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Feng Zikai 丰子恺 (1898-1975)

 

Feng Zikai 豐子愷 (1898-1975) Born in Tongxiang, Zhejiang Province.  Cartoonist, translator, and author.  Editor of Kaiming Publishing House, Vice director of the East China Artists Association of Shanghai, director of Shanghai Institute of Chinese Painting and vice chairman of Joint Federation of Literature and Art World in Shanghai.

 


 

Feng was a leading public intellectual prior to the establishment of Communism. He is most remembered for his spare and humorous cartoons painted with a Chinese brush.  He became a devout Buddhist under the influence of his teacher at the Hangzhou First Normal School, Li Shutong, later known as Hongyi.  Starting in 1927, he collaborated with his teacher to produce a multi-volume series of cartoons and calligraphy entitled Protecting Life Painting Series.  Feng made a vow that he would complete a new volume every decade on the anniversary of Li Shutong’s birth to reiterate the importance of showing compassion to all living things including animals, plants and insects.

 

Feng studied art and music in Japan from 1921-22.  Throughout his life, he fostered an international outlook, translating Japanese and Russian literature and writing about world art.  He was a devoted stay-at-home father who frequently featured his own children in his cartoons.  He valued the inventiveness of their play and argued for giving youth the leisure and scope to develop their imagination. Before the Japanese invasion, Feng lived a quiet scholarly existence on a beloved country estate, Yuan Yuan Tang.  The war destroyed his possessions and uprooted his family. After the war, he moved his residence to Shanghai.

 

After 1949, Feng’s social outlook was dismissed as not radical enough.  He was forced to undergo thought reform.  He produced relatively few cartoons and kept a low-profile throughout the fifties. In 1960, the political climate changed. He was invited to become director of the Shanghai Institute of Chinese Painting. He became a prominent champion of the new policies easing political requirements on artists.  In a 1962 speech to the Second Congress of the joint Shanghai Artists and Writers Association, he warned against using “giant hedge cutters” to make creative expression conform to a uniform standard.   The Cultural Revolution came down hard on him. He was publicly harassed and bullied.  Young militants co-inhabited his residence in Shanghai. Sent to the countryside to perform labor, he nearly died under the harsh living conditions. Returned to his home after hospitalization, he managed to secretly complete one last volume of the Protecting Life Painting Series, a final plea to humanity to rein in callousness.

 

Feng Zikai 丰子恺  (1898-1975)
1963 photograph with cat Ah Mi

 

 

 

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