China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Female Literacy in Chinese Painting of the 1950s: Teaching Mama to Read

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Maryland Suite B, Lobby Level

Female virtue has been an important theme in Chinese art history. Despite the good scholarships on pre-modern visual representations of female virtue, there exist few studies on paintings of this theme that were created after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (1949 onwards). This paper concentrates on Lu Yanshao’s (1909-1993) painting Teaching Mama to Read (1956) and suggests that female literacy became the most important part of female virtue in visual representations of the 1950s China. Historically considered, in 1949 and 1951, the Chinese government issued winter study program and launched a nation-wide literacy movement. Lu Yanshao’s painting responded to these female literacy movements and became the official advertisement for female literacy after it was exhibited at the Second National Guohua Exhibition in 1956. Thematically, this study explores two layers of meanings of Teaching Mama to Read in Chinese art history. On the one hand, Teaching Mama to Read is distantly related to paintings of beautiful women. On the other hand, Teaching Mama to Read is one of the many figure paintings that address mother-child relationship. By comparing Lu’s painting with existing paintings of similar subjects from pre-modern and modern Chinese art history, this paper argues that Teaching Mama to Read demonstrates a phenomenon that in the 1950s the rising importance of female literacy changed the understanding of female virtue. Visually these changes happened in the representations of women and her relationship with her child. 

Yanfei Yin

Ohio State University, Ohio

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