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Hills Beyond A River

SCOPE, the initial issue, March 2014, special feature "The Art of Our Times" - "Zhu Wei talks about SCOPE"

By Zhu Wei

A few days ago a journalist of Hi Art sent message to me, asking whether I can take an interview in the next day to talk about Zhu Xinjian. I thought the message was sent to the wrong person, because I'm also surnamed Zhu, or Mr. Zhu for short. So I replied quickly: are you trying to find Zhu Xinjian? After that I went online and knew what had happened, I apologized to the journalist, for I might have frightened him.

Before these voices faded off, yesterday when I just arrived in America and hardly had time to set my feet, I received another message telling me that the famous historian of Chinese art James Cahill just passed away. This time I was frightened, because the place I was going to is the University of California, Berkeley, where he lived.

The Great Leader taught us that people always die, but some people's death may be weightier than Mount Tai, and some other people may die in vain as light as a feather. Of course the generation after 80s, 90s, or 00s may not know who the Great Leader is, since there are so many leaders in the various walks of life at present, especially the business leaders. Kids can remember the names of the top 100 in the rich list, just as when I was a child I could immediately say the names of all members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, but might not answer immediately and accurately who my parents were. Until today I still cannot understand, why some people are weightier than Mount Tai when they are alive, even the Mount Tai has to stand behind him, and some people are in such a low position that his words carry little weight, with nobody care or listen to... how can this situation be attached to people even after they die? What the hell materialism it is?

I basically have collected all of James Cahill's books, Hills Beyond A River: Chinese Painting of the Yuan Dynasty, 1279-1368, Distant Mountain: Chinese Painting of the Late Ming Dynasty, 1570-1644, The Compelling Image: Nature and Style in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Painting, The Painter's Practice: How Artists Lived and Worked in Traditional China, Garden Paintings in Old China, Lyric Journey: Poetic Painting in China and Japan. The books I put on my bookshelves in my studio is to let people see them but I never lend them, while for some other books I'm too afraid that people will borrow them, so I never put them on the bookshelves. Cahill's books belong to the latter. Cahill's works introduced Chinese painting to the history of world painting system which is more easily accepted by the westerners, and through his introduction, many outstanding ancient Chinese paintings entered into world famous museums. If our scholars write a book about how great Chinese art history or Chinese painting is, hoping to promote Chinese art, probably nobody will buy it. Actually the common principle is the same everywhere, but we happen to be the disappointing ones. When some foreigners say Andy Warhol or who else is very great, we immediately repeat their words without any hesitation, and even exaggerate it a little bit. I have read articles on me by Geremie R. Barmé, Alfreda Murck, Britta Erickson, and so on, realizing that the articles by these foreign scholars are very different from the domestic ones. First of all, the narrative method is not the same. Their style is independent, rigorous, and uncompromising, never trying to find fault in you or your works with pre-established intention, or picking up useful information to accomplish the intention. They always hope to find out some interesting things with artist. If there is a sentence or a noun which looks familiar, there must be an annotation or reference later, while the annotations and references is almost as long as the article itself. In addition to the precise and logical literature research, you can still read a lively story, such as The Painter's Practice which can be read as a TV drama.

I have told a story in the interviews with artron.net and the Southern Weekend, which was cited from The Painter's Practice: In the Song Dynasty or the Qing Dynasty (I forget the specific year), a collector in an ancient China's village wanted to purchase a painter's works. However, the painter was so ethical. As long as he could make a living, he refused to sell his paintings. So day after day, no matter it was windy or rainy, the collector kept to climb up the hill at the entrance of the village, or climb up a big tree, to check whether the painter's chimney was smoking. If for a few days there was no smoke coming out, he would quickly run to the painter's home with enough food and firewood, in order to trade the painter's painting.