September 17 1944 Zhengyi Bao : After Viewing Niubizi

Zhengyibao (Kunming) (17 September 1944), p. 4.

After Viewing The Niubizi Exhibition by Zheng Liang Cheng

I have seen quite a lot of Niubizi creator Mr. Huang Yao’s work here and there in books and newspapers, but this is the first time I have seen one of his exhibitions. My impression was very good.

The works in this exhibition are discussed in two groups based on differences in content between Kunming in Cartoons and Guilin in Cartoons, both of which focus on expressing the characteristic regional scenery of those two locales.

As a whole, these works have, in both content and form, kept pace with changing realities and the new mission posed by the era, courageously breaking down the longstanding bastion of tradition to blaze a new trail in touch with the real world and its new demands. Intrinsically Chinese tools are still used, but in a way that combines western expressive technique with the character of Chinese painting: an understated, placid range of expression merged with the sense of reality derived from western perspectivism. The best of China and the west is employed to invent a new form, but without inappropriately sacrificing Chinese characteristics.

In terms of content, most apparent is the unity of subject matter with the new form, specifically, the sloughing off of the eremitic tranquility of so-called literati painting, the detached, carefree, yet narrowly traditional confines of the bamboo-fenced garden, in favor of getting close to the reality of broad human social life, close to the masses of the people, and in synch with modern society. This alone is quite significant in terms of artistic education. Those among the masses who have had no contact with art can from now on get close enough to discover that “art” is not a monopoly of a minority or of those with special privilege, but that art and their own life activities are very tightly linked, not separated by a great chasm. Taking their cue from the description of modern society and the masses’ broad, varied lifeways, they can gain an intimate understanding of the close relation between art and themselves. This is precisely the active mission today’s new artists ought to undertake!

But all of this, of course, requires more sustained effort.

In my view, Guilin in Cartoons overemphasizes scenic description while providing too little of the features of local life. Moreover, I feel that in scenery like this, Niubizi should still be making his appearance, and do so along with local people, as in Kunming in Cartoons. Doing this would add depth while also maintaining continuity with the Niubizi character.

Kunming in Cartoons . . . [unclear in original] . . . is a summing up of the city’s customs and condition, but not to the extent one might prefer. The special scenic character of the true Kunming is not fully grasped: for example, the wealth of unique, locally expressive material to be found in the different daily activities happening in the morning, afternoon, and evening, or on the roads and street corners.

As for human figures, mostly one sees Niubizi accompanied by that country maid. They appear in almost every painting, and each time in the same way, even wearing the same clothes, rather in the style of a picture-story book. On the whole, Kunming in Cartoons is a bit flat and monotonous. Constantly seeing Niubizi in the company of that country maid gives the impression of a picture-story. This might be because the country girl is not used properly, that she is overused and [unclear in original]

Kunming is not a city of all country folk. The entirety of what goes on here is not restricted to the activities of country folk, which in any case fail to express the special character of Kunming. Hence, this stereotyped country maid cannot fully represent Kunming or its unique character. At most she just represents a limited perspective on the city’s country folk. What viewers will get out of this, then, is less than the whole picture of Kunming.

In my opinion, to express the whole Kunming, more character types can and should be devised!

Willingly, I ask Mr. Huang Yao’s advice regarding my crude opinions.

13 September 1944

(Translated by John A. Crespi, Henry R. Luce Associate Professor of Chinese, Colgate University)