Re­turn­ing to tra­di­tion

Chi­nese artists, ed­u­ca­tors hope to spread China’s an­cient paint­ings, mu­sic and po­etry to chil­dren

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Du Qiong­fang

Last year, an ar­ti­cle ti­tled “Mid­dle class chain of con­tempt about ed­u­ca­tion” re­ported by Phoenix Weekly went vi­ral on Chi­nese so­cial me­dia. The ar­ti­cle de­scribed the multi-lay­ered prej­u­dices amongst Chi­nese mid­dle class par­ents when it comes to whether their chil­dren were brought up and ed­u­cated in an English-lan­guage en­vi­ron­ment. In the ar­ti­cle, the in­ter­vie­wee saw that a lit­tle girl de­clined to be friends with aboy be­cause he has no English name.

Cram schools tar­get­ing English com­pe­ti­tions were once preva­lent among Chi­nese stu­dents. And a va­ri­ety of English lan­guage qual­i­fi­ca­tions and cer­tifi­cates were once a step­ping stone for job ap­pli­cants to ob­tain a good job.

How­ever, this phe­nom­e­non has been chang­ing since the 18th Com­mu­nist Party of China (CPC) Na­tional Con­gres , when the county’s top lead­er­ship at­tached greater im­por­tance to the in­her­i­tance and de­vel­op­ment of China’s own tra­di­tional cul­ture.

In re­sponse, many Chi­nese artists and ed­u­ca­tors have cre­ated more works con­vey­ing Chi­nese tra­di­tional cul­ture and cater­ing to mod­ern Chi­nese chil­dren to spread and pop­u­lar­ize the cul­ture.

Zhu Xin­chang, a na­tional first-level artist from the Shang­hai Chi­nese Paint­ing Academy, re­cently fin­ished cre­at­ing 100 Chi­nese paint­ings of the myths in Shan Hai Jing or The Clas­sic Of Moun­tains and Seas, a Chi­nese clas­sic book and a com­pi­la­tion of mythic ge­og­ra­phy and myths which have ex­isted since the War­ring States (475BC–221BC).

Zhu was not the first artist to vi­su­al­ize the Chi­nese myth com­pi­la­tion. But dif­fer­ent from other artists who merely adopt the myths as a source of in­spi­ra­tion, Zhu hopes his new art­work will be­come pop­u­lar among young peo­ple and help spread Chi­nese tra­di­tional cul­ture and val­ues among them. Shan Hai Jing de­scribes gods, god­desses and fright­en­ing mon­sters, such as Tianwu which has a hu­man’s face, eight heads, eight feet and eight tails, and Heluo, a fis which has one head and 10 bod­ies. Such crea­tures might sound hor­ri­ble at first, but Zhu hopes th­ese leg­endary myth­i­cal crea­tures will be adored by young view­ers.

In orde to cater to young peo­ple’s aes­thetic tastes, Zhu uses car­toon el­e­ments in his art­works, such as ex­ag­ger­a­tions and dis­tor­tions. He de­signed big­ger eyes for the

Heluo like th signed brows and eye for a giant named Xing­tian, which he learned from Pek­ing Opera masks.

“I’d like to t n th­ese fright­en­ing crea­tures into ugly but lov­able cre­ations, in­stead of sim­ply beau­ti­fy­ing them,” said Zhu, who wanted to cre­ate some­thing more than what was con­veyed in the text.

Rich imag­i­na­tion

Zhu spent two years cre­at­ing the 100 paint­ings, each which took him two or three days to com­plete. He first heard the sto­ries of Shan Hai Jing told by his par­ents when he was young and has al­ways been greatly in­ter­ested in this l ssic. Af­ter he be­came a pro­fes­sional Chi­nese paint­ing artist, he has al­ways been think­ing about il­lus­trat­ing the mythol­ogy i the book. “It is un­com­mon to il­lus­trate Shan Hai Jing with Chi­nese paint­ing . Some recre­ations of the book are in he form of pic­tures printed from en­graved plates. As far as I know, my series of the 10 paint­ings of Shan Hai Jing was t first in the na­tion,” Zhu told the Global i es.

Since Shan Hai Jing cov­ers an ex­ten­sive range of con­tents, Zhu chose those most easy to con­vert into im­ages and those he was per­son­ally in­ter­ested in. He did not paint ac­cord­ing to the or­der of the book but ac­cord­ing to his own at­trac­tion. The first batch of paint­ings in­cluded Nüwa, who patches up the sky, and Jing­wei, who fills the sea.

Be­fore he started paint­ing, Zhu also col­lected ref­er­ence ma­te­ri­als about Shan Hai Jing, in­clud­ing an­cient pic­ture books passed down from olden times. He copied some im­ages from the old pic­ture books, but later found his imag­i­na­tion was re­strained. So he put away th­ese old pic­tures and started paint­ing us­ing his own feel­ings and imag­i­na­tion.

What makes his paint­ings dif­fer­ent from oth­ers and ex­pected to be at­trac­tive to to­day’s young peo­ple are the el­e­ments he learned from do­mes­tic and overseas car­toons such as Chi­nese car­toon Danao Tian­gong (Up­roar in Heaven) and Ja­panese car­toon La­puta: Cas­tle in the Sky.

Zhu likes the rich imag­i­na­tion and loveiyazaki’s ly im­ages in Hayao Miyazaki’s car­toons. Af­ter view­ing many of Miyazaki’s car­toons, Zhu also added sim­i­lar car­toon el­e­ments to his Chi­nese paint­ing of Shan Hai Jing to at­tract to­day’s young gen­er­a­tion.

“Ev­ery era and ev­ery per­son have their own styles. I think artists should also make cre­ations on the ba­sis of in­her­it­ing tradiy tions. I don’t want my Chi­nese paint­ings to look old; I ex­pect them to match mod­ern peo­ple’s aes­thet­ics,” Zhu said.

Zhu hopes his creation of the leg­endary char­ac­ters can be­come a sym­bol of this era.

Po­etry and prose

Apart from artists who turned Chi­nese

clas­sics into pic­tures, some com­posers and sinol­ogy ed­u­ca­tors have also ded­i­cated them­selves to spread­ing and pop­u­lar­iz­ing Chi­nese an­cient po­ems by com­pos­ing mu­sic for them or turn­ing them into catchy chil­dren’s songs.

Chi­nese com­poser Gu Jian­fen, 83, com­posed many pop­u­lar songs for young peo­ple in the 1980s and 1990s, in­clud­ing “Girl Pick­ing up Mush­rooms”, “Songs and Smiles”, “Young Peo­ple Come To­gether”, “Mother in Can­dle­light” and “Green Leaves

Ap­pre­ci­ate for the Roots.” Many Chi­nese singers in the 1980s and 1990s such as Mao Amin, Na Ying, Sun Nan were her stu­dents. In 2005, she started cre­at­ing chil­dren’s songs by com­pos­ing for Chi­nese an­cient po­etry and prose. Over the past 12 years, she has cre­ated 50 chil­dren’s songs with fine Chi­nese an­cient lit­er­a­ture works such as You Zi Yin (A Trav­eler’s Song), San Zi Jing (The Three-char­ac­ter Clas­sic) and Di Zi Gui (Stan­dards for Stu­dents).

She told me­dia that car­ing for chil­dren is one of the most im­port jobs for a coun­try and for a fam­ily, and the in­her­i­tance of Chi­nese tra­di­tional cul­ture is nec­es­sary for lo­cal chil­dren’s growth. In Shang­hai, 34-year-old sinol­ogy ed­u­ca­tor Hu Tingt­ing from East China’s Jiangsu Prov­ince found that Chi­nese an­cient po­ems are im­por­tant to a child’s growth and de­vel­op­ment af­ter she had her own chil­dren; one is now 3 and the other only 18 months old. “When I was preg­nant, I of­ten lis­tened to clas­si­cal West­ern mu­sic like Chopin and Mozart. But af­ter they were born I found there was a short­age of op­tions of Chi­nese chil­dren’s songs. Most have been sung for gen­er­a­tions and lack artis­tic con­cep­tion. So I thought about com­pos­ing for an­cient po­ems and singing those to my chil­dren,” said Hu.

Hu was brought up in a fam­ily where great im­por­tance was at­tached to Chi­nese tra­di­tional cul­ture ed­u­ca­tion. She ex­cels at play­ing mu­si­cal in­stru­ments, chess, Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy and paint­ing.

Pop­u­larly known as Sis­ter Tingt­ing on China’s so­cial net­work­ing plat­forms and ed­u­ca­tion apps, Hu has com­posed 150 chil­dren’s songs of Chi­nese an­cient po­ems since 2015, spread­ing Chi­nese tra­di­tional cul­ture through mod­ern plat­forms.

“The mu­si­cal gen­res of my chil­dren’s songs are di­ver­si­fied and we used a va­ri­ety of mu­si­cal in­stru­ments with dif­fer­ent tim­bres to ex­press dif­fer­ent artis­tic con­cep­tions and emo­tions of Chi­nese an­cient po­ems, some of which are happy and some are sad,” Hu told the Global Times.

“When I com­pose for the poem, I re­peat­edly pol­ish them, one ver­sion af­ter an­other, be­cause the most im­por­tant thing for cre­at­ing chil­dren’s songs is that I must cre­ate some­thing chil­dren like,” said Hu, who com­posed 20 ver­sions, for ex­am­ple, for Tang Dy­nasty (618–907) poet Li Bai’s

A Ch es paint­ing Nüwa de Zh Xin­chang

Photo: Courtesy of Hu Tingt­ing

Hu Tingt­ing and chil­dren at a po­etry teach­ing ac­tiv­ity

Pho­tos: Courtesy of Hu Tingt­ing and No.8 Bridge Space of Art

Clock­wise from top left: Vis­i­tors at an ex­hi­bi­tion of Zhu Xin­chang’s paint­ings; A Chi­nese paint­ing of Jing­wei made by Zhu Xin­chang; Hu Tingt­ing at­tends an ac­tiv­ity with chil­dren.

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