The Chinese Women’s Calligraphy and Painting Society: The First Women’s Art Society in Modern China

Leung, Mei Yin Doris 梁美賢
2004
Supervisor: Dr. C.D. Muir and Dr. Edwin Lai

Publications related to women artists in Republican China are scarce and most of them only give a cursory glance at the subject. Thus, in order to have a better understanding ofwomen artists in that period, an in-depth research is necessary. This thesis focuses on the first consciously formed women’s art society in modem China, the Chinese Women’s Calligraphy and Painting Society. It was founded by a group of Shanghai women artists in 1 934 and it lasted for about thirteen years. Its members came from different Chinese provinces and cities, and most of them belonged to the middle or upper classes in China. Mainly through holding public exhibitions, its main objective was to gather women artists together so as to promote them and raise their status.

This thesis considers the Chinese Women’s Calligraphy and Paintìng Society through five main aspects: 1) the historical context for its emergence, 2) its activities which included mainly the annual exhibitions, 3) the membership numbers, the background and roles of the founding members and its expansion, 4) the members ‘ artworks and ways of selling them, and 5) a comparison ofthe Chinese Women’s Calligraphy and Painting
Society with three other groups, each with elements in common but with key differences. The three groups are earlier Chinese women artists, Shanghai contemporary women, and a male- dominated contemporary art society, the Chinese Painting Society.

This research project mainly relied on primary materials, namely interviews with a member ofthe Chinese Women’s Calligraphy and Painting Society, friends and students of the members, contemporary publications such as newspapers and j oumals, combined with secondary sources. Based on all these available materials, I conclude that the Chinese Women’s Calligraphy and Painting Society was not only a gender-specific society, but was also an art society founded mostly by a group of celebrated and affluent women, most of whom promoted Chinese painting. The Society and its members were a certain degree both modem and feminist.

This research project, which aims to give an in-depth study ofthe Chinese Women’s Calligraphy and Painting Society, attempts to place it within the context of early modem art history in China. It is not merely a case study of an art society, but, as importantly, studies different aspects of and issues relating to Chinese women artists in the Republican period.