Worldly Fables

This prologue sketches the lives of two early-twentieth-century artists to refute the myth of China’s millennial “linking tracks with the world” as brand new. Born in the same year, Xu Beihong and Pan Yuliang carved paths through the world that repeatedly crossed as they moved in and out of Chinese and European art institutions. Their adaptation of academic oil painting to different representational ends fed into a heated debate about modernism and the social role of art in the Chinese cultural politics of their time. Their pairing demonstrates how, at every turn of their careers, gender politics influenced what they painted, the opportunities that opened or closed to them, and their artistic afterlives in the twenty-first-century ethnographic present.