Aihua Zhou – Chinese Face and Western Body

A classical figurative sculptor, draftswoman, Aihua was born in Beijing, China. She pursued a professional education at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. After this she immigrated to the United States, where she studied figurative art at Cal Lutheran University and classical figurative sculpture at Academy of Art University, San Francisco where she graduated with her MFA.

She is very interested in image of masculinity in representational art both practice and research, particularly in late nineteenth and early twentieth century cross-cultural ideal man of East and West.

She is currently attending a doctoral program in art history and visual culture at the University of Exeter, England, focusing on the relationship between the art and culture of the East and West. She teaches drawing at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California.

Chinese Face and Western Body: Xu Beihong’s artistic inspiration by Michelangelo

When the great Chinese painter Xu Beihong returned to China in 1927 after studying Western art in Paris and other cultural centers for eight years, he brought with him a new vision of ideal masculinity – one which was particularly inspired by the work of Michelangelo. He saw in this an opportunity to re-imagine representations of the Chinese male figure which would not only embody national spirituality, but also bring back China’s face after a series of national defeats and perceived humiliations. Using an approach inspired by Michelangelo, Xu replaced the conventional depictions of Chinese men (rather androgynous, gentle, stylized, stiff, clothed) with more muscular, heroic, graceful and naked images.

Interestingly, this aspect of Xu Beihong’s work has been completely ignored. This paper will explore the reasons for that, and suggest that the time is ripe for a new appreciation of this component of his work. Combining visual and textual analysis with an examination of the social and cultural circumstances surrounding these works, I will trace the development of Xu Beihong’s admiration for and emulation of Michelangelo, as well suggesting what it may presage for the understanding of masculinity in the cross-cultural art of the future?