AAH 194: Visual Culture in Communist China

Union College, Spring 2022

Category: Artists’ Biographies (Page 1 of 2)

Yin Xiuzhen

Yin Xiuzhen, 59 today, grew up in Beijing, impoverished during the Cultural Revolution.  Xiuzhen was raised in one of the city’s siheyuan that were demolished during urban reconstruction efforts in the 1990s.  Yin utilizes her work to pay homage to the remnants of destruction caused by urbanization such as her childhood home.  She uses recycled objects such as fabric, found objects, keepsakes, concrete and discarded building materials to create her sculptures and installations.  Her pieces bring attention to the individual and collective histories of these found objects as well as the demolished cities and lives they represent.  This is prevalent in her piece Transformation, where she collected thousands of roof tiles from the demolished  siheyuan and attached photographs of the neighborhood on each tile, using the debris to create art that celebrates the memory of the old courtyard houses.  Her work also specifically focuses on the environmental issues produced by industrialization, such as Washing the River, where 10,000 liters of frozen water are arranged and washed to illustrate the cleaning of the polluted river.  Yin is considered to be a contemporary artist.  At the time the avant garde movement was dominated by men, but this did not prevent women like Yin Xiuzhen from speaking out about the environmental decline of China and the unwanted impacts of excessive urbanization and the growing global economy.

“Washing the River” August 12, 2017

Ai Weiwei

Born in 1957, Ai Weiwei is the son of Ai Qing, a poet whose participation in Communist agitation in Shanghai throughout the 1930s got him imprisoned. Ai is similarly revolutionary, as the variety of mediums he works with, including photography, sculpture, film and performance, are unified under the theme of challenging authority. He studied at the Beijing Film Academy before attending Parsons School of Design, and spent the 1980s in New York City. He returned to China in 1993 as a designer, and emerged as an outspoken intellectual. He produced Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn in 1995, a set of three photographs which document Ai holding, dropping, and standing over the remains of a 2,000 year old Han dynasty urn. Urns appear often in Ai’s work, commenting on mass consumption, individuality and censorship. In 2011, the Chinese government imprisoned him for 81 days. Ai left China in 2015, and currently resides in Berlin.

Huang Yong Ping

Huang Yongping was born in 1954 in Xiamen, located in the Fujian province which is in the south west region of China. Huang was considered one of the most recognized artists of the 1980s for his innovative, yet controversial works. His work began to be considered controversial when he started to burn his pieces when they were completed. However this unique practice of anarchic art began to put Huang in the national spotlight allowing him to travel west to Paris where he spent much of his later life. Growing up in China Huang was morphed by western philosophy, art, and teachings however as he spent more time in France his artwork began to reflect styles more typically see in the east. This allowed Huang to explore works with more politically posed messages that outraged not only the Chinese, but Americans too as he mixed the two cultures in his works showing the divide between eastern and western ideologies.  

Zhang Hongtu 张宏图

Zhang Hongtu was born in 1943 in Gansu Province in the northwest of China to a Muslim family. He studied at a high school attached to the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts in Beijing. Having lived through the cultural revolution, Zhang witnessed book burnings and killings which led him to conclude that this was not a revolution but a destruction of culture. Zhang Hongtu’s status as a Muslim also cast him in a tumultuous relationship with modern China. In 1957 his father, a devout Muslim who had devoted his time to teaching Arabic around China, was labelled a Rightist, a counterrevolutionary. His father managed to avoid being sent to a reeducation camp, however his family was marked with the stigma of a traitor. In 1982 Zhang Hongtu left China after enrolling in the Art Student League in New York. Primarily a painter, Zhang Hongtu works in a variety of media in creating his own art combining influences from both East and West with criticisms of both.

Fig. 1, Zhong, Hongtu, “The Last Banquet,” Laser prints pages from the Red Book and acrylic on canvas, 1989, Collection of the artist

Zhang, Hongtu, Interview with Jonathan Hays. Boundaries in China. London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 1995

Zhang, Hongtu, Interview with Martin Powers, Ars Orientalis Volume 49, Michigan Publishing, 2018

Guan Zilan

Guan Zilan (关紫兰; January 1903 – 30 June 1986) was a Chinese avant-garde painter. She was born in Shanghai, China. She was one of the most famous female artists in China in the 20th century and was the first artist to introduce Fauvism to China. She was known for applying Western painting style to Chinese traditional subjects.

Her parents were successful textile merchants involved in textile design, which exposed Guan to artistic education since her childhood. She went to school at the Shanghai Shenzhou Girls’ school before attending the China Art University where she studied western painting under the famous artist, Chen Baoyi and Hong Ye. Guan Zilan went aboard to Japan at the Tokyo Institute of Culture: Bunka Gakuin, to pursue painting, after graduating in 1927. She was influenced a lot by western modern art, especially post-impressionism and, more notably, fauvism.

Guan became very famous both in Japan and China, she was regarded as the embodiment of the “modern girl,” as a female artist trained in western styles. After she returned to China, she became a professor at Shanghai art college. After 1949, when the communists took over China, she worked at the Shanghai Research Institute of Culture and History and became a member of China Artists. She changed her artistic style to align with socialist realism dominant in Communist China. She was a leader among female artists until the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 when she stopped painting.

Her most famous work is Portrait of Miss L. (1929).


“Guan Zilan – 12 Artworks – Painting”. 2022. Www.Wikiart.Org. https://www.wikiart.org/en/guan-zilan.

“Guan Zilan – Chinese New Art – Chinesenewart”. 2022. Chinesenewart.Com. https://www.chinesenewart.com/chinese-artists15/guanzilan.htm.

“Guan Zilan – Wikipedia”. 2022. En.Wikipedia.Org. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guan_Zilan.

Feng Zikai

Regarding Chinese cartoons, Feng Zikai (1898-1975) is one of the representatives whose art works involve a variety of topics, and he was also well-known writer, calligrapher, scholar, musician, and translator. Feng was a native of Tongxiang in Zhejiang Province (the South China), who was born during a turbulent period. During the first half of Feng’s life, he has experienced the major reform of Chinese society and various significant conflicts and wars, such as Sino-Japanese War and civil wars. Since the experience of studying abroad in Japan in the spring of 1921, Feng has received great influence from the Westernization and Japanese arts. Also, Feng’s works have strong concerns of Buddhist belief, humanitarianism, and individualism. After the publication of his Zi Kai Man Hua (the collection of Feng’s cartoons) in 1924, Feng was regarded as the father of contemporary Chinese cartoons. Hu Sheng Hua Ji (Paintings for the Preservation of Life) was created between 1927 and 1973, which is one of his most famous art works that involves profound Buddhism inspiration.


Lin, Su-Hsing. “Feng Zikai’s Art and the Kaiming Book Company: Art for the People in Early Twentieth Century China”. The Ohio State University / OhioLINK, 2003.

Huang Yong Ping Artist Bio

Huang Yong Ping was a Chinese-French contemporary artist who was born on February 18th, 1954. He was born in Xiamen which is an fourth largest island in the Fujian providence. He is a self taught artist, but later went back and graduated from an art school in Hangzhou. At the age of 35 he traveled to Paris which was a contemporary art exhibition. This was when he fell in love with France and moved there for the rest of his life until his passing on October 20th, 2019. Huang was in Paris during the Tiananmen Square massacre however decided not to return to China after that. He then also change his focus primarily on Taoist and Buddhist philosophies. He became one of the most famous, controversial, and pro China Avant-garde artist. He is the founder of the group Xiamen Dada. The motto for this group was Zen is Dada, Dada is Zen.

“Huang Yong Ping.” Kamel Mennour, https://kamelmennour.com/artists/huang-yong-ping.

Zhang Daqian Bio

Zhang Daqian or also known as Chang Dai-chien was born May 10th, 1899 to a poor, artistic family in the Sichuan Province of China. He first became a very famous traditionalist painter and later on became known for his modern impressionist and expressionist works as a painter. He started painting at a young age with his first work coming at age twelve. This work was for a traveling fortune teller who wanted new diving cards and so he painted her new ones. Then, he went on to study.  He started learning about art in 1917 when he went to Kyoto to learn about buying textiles. After that he went to Shanghai to study. He studied two very famous artists by the name of Zeng Xi and Li Ruiqing. He also had an older brother who was a famous painter at the time that helped him learn. After learning in Shanghai he moved to Beijing and met more famous artists. He became friends with Pu Xinyu and collaborated with him. A famous saying came out of this, “Chang from the south, Pu from the north” as they both became renowned. In the 1930s he started to get noticed world wide. He was invited to France after his exhibited painting was bought by the French government. Then, he accepted a position to be a professor at the National Central University Art Department in Nanjing. Later on in that year in 1936 his portfolio was published in Shanghai and the following year it was held in the UK. He then started leading other artists in reproducing other artists’ works. But one of his biggest achievements was being invited to an exhibition in The Louvre and Musee Guimet in Paris where he met Picasso. Picasso was excited to meet him and asked for a critique of his own Chinese paintings. As he got older his eyesight started to decline and it led him to create a new style of his called splash color, or pocai style. This style combined abstract expressionism with traditional Chinese painting styles. 

Below is one of Zhang’s famous works “Alishan in Oblique Sunrise”

Andrews, Julia Frances. The Art of Modern China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/heb.32156. EPUB.

Zhang Daqian, https://web.archive.org/web/20110427014113/http://www3.icm.gov.mo/gate/gb/www.icm.gov.mo/exhibition/daqian/BiographyE.asp.


About: O Zhang

Female photographer and mixed media artist, O Zhang, most famously known for her series of photographs: Daddy and I. She is trained in Photography and film, and also has experience in installation. Zhang was born in the city of Guangzhou, China on November 23, 1976. Forced to leave their home due to pressures of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Zhang and her family fled to the edge of Jishou, located in the Hunan Province. “In the countryside Zhang was exposed to and learned the language of ethnic minority groups like the Miao and the Tujia, and demonstrated her ability to adapt to situations where she was an “outsider”” (Karetzky, pg. 18). Zhang remembers her rural childhood as a peaceful and colorful one. These aesthetics are present in many of her works, but specifically her exhibition, Horizon, where she captures the innocence of female children in remote central China. Zhang is a graduate of Royal College of Art in London and Central Academy of Art in Beijing, since then she has been working and traveling between New York and Beijing.

O Zhang. “My Name is Zhang O.” Who Am I. Ed. Patricia Eichenbaum Karetzky. New York: Chinese-American Arts Council, Inc., 2004. 18-19-20.

Cai Guo-Qiang

Cai Guo-Qiang was born in 1957 in Quanzhou City in the Fujian Province of China. He is a well-known Chinese pyrotechnical contemporary artist who started his career as a stage designer. This specific concentration helped him become comfortable with larger performance artworks pertaining to his style which utilizes gunpowder and explosives. Since the mid-1980s, Cai Guo-Qiang had been creating art events and projects that emphasize the cosmic laws of opposition between creation and destruction yin and yang. Cai Guo-Qiang continued to evolve the scale and form of these gunpowder works. Initially, he started by using explosive gunpowder on canvas, which eventually led him to develop his signature outdoor explosion events. A notable artwork made by Cai Guo-Qiang is the Sky Ladder which is a 1,650-foot-tall ladder, held aloft by a giant balloon and rigged with explosives. As the massive sculpture ignites, it creates a fiery vision that miraculously ascends to the heavens. He currently lives and works in New York City and New Jersey, however earlier in his career he mainly worked in Japan which helped him turn his conceptual ideas into reality.

Guo-Qiang, Cai, and Octavio Zaya. “Portfolio.” Grand Street, no. 67 (1999): 120–25.






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