AAH-194 Visual Culture in Communist China

A Union College Art History Course, Spring 2023

Author: Kobe Mentzer

Qi Baishi Exhibition Theme

Qi Baishi is one of the most well-known Chinese artists in history and his main period of producing art was during the late 1800s until the mid-1900s. His painting differed in the subject, but they always followed the theme of relatability. Qi was born to a poor family and through fortune he found his artistic talent and voice that he was able to share with the world. However, he always stayed true to his poorer roots and made sure that his art was easily enjoyed by both the wealthy and the poor citizens of China. In order to accomplish this Qi decided to paint many images that most people have seen before in nature. (Image 1) 

This was valuable in changing the artistic landscape in the 20th century because Qi’s personal style broke away from the traditional Chinese style of painting. In most of his works, he didn’t use the classic Chinese calligraphy that was used in traditional Chinese art. (Cao, 1) This allowed other artists to break away even further from the chains of traditional styles of painting. He was able to do this because his art was not motivated by the political changes in China. Instead, he was able to remain isolated from outside pressures on what others thought art should look like. (Image 2)

Another reason Qi’s art was able to remain unchanged regardless of the changing political landscape was because of his widespread popularity. He gained this popularity because his art followed a playful style which was a stark difference from what others were painting during this time. In Image 3 Qi shows his sheer artistic talent and just by looking at it the widely spread popularity of his art is more believable because his style is simple yet detailed and visually appealing. The color of both the duck and the flowers complement themselves and calms the viewer because the piece is not trying to say too much instead it is just a lovely scene in time.

Image 1:Qi Baishi Just Became the First Chinese Artist to Break the $100 Million  Mark at Auction
Image 2:

Tiger by Qi Baishi on artnet

Image 3:

Qi Baishi – China Online Museum

Work Cited:

Image 1: YouTube, 23 February 2022, https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fnews.artnet.com%2Fmarket%2Fqi-baishi-record-140m-beijing-1182881&psig=AOvVaw1UY9Q96MkakOkuP0A580k_&ust=1683850199717000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CBAQjRxqFwoTCNCTk_r86_4CFQAAAAAdAAAAABAJ. Accessed 10 May 2023.

Image 2: YouTube, 23 February 2022, https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.artnet.com%2Fartists%2Fqi-baishi%2Ftiger-ikqVanc8voAlwAOU9MOzBQ2&psig=AOvVaw1UY9Q96MkakOkuP0A580k_&ust=1683850199717000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CBAQjRxqFwoTCNCTk_r86_4CFQAAAAAdAAAAABAR. Accessed 10 May 2023.

Image 3: YouTube, 23 February 2022, https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.comuseum.com%2Fpainting%2Fmasters%2Fqi-baishi%2F&psig=AOvVaw1UY9Q96MkakOkuP0A580k_&ust=1683850199717000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CBAQjRxqFwoTCNCTk_r86_4CFQAAAAAdAAAAABAE. Accessed 10 May 2023.

Cao, Cheng. Merging Past and Future Forms: Qi Baishi’s Landscape Painting. Maryland Institute College of Art, 2014.

Qi Baishi Webpage

Qi Baishi

This article is really informative about the history of Qi Baishi’s life. It describes his life and how it relates to his eventual artistic style. It also shows the awards he received which is important to understanding his value to the Chinese art landscape. It also talks about his training which shows how much he cared for his art and it gives background as to how he was able to make his pieces that were popular.

I chose this webpage because I believe in order to understand the artist that Qi Baishi was, you should understand his childhood and how that made him create art that appealed to everyone.


Qi Baishi, Stealing the Wine Vat

Qi Baishi, Stealing the Wine Vat, before 1957. Ink and wash painting. (Smithsonian) 

Stealing the Wine Vat is a painting by Qi Baishi and he used ink and wash painting. The image Baishi painted is very simple; a man is sleeping on a wine vat and has dropped his ladle. The painting is organized such that the image is in the bottom left and there is writing at the top right of the painting. The painting has no setting, and the scene is in stasis because the man appears to be deep in sleep. The relationship between the painting and the viewer is a comical one because the story that is depicted is a well-known comedic story in Ancient China. The image is ​​35.9 x 25.8 cm which is pretty small showing that the image may not be of a grand event, but instead a normal moment in time. The proportions of the painting are also true to life because the man doesn’t look much bigger than the vat of wine or ladle. The painting references a scene from a story in Chinese history where an official named Bi Zhuo, “was so drunk that he stumbled into a neighbor’s house and continued to drink from an urn of wine. Inebriated, he fell asleep next to it.” (Smithsonian: 1) The characteristics of the painting follow Qi’s style of playfulness and realism in art. Many of Qi’s works were designed to entertain the viewer with the whimsical side of art. Rather than making art about controversial or heavy topics Qi’s art inspired lightheartedness in the viewer. The realism in this painting contributes to this theme as well because Qi was amused by this story so he decided to tell the story as close to his imagination of it as possible. One of the reasons Qi was so successful is due to his accurate portrayal of events that many people witness because they relate easily to his style and point of view. 



“Home.” n.d. YouTube. Accessed April 20, 2023. https://asia.si.edu/object/F1998.67/.

Qi Baishi Biography

Qi Baishi – China Online MuseumQi Baishi Was born in 1863 to a peasant farmer in the Hunan province. He was too weak to help his family out on his farm so instead, he became a carpenter mastering the fine skills of the job. After his marriage, he decided to become a full-time painter and studied portraits with the famous Xiao Xianghai. Baishi believed that art should be made from things people have all seen before so he decided to make art that all people could enjoy because they have experienced the subject of his painting before. Known mostly for his traditional style of Chinese art using mostly watercolors to depict his subjects. Through his style in painting for the masses Baishi was able to stay true to his values in his art during the very tumultuous late 1800s and early 1900s in China. Using traditional Chinese painting techniques allowed him to remain popular no matter the time period because artists like himself maintained China’s history through extremely tough times.


Chao, Wang. “Qi Baishi.” New World Encyclopedia, https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Qi_Baishi#Life. Accessed 9 April 2023.

Kobe Mentzer

My name is Kobe and I am a Managerial Economics major. I enjoy all types of history and am excited to learn more about 20th Century China. I have always loved sports and am ready to explore my artistic side more. I recently studied abroad in Greece which enhanced my love for art and other cultures. With this class, I intend to learn more about Communist China and how people portray feelings through art. In my free time, I enjoy playing baseball, the ukulele, and watching professional sports.

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