AAH 194: Visual Culture in Communist China

Union College, Spring 2022

Ten Thousand Crimson Hills

Ten Thousand Crimson Hills, Li Keran, ink and color on paper (1962).

Ten Thousand Crimson Hills is one of Li Keran’s most well known pieces. This work is an ink and color on paper created in 1962, in response to some criticism faced in a line from Mao Zedong’s 1925 “Changsha” poem (Hawks 2017: 69). Clearly this is a landscape piece, with vast mountains in the background, a waterfall flowing into diverging streams, and an abundance of trees surrounding a small village. Other than the painted affect of running water, the rest of the work remains in stasis. The size of this piece is 53.1 x 33.5 in. The vertical length of this work helps add a grand feel as the mountains are able to be painted more enormous. The mountains get lighter the farther back the viewer looks, adding more depth to the piece and showing how immense the landscape of China is. Individual brush strokes are able to be seen more easily when looking under the dots of red painted. Obviously, the color red is a big component to this piece as this color is associated with communism. The red in this piece is used to portray leaves and other plant life throughout the mountain, which is why the red look is so extensive. The pretty trees and giant mountains being painted this way points to the massive national pride and beauty of China, as this scene is very beautiful. Li also painted this piece in red as a line in Mao’s poem mentioned earlier, entailed that Li’s paintings don’t have enough color, as he responded to this by making “crimson hills” in this piece. Much of Li’s past works were completely in black in white which is how this criticism began. Ten Thousand Crimson Hills still received criticism, as a reviewer from a 1964 issue of Fine Arts said this work had a “sad atmosphere”, the opposite of what Mao’s poem was trying to portray (Hawks 2017: 71).


Hawks, Shelley Drake. The Art of Resistance: Painting by Candlelight in Mao’s China. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017.


Chinese Ink Masterpiece Sells for $28m – Culture … http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/culture/art/2015-11/16/content_22465529.htm.


Political Propaganda Posters


Portrait of Miss L. (1929)

1 Comment

  1. Elaine Du

    I think that it was really interesting that this piece was made in response to the artist’s past works, and how Li Keran was known for mostly monochromatic paintings suddenly shifted to painting something full of vibrant color and energy. In a way it feels sarcastic, by employing the use of so much color and demanding the audiences attention, after hearing criticisms of his previous artwork not having enough color.

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