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This article is meant to give some background information about a Chinese woodblock series titled "One Hundred Views of Eternal China". The series was created between 1980 and 1986 as the result of a Sino-Japanese project with the goal to enhance friendship and cooperation between China and Japan.
The information is based on a picture album in Japanese language, titled
Woodblock Prints: One Hundred Views of Eternal China
The author of the album is Junichi FUJIYAMA. The album shows all 100 prints and was meant as a reference catalog for the series.
The production of "Woodblock Prints: One Hundred Views of Eternal China" was started in 1980, and was finished in 1986.
It was a project between Japan and China following the conclusion of the Sino-Japanese Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1978. The relations between both countries have been a sensitive and difficult one due to the past, with the occupation of China in the 1930s and the atrocities committed by Japanese troops during that period.
The project began in April 1980 with the journey of a Chinese delegation of four persons from the Office of Chinese Arts & Crafts Promotion. After numerous discussions and meetings the delegations of both sides agreed to set up this project of a series of 100 woodblock prints titled "One Hundred Views of Eternal China."
After the end of the Cultural Revolution in China and the "after-waves" of the "Gang of Four" campaign, the climate in China had changed in all sections of life including the arts. At the same time the population in Japan had discovered a new interest in their Chinese neighbor.
Junichi Fujiyama describes the project as very difficult and time consuming.
"Both sides met and discussed the theme and the original meaning of this project numerous times in order to materialize the project. The impression was that despite the thousands of years of cultural, historical exchanges between China and Japan, we were still two different nations."
The two delegations agreed to separate the responsibilities. The woodblock creation should be done by China. The Japanese would take the part of selling and promoting the finished product. The prints should be sold as an album inside Japan.
Several leading Chinese printmaking artists were commissioned with the designs. Among them were Chen Yuqiang, Mo Ce and Zhang Baibo. Many of the print works are cooperative works by two artists.
When Chinese artists create a cooperative work, they do not sign the artwork side by side with their names. Rather they create a pseudonym, a new art name. The pseudonyms and the completely different writings/pronunciations of names in Japanese (the book documentation is solely in Japanese) and Chinese makes it a real pain to attribute the correct artist names to each art print.
After more than one month of hard effort by our Chinese partner and us, we could finally figure out the names and to our surprise there were many big names like for instance Mo Ce (represented in the collection Muban Foundation) or Chen Yuqiang or Zhang Baibo. Many of the artists were born in the 1930s and are mostly in retirment by now. Others have made an internationl career in the meantime like Zhang Baibo.
At that time NHK, the official Japanese TV channel, had broadcast several reports on the old "Silk Road" in China. The broadcasting had been very popular and had created a kind of "Silk Road" fad. Therefore the Chinese-Japanese project delegation decided to start the series with ten prints displaying views of the old silk road.
Woodblock Printing had originally been invented in China many, many centuries ago. From there the technique made its way to Japan, where it soon developed in the 18th and 19th century into the elaborate printing and art form that the whole world has appreciated so much after the opening of Japan after 1853.
Chinese woodblock printmaking has not been a straight-forward development. In the 18th and 19th century it existed mainly as Chinese folk art prints, commonly known as Chinese New Year prints. They are charming, but they lack the refinement of the Japanese prints.
At the origins of modern Chinese woodblock printmaking stands the intellectual and writer Lu Xun. He encouraged Chinese artists to use the technique of woodblocks to express artistic and social issues. But the source of inspiration were woodblock prints from the West like the social-critical works by the German K�the Kollwitz (1867-1945) or Russian social-realism.
Junichi Fujiyama writes:
"The progressive intellectuals in China in the 1920-30s had been appealing to the people for the reality and the escape from the oppressed, the hideous conditions of Chinese people under the colonial rules of Western-Japanese powers and the feudalistic ideas of old China. Lu-Xin was the most prominent figure in this era. He eyed the woodblock print as the media to be able to express the reality of Chinese society at that time because of its simple methods of creation and mass-production without losing its artistic appeals. He invited Kikichi Uchiyama (Japanese writing) from Japan for woodblock printmaking classes. Many Chinese cultured people and young artists attended the classes and thus started the modern Chinese woodblock movement. The prints in this era were dark, sad and strong. They were meant to encourage the people to fight against oppression. The artist should have the idea and feeling for the "need of the society" and be able to express them in artistic forms. This was only possible by "self-design, self-carve, self-print" methods."
The times have changed since the era of Lu Xun. After Chairman Mao's death and the end of the Cultural Revolution, China has opened itself towards the West. The "new wave" brought new techniques and fresh ideas into Chinese printmaking. At the beginning of this era (around 1980) Japan played an important role by organizing exhibitions of Chinese art prints or by inviting Chinese artists to come to Japan to attend printmaking classes.
The series Hundred Views of Eternal Japan is an example of the Sino-Japanese cooperation in this field. At the same time it is a fine document of the technical and artistic level of Chinese printmaking in the early 1980s.
All prints of the series were made in woodblock technique. The printing methods differed and depended on the individual artists. You can find the two typical printing techniques of modern Chinese woodblock printmaking: the printing with water-soluble inks and the use of oil-based inks. The use of water-soluble inks is the traditional Chinese way of printmaking. The use of oil-based inks was introduced from Japan and from Western countries. Many of the contemporary Chinese printmakers use this method like for instance Hao Ping.
For those who have not yet seen Chinese prints made with one of these two printing methods, the differences are maybe best explained by describing what the final results look like: Prints made with water-soluble inks look a bit like water-colors, and prints made with oil-based inks tend to look like oil paintings - especially if the artist uses them in thick layers.
All prints have roughly the same size and format of 40 by 30 cm. They have a margin of roughly 1,5 cm in the lower part for the signature, the title, the numbering and the date. However not all are dated.
The edition size was 200. The paper is typical for modern Chinese prints of that period: a pliable Chinese paper of modest quality. However the paper quality does not affect the artistic value of the prints.
Dieter and Yorie
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Works by emerging Chinese artists in BUYDIRECT.