The Flowering Field
Contemporary Chinese Painting

Shadow Skeletons and New Realities-Guohua and Cultural Identity

As the dawn of a new millenium rapidly approaches, modern and contemporary Chinese art is receiving an unprecedented amount of attention throughout Asia and the West. Exhibitions of works in all media by Chinese artists from mainland China , Taiwan , Hong Kong (once again a part of China after a century of British rule), and overseas have been mounted or are being planned throughout Asia , Europe , and the United States . In New York , the Metropolitan Museum of Art has recently opened their renovated Chinese Galleries and, for the first time, thanks to a generous gift from Robert H. Ellsworth, Chinese paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries are prominently displayed alongside masterpieces from earlier periods. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is planning a major exhibition of 5,000 years of Chinese art which will include modern and contemporary works in a variety of media, and the Asia Society is organizing a show of contemporary art by Chinese artists living outside of China for the fall of 1998.

In Beijing , the Ministry of Culture of the People's Republic of China is presently organizing a show ambitiously and ambiguously titled: "The World Chinese Calligraphy and Painting Exhibi­tion '97." Expected to travel to several venues in China as well as to Canada and the United States , this exhibition will focus primarily on traditional works by Chinese artists residing all over the world.

There is now a thriving art market for contemporary Chinese paintings, done in both traditional and Western styles. Auctions of this material are now held on a regular basis in many cities throughout China as well as in New York , Hong Kong , Taipei , and Singapore . Specialized galleries have been established all over the world and several dealers in ancient Chinese art (including Kaikodo) have begun to feature contemporary paintings as well.

As we try to absorb this impressive flood of images and information about the 20th century Chinese art we are suddenly encountering, and before we begin to assess the artistic and art-historical merits of these works of art, it is useful to present a brief outline of some of the major issues that have concerned Chinese artists during the last century and to identify some of the stylistic trends that have shaped the context in which the art of this period was and is being created.

During the past one hundred years the political, social, and economic systems of China have been transformed on an unprecedented scale. Even before the Imperial monarchy that had ruled China for several thousand years was completely overthrown in 1911, the Chinese had begun to assess their inherited traditions and values and to question their very cultural identity. Julia Andrews, in her recent study of art in the People's Republic, summarizes:

"Shortly before the turn of the century, in the final years of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), it became apparent to Chinese intellectuals that the international community was dominated by Western nations and Japan , countries at the forefront of modern technology. The military defeats of China by the British in 1842 and 1860, by the French in 1885, by the Japanese in 1895, and by the allied powers in 1900 were the most evident signs of China 's failure to maintain her rightful place in the world. Debate over the correct Chinese response to this crisis monopolized intellectual activity during the first decades of the twentieth century. Some writers found Chinese culture to be so unalterably backward that China could have no hope to function in the modern world. Others aspired to modify Chinese culture and so make the nation into a viable modern force. Still others believed that China 's culture had unique values that must at all costs be preserved." 1

Parallel arguments were made with regard to the visual arts. Traditional Chinese painting (guohua), 2 especially as practiced after the Song dynasty, was specifically criticized for its lack of realism or naturalism, and the conscious disregard by its practitioners of the harsh realities of contemporary society in favor of a rarefied vision of an ideal Confucian society which had never existed in fact. The type of guohua practiced by the literati (wenrenhua) was severely attacked by many critics, among the most vocal of whom was the reformer Kang Youwei (1858-1927), who accused: "Four or five hundred years ago Chinese painting was the best. What a pity that it has not developed since then... Today, industry, commerce, and everything else are related to art. Without art reform those fields cannot develop.... Chinese painting has declined terribly because its theory is ridiculous.... How can those who paint just for fun in their spare time capture the true character of all things on earth. It is totally wrong to regard the literati spirit as the orthodox school of painting." 3

Kang's views represented the prevailing attitude among progressive Chinese intellectuals who associated modernization with Westernization and Westernization with the development of science and technology. These basic assumptions dominated intellectual thought for decades, if not generations. Several years later Cai Yuanpei (1876-1940), President of Peking University and a prominent figure in the May Fourth Movement of 1919, remarked: "the good point of Europeanization is that everything takes science as its foundation: the improvement of life; the reform of society; even the creation of art. They all progress along with the progress of science." 4 This emphasis on progress and the sincere belief that Western art (as the Chinese perceived it) was inherently more scientific and modern (and therefore more desirable) presented a serious challenge to advocates of literati painting and nearly signaled the end of the guohua tradition altogether.

Many artists chose not to abandon completely traditional Chinese painting but tried instead to make adjustments in subject matter or style in order to broaden its appeal and update its appearance, making it more responsive to the perceived needs of contemporary society. This colloquialization (to borrow a phrase describing a similar but more far-reaching movement in literature) of Chinese painting is epitomized by the work of the great Qi Baishi (1864-1955), whose colorful depictions of common objects from everyday life enlivened the tradition through the introduction of a colloquial vocabulary of familiar images. However, Qi did not sacrifice such traditional aesthetic values as excellence in brushwork, simplicity of form, and directness of expression; on the contrary, his work may be seen as advancing the art form in each of these aspects. The degree of Qi Baishi's success is indicated most clearly by the fact that his style forms the basis of much of the guohua produced during the past fifty years.

Most critics, including Kang Youwei, advocated a synthesis of Western and Chinese art: "if we adhere to the old way without change, Chinese painting will become extinct. Now, at this historic moment, it is up to those who are up to the challenge to arise. They must begin a new era by combining Chinese and Western art." 5 Kang's approach was based on a formulation that he and the other "self-strengtheners" of the unsuccessful 1898 reform movement had advocated as a solution to most of China 's ills. Jonathan Spence explains:

"Chinese learning should remain the essence, but Western learning be used for practical development.' Generally abbreviated as the ti-yong idea (from the Chinese words- 體用 -for 'essence' and 'practical use'), this was a culturally reassuring position in a time of ambiguous, often painful change. It affirmed that there was indeed a fundamental structure of Chinese moral and philosophical values that gave continuity and meaning to the civilization. Holding on to that belief, China could then afford to adopt quickly and dramatically all sorts of Western practices, and to hire Western advisors." 6

During the first decades of this century, numbers of young painters took up Kang's challenge in earnest. Some, like Fu Baoshi (1904-1965) and the Gao brothers (founders of the Lingnan School ), traveled to Japan to investigate the process by which Japanese artists were modernizing their native traditions by a selective incorporation of Western techniques and styles. Some of the most famous, including Xu Beihong (1895-1953), Liu Haisu (1896-1994), and Lin Fengmian (1900-1991), went to Europe to experience Western culture at first hand and to learn what they could about European art.

Although agreeing on the general premise that Chinese painting needed an infusion of Western artistic know-how in order to advance into the modern age, the three leaders of this Westernizing movement, Xu, Liu, and Lin, did not see eye-to-eye on much else. Xu Beihong favored realistic, academic oil painting. Liu Haisu, renowned for being the first in China to employ nude models for life drawing in his art school, was enamored of the Impressionists and post-Im­pressionists. Lin Fengmian favored Matisse and Vlaminick.

The arguments among these three and their followers as to which foreign models to follow were as vehement as those waged by traditional painters about whether to imitate the Four Wangs (as did Wu Hufan and his students) or Shitao and Bada Shanren (as did Zhang Daqian and his followers). History would note that, at least for the short term, Xu Beihong's academic realism ultimately won out, although more for political and ideological than artistic reasons.

The decades of the 1920s and 1930s were a period of great creativity and artistic experimen­tation. With increased exposure to the West and Japan, Chinese artists appropriated hitherto unknown styles, techniques, and ideas, often without fully understanding their original cultural context; a situation which led the influential writer Lu Xun (1881-1936) to muse in 1928:

"A horrifying phenomenon in the world of literature and the arts in China now is the importation of an 'ism,' but without introducing the meaning of this 'ism.' As a result, everyone uses his own interpretation. When he reads a work mainly on the author himself, he calls that 'Expressionism.' If it concerns other people more, then it is 'Realism.' To be moved by a girl's exposed legs to write poetry is 'Romanticism,' but to look at a girl's legs and not be allowed to write poetry is called 'Classicism.' A head falls down from the sky, on this head stands a cow, oh, love. . . . Such is 'Futurism,' etc., etc." 7

By the end of the 1930s the future of Chinese art looked promising, albeit somewhat confused. Artists were free to work in all media, which they did in an incredible range of styles and with tremendous passion and dedication. Traditional painting continued to be practiced, Western-style works in oil and watercolor were produced, and a variety of hybrid approaches were developed, on the basis of Chinese "essence" combined in various ways with Western "practice." Chinese artists of the following decades, however, would have to contend with a much more horrifying set of "isms": "Communism," "Marxism," and "Maoism."

The politicization of all aspects of the processes of creating, exhibiting, publishing or otherwise disseminating art in the People's Republic of China is discussed in several recent studies and doubtless will continue to be a subject of inquiry for many years to come. 8 Although many questions remain and many individual stories have yet to be recounted, it is clear that one of the casualties of mainland art policy from the 1950s to the 1980s was Chinese traditional painting. In the Introduction to Painters and Politics in the People's Republic of China, Julia Andrews compares the art of the People's Republic to what had existed before:

"Among the most important changes was the elevation of realistic painting, which was practiced in all media but most commonly in oils and gouache, to a prestigious position. This change is remarkable, for although Western styles of art were employed by some earlier artists, they had largely failed to take root before 1949. Moreover the complete integration of selected Western media and styles into all levels of the Chinese art educational system served, I believe, to sever Chinese art from much of its past.

Although artists have continued to paint in ink and color on Chinese paper and to mount some of their pictures in the traditional hanging scroll format, officially mandated changes in brushwork, theme, and style have been so great as to alter irrevocably the practice of Chinese painting. In particular, the subtle and culturally charged brush conventions that were practiced by masters of China 's past have been eradicated from contemporary practice. With them has passed from existence a crucial element in the visual and intellectual pleasure that traditional Chinese viewers experienced in their art." 9

Mao Zedong, in his 1942 "Talks at the Yan'an Conference on Literature and Art," had clearly stated his belief that art must serve the people, and that there could not be art for art's sake. During the 1950s Mao began to make good on his promise by revamping the entire system of art education and production. Realistic oil painting, primarily figural themes, gradually incorporating more and more elements of the Soviet Socialist Realist style, became the new orthodoxy in China . Art became a tool of the state and was relegated to the role of supplying propaganda. Not only were Chinese artists and intellectuals largely cut off from their own past, they were also isolated from artistic and scientific developments in the rest of the world.

Cai Yuanpei would probably have agreed with the following statement about the relationship of science and art co-authored by a psychologist, Lawrence LeShan, and a physicist, Henry Margenau, in their book with the intriguing title Einstein's Space and Van Gogh's Sky:

"... the art and science of a period, the two main thrusts of our developing change of our ways of organizing reality, tend to move forward in parallel ways, sometimes one appearing first as the spearhead of the new, sometimes the other. A change in artistic comprehension of reality may herald a change in the scientific world-picture, or vice versa. At the same time the tight enclaves of the medieval world were opening up to the Renaissance; that Bruno was showing the implications of the concept of infinity; that science, no longer limited to theological problems, was being expanded in all directions by Galileo and others, art also aided and was aided by new attitudes." 10

One wonders, however, how Cai and his contemporaries would have reacted to the following assertion by the same authors:

"The word 'reality,' as used in ordinary discourse, has a definite, easily comprehensible, and ultimate meaning. New phenomena often fall prey to its menacing stare. This narrow definition, a product of our past, is now badly hampering our progress.

Each individual is born into a culture, and its orientations and basic beliefs shape him and remain deeply rooted in his personality all of his life. If he moves into a new culture with other orientations and basic beliefs, the two versions of reality are dissonant within him. Even after he is a firmly functioning member of the new culture, the orientations of his beginnings still influence him.

As it is with an individual, so it is with a field of knowledge. The sources from which a field grew remain within it as a shadow skeleton, and they partly define what is real and what is true, what is sense and what is nonsense-in short, what is the basic shape or essence of reality. When the field develops so that new data contradict these old beliefs, a basic conflict develops in the field of knowledge. There is great difficulty and struggle in recognizing, organizing, and solving the new problems presented by the conflict of the new data and the old beliefs and basic orientations. In the struggle confusions arise, and there is a loss of communication among many of the students of the field of knowledge. Today science is in the midst of such a struggle. Some of the basic assumptions, that shadow skeleton of our way of organizing experience, are being contradicted by data emerging in a variety of scientific fields." 11

LeShan and Margenau are concerned with the inherent limitations of the physical sciences to adequately describe and explain all manner of phenomena, particularly as new scientific discoveries have revealed microcosms and macrocosms for which standard Newtonian assump­tions about time and space do not hold true. Alternate realities and multiple truths cannot be understood through their physical means alone. Art, parapsychology, ethics, and consciousness all play a part in comprehending these new realities. While much of the book - which deals primarily with scientific theory - is likely to be incomprehensible to most specialists of art, its observations are relevant here for at least two important insights.

The first point is that what artists depict and how their work is understood is limited by the cultural context in which the work was created:

"The artist's search for meaning, values, and organization of the cosmos is not chaotic or random, in each period of development of a culture it is limited in its possibilities and regulated by several factors. First, just like scientists, artists are limited by the technical methods they have available. Scientists could not study bacteria before the invention of the microscope, and artists are similarly restricted. . .

The possibilities open to artists are also limited by the cultural viewpoint within which they live. Each culture makes certain approaches to the infinite impossible or incomprehensible. . . .

The deeply reciprocal nature of the culture and the constructions of reality used, the constant feedback and corrections between 'nature' and 'consciousness,' the 'epistemological feedback,' can be seen perhaps most clearly in this relationship between artists and society. Out of the variety of coherent possibilities that exist within the limits of his cultural world-picture and the artistic inventions known to him, the artist chooses a construction of reality and writes, composes or paints within it. The society chooses which of its artists to pay attention to, and then the artist's conception becomes a factor in shaping the society." 12

In Maoist China the art bureaucracy attempted to condition society's perception of reality by strictly limiting the artists' range of acceptable themes and styles, and by short-circuiting the natural feedback process through the stringent control of all means of criticism. LeShan and Margenau warn:

"The fact that art is a search for new ways of organizing reality is shown, perhaps, by the fact that there is a marked tendency for societies to give the same amount of freedom to art as they give to science; by and large both are controlled to approximately the same degree.

Art and science at any period in a culture may have certain conventions and sacred cows. Those who violate them today in America will not have their pictures hung in galleries or see their papers accepted by scientific journals. There are other cultures with more rigid controls than present-day Western society. In these cultures violation of the conventions and rules of science or art will get one into a prison camp, mental hospital, or sometimes just thrown over a cliff." 13

A second insight worth quoting in relation to contemporary Chinese painting is the fact that artists and scientists approach their subjects differently and that for an image to become a work of art implies a certain inner perception on the part of the painter:

"When an artist tries to paint a picture in a world-view in which he does not live - as a modern artist might try to paint a medieval religious picture - he is not exploring his inner landscape and trying to expand it. He is, rather, painting an outer landscape and describing it. It therefore emerges as a false picture. He is following the method of the scientist, the method adapted to the realm of science, not that of art. The method of science is to search and establish perceptual reality -what is perceived as outside of our inner experience - and to describe it so that we can perceive something new and then change. The method of art is to change our inner experience so that we then perceive the perceptual world (and our inner experience) differently." 14

Many early attempts to synthesize guohua techniques and approaches with new "revolutionary" subject matter failed for precisely this reason. In periods when control over the arts was most absolute (during the many anti-rightist campaigns, for example) artists were not only told what subjects to paint but were also given stylistic directives. Only a chameleon-like illustrator could successfully create in such an environment, so it is not surprising that much of the propaganda art of the period, in style as well as function, is closer to advertising in the West than it is to fine art.

Among all artists, traditional painters had the most difficulty modifying or updating their artistic techniques in order to satisfy the needs of the new society as envisioned by the leaders of the People's Republic. Obviously, Western and Chinese painting had very different roots and very different evolutions; they are the products of completely dissimilar world views and emerge from disparate cultural contexts. That the two worlds should come together in this age of instantaneous global communication should not surprise us, but one of the most curious, even ironic aspects of this cross-cultural exchange is the way in which contemporary Chinese and Western artists and audiences tend to view the other's culture. They often seem to be moving in opposite directions.

Although the intent of the theoreticians, such as Kang Youwei and Cai Yuanpei, was to modernize China 's art following Western models, Xu Beihong's style of academic realism was conservative, perhaps already outdated, by the time it reached China . The repressive policies of the PRC ensured that this type of painting, with some ideological "improvements," became the official means of artistic expression. No attempt was made to keep up with new developments in Western science and art; in fact, these were suppressed just as strenuously as traditional painting was being repressed. As Andrews notes:

"Traditional painting, with its rigorous technical requirements, was by 1979 practiced by only a handful of old painters. It had been eradicated as a living artistic tradition, replaced by the new ways of using Chinese media developed in the academies and local CAA branches of the 1950s and 1960s. Modernism, dimmed by the Japanese invasion of the late 1930s, was extinguished by Communism. Since 1949, realistic oil painting has been fully integrated into the Chinese art world, an attainment that the Westerners of the early 20th century would probably have thought impossible. They might have been equally surprised to find the Chinese art world enthusiastically preserving, practicing, and developing styles of painting defunct in the West for almost a century." 15

Western art was of course undergoing its own revolution, reflecting new concepts of reality engendered by Einstein's Theory of Relativity, quantum mechanics, particle physics and other scientific discoveries and philosophical intuitions. Just when China's artists were mastering a style of painting which they thought was modern, Western artists and critics were rejecting both the style and the cultural construct it represented, and at a time when Western artists such as Picasso, Paul Klee, Mark Toby, and Jackson Pollock were recognizing and embracing non-Western artistic traditions, including Chinese painting and calligraphy, the Chinese themselves were declaring some of these same traditions invalid. While many European and American artists explored alternate views of reality, through investigations into Eastern spirituality and art, (assisted, in some cases, by mind-altering drugs), the mainland Chinese artists found themselves mired in Marxist dogma and bound to a tradition of painting that was trapped in a reality-warp.

It was the Chinese artists working in Taiwan and abroad, including Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), Wang J iqian (C.C. Wang, b. 1907), ZengYouhe (Betty Ecke, b. 1925), Wang Wuxie (Wucius Wong, b. 1936), and others, who discovered and pursued the underlying intellectual and spiritual connections between traditional Chinese painting and 20th century Western art, particularly abstract, non-objective painting. Jeffrey Wechler, in a recent essay discussing East/West interac­tion in modern American art notes:

"Within Abstract Expressionism, the works of artists such as Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, and Adolph Gottlieb have been considered both advanced and innovative, even 'break-throughs,' in technical, compositional, and formal terms. This is an ironic situation for many who are familiar with traditional Asian art and recognize various formal and technical properties of traditional Eastern art that appear to be predecessors, or at least parallels, to visual elements of modern painterly modes of art." 16

Working outside the constraints of the Maoist regime in relatively free artistic environments, Chinese artists outside of the mainland have made great strides in creating a true synthesis of traditional Chinese and modern Western painting styles. It is thus upon the foundation of their work that the future of guohua is likely to be built.

The current exhibition presents the work of a new generation of traditional, guohua painters, active in China , Hong Kong , Taiwan , and overseas. It is true of course that guohua represents only one aspect of Chinese painting, which, in turn, is only one aspect of Chinese art as a whole. Artists working in mainland China today are, at least for the time being, more free to express themselves than they have been for many decades. Not since the 1920s and 1930s, have young Chinese artists been able to explore such a broad range of stylistic and theoretical options and goals. An accurate assessment of the visual arts in today's China would require investigation into an unprecedented variety of media including oil painting, acrylics, watercolor, gouache, sculpture, woodblock prints, ceramics, textiles, film, graphic design, and installation art in addition to the traditional forms of Chinese painting and calligraphy. Artists in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and abroad have of course had many more artistic options open to them and they have already made significant contributions to the field contemporary art. An examination of the current state of guohua as a distinct type of Chinese art, however, is useful because the limited focus of the investigation brings heightened clarity to larger artistic issues.

This generation of younger artists grew up and live at a time when political realities render questions of cultural identity unavoidable. Their relationship to the historical past of China and its traditional values depends to a great extent on where they were raised. In Taiwan many traditional values have been maintained. In mainland China many of these same values have been discarded, or at least discredited. Hong Kong and overseas Chinese have had to grapple with complex questions of identity on a daily basis. However, it is interesting to observe that these individual Chinese artists of diverse backgrounds have found common ground in their choice of medium. Their conscious decision to work with traditional brush and ink applied to absorbent paper, at a time when so many other options are available, indicates at the least a tenuous link to China 's artistic past. As was the case during the first half of this century, the decision to paint guohua will be made for different reasons by different artists. For some, the impetus will be to continue to be part of an unbroken artistic tradition which they can trace back into antiquity, thus reaffirming their own cultural identities. For others, the choice of guohua may be primarily a reaction against the repressive artistic policies of the Communist regime, ostensibly denying their ties to the recent past. For still others, the immediacy and sensitivity of the traditional medium and its unmatched ability to respond to the most subtle of touches, may be reason enough to adopt the art form, affirming the individual's artistic identity, irrespective of his political view­point.

Even for those who have always practiced the discipline of traditional Chinese painting, the period of the 1980s and 1990s seems like a new beginning. This new generation of artists approaches the tradition with fresh eyes and renewed energy. Perhaps they have not all attained the same level of technical prowess that painters of Imperial China would have developed through years of copying calligraphy and old master paintings, but neither are they burdened with the unenviable task of upholding China's artistic legacy and maintaining outmoded cultural values. Guohua need no longer be seen as the only medium capable of expressing the cultural identity of China because it is now clearer than ever before that there is no single identity and no single tradition that represents all Chinese. It is equally clear, however, that, in spite of all attempts to suppress it, traditional Chinese painting is both resilient and relevant. Most of the Chinese painters who worked in both Western and Chinese media demonstrated a distinct preference for the latter during their late years, including Xu Beihong, Lin Fengmian, Liu Haisu, Wu Zuoren (1908-1997), Li Keran (1907-1989), Pan Tianshou (1897-1971), and Shi Lu (1919-1982). Even today, there is something about using brush and ink, like eating food with chopsticks, that feels natural to a Chinese artist.

One may question the extent to which guohua has progressed in the five decades since the founding of the People's Republic, or for that matter, in the nearly nine decades since the fall of the Qing dynasty, but, given the extent and intensity of the criticism aimed at traditional Chinese painting and everything that it stood for, and with the recent availability of so many other artistic options, it is perhaps surprising that the art form has persisted at all. It has been nearly one hundred years since Kang Youwei issued his challenge to "begin a new era by combining Chinese and Western art," and now, a century later, it can be argued that although this lofty ideal has yet to be fully realized, the fundamental questions of artistic and cultural identity are posed today with far greater clarity than ever before. In any case, one hundred years in the history of China is like the blink of an eye.

We can anticipate significant changes in Chinese art in general and guohua in particular, but the direction, or directions, of the new painting cannot be predicted with any accuracy because the global context in which we live is vastly different from that of Kang Youwei, Cai Yuanpei or Xu Beihong. Western domination of technology and the world economy is no longer a simple matter of fact, and economists, politicians, and businessman increasingly look to Asia for the future. Many aspects of popular culture have become globalized and most large companies are international in scope. Young people the world over listen to the same music, eat the same style hamburgers, and wear the same brand sneakers. In cyberspace, national borders do not exist and information moves across continents at lightning speed. Modern communications and transpor­tation have made all markets international, including the art market.

In an age of rapid information exchange and an increasingly global popular culture, it is almost certain that a truly international style of art in oils, acrylics or, more likely, some yet-to-be-in­vented digital medium will be developed in the 21st century. Chinese artists, no doubt, will play a major role in this development. Cross-cultural artistic exchanges will become so commonplace and will occur so quickly, and stylistic influences will be so vast and complex that national or even regional characteristics will be difficult, if not impossible, to discern. Artists from all over the world, including those from China , will be able to express their individual perceptions of new global realities in a truly international, multicultural forum.

This multicultural environment will recognize shared cultural values but it will also embrace cultural differences and encourage the preservation and development of traditional art forms. As popular culture becomes more global, it will also become more homogenized and the unique characteristics of a particular culture or ethnic group become all the more distinctive and significant. As cultures co-mingle rather than collide, the purity of each artistic tradition will be left free to be rediscovered. Traditional Chinese painting can coexist with works in other media, as they exist today or as they will appear in the future, and it need neither replace nor be replaced by any other art form. Guohua will survive and continue to flourish because of its unique and timeless artistic qualities: expressiveness of line, simplicity of form, and purity of spirit.

The present exhibition, which brings together the work of fifty-eight artists active throughout Asia and in the West, may be thought of as one bench-mark by which later developments may be measured and evaluated. These varying stylistic approaches applied to a wide range of subjects define the current state of guohua as well as suggest some of the new paths worthy of future exploration.


Arnold Chang



  1. Julia F. Andrews, Painters and Politics in the People's Republic of China, 1949-1979, Berkeley , Los Angeles , London , 1994, p. 11.
  2. I use the terms guohua and "traditional Chinese painting" interchangeably, to refer to work painted with traditional Chinese pigments on traditional paper or silk. Andrews discusses the tetm guohua and its multiple meanings, in ibid., p. 50.
  3. Kang Youwei, Travels in Eleven European Countries and Painting Catalogue of the Thatched Hut among Myriad Trees Collection, quoted in Lawrence Wu, "Kang Youwei and the Westernisation of Modern Chinese Art," Orientations (March 1990), pp. 47-48.
  4. Cai Yuanpei, "Sanshiwu nian lai zhongguo zhi xinwenhua," quoted in Andrews, op. cit, p. 12.
  5. Kang Youwei, Painting Catalogue of the Thatched Hut among Myriad Trees Collection , Wu, loc.cit.
  6. Jonathan D. Spence, The Search for Modern China, New York and London , 1990, p. 225.
  7. Quoted in Michael Sullivan, Art and Artists of Twentieth-Century China, Berkeley , Los Angeles , London , 1966, p. 65.
  8. In addition to Andrews and Sullivan, see Jerome Silbergeld with Gong Jisui, Contradictions, Artistic Life, the Socialist State, and the Chinese Painter Li Huasheng, Seattle and London, 1993; Joan Lebold Cohen, The New Chinese Painting 1949-1986, New York, 1987; and Ellen J. Laing, The Winking Owl: Art in the People's Republic of China, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1988. Compare my naive and overly optimistic study Painting in the People's Republic of China: the Politics of Style, Boulder , 1980.
  9. Andrews, op. cit., p. 2.
  10. Lawrence Leshan and Henry Margenau, Einstein's Space and Van Gogh's Sky: Physical Reality and Beyond, New York , 1982, p. 188.
  11. Ibid ., p. 3.
  12. Ibid ,, p. 184.
  13. Ibid ., pp. 187-188.
  14. Ibid ., p. 185.
  15. Andrews, op. cit., p. 401.
  16. Jeffrey Wechsler, ed., Asian Traditions/Modern Expressions: Asian American Artists and Abstraction 1945-1970, New York , 1997, p. 11.

Preface by Howard Rogers
Foreword by K. Y. Ng
The Return to Tradition and the Resurgence of Individuality: New Developments in Contemporary Chinese Painting
Shadow Skeletons and New Realities-Guohua and Cultural Identity
Chinese Painting after the End of Art
Online Catalogue