GuoHua, The Undervalued Cultural Art


Annie Jiang, Staff Writer

Illustrations are often used to explore any contextual information and are frequently connected to communication methods and historical conversations. Traditional artworks are shown as a certain expression before the explicit digital art that can be seen nowadays. However, when we shift our focus to the digital world that consists mostly of components of pop culture, many undervalued works of art that include powerful representations of culture and history are often disregarded.

As one of the world’s oldest artistic traditions, GuoHua may be one of the art forms that is underestimated under the context of pop culture.

Any work painted in ink, with or without color, over a basis of Chinese paper or silk is classified as GuoHua, meaning native painting in China. It’s a way to identify contemporary Chinese paintings made using classical techniques. Similar to calligraphy, Chinese artists use pictures to build their civilization and address pertinent concerns.

Originating from landscape painting during the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) until the Tang dynasty (618–906), artists mostly depicted the human form under the setting of landscapes. They were able to represent the distinctive characteristics of animals and plants to demonstrate their ambition. Much of what we know about early Chinese figure painting was preserved on silk banners, lacquered artifacts, and tomb walls at burial sites. Numerous ancient tomb murals were intended to protect the deceased or guide their souls to heaven. Others depicted the teachings of the Chinese scholar Confucius or everyday settings.

Arcadia High School (AHS) sophomore Kate Wang expressed her thoughts on current art trends: “Besides digital art, I really like some [of] the traditional paintings such as GuoHua,[Traditional Chinese painting]. But I feel like some traditional art paintings are underrepresented right now.”

AHS art teacher Ms. Carol Bradley emphasized GuoHua’s cultural importance through Fan Kuan’s painting—Travelers By Streams and Mountains. She claimed that it is “one of the seven wonders in the world,” and appreciated the analysis that can be found in the form of GuoHua.

“The brush work is fresh yet complex,” Ms. Bradley said. “Painting in ink requires the artist to think in advance to anticipate where the paper is to be left untouched and where the brush strokes would be most effective. This requires that the artist understand the underlying structures found in nature.”

Chinese paintings were originally created for the imperial to enjoy, but over time they were opened up to the general public. The topics have also changed a lot. But the underlying purpose of depicting society has never changed. The Chinese Artist Association has later pursued the appreciation paintings of Mao’s China when the Communist Party took place, and the Chinese government today has offered the opportunities for younger generations to embody the aesthetic sensibilities through different museums. 

Through the themes and painting methods, GuoHua provides insights into traditional Chinese aesthetic standards and philosophy. With the current painting trends that are mostly associated with pop culture, it is also important that we acknowledge the art that holds deep historical roots and approach an emphasis on certain traditions.