Created 3-Dec-07
Modified 9-Feb-09
21 photos
A selection of photographs of an esoteric genre: artistic photographs of nudes in early Republican China (New: see also this new gallery with photographs from the 1950s)

It is a curious situation, the nude in Chinese art versus the same subject's ubiquity in western art forms. Francois Jullien, comparing the two traditions and tracing the subject through the respective histories of literati art, rather plainly observes: "...in the development of Chinese aesthetics we can see what resisted the nude to the point of ruling out the possibilty of its existence. China simply missed it." (The Impossible Nude - Chinese Art and Western Aesthetics, U of Chicago Press, 2007, p. 42)
That China "missed the boat" in this regard (whether in traditional painting, sculpture, or most other art forms) still seems baffling. Jullien, at pains to explain this omission, if that is what it is, brings interesting perspectives to bear. The Song dynasty scholar Su Dongpo is quoted as saying for example: "Men, animals, palaces and even tools all have a constant form; on the other hand, mountains, rocks, bamboos, trees, waves or mist have no constant form..." (ibid, p.71) As it stands, to draw or paint what according to Su Dongpo's distinction has constant form (say, a human figure), interestingly enough is of lesser value than painting a rock. Therefore, Jullien deduces, the human figure or body in China was never invested with the same philosophical and metaphysical dimensions as in western traditions. Jullien's treatise on the subject is well worth reading.

With the year 1914, China embarks on a major discovery: it's own bodies. These are some examples. Further illustrations can be found in popular magazines from the 1930s onward, such as Beiyang Pictorial News 北洋画报, Chin-Chin Screen, Liangyou huabao 良友画报, Meishu shenghuo 美术生活, etc.

Thomas H. Hahn, Ithaca, NY
Unknown photographerRepose, by Lang JingshanRepose (color), by Lang JingshanLang Jingshan IILang Jingshan IIILiu Xucang 刘旭沧 I (1930s)Liu Xucang 刘旭沧 II (1930s)Liu Xucang 刘旭沧 III (1930s)Heinz von Perckhammer IHeinz von Perckhammer II