chinese contemporary art works that appeal to the western audience. It was premature, yet to a small group of people, these symbols are equivalent to China. I wasn't too thrilled to see another soldier as the subject matter of another painting, whether depicted in realism or cynical terms, yet I understand why the west like them. However, there was so much about the modern China that people might have discovered. That requires more than 1 or 2 week trip hopping around 3 or 4 major cities, and a little more readings about China's 5000-year history, as well as its impact on China's culture and art evolution.
The real term of Chinese culture and art is complicated to define. But the truth is: it for sure takes a bit more explanation than a simple picture of soldier, or symbols as such.