"China, Roar!" Li Hua, 1936

The Huntington Archive: “China, Roar!” by Li Hua, woodcut, 20 x 15 cm, 1936 (the hi-res digital copy depicted above via A Journey Round My Skull). Public domain.

Xiaobing Tang, professor of Chinese at the University of Southern California, wrote an exhaustive article about this specific chinese woodcut:

First published in the December 1935 issue of Modern Prints, journal of the Modern Prints Society based in Guangzhou, the black-and-white woodblock print “Roar, China!” by Li Hua (1907–94) was subsequently displayed in the Second National Traveling Woodcut Exhibition that opened at the Sun Yat-sen Municipal Library of Guangzhou on July 5, 1936. From there, the exhibition traveled to several cities in southeastern China and arrived in Shanghai by the beginning of October. After its week-long stop in Shanghai, local organizers took turns arranging for the exhibition to visit more cities and townships in the following months, thereby presenting this print as well as some six hundred other contemporary woodcuts to hundreds of thousands of viewers across the country.

Here’s how Professor Xiaobing Tang describes “Chian, Roar!”:

More than all the other contemporary prints preoccupied with a similar theme, Roar, China! adroitly exploits the visual properties of a woodcut. The taut, muscular, and naked male body, bound and blindfolded, is presented for our frontal view. The incisions by the artist are decisive, generating lines in relief that are sharp, angular, and animated. By forgoing tonal transitions to accentuate the jagged black lines, the artist gives the constrained body a translucent quality, suggesting a radiating force that charges and electrifies the physical body. In contrast, the encircling rope, its dark weight under- scored by neatly arranged dots and triangles, conveys a tightening imposition that is as deliberate as it is impervious to the desperate individual.(Position: East Asia Cultures Critique: “Echoes of Roar, China! On Vision and Voice in Modern Chinese Art” by Xiaobing Tang, vol.14, no. 2, Fall 2006, pp. 467-494).

This work of art was featured recently in an exhibition organized by the Picker Art Gallery (the exhibition consisted of 60 Chinese woodblock prints: 30 pieces from Colgate’s own Herman collection and 30 woodblock prints by eleven contemporary Chinese artists). Browse the exhibition checklist (PDF) and read more about it over at Art Knowledge News. The exhibition made its way into a 75 pages catalog : Woodcuts in Modern China, 1937-2008: Towards a Universal Pictorial Language (Picker Art Gallery Colgate University, August 2009: Amazon). Just Seed’s blog has a lengthy and illustrated article about the history of the style behind the above woodcute:

This style of printmaking broke with traditional Chinese printmaking by switching to oil based inks (as opposed to water-based) and by its heavy influence from Expressionism (raw, emotional, primitive looking cuts).

Wikipedia has a small article about Chinese woodcut artist Li Hua

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