Between National Imagination and Social Critique: Female Figurations in Pang Xunqin and Fu Baoshi’s Wartime Chinese Painting (1930s-40s)

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This dissertation provides the first in-depth comparative study in any language of the female figurations made, viewed, and interpreted in the realm of refashioning modern Chinese painting during the war period of Republican China (1930s-1940s) in the Nationalist government-controlled southwestern inner frontier, with projects by Pang Xunqin (1906–85) and Fu Baoshi (1904–65) as disparate yet related case studies. This dissertation pays particular attention to two themes of Pang and Fu’s wartime projects. One is their study of Chinese art antiquity as an attempt to modernize Chinese art historiography after the May Fourth New Culture Movement. The other is their wartime paintings featuring their perceived native southwestern women clad in traditional costumes, such as Pang’s Guizhou Mountain People and Fu’s Mountain Spirit. Investigating the different modes of cultural-making practices of these two artists, this dissertation examines the Chinese artistic modernity embodied in the wartime nativist trend of making female figurations. This dissertation argues that these Han Chinese male artists’ wartime art historiography and female figurations should be understood as their cultural-making practices of reinventing China’s artistic past. Two entangled concerns were embedded in the wartime dynamics of making, viewing, and interpreting these projects of refashioning Chinese modernity in painting—that is, a national imagination of China’s past and a social critique of China’s wartime conditions at the present. Chapter 1 interrogates the Han Chinese ethnographic eye embedded in Pang Xunqin’s May-Fourth-inflected modernist approach to the “folk” during the 1930s and 40s in his Chinese art historiography and Guizhou Mountain People paintings. This chapter argues that Pang’s quest for China’s native aesthetic tradition, inspired by a surge of wartime nationalism and displacement, epitomizes a primitivist paradigm in which the Han Self was to be rediscovered in the multicultural southwestern inner frontier of China, a secure cultural zone untouched by Euro-American modernity. Chapter 2 examines Pang’s entangled national and social concerns during the 1930s and 40s as exemplified in his feminization of southwestern non-Han ethnic groups. It explores the ways in which multiple European and Japanese modernities were appropriated and transformed in Pang’s formation of a singular aesthetic of “decorative realism.” This chapter argues that a significant reason why Pang’s self-proclaimed “classicist” paintings of Guizhou Mountain People were publicly criticized by the Nationalist-government official in charge of wartime propaganda as pictures “harming the image of the nation” was that the female figurations could be viewed as a southwestern variant of the female symbols Pang created with social concerns during the early and middle 1930s. Chapter 3 studies Fu Baoshi’s wartime paintings of female figures drawn from Chuci and modeled on the female archetype traditionally attributed to legendary Eastern Jin artist Gu Kaizhi. It sets Fu’s emphasis on Han cultural patrimony in contrast to Pang’s cosmopolitan aesthetic vision in refashioning modern Chinese painting, examining how Fu made a cultural and political allegory of China’s past and present. Reading Fu’s painting and Chinese art historiography, this chapter reveals how Fu rejuvenated and re-conceptualized his selected schools and period styles associated with the literati ink aesthetic discourse as a distinctively Chinese paradigm of intellectual art. Contextualizing Fu’s Mountain Spirit (1946) in the intellectual politics of studying national antiquity during the Civil War, this chapter argues that Fu transformed the Pre-Qin Shamanic motif from Chuci into a female figuration of wartime China and a political allegory of the unfinished Chinese Revolution.

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  • 01/28/2019
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