Native Soil Painting

Native Soil Painting
(Xiangtu ziranzhuyi huihua)
Native Soil Painting is an artistic current that emerged in the early 1980s and focused on the depiction of the countryside and national ethnic minorities. It was initiated by young artists, who had been ‘sent down’ to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution and looked back on the rugged life of the period with a degree of nostalgia. Sharing a humanist tendency with Scar art, it sought to honour the real, ordinary heroes of daily life rather than the glorified characters of the Cultural Revolution. The ‘red, bright and shining’ (hongguangliang) pictorial conventions of the Cultural Revolution were to be replaced in these paintings by the ‘small, bitter and old’ (xiaokujiu) of the so-called backward regions. The current reached its highest level with the early works of Luo Zhongli and Chen Danqing, but later became more mannerist, losing its immediacy and spontaneity.
The portrayal of similar subject-matter was perpetuated by the xiaxiang (going down to the countryside) curriculae in art academies whereby students were sent off to sketch and experience down-to-earth life, an educational inheritance of the French plein-air tradition adopted to serve socialist artistic purposes. In such way artists had an opportunity to travel to distant areas, coming into contact with different lifestyles and the remnants of China’s ancient culture. This prompted a root-seeking fever evident in the fascination with the Loess Plateau (Huangtu gaoyuan) culture in the works of Ding Fang and Shang Yang or in Shen Qin’s imaginative reconstruction, Master and Disciple Dialogue (Shitu duihua, 1985). China’s minorities also supplied a romantic, unfettered contrast to Chinese urban existence in the early works of Ai Xuan and Zhang Xiaogang, and were the subject of Zeng Xiaofeng’s quasi-anthropological sketchbook diaries.
The mystical appeal of Tibetan culture was apparent in the ‘Tibet Five Men Exhibition’ (Xizang wuren huazhan, Beijing, 1986).
Andrews, Julia F. (1994). Painters and Politics in the People’s Republic of China 1949–1979. Berkeley: University of California Press, 377–405.
Galikowski, Maria (1998). Art and Politics in China, 1949–1984. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 199–207.
Li, Xianting (1993). ‘Major Trends in the Development of Contemporary Chinese Art’. In Valerie C.Doran (ed.), China’s New Art, Post-1989, with a Retrospective from 1979 to 1989. Hong Kong: Hanart T Z Gallery, x–xxvi.
Lü, Peng and Yi, Dan (1992). Zhongguo xiandai yishu shi [A History of Modern Art in China]. Changsha: Hunan meishu chubanshe, 27–57.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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