Making the cut: Prints by prominent woodblock artists on show in Beijing

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Lu Xun (1881-1936), a prominent scholar and writer in 20th-century China, is known for his critical viewpoints of society and human nature. He was also a keen collector of traditional Chinese arts and crafts, as well as Western art.

His intense interest in Chinese printing tradition and modern Western woodcuts was the reason he started the "New Woodcut Movement" in the 1930s, through which he motivated a younger generation of artists to produce woodcuts integrating the styles of both traditions, as a way to depict the realities of people at the grass roots of society, particularly the underprivileged, and to criticize social injustice.

The far-reaching influence of the New Woodcut Movement has continued to document important moments in the country's history and milestones in social progress throughout the decade.

To promote the making of woodcuts, the China National Academy of Painting is showing more than 200 modern pieces, half of its own woodcut collection, at its art museum in Beijing until Friday.

The New Woodcut Movement was born at a time of revolutionary zeal, says Yan Dongsheng, Party secretary of the China National Academy of Painting. He says woodcuts were more accessible and affordable for artists to make, and for people to buy, thereafter becoming a main form of art to educate people and to spread ideas of social progress.

"Woodcuts account for an indispensable part of Chinese artistic tradition, and the heights that the genre achieved in history went on to inspire modern Chinese artists, those participating in the New Woodcut Movement for example, to create original pieces to represent the changing times," says Li Honglin, director of the academy's art museum.

Many of the exhibits on show are donations by resident artists of the academy over the years. These include a portrait of Lu Xun, engraved in 1936 by Li Qun, an avid follower of the New Woodcut Movement.

The print, measuring only 10 by 12 centimeters in size, portrays the great writer in his prime, set against a shelf full of books — it symbolizes Lu Xun's firm belief in the role of writing in exposing the darkness of society and in encouraging people to read.

Xu Kuang, another artist on show at the exhibition, is a leading figure of his generation, whose work depicts the social transformations after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. In a career spanning 50 years, Xu created well-known woodcuts such as Rural School, a depiction of rural education, and Master of Himself, highlighting improvements to the lives of the Tibetan people, both of which are on show.

Prints of the two pieces were also shown at an exhibition that ended on Tuesday at the National Art Museum of China, which navigated the world of the 85-year-old artist's engravings.

Wu Weishan, director of NAMOC, says that Xu's work celebrates "the beauty of ideals, of hard work and of creativity", which is deeply rooted in the soil of his home.

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