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Huang Yongyu 黄永玉 (b. 1924)


Huang Yongyu 黄永玉 (b. 1924) Born in Hunan, of Tujia nationality. Woodcut artist, cartoonist, and traditional ink painter. Professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing.



A natural jokester, Huang did not fare well under the stern discipline of formal education.  He abandoned schooling at an early age and earned his living as a printmaker.  He worked for a pro-Communist newspaper in British-controlled Hong Kong, when, in 1953, a letter from his uncle, the famous author, Shen Congwen, persuaded him to return to China, where he was offered a faculty position at the Central Academy of Fine Arts.  When he arrived in Beijing, a massive effort to replace all pre-Communist printed material was underway. Huang found a niche as a woodcut artist and book illustrator.


The grace of his carved lines and the inventiveness of his compositions brought him acclaim. His colorful woodblock prints of minority people and exotic borderlands suited the new political temper. He himself was a member of a minority nationality, the Tujia people of Hunan. Once traditional Chinese painting returned to favor as a Party-sponsored art form during the early 1960s, he devoted an increasing amount of time to ink painting. He became disaffected after his close friends were labeled Rightists and sent to the hinterlands to face starvation. During the early 1960s, he was perceived as needing thought reform, and was sent to perform farm labor. To relieve boredom, whenever he had the opportunity, at night or even in the midst of political meetings, he composed humorous aphorisms about animals and birds. He paired them with cartoon illustrations. He circulated them among friends, who considered them a mild form of political satire.  One of his subjects, a winking owl, became his trademark theme. Later, critics accused Huang of using the owl to “wink at socialism.”

Huang Yongyu (b. 1924)


During the later phase of the Cultural Revolution, Huang and his family were consigned to live in a tiny shed without windows. Authorities presumed that he could not paint there, but Huang used brightly-colored pigments easily seen within a darkened space.  He pinned huge expanses of paper on the wall, and upon completion, stashed paintings under his bed.  He deliberately created works of monumental size as a symbolic statement of his will to resist.


Huang appreciated the efforts of Premier Zhou Enlai to rehabilitate artists. On the occasion of the Premier’s death in January of 1976, Huang created a lotus painting to honor his memory.  Later, when further mourning for the Premier was prohibited because the Premier seemed to be more popular than Mao, Huang defied the ban, and secretly carved a woodcut portrait of the deceased Zhou Enlai. After the Cultural Revolution, Huang was commissioned to design a textile honoring Chairman Mao, which still hangs behind Mao’s statue in his mausoleum on Tiananmen Square.