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The Impact of Bada Shanren, Late 17th Century Recluse Painter on the Paintings of Zhu Wei, Late 20th Century, ‘Post-89’ Contemporary Chinese Artist


Tan Hwee Koon



Bada Shanren [八大山人], one of the leading individualistic painters of the late Ming and early Ching dynasty has provided 20th century Chinese painting with its most fundamental substance and direction. Together with Shitao [石涛] (1642-1707), he is the major inspiration for Chinese masters of our times, including early 20th century master Wu Changsuo [吴昌硕] (1844-1927), Qi Baishi [齐白石] (1864-1957), and Zhang Daqian [张大千] (1899-1983). 

The 20th century recalls the 17th century, one of the few eras that can be more trying and uncertain for those who lived through them in many ways. Chinese painters, living in the troubled and dangerous twentieth century, as their country was experiencing war, revolution, and painful social upheavals, found parallels in Bada, a man who had experienced as much or more of disaster and change and who had left his complex and troubled responses in the traces of his brush. In the light of an interest in qualities of art as abstraction with a gradual opening to the West in the late 19th century, when emotional meanings are conveyed in art through the distortion of traditional forms and qualities by the creation of new individual languages (by a disinterest in academic representation), the Chinese artists found abstraction and emotion in Bada. His powerful and deeply expressive art refreshed the wan, tired, and repetitious art that painting had become in the later Qing period, and modern artists found in it the capacity for renewal.

In this paper Bada’s influence on a late 20th century, ‘Post-89’ contemporary Chinese artist, Zhu Wei, a product of China’s recent cultural and social upheavals (life under the Communist System, China’s opening-of-doors, Post-Tiananmen) is explored. With reference to published literature on the two artists, the similarities and differences in the life and art of Bada Shanren and Zhu Wei are examined. Based on the reading of two key Bada Shanren’s paintings from 1689 and ten Zhu Wei paintings from 1993-2000, an attempt is made to study how the late 20th century contemporary artist is influenced by a recluse and eccentric monk painter a few hundred years earlier and how he reinterpret, create and enriched his own art in the language of his times.



Bada Shanren, together with Shitao (1642-1707), is the major inspiration for Chinese masters of our times. Even two hundred years after his death in 1705, his full influence has provided 20th century Chinese painting with its most fundamental substance and direction. The influence of Bada’s art on major twentieth-century masters including Wu Changsuo (1844-1927), Qi Baishi (1864-1957), and Zhang Daqian (1899-1973) have been clarified by modern studies. 

A deeply troubled man, Bada Shanren lived during one of the most tumultuous periods of Chinese history, the seventeenth century. Few eras have been more trying and uncertain for those who lived through them, although the 20th century was similar in many aspects. Chinese painters, living in the troubled and dangerous 20th century, as their country was experiencing war, revolution, and traumatic social upheavals, found parallels in Bada a man who had experienced as much or more of disaster an change and who had left his complex and troubled responses in the traces of his brush. 

Interesting qualities of art such as abstraction was also delayed until the late 19th century with a gradual opening to the West. Emotional meanings are conveyed in art through the distortion of traditional forms and qualities, by a disinterest in academic representation, and by the creation of new individual languages designed idiosyncratically to convey personal expression. When Chinese artists began to learn of the "radical" and "revolutionary" artists of 19th and 20th century France, they not only found the meanings of their art eminently suitable for the needs of the new revolutionary China but also realized that they had their own radical and revolutionary artist, and foremost among them was Bada Shanren. They found both abstraction and emotion (long avoided by many traditional Chinese painters) in Bada. Modern artists found in Bada’s powerful and deeply expressive art in the face of the wan, tired and repetitious painting of the later Qing period, the capacity for renewal. The Bada’s style influences can be found in the paintings of these notable painters who have created an art of their own with Bada’s ideas and inspiration by following the lead of this great master.

Born in the sixties, Zhu Wei is the same age as the post-89 generation of painters and shares with them the traits of having a thorough academic education, and a subsequent confrontation with an ever more complex socio-cultural environment, together with a feeling of powerless and bleakness(2). These factors have contributed to the gradual espousal of self-irony, mockery and cynical irreverence towards the world, evident in their forms of expression. Traditional socialist icons such as heroism, idealism, self-sacrifice and sense of history, are nothing more than empty shells for them. Groundbreaking changes in social structure and common ideologies, together with the integration of traditional Chinese beliefs, have functioned as catalysts to their artistic reflections on past and present. Zhu Wei belonged to the broad creative movement cutting across art, literature, and film, that expended into the realm of private expression and challenging the cultural hegemony of the Party with criticism and indifference.

While analyzing of Zhu Wei’s art in terms of theories and trends, reference must be made to the New Art movement after 1989 with the Political Pop and Cynical Realism as the more relevant examples (3).  On Zhu Wei's techniques and style, one must refer to contemporary Chinese gongbi style or meticulous brushstrokes. Like his posl-89 cohorts, Zhu Wei is irreverent and cheeky, but there is a sweetness, a gentleness to his brush missing from the more dominant cynicism of Political Pop with its pox-on-both-your-houses attitude towards Marxist and materialist alike. Zhu Wei is a gentle deflator of pretension, a chronicler of the everyday who sidles up to the humor in daily life rather than hitting it head-on (4). Zhu Wei's works has been characterized by Jia Fangzhou as half solemn, half farcical, but not devoid of a spiritual content with idealistic aspirations to purity. As compared to his post-89 contemporaries, who have confined themselves almost exclusively to oil techniques, Zhu Wei excels technical]y and stylistically in his mastery of the traditional current gongbi techniques. However it is impossible to label or to categorize him; nor does he fit into any niche to which one would like to assign him. One can only characterize his gongbi style as a kind of "uncoordinated harmony''(5). If compared with the leading practitioners of gongbi, he is like a rebellious "black sheep", charging out at full speed from the slow-trotting herd. He is praised for bringing certain modernist qualities to gongbi and for seeking to harmonise its current with contemporary "spirit" which has been neglected by modern gongbi painters.


Life and Art

(i) Bada Shanren - Product of the 17th Century

The first fifty-seven years of Bada Shanren’s life were lived against the background of one of the most turbulent periods f Chinese history, the seventeenth century. His identity throughout as a prince of the fallen Ming Dynasty lent a powerful and inescapable emotional involvement to everything surrounding the Manchu conquest and the resistance that followed.

Sleeping Duck by Bada Shanren




Plate B1


Born into a family of scholars, poets, and calligraphers in 1626, into the Yiyang branch of the Ming imperial family, in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, the traditional residence of the Yiyang prince, Bada’s childhood was unexceptional and he had an idyllic youth. However his dream world was shattered by the Manchus during the period from 1644 to 1648. Bada was about eighteen years old when the Manchus took over Beijing, nineteen when Manchu forces occupy Nanchang in 1645. Three years later, in 1648, when Manchu forces were putting down continuing resistance efforts in Nanchang, Bada took sanctuary in the Buddhist Church. His family’s role in the resistance during this period was not known. Bada sought safety within the grounds of the church when his immediate family apparently died. Bada’s family was destroyed, since his extended family was the state itself, the ruler. He became a priest, and for thirty years lived as a teacher and abbot in remote areas of Jiangxi. It was during these years that the final story of the resistance and the tragic end of the Southern Ming was written. No psychological difficulties are known from the thirty-year period of sanctuary, only accomplishments. Bada the artist, in the winter of 1659-60 (in the Flower Studies album in the National Palace Museum, Taipei), sometimes seemed to be hiding himself in his art, but he is already an accomplished poet, painter, and calligrapher (1)

The still unclear events of the late 1670s to early 1680s explored by Wang Fangyu in his essay that madness or something resembling madness affected Bada (6). He was almost certainly also very angry; indeed, anger, disgust and frustration seem to be emotions particularly focused in his art of his period. In his essay, Wang Fangyu argues persuasively that Bada remarried at this time and that neither his marriage nor his new secular life initially gave him much pleasure. He was also clearly dissatisfied with his earlier art. In calligraphy and painting in the early 1680s he pushed away his old habits and explored new and daring reaches that he had avoided before. He grew and changed rapidly from 1681 to 1684, but he had not yet achieved artistic stability by the end of that time. 1684 is also the year when Bada took the name Bada Shanren by which he would be known for the reminding of his life (1). Most of the traumatic events that affected his life and his art were over. He lived in his birthplace, Nanchang, as a poet, painter, calligrapher and eccentric hermit. 

Another burst of exploration and growth of Bada’s works were shown from 1689 to 1692. He first painted communities of the small creatures that had come to represent his life in 1689, and composition in which a fully defined and complete setting was suggested in 1690. He started painting landscape consistently from 1693. According to Richard M. Barnhart, the significance in this development is that of the gradual creation of a new world to replace that which had been shattered in 1644 (1). It took Bada fifty years to recover, fifty years to approach slowly the idea of acceptance, resignation and what Lee Hui-shu has called his "serene lamentation" for his country and his lost world (7). When his relative serenity was finally attained in the 1690s, Bada Shanren could not convey anger or intense passion through landscape, and only when anger and passion subsided did he turn to that old and timeless subject to create on of the most beautiful series of landscape compositions any Chinese master had ever painted. His landscape paintings represent a personal and moral triumph. 

Bada Shanren seemed to have trembled in a kind of rage and his art (and sometimes his life) seemed to have rushed into extreme and almost irrational expression each time the actual power and presence of the Manchu emperor Kangxi, became insistent, demanding, and could not be ignored - that is, in 1679, 1684, and 1689. By the time of Kangxi’s third Southern Tour in 1699, Bada reacted differently by painting heroic eagles and hawks, deer, egrets, cranes, and wild geese as if they were symbols of his own private lost imperial realm, an almost vanished Ming counterpart to the colorful and dramatic imperial pageantry and symbolism of Kangxi and the Manchus (1)

(ii) Zhu Wei - Product of the 20th Century

The last half of the 20th century in China witnessed changes that are not only fundamental shifts, they represented a turbulent period in a long and difficult passage through history. The painters of this generation have to deal with the seeds of change painted in such a bizarre and frustrating era and the influence of this era in the future. Surrounded by atrocities, many of them felt isolated and lonely. They have grown up in the company of human frailty and irrationality. Losses of paternal authority, barren souls, lack of the spiritual and ever growing materialism have contributed to a rite of youth that is unthinkable elsewhere. When mature enough to think independently, these youth began to question their world and they discovered absurdities, prejudices, greed, and compromise, in both individuals and society. They have since found a sharp, penetrating voice to chronicle this empty period of history (8)

Zhu Wei’s life reflects China’s recent cultural and social upheavals. He was born in 1966, the first year of the disastrous Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

South See, No.1

Plate Z9

He grew up in a climate of political hysteria amidst the infamous ‘struggle sessions’, ‘self-criticism sessions’, public tribunals, Mao’s ‘little red book’ and the Red Guards’ slogans (5). Zhu Wei’s childhood was actually a unique form of existence which may be categorized as "life under the Cultural Revolution". He did not have an idyllic country life, or a normal city life. When he was beginning to make sense of the world around him, it was in an unprecedented chaotic state. Deprived of things that any child ought to have, he soon acquired a sense of detachment from the world around him. As his parents wanted or had to, to serve the cause, he was largely neglected by them, and subsequently left in the care of his grandmother. Revolution robbed him of the opportunity to experience parental love (9)


At he tender age of sixteen, he joined the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) - a Spartan training. In 1985, he was admitted into the PLA Art Academy for further professional training. This coincided with the emergence of new trends and ideas in Chinese art (5). A life without individualism became a large part of his youth. His role as a soldier actually strengthened his sense of self-awareness although strict military life was incompatible with his natural sense of freedom (9). Zhu Wei’s graduation in 1989 coincided again with another year in which intense sociological changes had distinct consequences for China’s new art. There idealism crushed, certain youth artists immersed themselves in popular culture, launching Political Pop Art in China; others reacted with an anguished romanticism; a third group opted for a quieter cynicism. In 1992 Zhu Wei left the army and established his own studio in Beijing. a virtual recluse, Zhu Wei links both his life and his art to the ancient masters of Chinese art (10)

All these particular upheavals, personal and collective, forced Zhu Wei to allow his thought process to transgress the limits of individual experience and to focus his artistic view on the reality of the here and now (5)


Parallelism and Differences

Bada’s lost status as royal descendent of the fallen Ming Dynasty during early adulthood and his emotional entanglement to events surrounding the Manchu conquest and the resistance that followed affected both his life and art (1). Each time the presence and power of the Manchu emperor Kangxi became persistent and could not be ignored (especially during Kangxi’s three Southern Tours), Bada responded with his paintings as a form of protest and in later years as a way of coming to terms with his crushed world. On the other hand, Zhu Wei is marked by his lost childhood and the post-effect of growing up in the face of isolation, loneliness, human frailty and irrationality a result of the Cultural Revolution; and the lack of spiritual and ever growing materialism in a society corrupted by absurdities, prejudices, greed and comprise during his adulthood. Zhu Wei responded with cynicism in his painting and voiced his concern about the existence of Chinese people, the meaning of life with his diarist-approached chronicles of life in modern China (11)

People of Bada’s time found the eccentric hermit painter’s art "strange strange, weird weird!" and his language "impossible to understand", and many regarded him as mad (1). Zhu Wei, a loner who socialized little with his fellow painters, is a product of a distinct time and consciousness. A virtual recluse who links both his life and his art to the ancient masters of Chinese art, is regarded in the eyes of most people as peculiar as his eccentric and unusual paintings (10). Born more the three hundred years apart, Zhu Wei shared similar traits with Bada’s eccentric personality, expressed in both their paintings and their lives. 

Reading of Key Paintings

Based on the comparison of two key Bada Shanren’s paintings from 1689 and ten Zhu Wei paintings from 1993-2000, an attempt is made to study how the late 20th century artist is influenced by a recluse and eccentric monk painter living in a time a few hundred years earlier and how he reinterpreted, created and enriched his own art in the language of his times. 

The paintings are grouped into the following broad categories to help facilitate the reading and interpretation: Fish Group Paintings (with subdivisions of two or more fishes) and Single Fish Paintings, with the themes - Aftermath & Survival in a Changed World and Self Image explored respectively. 

1. Fish Group Painting - Aftermath and Survival in a Changed World

A. Fish Group - Human Figure Group Paintings

The Story of Beijing NO.8

Plate Z1

On first glance Bada’s influence may not be obvious in Zhu Wei’s art, especially Zhu Wei’s earlier paintings as they are probably masked by the other elements such his social and political themes and other artistic influence from film to music. One can feel the overall despondent mood of Zhu Wei’s paintings, that is, the essence of Bada’s artistic conception despite the difference in the subjects depicted in the paintings - Bada and his landscape, fishes, birds; and Zhu Wei’s human figures displaced in time.

In possibly the only published documentation of Bada’s influence on Zhu Wei, ‘Excerpts from Carma Hinton’s Video Interview in 1997’, Zhu Wei talked about his most favorite artist, Bada Shanren and the influence of the composition and mood of Bada’s paintings in his works, including Bada’s method of painting the fish eye as a black dot within a big circle (12). On the other hand, other publications which are referred to discuss about element associated with Bada’s influence indirectly with no mention of the Master’s name. The only clue that one can read directly from Zhu Wei’s paintings is through the eyes of his figures. Many believe that the eyes are the spiritual windows for every living thing and the 3expression of one’s eyes represents his mental state. In Zhu Wei’s reinterpretation of Bada’s "white eyes" in his modern human figures, he would like to express the complexity of the minds and the somber expression when one is in deep thoughts in his paintings that depict beautiful state (12). Jefferey Hantover refers to the eyes of the subjects in Zhu Wei’s ‘The Story of Beijing’ painted in 1993 (Plate Z1): "Soldier and civilian alike view the new world with impassive wariness. Looking closely at the paintings; in almost none of them do figures looking directly at each other or at us, they are always glancing up, sideways... The real action takes place outside the frame, beyond the stage of their lives and Zhu Wei’s actors know it. The script for their lives is written by unseen others."(14)


Reference can be made to ‘Leaf a, Fish’ of Bada’s ‘Fish, Lotus, Globefish, and Bamboo, 1689’ (Plate B1) in the Rosshandler Collection. Four fish are depicted swimming together, each with a single visible eye staring upward, fading in tonality as if being seen in water and moving steadily forward. According to Richard M. Barnhart, they are the first group or community of living things that Bada had ever painted and the poem in the painting speaks of an aftermath and of survival in a changed world (13). The two leaves in the present partial album (now mounted as hand scroll) are nearly identical to portions of the Shanghai

Fish and Ducks



   Plate B2

Museum hand scroll, ‘Fish and Ducks’ (Plate B2), Section (i) Group of Fish (Side View) that was painted on the Chongyang Festival day, the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, in the same year. Some of the subjects he had depicted earlier in the same year - the school of fish and the globefish in the Rosshandler Collection (Plate B1, Leaf a and c) and the sleeping duck in the Guangdong Provincial Museum - now become part of the entire community (6). In other words, Bada was painting both the Shanghai hand scroll and these album leaves with poems during the same period, from the sixth through the tenth months of 1689 - in the context of Kangxi emperor’s second Southern Tour a few months earlier - a symbolic event that affected Bada Shanren’s thought during this period. Bada could sometimes achieve perfect integration of his poems and his paintings with a new ease and sureness now. the interaction and balance between the pale fish above and the vigorous calligraphy below can be observed in the leaf depicting a school of fish in Plate B1. Read together, the leaves tell about Bada’s life and thoughts as he lived on in the aftermath of disaster, danger and fear (13)

In Zhu Wei’s ‘The Story of Beijing’ in 1993, a theme in the context of the cultural conflict of this period when people are forced to make a painful choice between modern Western versus traditional Chinese culture. The hutong and its low-walled yard or the steel-and-glass skyscraper; Peking Opera or Beijing Rock’n Roll, Imperial Cuisine in the Forbidden City or fast-food at MacDonald’s - the paradoxes contributing to the rapidly emerging urban lifestyle and society (5). The impassive wariness revealed by the eyes of the subjects in Zhu Wei’s paintings is an unsetting element in a common description of characters seen in an other wise normal setting - the Tiananmen Square backdrop and falling Autumn leaves in ‘The Beijing Story No.8’ (Plate Z1); or the MacDonald’s, a relative new-comer since the Opening of Doors of China, with an intrusive presence, standing side-by-side, next to the signs of a traditional noodle shop and a boiled mutton shop in ‘The Story of Beijing No.9’ in Plate Z2. Zhu Wei is implying a social attitude and cultural characteristic - a mixture of traditional aspects and modern consciousness in his setting where ancient and modern China allegorically appeared sharing the same space. The eyes of the soldier and civilian in Zhu Wei’s painting are portrayed in the similar manner to the fishes, viewing their rapidly changing world and facing the unfamiliar and the unknown, in the same direction, united together in the same helplessness. 

B. Two Fishes - Two Human Figure Composition

One’s understanding of Festival is questioned in Zhu Wei’s ‘Festival Series’ in 1998 (No.9, Plate Z3). In his view whether a person who is successful or a failure determines how one defines the meaning of Festival.

Fistival No.9

Plate Z3

At close examination of ‘Festival No.9’ with two workers positioned side-by-side, one in front of the other, looking in the same directions, leftwards. Take away the round clouds in the sky, in perfect harmony with the light silhouette puffed sleeves of the worker’s uniform; this composition is similar to that of Bada’s two swimming fishes from his ‘Fish and Ducks, 1689’ (Plate B2, Section ii). ‘Fish and Ducks’, the earliest of many fish and bird paintings from the 1690s illustrated Bada Shanren’s growing interest in the Daoist concepts of transformation and metamorphosis (6). According to the Oxford Dictionary of Current English, ‘transformation’ refers to a thorough or dramatic change in the appearance, character, for example; and ‘metamorphosis’ can be interpreted as a change of form from a pupa to an insect.

In this case, physically expressed in Bada’s painting as a change from fish to duck; or it could be referring to the psychological change of character that was happening to Bada Shanren during this crucial period. 

Under Zhu Wei’s Festival theme, the vacant expression on the worker’s eyes reveals their helplessness, being thrown into the turmoil as the result of the opening of China’s economy. Workers who have suddenly been told they have no jobs, and given ‘holidays’ instead, are at a loss, shuddering to think of what the future held in store for them (14). In this case bewildered Mainland Chinese people caught in precisely that irony is depicted in the Festival Series. 

In Zhu Wei’s series commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) painted in 2000 - entitled ‘Sunflowers’ (Plate Z4), we can see his cynicism at play. The blind adulation of power or authority is likened to the movement of sunflowers in response to the Sun. the composition of the figures is similar to that workers in ‘Festival No.9’ (Plate Z3) painted earlier in 1998, similar to Bada’s ‘Fish and Duck, 1689’ (Plate B1, Section ii). Subtle difference can be observed, for example, the left figure is slightly in front of the right figure. However the striking difference here as compared to Zhu Wei’s earlier paintings is the empty or clean background. The removal of the blaring images from different eras, in different languages, characteristics of Zhu Wei’s style can be likened to the removal of jamming signals found around the artist, and also signifies the coming of age of the young artist. In taking the dramatic step of simplifying and unifying his painting language into a purer and more distilled form, we see a more confident and bold Zhu Wei in the making. 

In another series painted in the same year, 2000 - the ‘South Sees’ Series, we can observe the pair of figures in the two similar composition seen earlier, transforming into a pair of fishes (Plate Z5, South Seas, No.2) swimming towards the same direction, left. Compared with the leaner and sharper form of Bada’s fish in ink, Zhu Wei’s fishes in blue green tones are fuller and rounder. 


Zhu Wei’s preference for full and round forms that are also evident in his human figures could be the standard of taste originating from folk art, and/or the historical cultivated aesthetic that regarded roundness as beauty in low-productivity agricultural societies (for instance in Tang dynasty figures) (15). His characteristic grids are also included in the coloured background where the fish pair are placed higher position as compared to Bada’s original set, and are in perfect balanced with the space below.

Fish and Ducks by Bada Shanren




Plate B2 Section (ii)

The change of Zhu Wei’s human figure pair subjects to fish pair could be an interpretation of Bada’s idea of metamorphosis and transformation in his ‘Fish and Ducks’ painted in 1689 (Plate B2, Section ii) and possibly a hint at the source of inspiration. Bada’s sense of rhythm and natural movement in the original masterpiece with the integrated, harmonious composition of fish swimming to and fro in a vast expanse of waster can also be felt in Zhu Weis’s version. 


2. Single Fish Paintings - Self Image

Zhu Wei’s first fish image appeared in the ‘Diary of the Sleepwalker, No 24' (Plate Z6). In the 'Diary of the Sleepwalker' Series, painted in 1998, Zhu Wei's interest in psychology prompted him to explore the dream state in which, minus the constraints and pressures when one is awake, one's true self and thought are revealed (14). The source of Zhu Wei's figures' white eyes are made known pictorially for the first time in his reinterpretation of the Single Flat Fish (in opposite direction to the group) from Section (iv) of the Shanghai Museum Fish and Duck hand scroll (Plate B2). In the ‘Diary of the Sleepwalker, No. 24', modern colour and composition are adopted and the focus is 'zoom in' onto the fish as a subject. Zhu Wei has also given his 'address' seal a contemporary touch with the website address of Plum Blossoms Gallery in this painting. 

Painted in the same year, 1998, a school of Bada influenced fishes can be observed swimming leftwards in the background while a contemporary figure is seen looking the opposite direction (right. upwards) in Zhu Wei's 'Sweet life, No21' (Plate Z7). There are a few elements at play here in which Zhu Wei has included in his story. Composition-wise, we can trace the influence back once again to the single flat fish in foreground swimming away from the fish group in background in Section (vi) of Bada's 'Fish and Ducks' painted in 1689 (Plate B2). We can look back to Section (v) of the same hand scroll, depicting a single fish swimming left for the form of the fish. In 'South Seas No.1' (Plate Z8), a similar fish form is transformed in another composition as the dominating fish with a small fish in the background. In general, Zhu Wei's recent 'South Seas' Series, seemed to play the role of unraveling the riddles which he has woven in his story in his earlier years. 

Sweet Life No.21

Plate Z7

Zhu Wei has also successfully composed an integrated harmonious composition of elements from different eras to depict the confused world in which he lived - Bada's fishes swimming (Qing Dynasty) in the water element (absent in Bada's original works) extracted from the Northern Song (北宋) painter Wang Xi Meng (王希孟)'s landscape 'Qian Shan Wan Li Tu Juan' (千山万里图卷), now in the Palace Museum of Beijing (北京故宫博物院藏), with Zhu Wei's modem figure with their round and full silhouette as discussed earlier in the foreground (16)

Shadows of Bada's single globefish, Section (iii) of his 'Fish and Duck' hand scroll, painted in 1689 (Plate B2) can be observed in Zhu Wei's fuller and rounder modem interpretation in 'South Seas No. 8' (Plate Z9). The image of the single globefish or river pig, said to contain a form of poison that was fatal if not properly removed before cooking is repeated used as another extended self-image of Bada - if not dealt with carefully, it could harm you. This self-image is repeated again with a boldly written poem in Leaf C of his 'Fish, Lotus, and Bamboo' (Plate B1), painted in the same year. Bada's imperial identity is hinted in the autobiographical poem. In the context of Kangxi's second Southern Tour, from the first to the third lunar month, Bada's guarded but searching and self-mocking examination of his true identity might be seen as a quiet act of defiance (3)

A similar composition can be observed in Zhu Wei's 'The Square, No. 9' (Plate ZI0) painted in 1995, a series of ocean paintings with reference to Tiananmen Square. Like the ocean, Tiananmen is vast and imposing. The historical events that occurred here are like a turbulent ocean, chaotic, influential. Like water, they permeate everyone's life, you cannot escape. You just try to save yourself within it. Zhu Wet has also put images of Stalin and Marx, something of historical significance alongside with the confronting and possibly autobiographic image of a common soldier in deep thoughts bobbing in the ocean (10). Instead of a poem, Zhu Wet has included the Lyrics of a Song by Cut Jian, the well-known Beijing rock singer and composer: 


Heaps of problems lay before me,

Let's solve you first.

You can say there isn't a bigger problem.

The idea just flashed across my mind.

To resolve you first.

Heaps of problems lay before me,

But now there is only one.

I pretend to be serious with you.

But you see through me.

You extend your arms with seeming indifference,

Accepting all my sham and trouble.


The Square No.9

Plate Z10

Zhu Wet has connected traditional Chinese painting which he feels is out of touch with modem society with pop culture that is more relevant to the present. Cut Jian's bold lyrics written in bamboo strip-like space is balanced by the generous application of his Zhu Wei Yin Xin seals used in an unorthodox way. With the combination of the soldier and the background in tones of blue and green, the painting is transformed into a yet another haunting self-image.


Interpretation and Conclusion

The playful body or collection of graphic art that Bada Shanren created from the winter of 1659-60 consistently until his death in 1705 is a result of his unique circumstances where he is alone. In the context of this paper, in particular, fish seeking the forgetful freedom of deep waters; glaring eyes, the "white eyes" of anger, staring out from fish, birds, and animals; fish transforming into birds; trees stunted and broken, like men's lives (1). These can also be read in Zhu Wei's collage of images from the past and present through his modem interpretation of Bada's art. From the "White eyes" staring from his figures of civilians and soldiers; the transformation of his human figures into fishes; the posture of his figures as an analogy of their lives. 

The reading and interpretation of Bada and Zhu Wei's paintings is approached from the angle of the published account from Carina Hinton's Video Interview in 1997 - the influence of Bada's composition, mood and method of painting the fish eye on Zhu Wei (12)

The essence of Bada's fish paintings, the eyes can be differentiated into ‘无可奈何’; ‘无名怒火’; ‘无头无脑’; ‘无精打采’ or translated briefly as 'helpless'; 'inexplicable anger'; 'aimlessly' and 'listless', as discussed by Abraham P N. Ho in "The Impact of Pa-ta on the painting of the Twentieth Century"(17). Zhu Wet has successfully adopted Bada's "While Eyes" in the depiction of his subjects caught in the dramatic change of tides, in an otherwise picture perfect setting. Bada's group of fish community that speaks of aftermath and survival is used to express the isolation and loneliness, human frailty, irrationality, lack of the spiritual and the ever-growing materialism - the dilemmas of living in modem day China in a bizarre and frustrating era. Caught in the dramatic change of tides, having no alternative or no way out of their situation in which they are in, and without a clue or an idea of the future that lies ahead, Zhu Wei's subjects are involuntary participants in the drama of life shaped by the political and social changes sweeping across the country. ‘Helpless’, ‘aimlessly’ and 'listless' are the underlying tones of Zhu Wei’s fish-eyed human figures. However, Bada's 'inexplicable anger' is absent in Zhu Wei's diary. 


Based on the fish composition of two key paintings painted in the same year 1689 - 'Fish and Ducks', Shanghai Museum (Plate B2) and 'Fish, Lotus. Globefish, and Bamboo', 1689, L. and C. Rosshandler

Lotus by Bada Shanren

Plate B1

Collection (Plate B1), Bada's influence is traced and Zhu Wei’s development of his own unique composition is followed in the ten paintings painted from 1993 to 2000. From the paintings, we can observe how Zhu Wei adopts Bada's fish composition into his story about living in modern China. The usage of self-image-like figures in his painting is similar to Bada's repeated use of the icons such as the river pig as an extended self-image. Zhu Wei has also successfully included Chinese Rock and Roll lyrics in his paintings as a contemporary expression compared to Bada's balance of poems that hints at the underlying meaning of his seemingly harmless paintings of fish. These features, collectively as a whole has become the unique voice of Zhu Wei's art which, strictly speaking, does not fit into any categories of the contemporary art movement of his time or any traditional school. 


In the tradition of the recluse executing beautiful images and actually expressing dissatisfaction with the society from which he deliberately withdraws, Zhu Wei has not taken to any mountains, for the city and city life it contains is the source of all his characters (18). The exaggerated forms in Zhu Wei's paintings, the caricatures, the expressions and the incompatible combinations of forms, eras and appearances are bizarre but are also common sights associated with Beijing. 

Zhu Wei is a self confessed person "with fear of danger and angst when confronted with an unknown reality" and also someone "with a strong craving for sacred purity and love of a good time" and a reluctant iconoclast (5). He focuses on the search for pure, free and brilliant way out with his "uncoordinated gongbi style" - with inspiration from past masters, a strong sense of the present and a sacred aspiration to build a new, idealistic world.


1.       Fu Xinian, The Complete Works of Chinese Art, Painting Compilation No. 3, Northern and Southern Song Dynasty Painting Volume 1, Beijing, 傅熹年,’中国美术全集 绘画编3 两宋绘画 ’, 文物出版社, 北京, 1998.

2.       Hilary Binks, An Original: Zhu Wei - PLA grad was discovered in a sea of kiosks, Window Magazine, 1996.

3.       K.K Goh, Zhai Shi Ye Shi Tu Jai De Gong Ren or translated Unemployment Workers on Holiday, Lian He Zao Bao, Oct 1998.

4.       Lee Hui-shu, The Two Fish Leaves of the Aswan Album and Bada Shanren's Serene Lamentation, to be published in Ars Orientalis.

5.       Li Xianting, China Avant-Garde: Counter Currents in Art and Culture, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 1993.

6.       McGuinness, Stephen (ed.). Zhu Wei Diary, Plum Blossoms (International) Ltd., Hong Kong and Singapore, 2000.

7.       Plum Blossoms Art Gallery, Zhu Wei: The Story of Beijing, Plum Blossoms (International) Ltd.. Hong Kong and Singapore, 1994.

8.       Plum Blossoms Art Gallery, Zhu Wei: China Diary, Plum Blossoms (International) Ltd., Hong Kong and Singapore, 1996.

9.       Plum Blossoms Art Gallery, Zhu Wei: The Diary of the Sleepwalker, Plum Blossoms {International} Ltd., Hong Kong and Singapore, 1998.

10.   Taiwan National Museum of History, The Paintings and Calligraphy of Pa-Ta and Shih-Tao, National Museum of History, Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China, ‘八大石涛书画集’, 中国民国 国立历史博物馆, 1984.

11.   Sullivan, Michael, Art and Artists of Twentieth-century China, University of California Press, Berkely, 1996.

12.   Sullivan, Michael, Chinese and Japanese Art, Franklin Watts Inc., New York, 1965.

13.   Wang Fang Yu and Barnhart, Richard M. and Smith, Judith G., Master of the Lotus Garden: Life and Art of Bada Shanren (1626-1705), 1990, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.

Tan Hwee Koon

July, 2001


First published in Zhu Wei, p.40-51, published by Hebei Education Press, China, 2006


Tan Hwee Koon graduated in Art History from the Master's Program in Comparative Culture, Graduate Divison of Foreign Studies, Sophia University, Tokyo, Japan. Previously based in the Beijing 798 Art District as the Artistic Director of Asia Art Center, Beijing, she is an independent art consultant and the curator of the exhibition Li Chen: Mind. Body. Spirit at the Singapore Art Museum.




























Plate B2

(Wang Fangyu)在他的文章中提到,癫狂或是类似癫狂的病症是否在十七世纪七十年代末八十年代初袭击了八大仍是一件尚未确定的事(6)。他常常是愤怒的,实际上,悲愤、厌倦、挫折感是他这一段时期艺术的主题。王方育在他的文章中还说到,八大在这段时间又一次组建家庭,但是无论他的新家庭还是这段世俗生活都没有给他带来欢乐。十七世纪八十年代早期八大开始用以前他未尝试过的一种画风进行绘画。1681年到1684年他的画风改变得相当厉害,并且直到这段时期后期也没有形成—种稳定的画风。也就是在1684年,他开始采用八大山人这个笔名,作为他一生的缩影(1)。其时,影响他一生的重大事件已经都结束,他仍然居住在他出生的地方,成为一个诗人、画家、书法家和遁于世外的隐士。


1689年至1692年是八大山人艺术成长和突破的另一个重要时期。1689年他开始描绘一些小动物群,来代表他当时的生活状态,1690年这种构图趋向完善。而1693年以后,八大开始持续地画些山水画。根据Richard MBarnhart的说法,八大的这种转变表明他已经从1644年国破家亡的悲痛中渐渐恢复(1)。五十年,八大山人花了五十年的时间才从这种悲痛中恢复,他的态度逐渐变为忍受、听之任之,或是李惠淑(Lee Huishu)所说的“为他失去的世界和国家的‘宁静的悲哀’”(7)。当这种宁静最终在十七世纪九十年代到来的时候,八大山人已经不再将自己的愤怒和巨大的悲怆通过绘画来传达;当这种愤怒和悲怆消退的时候,八大山人转向了传统但永不过时的绘画表现方式——山水画,并创造出一系列可以与任何中国传统画家相媲美的优美的风景画。他的山水画代表了他人生和道德的新境界。





朱伟的经历折射了中国近代文化和社会的变革。他出生于1966年,也正是中国伟大的无产阶级文化人革命的头一年。他成长在政治狂热中,这儿充斥着“斗争”、  “自我批评”、公共审判、毛泽东的“小红书”和红卫兵的格言(5)。朱伟的童年是一种独一无二的“文化大革命下的生活”。他的童年没有无忧无虑的乡村生活,或是正常的城市生活。当他开始对周围的世界有所感知的时候,这个周围的世界正经历着史无前例的混乱。由于被剥夺了任何一个孩子所应有的一切,他很快对周围的世界产生了疏离感。而他的父母当时却正积极地或不得不积极地参与到政治运动中,忽视了他的存在,最后干脆把他留给他的祖母照看。革命也剥夺了他本来有可能得到的父母之爱(9)













a. 鱼群——人群绘画


The Story of Beijing, No. 9

Plate Z2


 在那个有可能是唯一提到过八大对朱伟的影响的出版文件“卡玛.辛顿(Carma Hinton)访问摘录,1997”里,朱伟谈到了他最喜欢的艺术家,八大山人,在构图上和感情上对他的影响,包括八大那在大白圈中点一个小黑点的描绘鱼眼的方式(12)。此外,还有—些出版物谈到了八大的间接影响,但并没有提到这位大师的名字。能够最直接地从朱伟的作品里看到的线索是作品人物的眼睛。很多人相信,眼睛是所有生物灵魂的窗口,一个人的眼睛会透露出一个人的想法。当人们欣赏朱伟的绘画时会发现,在优美的图画里,那双八大山人的“白眼”在现代人身上的再现,这恰恰反映了他想表达的人物的复杂思想和阴沉表情(12)Jefferey Hantover在关于朱伟的作品“北京故事”,1993的文章里提到这双眼睛时说:“军队和老百姓都以平常心来看待这个新世界。仔细查看画面上的人物,几乎没有人相互注视着对方或往外看着我们,他们总是不经意地看着一边,或向上看,或向眼角外看……然而只有外面的人知道这个答案:他们的生命剧本是由未知的人所写成的(14)

这里可以参考由Rosshandler所收藏的八大的“鱼,莲,圆鱼,和竹,1689”作品中的“卷a,鱼”。画中四条鱼在鱼池里,每条鱼可见的那只眼睛都无一例外地向上瞪视,颜色有韵律的逐渐变淡,仿佛池水平静而鱼群缓慢向前游动。根据Richard MBarnhart的研究,这是八大首次绘制的动物群体,而画中提的诗则描绘了在动荡世界中的生存(13)。这幅画与目前收藏于上海博物馆的画册选集里的画(裱为手卷轴)“鱼鸭图卷”之一的鱼群,相当相似,并且都被认为是在同一年的九月九重阳节期间绘制的。还有一些他同年早期绘制的作品--Rosshandler的收藏品,鱼群和圆鱼,以及广东省博物馆收藏的睡鸭——现在经过研究被认为是一整幅作品的不同部分(6)。也就是说,八大山人在同一时期绘制了上海博物馆的手卷轴和这些画册选集,这是在]689年六月至十月期间——也是康熙皇帝第一次南巡之前仅数月——绘制的。这—象征性的事件极大影响了八大山人的思想。这段时间八大山人能够轻易地书画合一,相得益彰。画上半部分的苍白的鱼和画面下半部分强有力的书法之间存在微妙的相互影响和内在作用力。可以看到,八大山人把他在这次充满灾难、危险和恐惧的变故后的生活和思想统统绘制在他的作品中(13)




Ducks by Bada Shanren

Plate B1








朱伟的首条鱼的形象出现在“梦游手记,24号”里。在1998年绘制的“梦游手记”系列中,朱伟对心理学的兴趣促使他探索人的梦境,在梦里,人在清醒时承受的强制和压抑大大缓解,人开始释放自我,真正的思想也得以显现(14)。朱伟描绘的这个白眼形象的绘画灵感源泉,在上海博物馆收藏的手卷轴“鱼鸭图卷”之四里里首次出场,一条大平鱼向与其它鱼相反的方向游去。而在“梦游手记,24号”里,则采用了现代的色彩和构图,同时,放大了这条鱼使之成为整幅画的主题。在这幅画中,朱伟还用纽约Plum Blossoms画廊的网址做了个相当前卫的印章。




Diary of the Sleepwalker, No.24

Plate Z6




眼前的问题很多   无法解决

可总是没什么机会   是更大的问题

明天的问题很多  可现在只有一个

我装作和你谈正经的   可被你看破

你好象无谓的笑着   还伸出了手






Abraham PNHo的关于八大山人的文章“八大山人对二十世纪绘画的影响”里谈到鱼眼时,可以找到以下的形容方式,“无可奈何”,“无名怒火”,“无头无脑”,“无精打采”;或是被翻译为HELPLESSINEXPLCABLE ANGERAIMLESSLY,和LISTLESS(17)。朱伟在描绘时代变迁的主题时,用另一种完美的绘画方式很好地运用了八大山人的“白眼”。八大那些诉说着劫后余生的鱼群被运用于表达孤立和孤独、人类群体的脆弱、无理性状态、灵魂的一文不值、精神力量的缺乏和不断壮大的唯物主义——在面对怪异、挫折时代中的中国现代日常生活的左右为难。在时代剧变的发展趋势中,没有另一个选择,也没有办法逃脱他们现在的生活状态,对即将来到的未来毫无头绪,朱伟描绘的主题就是这种人们在不知不觉中被卷入到一场席卷全国的政治和社会的变革中时的生命状态。“无可奈何”,“无头无脑”,“无精打采”就是对朱伟的鱼眼人形的诠释。但是,八大山人的“无名怒火”在朱伟的日记中还是缺席的。






1.      傅熹年,《中国美术全集 绘画编3 两宋绘画 》,文物出版社北京1998

2.       Hilary Binks“别出心裁:朱伟——在亭台楼阁海洋中的前解放军人”,杂志《窗户》,1996

3.       K.K. Goh“放假的失业工人Unemployment Workers on Holiday”,《联合早报》199810月。

4.       李惠淑Lee Hui-shu的文章“两条鱼册页与八大山人平静的哀伤”。收录于即将出版的《东方艺术》(该杂志为密歇根大学历史艺术学院和史密森学会的Freer艺术画廊联合赞助出版的学术年刊——译注)。

5.       栗宪庭,《中国先锋:艺术和文化中的逆流》,牛津大学出版社1993年出版,牛津,纽约。

6.       McGuinness, Stephen,《朱伟日记》,万玉堂(国际)有限公司,香港与新加坡,2000

7.       万玉堂画廊,《朱伟:北京故事》,万玉堂(国际)有限公司,香港与新加坡,1994

8.       万玉堂画廊,《朱伟:中国日记》,万玉堂(国际)有限公司,香港与新加坡,1996

9.       万玉堂画廊,《朱伟:梦游手记》,万玉堂(国际)有限公司,香港与新加坡,1998

10.   台湾国家历史博物馆,《八大与石涛的绘画和书法》,国家历史博物馆,台北,台湾,中华民国,1984

11.   Sullivan, Michael,《二十世纪的中国艺术和艺术家》,加利福尼亚大学,伯克里,1996

12.   Sullivan, Michael,《中国艺术与日本艺术》,Franklin Watts公司,纽约,1965

13.   王方育、Barnhart, Richard M.Smith, Judith G.《莲花园的大师:八大山人的生命和艺术(1626-1705)》,耶鲁大学画廊,1990,纽海文。