CLP 85: 2005 “Issues in Sino-Japanese Artistic Exchange.” Workshop on Sino-Japanese Artistic Exchanges Ohio State U

Sino-Jap. Workshop, Columbus, April 30, 2005

Issues in Sino-Japanese Artistic Exchange (James Cahill)

My title and topic were given me by Judy Andrews, but I’m happy with them, because “exchange” avoids the prickly issue of “influence.” I haven’t enough time this morning to argue that issue at length again, and most of you are familiar with it anyway. I sometimes quote Michael Baxandall, who wrote (in an “Excursus Against Influence” in his Patterns of Intention book): “‘Influence’ is a curse of art criticism primarily because of its wrong-headed grammatical prejudice about who is the agent and who the patient; it seems to me to reverse the active/passive relation. . . If one says that X influenced Y it does seem that one is saying that X did something to Y rather than that Y did something to X. But in the consideration of good pictures and painters the second is always the more lively reality.” He is writing about artist-to-artist situations, but what he writes applies as well to cross-cultural transmissions—for our subject today, between China and Japan. If the formulation that sees the so-called “receiving” culture or artist as in fact the active party, making deliberate choices among a diversity of available styles and motifs and “pictorial ideas” to adopt or appropriate--if this formulation could be accepted and used by everybody who speaks and writes about the matter, replacing the “influence” model, much of the hostility that scholarship on cross-cultural exchanges has met with would never have happened. And of course I’ll use that approach today. Seeing it as a matter of artists’ choices is backed up by the obvious circumstance that when the exchanges happen, some artists participate while others, often the majority, choose not to. This is true in Ming-Qing China, when some painters chose to adopt new ideas from Western pictures; in 19c France, when some painters (the most interesting, as it turned out) chose to adopt exotic and fresh pictorial practices from Japanese prints (and were in effect liberated, not constrained, by that choice); and in China and Japan in the situations we’ll be dealing with today.

Adopting what we can call the Baxandall model will allow us also to take a more even-handed approach to the question of China’s relationship with surrounding cultures in art. In other fields of Chinese studies, the sinocentric version of this, in which China was virtually always the source of “influence” rather than the recipient, and incursions and invasions from other cultures were absorbed and “sinicized,” has given way to better-balanced accounts that can be summed up in the title of the 1983 book edited by Morris Rossabi, China Among Equals. I’ll try this morning for the same balance, attending both to what Japanese artists took from China and to what Chinese artists took from Japan. The latter is more difficult to do, since for the reasons just mentioned, any scholarship on it has to be recent and limited--and likely to be carried out against some opposition. One can’t write histories of Japanese art without acknowledging Chinese “influence”; one could, and we did, write histories of Chinese art in which all the important developments were internal (with the only significant exception in Buddhism and its art, which I won’t deal with today, leaving it to others more at home in it.) Only now do we begin to realize how inadequate that one-way version must be—how much China adopted from the art of cultures to the west of them, for instance, is brought out clearly in the recent Met exhibition and catalog “China: Dawn of a Golden Age.” However, I haven’t myself done more than begin to think about and look for evidences of adoptions by Chinese artists from Japanese art, so what I say about it will be very brief and preliminary, and dependent on the work of others from whom you will hear later (Ralph’s book, Aida Wang’s work, others.)

I turn first to Japan, and what Japanese artists adopted from China. Since most aspects of this huge topic have been extensively worked over already, I’ll speak only about a few cases that bear out the argument with which I began, that such transfers are best regarded as active recipient adopting freely from passive source.

S,S. I argued in a lecture given some years ago, using as principal visual evidence a large 22-leaf album by Sesshu mysteriously ignored by Sesshu scholars, that Sesshu must have not only had first-hand familiarity with Southern Sung painting, but was able to recreate it, at some time in his life and when he chose to, on a level of finesse and fidelity that would be hard to match among the Ming painters of China. One might even argue that the full nuanced potential of ink-monochrome ptg as practiced in Southern Sung China is continued more in Japan than in China, where the scholar-amateur artists on one hand, and the Zhe-school masters on the other, are inclined to reject its refinements and pursue very different directions.

S,S. Once we recognize how closely Sesshu could imitate Southern Sung styles when he chose to, the question becomes: why does he stop doing that and transform those styles to accord with Japanese taste? We can begin by juxtaposing a Chinese original in the manner of Yu-chien (as I still take the fan ptg at right to be, although recently some Japanese scholars have argued that it’s Japanese) with Sesshu’s derivations, the well-known copy after Yu-chien and

S – The Tokyo Nat’l Mus. Haboku Sansui. I would speak of more distinct and discrete brushstrokes, a more stepped system of ink gradations, and allover a care for sheer visual beauty, sacrificing the sense of space and other traits of naturalism. But that’s too large a subject to pursue now

Sesshu was an exception in that he went to China and saw paintings there; most Japanese artists had access only to Chinese ptgs and prints that were in Japan. If we think of artists in both cultures choosing among available styles and motifs, the questions become: what was in fact available to them? And how did they use it? I myself was working on the problem of what Chinese Ming-Qing ptgs were in Japan in the Edo period for artists to see, pub. an article (etc.—have copy, can Xerox)

S,S. Cross-media borrowings are especially interesting in this regard. That Edo=period Japanese ptrs learned about Chinese ptg styles in part through woodblock-printed pictures based on ptgs is well known; but the implications of this for the artist’s styles have not been much explored. We’ve written about the drawbacks of learning Chinese brush painting through woodblock prints--an analogy I’ve used was having access to a Beethoven symphony only through a player-piano-roll reduction and then trying to turn it back into a symphonic work for full orchestra. The end product would sound very different; much of Beethoven’s greatness would be lost. But it’s also possible that there would be some gains in the new work. That possibility can be exemplified by the case of Ikeno Taiga, who had access to a copy of the Chinese Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting (a double leaf at left, from the first part, 1679) and used it as a sourcebook, especially when he did sinophile subjects—at left a “Red Cliff” painting in the Freer Gallery of Art.

--S. Detail. Seeing how a color-woodblock style becomes the basis for a painting style is very interesting: the heavy, discontinuous contour lines, the shaded colors (based on the printmaker’s technique of wiping the block after applying the pigment), the depiction of masses of tree foliage by overlaying a bounded area of shaded color wash over an ink pattern of leafage—

-- S. Again, a device forced on the Chinese printmaker by the limitations of his medium but embraced as a feature of a new style by the Japanese painter.

S,S. What follows is well known: how Taiga exploits the abstracting and flattening potential of the new style in pictures such as this one of 1749, in which the borrowed elements are already assimilated into a coherent Japanese style, partly by reconciling it with the aesthetic principles of  Rimpa (note blue water pattern, flattened onto the picture plane.)

S,S. In his late work, such as this leaf from the great Juben album of 1771 or the “White Clouds and Red Trees” (detail), major features of the style still echo their woodblock origins: the heavy, discontinuous contours, the pointillist patterns. But the ultimate origin of these is of interest now only to art historians: the style is mainly to be credited to Taiga’s painterly genius, not to any derivation from China. The Mustard Seed Garden manual, itself a work of modest aesthetic merit, can scarcely be said to have exerted some powerful “influence” on all these brilliant stylistic moves; it was Taiga who saw possibilities in the book that the Chinese artists and artisans who created it could never have dreamed of, and exploited them.

S,S. With enough time and slides I could show you how Rimpa masters Sotatsu and Korin used simple ink-line pictures from a late-Ming woodblock-printed book on Buddhist and Daoist transcendants (for which I don’t have slides) as the basis for some of their finest works. Japanese scholars, notably Yamane Yuzo but also Kobayashi Hiromitsu (who is with us today) have identified quite a few cases of that kind. All redound entirely to the credit of the Japanese masters, who were able to transform the Chinese woodblock pictures, unpromising materials in themselves, into richly satisfying and highly original works of art.

S,S. The Japanese artist might equally, of course, begin with a recognized masterwork from the other tradition, if he has access to it—here, the great “Mountain Village in Clearing Mist” by the 13th century Yu-chien, long preserved in Japan (and belonging to a category of ptg disparaged and more or less obliterated from the record in China.) Korin rearranges and reworks its materials into a decorative two-fold screen (now in the Seattle Art Museum.) The greatness of the source picture does not induce Korin to really imitate it; here, as in the other cases, we observe a free and inspired manipulation of a freely-chosen model, in no sense imposed on the artist by some perceived notion of Chinese cultural superiority.

S,S. When, in the 1960s-70s, I was doing the research in Japan on early Nanga painting that eventually produced studies of Sakaki Hyakusen and Yosa Buson, I was able to revise the standard account laid out by Japanese specialists, in which the pioneer Nanga masters, having no access to original paintings by the Ming-Qing masters of China, had to learn about them through woodblock-printed pictures. This is true enough in some cases. But, as I was able to establish, this was only part of the story, probably not the most important part: they also copied and imitated real Chinese Ming-Qing paintings. The reason these hadn’t been identified was that the scholars were looking in the wrong places: they were not the familiar Ming-Qing paintings to be seen in books and museum exhibitions, but minor works, of small value in China, that were brought to Japan for sale by Chinese merchants, who sold them through Nagasaki. They could still be found, in unlikely places such as the storage cabinets of small dealers, and matched up with the Nanga masters’ works. The sources of paintings by Sakaki Hyakusen, for instance (I don’t have slides to show this—gave them all to Clark Institute in Hanford), proved to be based on minor Ming and Qing painting that could still be identified. Simple copying of that kind is relatively insignificant; more interesting is the case of an artist making the silk purse out of the sow’s ear. A small, loveable painting of 1781 by Yosa Buson, at right, proved similarly to be a copy, quite close in composition, of a low-quality work by a minor, unrecorded Chinese painter named Tang Xianzi, which turned up in the shop of the Shimmonzen dealer Taniguchi. (Again, no slide). Executed in the fluent brush drawing of Buson’s late style, and with all the materials transformed into items in his personal idiom, it becomes a new work. Although the Chinese picture wasn’t expensive, I left it there; I would happily have given several months’ salary, on the other hand, for the Buson, but the owner, Yabumoto Sogoro, would never let it go for several months of a professor’s salary.

S,S. A comparable phenomenon of good art derived from less good is seen in the ways some 19th century European artists (mostly French) took “artistic ideas” that were new to them from Japanese prints. It’s well known that except for the works of Hokusai and Hiroshige, the ones they could see were not the Japanese prints we now value highly, but were mostly of the school or period once classed as “decadent” (the term has been largely dropped in recent times, but I think retains some validity), Toyokuni III and Kunisada and the rest. Crude and repetitious as these were, they were nonetheless inspirational for the European painters, who mostly didn’t copy them directly (these two by van Gogh are exceptions, print-to-painting transfers far less productive than Taiga’s) but who made use of them in ways that profoundly changed the stylistic direction of European painting in its Impressionist - Post-Impressionist phase. Access to the masterworks isn’t essential, and in cross-cultural transmissions is usually not possible, since the works most easily accessible to the foreign artists are likely to be of a kind that the source tradition considers minor.

My last section will deal with what Japanese painting contributed to Chinese painting, and it will be brief, although the subject has begun to engage the attention of scholars in recent years. Japanese painted fans were on the market, and popular, in Song China; what Song artists might have appropriated from them, however, would be difficult to determine. The folding fan form originates in Japan, and to my knowledge was not used in China until the Ming.

S,S. An album by the late Ming figure master Chen Hongshou in the Palace Museum, Beijing, contains, in addition to more conventional leaves, a remarkable leaf titled “The Great Ford on the Yellow River” (right). Reproducing this in my book on late Ming painting, I commented that anyone familiar with Japanese painting will be reminded of “the superb wave-patterned stream that flows, similarly flattened onto the picture plane, between two blossoming plum trees in the famous Japanese screens by Ogata Kôrin” ( one of them at left) But I stopped short of suggesting any real connection, especially since the Korin work must be later than Chen Hongshou’s. Dick Barnhart, in an unpublished symposium paper, showed the same leaf by Chen Hongshou, suggesting that Chen had been looking at something Japanese, and got around the chronological disparity by suggesting that some work by or in the style of Tawaraya Sôtatsu, who was about twenty years older than Chen Hongshou, might have been seen by him. All this needs more work, as Barnhart agrees

We are on firmer ground with later Chinese painting, 19th-20th century, especially for painting in Shanghai, where a lively trade with Japan was going on, and Japanese paintings were to be seen; also, some Chinese artists were going to Japan to teach or to study. What the Shanghai School may owe to these contacts with Japan remains to be seriously investigated; once more, obstacles of national pride will stand in the way, and cannot easily be circumvented so long as the “influence” model continues to dominate.

S,S. It’s been suggested that Ren Xiong, another of those brilliant and versatile masters who availed himself of a great diversity of old and new styles, included Japanese styles among them—some of his pictures do indeed “have a Japanese look” (an evasive way of not taking time to say what I mean by that.) And the idea for his famous self-portrait, life-size and (at least in part) very realistic, which has no real precedent in China, could have come from contact with some Japanese work of the kind--Watanabe Kazan, for one, was making realistic portraits with elements of western illusionism in the 1820s and 30s (this one is 1827.) Once more, the differences in style are immense; I’m only suggesting, again, that artists pick up good ideas from each other, and use them in their individual ways.

S,S. The case of the Lingnan or Cantonese school in the early 20th century has been studied in a book by Ralph Croizier that has clarified what Japanese painters and paintings Gao Jianfu and the others saw, copied, imitated, and acquired to bring back to China—principally works by followers of Takeuchi Seiho. (Ptg by one of them, Nishimura Goun, 1910, on left; one by Gao Jianfu, 1928, on right.)

S,S. Other Chinese artists later spent periods of study in Japan; one who made good use of his time there to absorb elements of style that helped him establish himself as an independent artist, breaking from old-established Chinese habits, was Fu Baoshi. I’ve argued elsewhere that a Japanese master nearly unknown outside Japan, Kosugi Hôan, played an important part in Fu Baoshi’s formative period. I don’t have the right slides to make the point; I can only say that some years ago when Howard & Mary Ann Rogers. Hugh Wass and I went around a Kosugi Hoan exhibiion at the Idemitsu Museum (which has a big collection of his works—he was a friend of the old Idemitsu) we were all murmuring “Fu Baoshi! Fu Baoshii!” Unfortunately they haven’t published a reproduction album of his work, nor have I pursued the matter enough to get photos; I have to make do with the postcard at right. I show it to Chinese scholars and they say “Fu Baoshi,” and I say no, one of Fu Baoshi’s teachers. I believe that Kosugi Hoan was teaching at the Imperial Art Academy in Tokyo when Fu Baoshi was studying there, but that needs further investigation. Anyway, any Fu Baoshi specialist should spend some time at the Idemitsu Museum.

S,S. Another, clearly, was Tomioka Tessai. That Tessai himself adopted a great many motifs and ideas from Chinese painting is well known; his Vimalakirti (left) is derived from

-- S. a painting by Luo Ping—both look rather like Tessai himself.

S,S. Tessai’s late work, from his eighties (he died in 1924), often sets fine drawing of figures with spots of bright color into a framework of deep black areas of heavy ink applied in a semi-controlled way. His works in this style, striking and innovative, were much admired and exhibited and reproduced in the 1930s when Fu Baoshi was studying at the Imperial Art Academy in Tokyo. We can match up Fu Baoshi paintings with those by Tessai to show how Fu could take a whole composition from Tessai, besides the basic style of fine drawing and color set within heavy ink areas. (Here, Tessai’s picture of the Song poet Su Dongpo visiting the monk Foyin; and a detail from a picture obviously based on it by Fu Baoshi. Can’t find slide of whole.)

S,S. Details from other Tessai and Fu Baoshi paintings in this mode. The heavy-ink manner has been, from the 1940s on, one of the options open to Chinese painters; in tracing its origins they have, understandably enough, found them in the Chinese tradition, Xu Wei and Gong Xian and others. But a more immediate source, I believe, is the painting of Tessai as transmitted by artists who studied in Japan, as well as through reproductions.

S,S. (Last slides: another of Tessai’s late, inky landscapes, detail from one by Li Keran.) One of the heirs to this manner was Li Keran, who died as recently as 1990. When in 1988 a major Tessai exhibition was for the first time sent to China and shown at the Meishuguan in Beijing and Shanghai, Li Keran wrote a generous and revealing essay for the catalog, telling how Chinese artists of his generation had been very much aware of the works of Tessai, through reproductions and a few originals, and how they had admired them and learned from them. His words went beyond, I believe, standard expressions of inter-cultural friendship, acknowledging a truth. I’d like to suggest, finally, that the lively and productive back-and-forth that goes on between artists, which is revealed in their paintings, is perhaps most easily recognized and acknowledged by the artists themselves. Tessai had no problem in crediting his myriad Chinese sources, from which he plundered endlessly throughout his long career as a sinophile painter; Li Keran, at an uncharacteristic moment for China, acknowledged his and his fellow artists’ acquaintance with Tessai’s work, and at least implicitly, their debt to him. It’s rather the art historians and cultural historians, with their overt or covert political agendas, who will sometimes deny what’s before their eyes and continue to argue for some such myth as the cultural insularity of China. And my final plea is: let us all do our best not to. Thank you.

Dear Colleagues,

Thank you all for your encouraging responses to our symposium proposal, and please forgive this group mailing. We have circulated our tentative plan, but may we ask that you give us your actual paper title as soon as possible? We would like to finalize the program very soon in order to send out our announcements. We hope very much that we will be able to put the papers together as a symposium volume after post-conference revision.

Please expect to receive an inquiry soon from Erin Publow of our East Asian Studies Center ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) about your travel plans. If you wish, she will be able to purchase a pre-paid air ticket. She is required by the university to obtain your signature on travel forms in advance of your trip even if you prefer to purchase the ticket for later reimbursement.

I am attaching our most recent version of the schedule (times still tentative).

Cross-Cultural Artistic Exchange in Later Chinese and Japanese History

The movement of artistic and cultural exchanges between China and Japan from the eighth through the fifteenth centuries, much of which occurred under imperial or elite patronage, has been sufficiently well-studied to establish canonical versions of the narrative of early Sino-Japanese cultural relationships. Less thoroughly examined by North American scholars, despite a wider range of surviving material evidence, are the transmission and exchanges of artistic ideas between China and Japan in later East Asian history, from roughly 1600 to the mid-twentieth century. Outlines for understanding these exchanges were proposed in publications of the mid-1980s, based upon studies of documents and a selection of surviving paintings. This workshop will examine new discoveries in this area of art history over the past two decades, particularly as measured against accepted art historical accounts.

It has become increasingly well-recognized by scholars outside art history, particularly in history and literature, that the earlier patterns of exchange, in which cultural innovations were transmitted from China and Korea to Japan via Nagasaki, were largely reversed following the opening of Asian ports to international trade in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From that time, novel modern ideas began to flow in the opposite direction, from Japan to the continent. The impact of Japan on China went beyond transmission of techniques for making art, and encompassed a totalistic view of the place of art in the modern world, including historiography, art education, art publishing, exhibitions, collecting, and sales.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Session Chairs to be announced

Confirmed *

Session 1: Transmissions of Style and Technology in Momoyama and Edo Japan

1.James Cahill*
University of California, Berkele
Issues in Sino-Japanese Artistic Exchange (please update the title)

2. Hiromitsu Kobayashi *
Sophia University
Chinese Prints and Ukiyo-e (please update the title)

3. Masaaki Arakawa *
Idemitsu Museum
Kyushu Kilns and Jingdezhen (please update the title)

Discussant: Richard Vinograd*

Session 2
Artistic Exchanges in the Era of Open Ports: Shanghai

1. Kuiyi Shen *
UC San Diego (please update the title)

2. Lai Yu-chih *
National Palace Museum
Taipei, Taiwan (please update the title)

3. Yang Chia-ling *
University of Sussex
(please update the title)

Discussant: Joshua A. Fogel*

Session 3
Artistic Exchanges in the 20th Century

1.Aida Yuen Wang*
Brandeis University
(please update the title)

2.Julia Andrews *
The Guangzhou-Tokyo Print Exchanges of 1936 (?)

3. Nishigami Minoru *
Issues Raised by the Suma Collection of Modern Chinese Paintings
(please update the title)

4. Chen Ruilin*
School of Art and Design, Tsinghua University
(please update the title)

Discussant: Ralph Croizier*

With warmest wishes,
Judy Andrews

Director, East Asian Studies Center
P: 614-688-8184; h: 614-457-8618

Dear Speakers,
We are looking forward very much to seeing you at the end of this month in Columbus for our conference on Cross-Cultural Artistic Exchange.

Please email a copy of your conference paper to me and to the discussant for your session approximately two weeks before your presentation (April 15). Unless I have instructed you otherwise, please limit your oral presentation to 20 minutes.

We will prepare two slide projectors and a computer for powerpoint presentations. Please let Erin ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) know if you have any other needs.

In addition to our conference, James Cahill will present a lecture on Friday night at 8 pm in the History of Art Department. The title is: “Passages of Felt Life: Paintings for Women in Ming-Qing China?”

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