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"A Preliminary Discussion of the Meaning of Haipai"

Shan Guoqiang
Gugong bowuyuan yuankan 1998.2, 43-50

[reprinted from China Archaeology and Art Digest 3:2/3 (January 2000)]

This is the text-only version.

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There is considerable controversy over the term Haipai, some scholars believing that it refers to a group of artists from a particular region, others that it denotes a similarity of artistic style between the members of a group. According to Hu Haichao, "the later Haipai, a Shanghai school of artists that flourished in the late Qing and early Republican period, was the most influential in the history of the fine arts in Shanghai," and the most representative figures in this school are said to have been Zhao Zhiqian, Wu Junqing, Ren Yi, Xugu, Pu Hua, Hu Gongshou, Qing Hui'an and Lu Hui.

Shan Guoqiang begins by looking at the purported members of the group and their activities, the direction of their artistic creativity and their form of expression to determine whether or not the Haipai actually constituted an artistic school in the strict sense of the word, and whether or not the term can be applied to Shanghai artists of the jindai period, defined by the author as the period from 1840, the year of the outbreak of the First Opium War, to 1916, the year of the New Culture Movement. He goes on to examine the source and definitive meaning of the term.

By the mid-Qing period, Shanghai was already a thriving economic and cultural centre, and in the later part of the dynasty saw the appearance of a number of renowned calligraphers and painters, including Dong Qichang and Mo Shilong, and a group of artistic schools such as the Yunjian-pai and Susong-pai which were collectively known as the Songjiang huapai. A number of academies engaged in cultural and educational activities, e.g., Shenjiang Shuyuan were established in Shanghai during the Qianlong period, in addition to painting and calligraphy societies, the first of which was the Pingyuan-shanfang Shuhua-hui, organised by Li Yanjing (?-1806). The society attracted painters such as Gai Qi, Kang Kai, Qu Zhongrong and Fang Kai, and according to the author the group already differed from the elegant gatherings of literati and artistic schools of the past in its scope of membership, range of activities and in its influence. Such differences reflected the city's change from a traditional to a commercial centre: 1. Such societies had a fixed organisational structure and site for activities. There was a director and members and a wide range of artists joined the groups and supported their activities. 2. The activities of the group were no longer limited to sharing views on art, but were conducted for the mutual benefit of the members and included guidance, support and promotion. 3. The artistic origins and styles of expression of the artists who joined such groups were very varied, as were the forms of communication between them. This was entirely different from the artistic schools whose members came together because of a similarity of interest. For example, in the Pingyuan-shanfang group Gai Qi was a professional painter of gentlewomen (shinu hua, conventionally translated as paintings of court ladies), Kang Kai came from a family of artisans and was a portrait painter, and Qu Zhongrong was a seal carver, calligrapher and freehand painter of flowers.

By the 1850s Shanghai was the centre of China's overseas trade and in the 1860s the commercial and industrial system of the jindai period began to be established. The Taiping Rebellion also resulted in the gentry and rich merchants from the Zhejiang region moving to Shanghai to seek protection in the foreign concessions, and by 1862 there were 500,000 Chinese living in the concession areas. Trade and commerce flourished and at the turn of the century Shanghai was also China's largest, most populous city. Western influence, and the introduction from the West of scientific advances such as railways, steamship and electricity also spurred the modernisation of the city. The heady atmosphere of prosperity, innovation and diversity naturally influenced culture and the arts, and this was reflected to different degrees in the traditional arts. As a result, it was inevitable that new artistic concepts and schools should arise.

Along with its increasing prosperity, Shanghai also became the centre for professional painters seeking to make a living. Some, like Hu Yuan, were helped by rich businessmen, others by friends, wile others, for example, Ren Yi who soon earned a reputation for the fans he painted for the Guxiang-wu Fan Emporium, fulfilled orders for companies trading in calligraphy and paintings. Some painters, including Xugu, also sold directly on the streets or in markets. However, the calligraphy and painting societies still formed an important linchpin connecting these "independent" artists, and provided not only an opportunity for interaction between them but also an ideal venue for marketing works of art. At the beginning of the 20th century these societies were composed of groups of professional artists who drew together for their own mutual benefit. The author cites the Pinghua-she Shuhua-hui, established in 1862, as typical of such societies at this time. The leader was Cheng Songlin, and the society had 24 members, including Cheng Shixian, Tao Shaoyuan and Zhou Xian. The influential tijin-guan Jinshi- shuhua-hui established in the mid-Guangxu period was also of assistance in commercial undertakings, and the majority of professional painters, calligraphers and epigraphers living in Shanghai were members. The society ceased its activities in 1916. The Yuyuan Shuhua-shanhui founded in 1909 was more highly organised, had a greater number of regulations and could be classified as a guild-like organisation. This society had around 100 members. According to the author, these and other similar societies founded in the early 20th century had the following features: 1. The majority of artists living in Shanghai belonged to one of these societies and they came to adopt a guild-like form of organisation. They also created the conditions for the development of similarities in style. 2. The societies had already become substantially commercial organisations, and by promoting the artists and through their activities they increased contacts between the artists and society. They also led to the artists' works having a strong urban cultural flavour. 3. The open communications between the artists led to different traditional forms and styles converging, so that Shanghai paintings had a certain similarity, although they retained a strong sensed of individuality.

The author thus concludes that Shanghai art did not develop solely on the basis of tradition but was subject to both Chinese and Western cultural influences. Likewise, artists from the are were not a stylistically similar group who depended on a famous master as their mentor, but had different teachers and totally different techniques. Thus, from the perspective of traditional schools they did not constitute a different group but, against the same regional and cultural background and during the same period, they developed certain new common characteristics. The term "Haipai" can equally well be applied to other areas of the culture, such as literature and opera which were also subject to the same process of modernisation, Westernisation and commercialisation, and should not be applied exclusively to artists from the Shanghai area.

The term Haipai first appeared in the late Qing period and was applied to Ren Yi and Qian Hui'an. However, the term was also used by Zhang Zuyi, not as a general reference to artist from the Shanghai region, but more specifically as a pejorative to describe the style of certain artists. During the Republican period, the term continued to be used in a critical sense with regard to less important artists, but was also applied in general to artists form the Shanghai area, and to Zhao Zhiqian, Wu Changshuo and the two artists mentioned above. In the early decades of the 20th century it was also used with reference to opera and literature, and was also expanded to include numerous other famous Shanghai artists. It can thus be seen that the term Haipai is not equivalent to the traditional term "liupai," school or sect, but is much broader in meaning and denoted a type of art based on an urban cultural model of the jindai period.


Gu Yanlong, Shanghai fengwu zhi (Shanghai wenwu chubanshe, 1982).

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