Printing Art: An Expanded History of Modern Woodblock Printmaking in Republican-Era China
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China’s printmaking history at the beginning of the twentieth century is strongly codified as part of the nation’s foundation story, as well as the associated May Fourth Movement. One of the most prominent writers and cultural figures in that movement, Lu Xun (魯迅, 1881-1936), has rightly been credited with playing an outsized role in the support, development, and expansion of the Chinese modern print movement, an association which has been further cemented within a particular historiographical construction, based in what has been termed the “May Fourth Paradigm.” However, this thesis seeks to broaden our understanding of the modern Chinese print movement, and of the artists within it, beyond the classical history which places Lu Xun at its core. In order to do so, I have chosen to analyze the work of three printmakers, Li Hua (李樺, 1907-1994), Chen Yanqiao (陳煙橋, 1911-1970), and Jiang Feng (江豐, 1910-1983). Through identifying and contextualizing both the works that these artists drew upon, and the avenues through which they published and circulated their prints, this dissertation’s chapters will show that their artworks were in conversation with a much broader range of media than has heretofore been recognized. First, I critique the historiography surrounding the movement and artists, in particular as it pertains to the artist Li Hua and his publishing activities. Second, I broaden our understanding of the collection of source material for the creation of woodcuts, as exemplified by Chen Yanqiao and his engagement with the rhetoric and imagery of cartoon magazines, mainstream photographic pictorials, and even Nationalist publications. Finally, intermediality is a key element in my third approach, which is to identify what I call a “socialist aesthetic,” shared in both visual and literary form between Jiang Feng’s prints and baogao wenxue (reportage literature), which was in conversation with transnational leftist image making, not just the local. In so doing, I provide a fuller understanding of the complexity inherent in early twentieth-century visual modernism in China, and its connections to global modernisms at that time.
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