Gallery Hours:
Mon - Fri 10:30 - 5:00
Sun 12:00 - 5:00

Saturdays & Holidays

Admission is free
Parking fees may apply


The Reformer’s Brush:
Modernity and Traditional Media in China

February 27 - April 8, 2011

Introduction / Section 1 / Section 2 / Section 3 / Section 4 / Section 5 / Epilogue

Puyi, calligraphy (Dragon character)

below left:
Liu Yong, calligraphy album



The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in China were a period of rapid change, marked by wide-ranging debates over how China should move into the modern age, and what, exactly, a modern China would look like. The place of Chinese traditional culture in a modernizing nation was a key point in these debates. Some thinkers saw traditional culture as an obstacle to China’s growth and prosperity, while others considered it a precious heritage endangered by the forces of modernity. But recent scholarship suggests that neither of these views tells the whole story. Rather than considering tradition and modernity to be incompatible opposites, modernity can be understood as a tool for exploring, altering or recasting traditions.

A central goal of this exhibition is to question the relationship between tradition and modernity in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century China. As the works in the exhibition reveal, many of the men at the center of the reform movements of the period also cultivated the traditional practices of painting and calligraphy. That said, their paintings and writings were not limited to traditional themes and styles. Rather, they used traditional media to reflect on or engage with the questions of modernity and change that were central to their times. In this process, painting and calligraphy themselves became tools to convey new ideas. Beyond this, the cultivation of traditional painting and calligraphy was part of what enabled some of these men to become so influential. Continuing the traditional practices of the historical educated elite provided them with the prestige they needed to promote and implement change.