In the Republican period, China’s art world blossomed from painting and architecture, to dance and music, opera, drama, and film. Due to spatial limitations, only a brief introduction can be given here.
At that time, there were many renowned painters skilled in traditional Chinese painting, oil painting, or cartoons, including Li Shutong (李叔同), Liu Haisu (劉海粟), Zhang Daqian (張大千), Huang Binhong (黃賓虹), Pu Xinyu (溥心畲), Xu Beihong (徐悲鴻), Feng Zikai (豐子愷), Qi Baishi (齊白石), Zhang Leping (張樂平), Ye Qianyu (葉淺予), Li Kuchan (李苦禪), Li Keran (李可染), Chen Banding (陳半丁), Fu Baoshi (傅抱石), Pan Tianshou (潘天壽), Wu Guanzhong (吳冠中), Wu Zuoren (吳作人), Wu Changshuo (吳昌碩), Jiang Zhaohe (蔣兆和), Lin Fengmian (林風眠), and Chang Shuhong (常書鴻). As for music and dance, Liu Tianhua (劉天華), Hua Yanjun (華彥鈞, Abing﹝阿炳﹞), and Wang Luobin (王洛賓) carried on the legacy of Chinese folk music, particular by immortalising the song At a Faraway Place (《在那遙遠的地方》); meanwhile Nie Er (聶耳), Xian Xinghai (冼星海), and He Luting (賀綠汀) combined Western and Chinese styles for inspirational new songs like March of the Volunteers (《義勇軍進行曲》), Guerrillas’ Song (《游擊隊歌》), and Yellow River Cantata (《黃河大合唱》). Modern Chinese dance developed significantly over the period thanks to contributions from those in close contact with European, American, and Soviet dance circles, such as Yu Rongling (裕容齡), Li Bozhao (李伯釗), Li Jinhui (黎錦暉), Wu Xiaobang (吳曉邦), and Dai Ailian (戴愛蓮). Buildings during that period combined Chinese and Western elements as well. Some examples include, in Nanjing (南京): Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, the Presidential Palace, the National Great Hall, the National Central Museum (now Nanjing Museum); in Shanghai (上海): the Waibaidu Bridge (外白渡橋), Shanghai Park Hotel, Peace Hotel, the Paramount, Grand Theatre, and the Great World; in Beiping (北平, now Beijing﹝北京﹞): Liang Qichao Tomb (梁啟超墓), Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Xiangshan Park (香山); in Guangzhou (廣州): the Memorial Museum of Generalissimo Sun Yat-sen’s Mansion, Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the former site of the Whampoa Military Academy (黃埔軍校).
The artistic achievements during the Republican era are also evident in its traditional operas and the new realm of motion pictures. As for Peking Opera (京戲), Mei Lanfang (梅蘭芳), Cheng Yanqiu (程硯秋), Shang Xiaoyun (尚小雲), and Xun Huisheng (荀慧生) were collectively known as the “four great dan (旦, female role) artists” of Peking Opera, while Ma Lianliang (馬連良), Zhou Xinfang (周信芳), and Li Shaochun (李少春) were great xu (鬚, middle-aged male role) artists. There were also famous martial art actors like Gai Jiaotian (蓋叫天). Besides Peking Opera, local operas thrived as well, such as Yue (Shaoxing﹝紹興﹞) Opera (越劇), Cantonese Opera (粵劇), Yu (Henan Province﹝河南﹞) Opera (豫劇), Ping Opera (評劇), and Huangmei Opera (黃梅戲). As for straight plays, modern drama masterpieces emerged one after another, including Cao Yu’s (曹禺) Thunderstorm (《雷雨》), Sunrise (《日出》), and The Wilderness (《原野》); Guo Moruo’s (郭沫若) Cherry Blossom (《棠棣之花》) and Qu Yuan (《屈原》); Chen Baichen’s (陳白塵) Sheng Guan Tu (《升官圖》), and Xia Yan’s (夏衍) Under Shanghai Eaves (《上海屋簷下》). Films spread from the West into China during the Republican era, where they took root and grew. The Republic had its own film stars. For example, Ruan Lingyu (阮玲玉), Hu Die (胡蝶), Zhou Xuan (周璇), Li Lihua (李麗華), Ouyang Shafei (歐陽莎菲), Jin Yan (金焰), Zhao Dan (趙丹), Jin Shan (金山), Wei Heling (魏鶴齡), and Sun Daolin (孫道臨). Some of the most acclaimed films of the period were Twin Sisters (《姊妹花》), New Women (《新女性》), Song of the Fishermen (《漁光曲》), Song at Midnight (《夜半歌聲》), Children of Troubled Times (《風雲兒女》), Street Angel (《馬路天使》), Crossroads (《十字街頭》), 800 Heroes (《八百壯士》), and The Spring River Flows East (《一江春水向東流》).
Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing and Shanghai Park Hotel were well-known buildings in the Republican era. In 1929, the Nationalist Government of the Republic of China (ROC) held the ceremony of the Grand Funeral of Dr Sun Yat-sen (孫中山), moving his coffin from Beiping to the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing. Established in 1934, Shanghai Park Hotel, the tallest building outside the United States, was known as the “Tallest Building of the Far East”.
The ROC witnessed the emergence of many great painters and masterpieces. From the left: the Portrait of a Lady Holding a Fur Coat (detail) by Zhang Daqian (張大千), Shrimps and Crabs (《蝦蟹》) by Qi Baishi, and Nine Floors of Dunhuang (《九層樓》) by Chang Shuhong, which depicts the Mogao Caves (莫高窟). Stepping beyond the world of art, some painters’ works had an important influence in academic domains. For example, Chang’s paintings about Dunhuang (敦煌) provided substantial materials for the development and research of Dunhuang Studies.
The ROC saw significant development in Chinese cartoons. Left: the 1935 serial picture story Wanderings of Sanmao (《三毛流浪記》) by Zhang Leping. Sanmao’s stories reflect the misery of homeless children in Shanghai, which caused a big stir and provided materials for relevant artistic creation in later decades. Right: Triumphant Return (《凱歸》), drawn in 1945 by Feng Zikai (豐子愷). This cartoon depicts a soldier reuniting with his families after the victory of the Total War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression.
The Republican period was a golden era for modern Chinese music, producing many well-known musicians and compositions. From the left: a stamp commemorating the ROC musician Liu Tianhua; the blind musician Hua Yanjun playing the erhu (二胡); Wang Luobin, known as the “Father of Northwest Folk Songs” and “West China’s Singing King”, holding a guitar and dancing on the grasslands of Qinghai Province (青海). Many classic musical pieces were created during the Republican period, such as Hua’s The Moon’s Reflection on the Second Spring (《二泉映月》) and Wang’s At a Faraway Place remain popular to this day.
During the Republican period, dancers combined Chinese and Western styles to push Chinese dance arts to a new level. From left to right: Yu Rongling, Dai Ailian, and Wu Xiaobang during performance.
Significant progress was also made in traditional Chinese operas as they took the international stage during the ROC. In particular, the Peking Opera artist Mei Lanfang achieved international renown. Left: The Drunken Beauty (《貴妃醉酒》) performed by Mei in Shanghai in December 1914. Right: the American master of comedy Charles Spencer Chaplin meeting Mei during his visit to China on 3 March 1936.
During the Republican period, new dramas shone on the stage, especially the works of Cao Yu. The photos show Cao’s famous dramas being performed in 1941, Thunderstorm (left) and Sunrise (right).
The film industry throve at that time. Many film stars became major public idols, including (from left to right): Zhou Xuan, Ruan Lingyu, Hu Die, and Li Lihua.
Four male film stars of the ROC (from left to right): Jin Yan, Zhao Dan, Jin Shan, and Wei Heling.
The ROC left us with many classic films, whose quality were able to stand the test of time.
Source of most photos used in this feature piece: Fotoe.