Art & Artists Artists & Collections Artists Zheng Jin

Zheng Jin

1883-1959

SUMMARY

The modernisation in China in the beginning of the 20th century tumbled as the external forces marched into the society. As for fine arts, the discipline emerged around 1905, when massive number of students started studying in Japan. As a result, the imported new knowledge across a wide range of disciplines changed the appearance of Chinese fine arts in terms of its methods and techniques, and further impacted the cultural scene through a transformation in thinking and institutions.

Zheng Jin arrived in Japan in 1902, pursuing his studies in Kyoto City Dohda Senior High School of Arts and later in Kyoto Municipal Specialist School of Painting. Returning to China in 1914, he was referred by Liang Qichao and took up a position at the Ministry of Education. In 1917, Zheng became the first president of the National School of Fine Arts in Beijing set up in the same year. He was credited with advocating an inclusive guiding principal within the very first national school of fine arts in the Chinese history, offering courses including Anatomy, History of Art, Aesthetics, and Western Painting, among others, under the subject of Chinese Painting. The school sought to fill the gap of Chinese painting with the techniques from other countries and put an emphasis on painting from life. The idea, resonating with the concept of ‘aesthetic education’ and ‘introducing scientific methods to art’ proposed by Zheng’s contemporary Cai Yuanpei, provided a paradigm for the enlightenment of professional fine arts education in modern China. In 1924, Zheng resigned as president in the upheavals of student strike and dedicated himself to mass education after making acquaintance with Y. C. James Yen. He went to Dingxian, Hebei in 1927 to promote mass education, aiming to wipe out illiteracy, raise civic awareness, and introduce aesthetic education to the common people.

Zheng’s early years of studying in Japan and his work experience at the Palace Museum results in his unique painting style combining nihonga with the Academic Painting (Yuanti School) of Song Dynasty. His highly decorative and brightly coloured paintings depict figures with an exquisite delicacy, at once conveying the traditional ethos of grace and harmony, and revealing his meticulous skills of painting physical objects. While flower-and-bird paintings and lady portraits make up the majority of his early works, Zheng turned to realistic themes in the 1930s and 1940s. The shift might be catalysed by the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, or it was the result of Zheng’s continuous thinking of ‘art as the only powerful tool in mass education’. In 1940, he relocated to Macau and had focused on his own painting since then. A lot of his work of this period embraces popular appeal, painting mundane themes from farmer, garden to rural life.

In the vicissitudes of Chinese society in the 19th century, Zheng Jin might not pioneer as a reformer of painting as such. His understanding and expression of ‘fine arts’, a term only entering the art narratives in China in 1902, might have transcended the skills and thinking that creators delved into in his age – his horizons extended to the exploration of a broader social function for the common people.

The modernisation in China in the beginning of the 20th century tumbled as the external forces marched into the society. As for fine arts, the discipline emerged around 1905, when massive number of students started studying in Japan. As a result, the imported new knowledge across a wide range of disciplines changed the appearance of Chinese fine arts in terms of its methods and techniques, and further impacted the cultural scene through a transformation in thinking and institutions.

Zheng Jin arrived in Japan in 1902, pursuing his studies in Kyoto City Dohda Senior High School of Arts and later in Kyoto Municipal Specialist School of Painting. Returning to China in 1914, he was referred by Liang Qichao and took up a position at the Ministry of Education. In 1917, Zheng became the first president of the National School of Fine Arts in Beijing set up in the same year. He was credited with advocating an inclusive guiding principal within the very first national school of fine arts in the Chinese history, offering courses including Anatomy, History of Art, Aesthetics, and Western Painting, among others, under the subject of Chinese Painting. The school sought to fill the gap of Chinese painting with the techniques from other countries and put an emphasis on painting from life. The idea, resonating with the concept of ‘aesthetic education’ and ‘introducing scientific methods to art’ proposed by Zheng’s contemporary Cai Yuanpei, provided a paradigm for the enlightenment of professional fine arts education in modern China. In 1924, Zheng resigned as president in the upheavals of student strike and dedicated himself to mass education after making acquaintance with Y. C. James Yen. He went to Dingxian, Hebei in 1927 to promote mass education, aiming to wipe out illiteracy, raise civic awareness, and introduce aesthetic education to the common people.

Zheng’s early years of studying in Japan and his work experience at the Palace Museum results in his unique painting style combining nihonga with the Academic Painting (Yuanti School) of Song Dynasty. His highly decorative and brightly coloured paintings depict figures with an exquisite delicacy, at once conveying the traditional ethos of grace and harmony, and revealing his meticulous skills of painting physical objects. While flower-and-bird paintings and lady portraits make up the majority of his early works, Zheng turned to realistic themes in the 1930s and 1940s. The shift might be catalysed by the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, or it was the result of Zheng’s continuous thinking of ‘art as the only powerful tool in mass education’. In 1940, he relocated to Macau and had focused on his own painting since then. A lot of his work of this period embraces popular appeal, painting mundane themes from farmer, garden to rural life.

In the vicissitudes of Chinese society in the 19th century, Zheng Jin might not pioneer as a reformer of painting as such. His understanding and expression of ‘fine arts’, a term only entering the art narratives in China in 1902, might have transcended the skills and thinking that creators delved into in his age – his horizons extended to the exploration of a broader social function for the common people.

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