Synopsis: Qi Baishi was one of China's most famous painters, very adept at painting shrimps, insects and small animals. These two stories demonstrate his hard-working approach and disciplined spirit.
In his youth, a master seal (chop) engraver told Qi: "Carry home a full load of foundation stones and work them all into mud. Then your engraving will be acceptable." So Qi picked a load of foundation stones and polished and engraved around the clock. Day after day, year after year, less and less stone remained, and the stone dust became thick mud on the ground. Thus Qi reached the pinnacle of the art of seal engraving.
One birthday when master Qi was elderly, guests flocked to his home from morning to night. Next day, Qi got up early and went straight to the studio to paint. His family tried to persuade him to eat breakfast, but he just painted, refusing to take a break. When urged again to rest, Qi said gently: “Yesterday there were too many guests and no painting. Today I need to paint extra to make up for yesterday’s leisure”.
Significance: Qi Baishi is the most influential artist in China's contemporary and modern art history, and one of a handful of Chinese artists whose works sell well at international art markets. Qi's paintings have sold for nearly as much as Western household names, such as Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. One fairly recent auction saw a Qi Baishi painting sell for US $65 million. Qi Baishi painted many tadpoles and shrimps. “Little Tadpoles Look for Mother”, a short animation film which won several industry recognitions, including awards at Annecy, Cannes, and Locarno, applied Chinese brushpainting to animation.
Link: This resource links to the Media Studies Unit: Distinctively Chinese, item 1. The animated film “Little Tadpoles Look for Mama” drew inspiration from Qi Baishi’s paintings of shrimps and fish.
2. The story of Xu Beihong
Synopsis: Xu Beihong learned Chinese painting with his father from a young age. After seeing replicas of paintings from the Louvre, Xu Beihong was captivated and wanted to study them in person. In 1919, Xu arrived in Paris, France, to study. During the day, he attended art school or painted in the museums. In the evenings he worked in his room. Eventually, he became a world-famous painter. Xu Beihong loved painting animals, especially horses and lions. His painting “Galloping Horse” is a masterpiece: people stand in front of the picture looking at the horse as if they can hear the hoof beats. To paint horses so well, Xu not only spent many years learning and perfecting the art techniques but also studying and observing horses. Similarly, he spent three months visiting a zoo daily to observe and paint the lions.
Significance: Xu Beihong sought to reinvent Chinese art. He was open to foreign influences, studying widely overseas, and mastered painting both in oils and in Chinese ink. Much of his work combines traditional brush and ink techniques with modern Western composition and perspective. As an artist and art teacher, he strongly influenced the direction of modern Chinese art. Xu’s art policies, dating from the beginning of the communist era, continue to influence government art policy as well as the overall direction taken in the various art colleges and universities throughout China.
Synopsis: Born into a Beijing Opera family, Mei began to study opera when he was eight years old. He studied the female roles. Boys learning the female roles had to sing, read and act like girls or women. His teacher spent a long time teaching Mei but he did not learn well, and was nearly rejected for further training. Yet Mei was determined to sing well. He spent time pondering his roles, and practised twenty or thirty times what others practised only a few times. In this way, he finally developed a sweet singing voice. To develop expressive eyes, particularly important for the female roles, Mei kept a few pigeons, following their flight as an eye exercise. He also often watched fish swimming in the water. Gradually his eyes became flexible and expressive; people started to comment that Mei Lanfang’s eyes could speak.
Significance: Mei Lanfang is the most famous Beijing opera artist in modern history, known exclusively for his lifelike portrayal of female qingyi roles. He was the first person to take Peking Opera to the world, staging a world tour in the 1930s.
Link: This resource is also part of The Arts area of study, unit Beijing Opera.
4. Young Nie Er
Significance: Nie Er is most famous for composing the March of the Volunteers, the national anthem of the People's Republic of China. He died in his early 20s, but still has a reputation as “the people’s musician”.
4. Wang Xizhi learning calligraphy
Significance: Wang Xizhi (c.303–361) is the most highly esteemed Chinese calligrapher of all time. He was a master of all forms, but particularly the semi-cursive script. None of his original works survive, though his reputation continues based on copies of his work, some dating back to the 600s.
5. Just heart and upright brush — Liu Gongquan
Synopsis: Liu Gongquan advised the emperor that the secret to good calligraphy, as to governing the country, was the integrity of one’s character: “Holding the brush is based on the heart. If the heart is proper then the brush will be proper and the calligraphy will be right.”
Significance: Liu Gongquan (c.778–865) is one of the masters of calligraphy from the late Tang dynasty.
7. Wang Mian’s study of painting
8. The artist and the buffalo boy
9. My stage
This is a personal account of her childhood by Wu Shuang, a famous Chinese coloratura soprano, playwright, painter and writer.
10. A memorable painting
Audio text: 《一幅难忘的画》课文朗读
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