Central Academy of Fine Arts (1918-2018)
The development of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) has been inextricably linked to the destiny of our country and our people during the past century. CAFA’s achievement and tribulation constitute a crucial chapter in the history of modern Chinese fine arts and fine arts education, epitomizing the course of modern fine arts and fine arts education in China.
National Beijing Art College, the predecessor of CAFA, was established one hundred years ago. With the aspiration to “replace religion with art education”, the trailblazers of modern Chinese fine arts education created a new era for modern art education in China.
The Department of Fine Arts in Yan’an Lu Xun College of Arts, another vital predecessor of CAFA, was established eighty years ago. During the most perilous times of the Chinese nation, the artists dedicated to salvaging China from subjugation gathered under the Pagoda Hill in Yan’an, ushering in a new era for the people’s fine arts undertaking.
To greet the dawn of the People’s Republic of China, the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) was formally established over sixty years ago. Our passionate teachers and students who upheld the conviction that “art serves the people and socialism”, broke new ground for fine arts education in the People’s Republic of China.
Thanks to the launch of reform and opening-up policy thirty years ago, the long-tormented Academy took on new life by inheriting the fine cultural traditions of the Chinese nation and learning from the advanced cultures worldwide, thus opening a new stage of higher art education in line with China’s modernization process.
As socialism with Chinese characteristics entered a new development stage, CAFA followed the new trend of higher fine arts education in the world and fully leveraged its own advantages. The Academy established a multi-disciplinary and great-art operation pattern, and set the goal to build a world-class art academy with distinctive Chinese characteristics.
I. Opening a new era for modern fine art education in China (1918—1938)
The modern Chinese fine arts education system was the product of the country’s social transformation and New Cultural Movement during the early 20th century. In April 1918, the National Beijing Art College, the predecessor of CAFA, was founded on the initiative of the renowned educator Cai Yuanpei. As the first State-run art college in Chinese history, the College represented the country’s prominent attention to fine arts education.
With the ambition to promote Chinese fine arts education, a number of artists studying in Europe, America and Japan returned to China, devoting themselves to the inclusion and exchanges of Chinese traditions and Western approaches despite tremendous difficulties, thus shaping the initial form of modern art education in China.
During the early inception of CAFA, many of our teachers and students were committed to democratic revolutionary movements, be it the May Fourth Movement or the new art trend of “going out of the ivory tower and stepping onto the crisscross streets”. In 1926, Lin Fengmian took charge of the teaching in the National Art College, with the ambition to “transform arts schools” and “launch general art movement to promote the development of arts”. Initiated by Lin, “The Beijing Art Gallery” exhibited over 3,000 pieces of art works and staged musical and drama performances, proving an unprecedented comprehensive art fair in modern Chinese history.
The vibrant teachers and students from the National Art College cared deeply about current events, many of whom participated in the revolutionary movements. During the March 18 Massacre, our student Yao Zongxian lost his life, and the arrested young teachers Fang Bowu and Tan Zuyao, together with one of the CPC founders Li Dazhao, marched heroically to the execution ground.
A large number of artists and fine arts educators emerged during the early development of the College, including Chen Shizeng, Wang Mengbai, Wu Fading, Li Yishi, Pu Xinshe, Chang Shuhong, Pang Xunqin, Huang Binhong, Tenggu, Lu Fengzi and Pan Tianshou. The earliest students of the College, such as Liu Kaiqu, Wang Xuetao, Lei Guiyuan and Li Kuchan, later became art masters in the history of modern Chinese fine arts.
II. Writing a new chapter in the undertaking of people’s fine arts (1938-1949)
Founded in Yanan in April 1938, Lu Xun College of Arts, the first comprehensive art college established by the Communist Party of China during the Anti-Japanese War, was one of the predecessors of CAFA. The educational principles of the Lu Xun Academy of Arts was to cultivate a large number of art cadres and new artistic talents in response to fighting the wars, and to unite and train the artistic talents for the new era. Chairman Mao’s “Speech at The Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art” charted a new path for Chinese literature and arts. And the academy’s fine arts education philosophy and artistic creations wrote a new chapter in the undertaking of people’s fine arts, guiding Chinese fine arts to focus on people and revolution in the 20th century.
Lu Xun Academy of Arts’ educational mode laid the foundation for fine arts education and creations in the People’s Republic of China. Its fine arts education system and creation pattern exerted a profound impact on CAFA’s operation direction and teaching mode, enabling CAFA to play a leading role in Chinese fine arts education system since 1949.
The Academy’s teachers and students combined their personal destinies with the fate of our country, and connected their arts with the reality of Chinese revolutions. With the Loess Plateau as a canvas, the firewire at the forefront of war as paints, and brushes as banners, they portrayed the heroic solders and civilians who defended against the enemies bravely in wartime. Their vivid and encouraging artistic masterpieces tremendously inspired the Chinese people during the arduous anti-Japanese war and liberation war.
Artists such as Wo Zha, Jiang Feng, Cai Ruohong, Hu Yichuan, Wang Shikuo, Wang Chaowen, Luo Gongliu, Yan Han, Wang Manshuo and Zhang Ding adopted the art forms welcomed by the people, creating numerous masterpieces reflecting people’s wars and lives. Their excellent works depicted the greatness of Chinese working people who bravely fought against the enemies in dire material conditions.
In 1945, the Seventh National Congress of the Communist Party of China was held in Yangjialing, Yan’an. The portraits of Mao Zedong and Zhu De on the venue were painted by Wang Shikuo, a teacher from the fine arts department of our academy. In 1942, Wang Chaowen, another teacher from the fine arts department, created a relief entitled “The Portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong” in Yan’an, which was later used as the cover of The Selected Works of Mao Zedong.
After the victory in the Anti-Japanese War, the teachers and students of the Luxun Academy of Arts established the North China Art Group and the Northeast Art Group in the liberated area. The North China Art Group was incorporated into the Arts School of the North China United University in 1946, and merged with the North University to form the North China University in August 1948. During the same year, the Arts School was renamed the “Third Department”. In January 1949, the Third Department was merged with Beiping Art College to form the National Academy of Fine Arts, which was renamed the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1950.
III. Xu Beihong and Peking National Art School (1946-1949)
The Peking National Art School (1946-1949) served as an important part of the 100-year history of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. The school has laid the foundation for the Central Academy of Fine Arts in New China, in terms of campus site, talent pool, educational theories, teaching system, curriculum, and school management.
In 1946, Xu Beihong was appointed president of the Peking National Art School. Based on the western realist design techniques learned in France, Xu formed a complete and mature design system and applied it to teaching. The essence of his realistic creation method was to combine artisctic creation with China’s reality and social needs, reflect social reality on the basis of democracy and patriotism, and achieve the goal of “art for life”. This became the core of the management of Central Academy of Fine Arts. Through realism and the expression of great heroism, Xu’s The Foolish Old Man Removes the Mountains (Yugong Yishan), Waiting for the Wise Leader (Xi Wo Hou), Jiufang Gao and other works called on heroes and changes in that era.
Under the inspiration of Xu Beihong, many artists of that era, such as Wu Zuoren, Wang Linyi, Ye Qianyu, Hua Tianyou, Qi Baishi, Zhang Daqian, Li Keran, Jiang Zhaohe, Li Hua, Huang Binhong and Dong Xiwen became professors of Peking National Art School. They not only made an indelible contribution to the art education of the school, but their works profoundly reflected the fate of the Chinese people and the voice of the times. For example, Jiang Zhaohe’s Homeless People (Liumin Tu), Hua Tianyou’s Bombing (Hongzha), Li Hua’s Roar! China (Nuhouba! Zhongguo), Wang Linyi’s Yu the Great Controlling the Waters (Dayu Zhishui), etc.
The Central Academy of Fine Arts, established in New China, consists of two parts: the Peking National Art School chaired by Xu Beihong, and the North China University Department III, which evolved from Lu Xun Academy of Arts (Yan’an, Shaanxi Province). After the combination, teachers and students of two sides have leveraged their respective strengths and features, learned from each other, jointly explored the development path of art education in New China, contributing to the formation of the socialist Chinese art education system.
IV. Open up A New World of New China Art Education (1949-1978)
From 1949 to 1978, Central Academy of Fine Arts experienced the most important period of development in its history. During this period, in addition to the teachers of the former Peking National Art School and Yan’an Lu Xun Academy of Arts, the Academy attracted experts and established a competent faculty. While fully serving the political, economic, social and cultural development of New China, it has explored and built a formalized socialist art education system from scratch. It has gained rich experience in party leadership, system establishment, department setting, teaching methods, creative practice, theoretical research, etc. The academy thus became the leader in art education of New China with profound academic traditions and culture.
The establishment of the Central Academy of Fine Arts was a major event in the history of Chinese art education in the 20th century. It set the basic pattern of art education and creation in New China. It has explored the development path of China’s higher art education in practice and cultivated outstanding artists, art history theorists, art educators and art activists. The Academy of Fine Arts has nurtured leaders and teachers in art and opens up a new world of art in New China.
Teachers and students of the Central Academy of Fine Arts have created a large number of inspiring artistic masterpieces in the early days of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Among those works, the Monument to the People’s Heroes is the most important one in the history of modern Chinese sculpture. It represents the highest level of Chinese sculpture art in the 1950s and is also a milestone in the art creation of Chinese revolutionary history.
Destruction of opium at Humen (Zeng Zhushao), Jintian Uprising (Wang Bingzhao), May 4th Movement (Hua Tianyou), Nanchang Uprising on August 1st (Xiao Chuanqiu), War of Resistance Against Japan (Zhang Songhe), and Crossing theYangzi River (Liu Kaiqu) were completed by the older generation of sculptors. These magnificent and majestic reliefs have epitomized Chinese people’s struggle against oppression and their fight for freedom in the past thousands of years. In the early days of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, everything needed to be constructed and developed. These sculptures have depicted the heroic image of fearless and perseverant Chinese people.
Under the new situation, Yan’an Spirit has become the infinite driving force for the Chinese people to build a peaceful, prosperous and modern new China. Zhu Naizheng’s Foundation Building (Da Hang), Wen Bao’s Four Girls (Sige Guniang), Du Jian’s Advancing in the Rapids (Zai Jiliuzhong Qianjin), Jin Shangyi’s Old Farmer (Lao Nong), Huang Yongyu’s Ashima among others have presented the image of working people, and reflected people’s healthy, happy and enthusiastic new life. Hou Yimin participated in the design of the third and fourth sets of RMB, on which the image of the people is depicted, reflecting that the country is ruled by the people. The design of the notes are well received.
In the 1950s, the preparation of National Museum of Chinese History and Revolution began. Oil painters of the Central Academy of Fine Arts devoted themselves to creating paintings on revolution and history with great enthusiasm. Excellent works include Dong Xiwen’s The Founding Ceremony of the Nation (Kaiguo Dadian), Luo Gongliu’s Tunnel Warfare (Didao Zhan), Hu Yichuan’s Unlock the Fetter (Kai Liao), Li Zongjin’s Crossing the Luding Bridge (Feiduo Ludingqiao), Ai Zhongxin’s Red Army Trekking in the Snow-capped Mountains (Hongjun Guo Xueshan), Zhan Jianjun’s Five Warriors on Mount Langya (Langyashan Wuzhuangshi), etc. These works in the ’50s and ’60s show the unyielding Chinese people in revolutionary history and their passion and commitment in the booming socialist development.
V. Setting out on a new journey to reform China’s fine arts higher education (1978-2012)
From 1978 to 2012, the academy went through an important period for development and prosperity. After going through a period of bringing order out of chaos and comprehensively deepening reform and opening-up, CAFA continues to develop so as to meet the needs of China’s social development, according to the country’s principles for education, culture and arts.
Since the new stage, CAFA, as an important institute for fine arts education, has inherited and further developed the national tradition, and held an open attitude to that of other countries, so as to support the reform and opening-up with more artistic products and talents. Since the new century, the academy has been determined to expand its disciplines, so as to improve its discipline structure and provide high-quality fine arts education as well as carry out high-level academic discussions. Meanwhile, the academy has also undertaken a large number of major cultural and artistic tasks for the country and the society.
Shouldering the important mission of promoting the social and cultural construction and the prosperity of the country’s culture and arts, CAFA strives to explore a socialist path for fine arts education with Chinese characteristics. As a result, it has introduced a new stage for fine arts higher education that is in line with the country’s modernization progress.
When publishing is resumed in 1978, the academy’s scientific journal Art Research chose to use an eye-catching artwork of human body as its cover. Soon after that, another scientific journal of the academy called World Art started its publication. The latter published a series of articles about Western modern fine arts, and became the first to enter the art restricted zone in the first 30 years since the founding of the country. A year later, Yuan Yunsheng, a CAFA instructor, painted a giant mural titled "Water-Splashing Festival: A Paean of Life" in the waiting hall at the Beijing Capital International Airport. The three nude girls in the painting is a symbol for the upcoming spring where reform and opening-up would begin, indicating the Chinese people who have just taken off their heavy winter coats are marching towards a modernized society.
"Nine Songs" by Li Shaowen (postgraduate), "Tibetan Group Paintings" by Chen Danqing (postgraduate), "When We Were Young" by Yang Feiyun (undergraduate), and "A Young Man" by Chao Ge (undergraduate) are among the representative work by the academy’s first class of graduates after the Cultural Revolution. Besides throwing off the shackles on fine arts placed by the movement, their work also pioneered the aesthetic painting style and the "life flow" painting, reflecting the artistic characteristics and the image of China at the new era. Meanwhile, a group of skilled old and middle-aged artists at the academy, after years of research, reflection and exploration, produced many masterpieces. Their work boasts new features, fine techniques and deep connotations, symbolizing CAFA’s creation reached a new peak, such as Li Keran’s Lin Chong Shanmao Who Lives in Haze, Yao Youduo’s The Thatched House Unroofed by an Autumn Gale, Jia Youfu’s Taihang Monument, Jin Shangyi’s Tajik Bride, Zhan Jianjun’s Flying Snow, Zhu Naizheng’s National Soul – Ode to Qu Yuan, and Wen Lipeng’s Ode to Red Candle. Following the modern trend, the faculties and students at CAFA participated in a series of contemporary art exhibitions, including "Young Art of Progressive China", "China/Avant-Garde Exhibition", and "New Generation Art Exhibition". From the exhibitions, outstanding artworks with a contemporary or modern feel can be found, including In the New Era: Revelation of Adam and Eve (Zhang Qun and Meng Luding), A Book from the Sky (Xu Bing), Calling the Soul (Lyv Shengzhong), and Guizhou People (Wang Huaxiang). Artists and scholars at CAFA have become the advocates and backbones of a series of school of thought on fine arts and art movement such as "85 New Wave" and "New Generation".
A group of sculptures at the Sculpture Garden of China’s Anti-Japanese War was created by the Department of Sculpture from 1995 to 2000. The work includes 38 bronze cylindrical sculptures consisting of more than a thousand human statues. After it was completed, the garden becomes an important patriotic education base in Beijing.
Authorized by the International Olympic Committee and the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, CAFA set up the Art Research Centre for the Olympic Games in 2004. The center was responsible for the design and R&D for a dozen projects about the visual image system, medals and sports symbols for the 2008 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games held in Beijing. Since 2007, the academy has designed stations and halls for many subway lines in Beijing, including Line 10, Olympic Branch Line, Airport Express line, Line 4, Line 6, Line 15, Line 14, and Line 7. In 2009, the academy successfully carried out the National Project of Artworks on Major Historical Themes. In 2010, the academy’s design team won a special award from the Party Central Committee and the State Council for designing major venues of the Shanghai World Expo. Sparing no effort in promoting the prosperity of Chinese culture, the academy has created a large number of artworks that highlights the central theme of the times and represents the history of socialist revolution and the achievements of modernization. The artworks show that China, as a civilized power marching towards modernization, is a charming country with open attitude.
In the new century, the academy actively strengthens its exchanges both at home and abroad. It has hosted many academic exchange activities, such as the first "International Principal Forum" held in 2001. In 2007, CAFA hosted the "First Annual Conference on Fine Arts History Education among Domestic Universities and Colleges of Art" and the "2007 International Architecture Education Conference & Domestic Universities and Colleges of Architecture Dean Conference". In 2009, the academy hosted the "Icograda World Design Congress 2009 Beijing and the 1st Beijing Design Week". These academic activities have demonstrated CAFA’s pioneering spirit and outstanding academic status in the new century.
VI. Building a world-class fine arts academy with distinctive Chinese characteristics (2012-2018)
The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China was convened in 2012, symbolizing the socialism with Chinese characteristics entered a new stage of development. By learning and implementing the spirit of 18th CPC National Congress as well as taking CAFA’s future development into consideration, the academy’s party committee adopts the strategy of "hundreds years of glory", which requires it to cherish its own cultural traditions and compare itself with universities and colleges of fine arts overseas. CAFA strives to build a talented workforce and a modern university system. The academy is also determined to build itself into a world-class fine arts academy with distinctive Chinese characteristics.
Since the strategy of "hundreds years of glory" is implemented, the faculties and students at CAFA have worked together to build a modern discipline system of fine arts higher education where plastic arts, design, architecture, and humanities develop together. The academy continues to improve its distinctive way to select and train high-level art talents. A modern art university system based on the Constitution has been set up. New achievements have been made in education, teaching, artistic creation, academic research, and social service.
In September 2017, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Finance, and the National Development and Reform Commission jointly released a selected list of universities and colleges, which will participate in the country’s construction plan of world-class universities and first-class disciplines. The academy’s Fine Arts and Design Studies is included in the list of first-class disciplines. CAFA is the only art academy in the list that has two first-class disciplines.
Since 2014, the academy has hosted a series of exhibitions and academic seminars on "Hundreds Years of Glory · CAFA Masters", such as "The Oil Painting of Chinese Style – Retrospective Exhibition of Dong Xiwen on His 100th Birthday", Conference in Commemoration of the 120th Anniversary of the Birth of Xu Beihong, "The Road of Innovative Pioneer – Memorial Exhibition for the One Hundredth Anniversary of Luo Gongliu’s Birth", and "A Li Hua Retrospective on the 110th Anniversary of His Birth". Via exhibitions commemorating art masters, their culture relics are better cherished, so as to inspire the faculties and students at CAFA to inherit their precious spiritual wealth.
To enroll talented students, the academy continues to improve its admissions test, including subjects, content, time, and admission methods. In this way, the academy is able to enroll outstanding students with talent and passion for fine arts, so as to maintain its advantage as a first-class fine arts academy boasting first-class students.
Besides maintaining a high-quality teaching, the academy also comprehensively encourages its faculties and students to conduct research and creation. It shoulders a major task of serving the people with art and designing for the country. Gaining inspiration from the people and life, the faculties and students at CAFA strive to create artworks that reflects the features of the times. Since 2015, a series of activities have been held by the academy, such as painting portraits of model workers, sketching and creating based on life experience, and hosting relevant exhibitions. From "Relay" to "Long March of Art", CAFA hosted two "Relay" series of exhibitions at the National Art Museum of China for two years in a row, for which creators went to sketch at places commemorating the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression and the Long March. Instructors at the Mural Painting Department collectively created a mural titled "Long Live the Friendship between China and Vietnam Linked by Mountains and Rivers" for the Vietnam-China Friendship Palace. Members at the School of Design have completed various visual design tasks for international sports events. Emblems of the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 are designed by them, through which the "image of China" is presented via visual design. Besides taking national construction and culture needs into consideration, the academy has always upheld the tradition of paying attention to reality and serving the people, so as to contribute to the country’s fine arts and cultural development.
Via high-quality and high-level exchanges and cooperation with the international art community in various forms, the academy has held a large number of activities to make CAFA more international and tell a good story of China. The activities include friendly visits, academic summits, lectures and seminars, and international exhibitions. Since the Spring Festival of 2015, the academy has continued to hold "Happy Chinese New Year: Fantastic Art China" in New York, which is part of a major brand project of the Ministry of Culture called "Happy Chinese New Year". In 2017, CAFA teamed up with the Foundation for Art and Culture Bonn to hold a large-scale exhibition "Deutschland 8: Deutsche Kunst in China" as a key project under the framework of the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Germany. In the same year, the academy also hosted the EAST (Education, Art, Science, and Technology) Season: EAST – International Conference on Education, Art, Science and Technology. CAFA also hosted the Future Unknown Global Education Plan forum and exhibition.
At the new historical starting point, CAFA undertakes the lofty mission of developing socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era. To achieve the two centenary goals and to realize the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, all members at CAFA will make new achievements in education, create classic artworks, explore new areas of art research, and better serve the society with a higher realm, a broader vision and a greater mind. The academy strives to reach a new peak in fine arts higher education at home and abroad. Besides, CAFA is also determined to cultivate more high-level creative talents and art masters excellent in both performing skills and moral integrity.