China's largest military art show of all time

Updated: 2012-08-03 09:21

By Zhu Linyong (China Daily)

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China's largest military art show of all time

Kids enjoy the military art exhibition at the National Art Museum of China, in Beijing. Jiang Dong / China Daily

The National Art Museum of China is hosting a military art exhibition - the largest ever - to commemorate the nation's Army Day, which fell on Aug 1.

The exhibition also celebrates the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) 85th birthday.

"It encompasses the best military-themed artworks Chinese artists have created over the past five years," says Li Xiang, the exhibition's chief curator and deputy director of the Artistic Creation Institute of PLA.

The exhibition is co-organized by the Ministry of Culture, the Artistic Creation Institute and the Chinese Artists Association.

Over the past six months, a 60-member jury has conducted three rounds of selections.

A total of 568 works, including ink paintings, oils, prints, watercolors, posters, picture-story illustrations, sculptures, installations, videos, and other types of experimental artworks, have been singled out from more than 12,000 entries for the grand show. The exhibits are housed in nine halls according to genres.

Viewers will be able to learn about the history of the PLA given their widely diverse styles and subject matters.

"These works offer the general public a glimpse of life and the inner world of military personnel," says Wu Changjiang, vice-chairman of the Chinese Artists Association.

Bai Zhiqiang, a visitor from Liaoning province, says he was most attracted to the ink depictions of young Red Army soldiers in the 1930s, as well as sculptures of Eighth Route Army soldiers and officers fighting Japanese invaders from 1937-45. He also likes the oil portrayals of Chinese military officers in peace-keeping missions and the Chinese Navy's convoy missions at the Gulf of Aden.

"For me, the art exhibition is like a vivid, intensive course about the development of the Chinese army over the past decades," Bai says.

These artworks not only present soldiers and officers on duty but also moments in their daily lives. For example, there are some which depict the romance between PLA officers and office girls.

Yan Junqin, a jury member and art historian with China Military Museum says, the exhibition "reflects a great step forward in China's military art which holds a very long tradition".

"The show is the climax in terms of the range of subjects, genres and styles," Yan says.

Cangyuan rock paintings, found in January 1965 in the Cangyuan Wa autonomous county, Yunnan province, is widely believed to be the oldest military-themed painting in China.

Painted on a rock 10 meters above ground, the recovered sections of the painting illustrate scenes of people on battlegrounds about 4,000 years ago.

The battle motifs resemble those found on the surface of a variety of bronze wares, excavated in different parts of the country over the past century.

But the best-known military-themed ancient artworks are the Terracotta Warriors, discovered in the Mausoleum of the First Emperor of Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) in Xi'an, the provincial capital of Shaanxi, Yan says.

Before the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties, the favorite genre for military-themed artworks was ink paintings on rice paper or silk scrolls.

Since Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), wood-block prints have been a widely used genre depicting battles, heroes and wartime romances.

For example, some New Year wood-block prints produced in Yangliuqing township of Tianjin in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) portray peasant-turned-soldiers scenes during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion.

Since early last century, military-themed artworks have evolved and became an integral part of mainstream Chinese art amid the nation's tumultuous history, laden with civil wars and wars against foreign aggression, says Li Yonglin, an art historian with Art Academy of PLA.

"Today, military-themed artworks focus on depicting the rise of China's military power as an essential force in safeguarding national security and world peace," Li adds.