AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 704

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Session 704: Chinese Modern Art in the Space of “Border-Crossing”

Organizer: Xiaoqing Zhu, University of Maryland, College Park, USA

Discussants: Marie Leduc, University of Alberta, Canada; Yiyou Wang, Peabody Essex Museum, USA

International exhibitions of modern Chinese painting in Berlin and Paris, popular pictorials in Guangzhou and Shanghai, the Café in Paris, the infamous Paramount Ballroom near the Bond, and Tokyo, where a group of young Cantonese artists declared the birth of their radical Chinese Independent Art Society, all of the above became the stages or the “Contact Zones” “where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power.” [Pratt, Profession 9 (1991): 33] Our panel takes a broader interpretation of the concept of “border-crossing” where categories of Chinese painting become fluid, where the elitist and the vernacular divides become blurred, where regional and national identities clash and mediate, and where the foreign and the native reconfigure. Crisscrossing on a diversity of representational mediums, from ink to oil painting, from prints to architecture, and traversing across multiple metropolises, all the papers in this panel intend to explore and confront questions with regard to non-Western modernism. These questions range from how to reconcile the notion of “modern” and “Chineseness” in Chinese modern painting, how to reconsider appropriation verses recreation in artistic and cultural transmission, how to redefine the center and the peripheral, the privileged and the marginalized, and the tradition and the avant-garde. Engaging with primary resources and locating Chinese modern art in a global and transnational context, our panel aims to stimulate discussions and contribute to the dialogues on issues of “border-crossing” in the history of non-Western modern art.

From Current Events Pictorial (Shishi Huabao) to the True Record (Zheng Xiang)
Ruilin Chen, Independent Scholar, China

During the period of great social and historical transformation in China’s twentieth-century, Guangdong, a southern peripheral province was leading the path; there emerged a large group of new intellectuals who were dedicated to social and political reforms. They actively developed a media space, editing and publishing new pictorials which included written commentaries, printed pictures, and photographs. The subjects and contents covered in these pictorials, including the techniques of their visual presentation, reveal a distinctive and unprecedented timely character. This paper investigates two pictorials, the Current Events Pictorial (Shishi Huabao), published in Guangzhou in the early twentieth century and the True Record (Zheng Xiang), issued in Shanghai in the 1920s. It explores the involvement of Guangdong intellectuals in these pictorials and their strong reformative conscience; how they had attempted to cross and transcend the boundaries between the modern and the tradition, between the foreign and the local, between the temporal and the spatial, between the politics and the arts, and between the elitist and the mass. Their initial effort has already established a historical memory of global and modern culture and artistic structure. Understanding these Guangdong intellectuals’ early border-crossing efforts will be meaningful towards facilitating an understanding of contemporary China’s cultural and artistic construction.

Avant-garde across Country Borders: The Chinese Independent Art Society and its Modern Art Activities
Tao Cai, Independent Scholar, China

Zhonghua Duli Meishu Xiehui (The Chinese Independent Art Society) was formally founded in Tokyo by several Cantonese artists, including Liang Xihong, Zhao Shou, Li Dongping, and Zeng Ming in January 1935. In the coming year, this group of artists began a series of activities in Tokyo, Guangzhou, and Shanghai to promote and engage with the avant-garde style trends, especially Surrealism and Fauvism, as a part of modern art movements in East Asia. Although the Society disbanded soon after a year, its historical impact is far-reaching. First of all, this avant-garde movement was taking place simultaneously across country borders via the inter-city networks of Guangzhou-Shanghai-Tokyo. Secondly, while studying in Japan, these artists attempted, using the Japan model as a springboard or a “translation agency,” to connect Chinese modern art with their Western counterparts, in an effort to integrate into the modern art trends and concepts. Thirdly, after the Sino-Japanese War and the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, former members of the Society were dispersed throughout mainland China, Taiwan, Paris, and Honolulu where they have continued to devote themselves to the modern arts, forming new regional networks. This paper, using visual evidence, will explore these historical significances.

The Paramount Ballroom in the 1930s, a Transformational Space towards the “Modern.”
Xi Zhang, University of Chicago, USA

In Shanghai modern entertainment history, the Paramount Ballroom is undoubtedly a significant case. The brand name “Paramount” not only signified a unique architectural style characterized as Art Deco, but also served as a cultural and life-style symbol in old Shanghai, which appeared countless times in novels and movies. The Paramount Ballroom, built between 1932 and 1933, was financed by Chinese entrepreneurs and designed by a Chinese architect. Historians tend to describe the Paramount as Western-style architecture with a unique design and a luxurious interior. These kinds of descriptions appear typical in researches related to Shanghai Studies of dancing girls and the entertainment industry. However, these scattered descriptions fail to place the Paramount Ballroom in the larger and more complex social context. In this paper, I would argue that the Paramount should not be simply regarded as a dancing floor or an entertainment center. Its architectural significance should not be singled out of the global modern design development; neither could it stand independently from the metropolis public sphere and popular culture trends. This paper intends to investigate the following questions: how the Paramount’s architectural design was responding to the larger international Art Deco movement; how the Western life-style – public dancing – accompanied by the architectural movement, influenced the modern life in Shanghai, and how the Ballroom, serving as a novel public space, reflected the transformational process from tradition to modern in Shanghai, and to the extent of the larger Chinese society.

Two Exhibitions of Modern Chinese Painting in the 1930s
Fang-Cheng Wu, Independent Scholar, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

What is modern Chinese painting? The question remains crucial still today for both artists and art historians. Art historians have the privilege of waiting until the narration of a history turns out possible, whereas artists can naively leave the question to the future, or being conscious of their role as makers of a history in progress, they respond vigorously. The latter is exactly what any ambitious artist will do. In the 1930s, two exhibitions of modern Chinese painting were held, one in Berlin, the other in Paris. Given that these exhibitions were placed on an international scene, the organizers, Liu Hai-su (劉海粟) and Xu Bei-hong(徐悲鴻), respectively, were given a conspicuous opportunity to confront the issue of how to define ‘modern’ and ‘Chinese’. Two criteria were to be fulfilled; firstly, the painting must be by Chinese – not Western – artists, even though it was produced in western styles; secondly, it must be modern, not sticking to an immobile past, such that it would not only show the state of the present, but also would justify the right of citizenship in the global modern art, so as to pave the way for future Chinese painting. The stakes were as high as the answers were to be of far-reaching consequences. Each organizer articulated their narrative according to different purposes, interests, and resources. The aim of this paper is to explore the multiple-layered rhetoric of these exhibitions.

The Café, a "Contact Zone," Paris to Shanghai.
Xiaoqing Zhu, University of Maryland, College Park, USA

After studying at l’Académie Julian and Académie of La Grande Chaumière and living on the fringes of Montmartre between 1925 and 1929, Chinese artist, Pang Xunqin (1906 – 1985) returned to Shanghai in 1930, carrying with him different marks of avant-garde modernism. Focusing on Pang’s one lost painting, the Café, whose photographic print was recently discovered by the author on the cover of an old Shanghai journal, this paper aims to explore the complexity of transnational experience betrayed in Pang’s painting. Showcased in Pang Xunqin’s first solo-exhibition in 1932 after his return to Shanghai, the painting depicts a café scene where Asian artists are mingling with their European counterparts in the Paris of the 20s. Drawing on the post colonial inquiries and especially on the construct of the metropolitan vis-à-vis colonial modernism proposed by the literary scholar Shu-mei Shih in her seminal book, The Lure of the Modern: Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China, 1917-1937, this paper proposes an in-depth reading of the Café as a space of "border-crossing" where identities clash and mediate, where the center and the peripheral intersect, and where the privileged and the marginalized contravene. Situating Pang’s painting in the matrix of the metropolitan and colonial modernism, this paper argues for Pang‘s ambivalent affiliation with the cosmopolitan modernists and his fluid engagement with both cosmopolitan and colonial modernism, complicated by his colonial experience as an artist in Paris and then in Shanghai.