AAH-194 Visual Culture in Communist China

A Union College Art History Course, Spring 2023

Category: Exhibition Themes (Page 2 of 2)

Pan Yuliang Exhibition Theme

Pan Yuliang (1895-1977) was a female artist who remained active for most of her life. She created artwork during the May Fourth Movement (1919) and the Modernist movement (which lasted into the 1940s). These movements aimed to break free of traditional practices by calling for gender equality as well as incorporating Western-style paintings (i.e. color and oil). Out of these movements, Pan drew inspiration from Matisse’s (1869-1954) Impressionist style (which began in the 1860s) and use of bright colors. Throughout all of her paintings, she becomes vulnerable, sharing her experiences and longings as a Chinese woman in twentieth-century China.  

Throughout this exhibition, I will describe Pan’s longings, growth, and acceptance of herself and her experiences. As a female painter, Pan experienced enormous backlash. This was because Pan’s exploration of herself through nudity was not accepted in Chinese society. Traditionally, men were privileged with exploring the nude body while women were sheltered from this subject. Pan took this a step further by connecting her personal experiences to her paintings. Her exploration of this often disgusted viewers because they believed it was perverted, and that women were meant to create dainty images that did not contain self-exploration. 

This exhibition will include My Family (1931), Self-Portrait with Chrysanthemums (1940), Seated Nude (1953), Mother and Child (on the beach) (1961), and Self-portrait (1963).  The first two paintings: Figure 1 and Figure 2 are not nude portraits. Introducing the exhibition with non-nude portraits and then finishing it with nude portraits shows Pan’s shift from societal constraints to societal freedom. Pan’s critique of Confucius/traditional values become more prevalent throughout the years. To be more specific, Figure 1 subtly addresses passion over family through a portrait of her family. Figure 2 tackles beauty and tradition by displaying an inaccurate self-portrait with traditional Chinese symbols. The shift in Pan’s freedom can be seen in Figure 3 as it embraces the curves of the body but at the same time, shelters the body. This is to more openly explain Pan’s grievances on the body shaming she received. Pan becomes more daring in Figure 4 by showing a mother breastfeeding her baby in public. This was an extremely taboo subject, especially presenting it nude. She was also commenting on her longing of being a mother. Finally, Figure 5 portrays Pan (in her old age), content, alone, drinking, and fully embracing herself and free of social constraints. 

Figure 1. Pan Yuliang, My Family. Oil on canvas, (1931). Image source: Facebook post in Who Does She Think She Is?


Figure 2. Pan Yuliang, Self-Portrait with Chrysanthemums. Oil on canvas, (1940), 35 3/8” x
25 1/4″. Image source: “The Art of Pan Yuliang: Fashioning the Self in Modern China.”


Figure 3. Pan Yuliang, Seated Nude. Oil on canvas, (1953), 13″ x 18 1/4″. Image source: Great Women Painters 


Figure 4. Pan Yuliang, Mother and Child (on the beach). Oil on canvas, (1961), 99 x 80 cm. Image source: Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art.


Figure 5. Pan Yuliang, Self-portrait. Oil on canvas, (1963), 12 3/8″ x 10 1/8″. Image source: “The Art of Pan Yuliang: Fashioning the Self in Modern China.”



Hunegs, Simon, and Maia Murphy. Great Women Painters. Edited by Simon Hunegs and Maia Murphy. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2022.

Ng, Sandy. “The Art of Pan Yuliang: Fashioning the Self in Modern China.” Woman’s Art Journal 40, no. 1 (2019): 21–30. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26746738.

Teo, Phyllis, et al. Rewriting Modernism: Three Women Artists in Twentieth- Century China: Pan Yuliang, Nie Ou and Yin Xiuzhen. Leiden University Press, 2016.

Wallace, Keith, ed. Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, 2010. http://yishu-online.com/wp-content/uploads/mm-products_issues/uploads/yishu_38_v09_03.pdf.

“Who Does She Think She Is?” Facebook, July 7, 2016. https://www.facebook.com/WhoDoesSheThinkSheIs/photos/a.77451845937/10153509411145938/?type=3.

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.

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