AAH-194 Visual Culture in Communist China

A Union College Art History Course, Spring 2023

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Sadie Hill Exhibition Theme

Zhang Hongtu is a Chinese artist living and working in Queens, New York. He was young at the beginning of the cultural revolution in Beijing. Members of his family lost jobs and were killed as a result of his being muslim and overall violence of that political era, so Mao and the cultural revolution heavily influences his work. Zhang’s style is contemporary with a pop art technique. I was drawn to his art because of the humor that radiates from his works. His portfolio is fun and funny with a flare that we only just started seeing from some of the modernism we are looking at in class which makes sense because Zhang made many of his works in the 1980’s. I also like the sense of rebellion his art portrays as the portraits and sculptures he creates are of highly controversial and oftentimes taboo topics that would likely be seen differently if viewed in china rather than America.

For my exhibition, I would like to highlight the work Zhang Hongtu does in relation to the image of Mao. In class we studied the importance and historical significance of Mao’s image; how it has been policed and micromanaged ever since he came into power. Zhang Hongtu has many images of Mao that he made throughout the 80s and 90s. I would like to take some images of Mao made by Zhang Hongtu, and some made by other sanctioned artists (Mao’s Tiannamen portrait, portraits painted by the red guards, portraits allowed by Zhang’s wife) and juxtapose them in the same space. The goal is to reveal how an image of a person changes when there is complete artistic freedom versus when the artist is confined to the rules and regulations of a certain regime.

Below, I’ve included one image of Mao by Zhang Hongtu, and the current painting of Mao Zedong inn Tiananmen Square. The portrait by Zhang is called “Mao After Picasso” and it is from 2012. I plan on placing these two images adjacent to each other in a very prominent area of the exhibit. I think they show exactly what I am looking to portray in this exhibit. Because of the colors, angles, expressions and overall compositions, these are two completely different Mao’s. When walking around this exhibit, I hope the audience would question not only Mao Zedong, but leaders and politicians in their own life and how imagery sanctioned by those in power changes their perspective of the person. Because, even something as simple as the shape of their face, can completely change a persons persona.


“Q. and A.: The Artist Zhang Hongtu on Appropriating Mao’s Image.” New York Times, March 21st, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/22/world/asia/zhang-hongtu-artist-mao-china.html


Feng Zikai Exhibition Theme

Feng Zikai was an influential artist spanning from 1898 to 1975. Feng Zikai was well known for his cartoons focused on the message of innocence. His work took traditional Chinese ink techniques to create easy to interpret works that would be enjoyable to viewers of any age.  Feng Zikai created comics during eras of political conflicts, such as the Sino-Japanese war of 1937-1945, and the Chinese Civil War of 1945-1949. With times of intense political conflict such as these, artists were limited in their creative liberty. Many popular well-accepted works of this period followed certain guidelines and political propaganda messages. Feng Zikai focused on his messages of innocence and the image of children instead of creating overly political comics which had set him apart from other artists of this time. Feng Zikai was a father, and it was no secret that his own children had served as an inspiration for his works. The familial ties that he held to his subjects allowed for his work to be even more intimate. Today, Feng Zikai’s art is praised for being some of the first children’s illustrations while also providing beautiful messages of innocence that everyone could hold onto.

For my exhibition, I wanted to focus on one of the most prominent and important themes that Feng Zikai had repeatedly used. The imagery of children and the metaphor for innocence is important in much of Feng Zikai’s works, and for my exhibit I would like to honor that. I would like to display some of his most impactful works with the imagery of children used in it, such as “Broken Heart” and the “Education” series that he had created. I found the way that Feng Zikai used symbolism was beautiful and perfectly captured the essence of childhood and humility. These two works capture the imagination and the weight of emotion that a child understands more than an adult. In “Education No 2” the child is seen pretending to have a bike with fan plants. The child seems content and fulfilled despite the simplicity of their belongings. On the other hand, the child in “Broken Heart” is shown in distress due to a broken toy. This image is a large contrast to the political setting that Feng Zikai had been in as he worked on this image. His works feel light and gentle, and with my exhibit I would like to reflect that. The aspect of innocence was more powerful than politics in Feng Zikai’s work, and the exhibition would reflect that as well.


Left: “Broken Heart”, 1926          Right: “Education No 2” 1927


Hung, Chang-Tai. “The Fuming Image: Cartoons and Public Opinion in Late Republican China, 1945 to 1949.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 36, no. 1 (1994): 122–45. http://www.jstor.org/stable/179329.

Laureillard, Marie. Regret of spring: The child according to Feng Zikai. 2014.
Accessed April 20, 2023. https://hal.science/hal-00983929/document.


Ai Weiwei Exhibition Theme

Ai Weiwei, Study of Perspective: Tiananmen
Color Photograph

Ai Weiwei is known for his architectural designs as well as his shocking works of art. His artworks are centered around modernism while also inspired by Dadaism and Duchamp. Ai Weiwei’s avant-garde sense of style shocked viewers because of the confrontational nature of his works. His father, Ai Qing, was a well-known poet specifically known for his criticisms of the communist party. Ai Weiwei spent sixteen years of his youth in a remote place in China where the ability to express individualism was restricted. His father was punished and forced into hard labor because of his radical beliefs. Ai Qing was forced to clean toilets for five years and burned his educational books in order not to get caught. Ai Weiwei grew up watching his father being punished for his individualism which ultimately leads Ai Weiwei to find his unique artistic style.

For my exhibition, I will be focusing on individualism and breaking the standards. I found it so interesting how Ai is not afraid to break the standard of what is considered “normal” in the art world. Ai Weiwei highlights the importance of not being afraid to express his beliefs. It is also interesting how Ai critiques the communist party while also emphasizing early Chinese avant-garde styles. In the representative image, Study of Perspective: Tiananmen, Ai Weiwei takes a photo of himself giving the middle finger in Tiananmen Square. Specifically, Ai is giving the middle finger to Mao in order to show that he is rebelling against authority. Ai Weiwei also took the same photo at other landmarks in France and the United States. The focus of this specific work is to show tourists that authority should be questioned. More importantly, the government itself should be challenged if it is affecting people negatively. This image is a great example of Ai Weiwei challenging society and highlighting the flaws of government that should be made aware. Ai Weiwei continues to create artwork focusing on the importance of self-expression no matter what the reactions might be.


Ai, Weiwei, Karen Smith, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Bernhard Fibicher. Ai Weiwei. London: Phaidon, 2013. 

Image Source:

Publicdelivery. “Ai Weiwei Gives World His Middle Finger.” Public Delivery – Art non-profit, July 8, 2022. https://publicdelivery.org/ai-weiwei-study-of-perspective/.

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.

Exhibition Theme

Feng Mengbo was born in Bejing, China 1966. The Cultural Revolution in China had just started in 1966 and did not end until 1976. Feng Mengbo’s childhood was heavily influenced by the Cultural Revolution. When the Cultural Revolution ended after Mao Zedong’s death on September 9th, 1976, there was no central authority. Feng graduated undergrad school during this era. He graduated “from the Design Department at the Beijing School of Arts and Crafts in 1985.” Because there was no central authority, there was a brief 13 year period was until the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Feng completed his master’s degree at the Printmaking Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1992, studying under artist Xu Bing.” One year after completing his master’s degree, Feng got his first computer. It was then that Feng started to create his now famous “digital media” art.

1993 was revolutionary because the worldwide web (www) had just come out as the first form of “internet” on computers around the world. Feng’s unique take on his media artwork was soon noticed by people around the world. This was because Feng revolutionized the world of video game art by playing the latest video games. He would draw inspirations from these video games, by putting himself and his own touch on each video game platform he drew. Video games were a “virtual reality” to Feng. He wanted to put himself in each video game he played, as if he were the main character. Most of his artworks came from the video games “Street Fighter” by Capcom and “Super Mario Brothers” by Nintendo. Of course, he drew himself in other video games as well but the video games with the most red in them were his biggest influence. This was because of the Cultural Revolution (China was already the People’s Republic of China and it was Communist, so the color red played an important role in Feng’s childhood). Most of Feng’s inspirations for choosing video games like Street Fighter for artwork are because the Cultural Revolution had a big impact on his life. He incorporated violence and the color red into is digital artworks to set a secret communist tone while still portraying the fun manipulation video games have on reality.

Feng’s earlier works will be used in my Exhibition, the artwork featured above being the most important.


Works Cited

“Feng Mengbo Biography, Artworks & Exhibitions.” Ocula the best in contemporary art icon. Accessed April 26, 2023. https://ocula.com/artists/feng-mengbo/.

Zhan Wang’s Official Website

This link takes you to Zhan Wang’s official website, while this other link sends you to a MET collection website for a piece by the artist. Zhan Wang’s website is not particularly colorful and features few colors and no images in its landing page. It does, however, provide an up-to-date list of Wang’s artwork, his projects, as well as for an updated description and.contact information. The second link for the MET exhibition displays the information for one of Wang’s stainless steel rock sculptures (Artificial Rock #10). It features information on the artistic reception of the piece, and the evolution of Wang’s artistic process in the creation of stainless steel sculptures.

Xu Bing’s Official Website

This link will take you directly to Xu Bing’s Tobacco Project III: Richmond, and this one will take you to his biography page. Explore around on his website to find a lot of thought-provoking artwork including massive installations. Almost every artwork on his website has a short description of the piece, if not the dimensions and materials used, providing insights into why it was made. His biography is highly informative as well, as it tells of his upbringing and art education, as well as some of the reasons why he makes art.



Luka’s Interesting Link


In this link, the readers get an in-depth information on the symbolic meaning of the monuments and memorials in the Square, including the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall, the Monument to the People’s Heroes, and the Great Hall of the People. The author, Wu Hung,  explores how these monuments have been used by the Chinese government to legitimize its power and promote its political ideology, and how they have been reinterpreted and recontextualized by different groups over time. The book also analyzes the role of Tiananmen Square in shaping Chinese national identity and the construction of a Chinese historical narrative. Wu Hung looks at how the Square has been represented in Chinese art, literature, and media, and how it has been used as a symbol of Chinese national pride and unity.

I chose this journal article because it is well written and give an insight on the monuments at the Tiananmen Square from the artist’s perspective as well as the political point of view, and how these monuments contributed to shape modern Chinese culture.

“Fondation” Zao Wou Ki

https://www.zaowouki.org/en/ (“Zao Wou-Ki Foundation”) is a website dedicated to the renowned Chinese-French artist Zao Wou Ki (1921 – 2013). The website features a wide range of information about Zao Wou Ki, including but not limited to his works, biography, bibliography, and public collections. Apart from the artist himself, it includes information of the Zao Wou Ki foundation, including its mission, administration, certificate, catalogue raisonné, and counterfeiting and forgery notice. On top of that, it includes information on ongoing and future exhibitions across the world. The chairperson of Zao Wou Ki foundation is Mrs. Françoise Marquet-Zao, 4th and the latest wife of Zao Wou Ki.

I have come across many information that other websites, journals, and scholarly articles captured, and what’s more was that I was able to locate painting easily as they were organized in a collective manner. For example, I had to visit many sources to locate specific paintings of Zao and some of them were hard to find. However, the website contained pretty much every painting that is needed for my research.

Thanks to this website, I learned that Zao Wou Ki not only painted with inks, oil, and water color, but also created prints and ceramics. My previous analysis of the artist’s work had been limited to paintings, but now I am able to analyze prints and ceramics.

[Service Diane 1979 – ceramic collections created by Zao Wou-Ki]

The additional analysis would either strengthen my views on progress of the artist, or create a new sense of direction in which the artist’s style and vies of art has changed. Regardless of which outcome, it would definitely be a valuable resources to my research.



Zao Wou-Ki Foundation. “Zao Wou-Ki Foundation”. Zao Wou-Ki Foundation, accessed May 5, 2023. https://www.zaowouki.org/en/the-foundation/ .

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