Asian Art

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Aug 8



Practitioners of Pure Land Buddhism who persevere in the worship of Amitabha, Buddha of Infinite Light, and the pursuit of enlightenment are promised salvation, or rebirth in the Western Paradise, at the time of death.  
The image of Amitabha was used to comfort dying believers later in the sixteenth century in the Choson period, when such use was formulated and practiced as a rite named Tosangnyombul, which means the recitation of Amitabha’s name in conjunction with meditation upon the image.

Practitioners of Pure Land Buddhism who persevere in the worship of Amitabha, Buddha of Infinite Light, and the pursuit of enlightenment are promised salvation, or rebirth in the Western Paradise, at the time of death.  

The image of Amitabha was used to comfort dying believers later in the sixteenth century in the Choson period, when such use was formulated and practiced as a rite named Tosangnyombul, which means the recitation of Amitabha’s name in conjunction with meditation upon the image.



Aug 1

Mother and Shojo & and the Japanese cult of cuteness.

The reality of war has become so detached from everyday lives, that for most young Japanese people the media has become the dominant source for learning about the war.  At the level of pop culture there still exists a percieved infantilism and/or amorphous libido for violence in today’s Japan. 

The image of the young girl (shojo) permeates Japanese culture today in contrast to the time of the Asia Pacific war where the image of the mother where young Japanese soldiers anchored their deepest emotions.  The mother figure is well represented in this time.

#1 Meiji era woodblock print of a mother and child

#2 Cover of one of the earliest shōjo magazines, Shōjo Sekai, published July 1, 1908 by Hakubunkan

After the war there occurred a gradual shift in subculture from the mother to the Shojo (young girl) leading to Japans culture of cuteness.  Soon mainstream embraced this fad and it became a marketing fad for almost everything.  Of course this is best exemplified by hello kitty.  At first hello kitty was strictly a child’s product but it soon became popular amongst adults.  

#3 hello kitty

In 1975 emperor Hirohito and his wife visited the US.  Soon the media became flooded with images of them at Disneyland.  Many people saw this image as “cute” indelibly stamping the image of the emperor as cute among Japanese girls.  This image lingered until his death in 1994.

#4 Hirohito and Mickey Mouse.

If the predominant self-image of postwar Japanese culture is that of the innocuous boy/girl the question arises as to whether the root of the image lies in the fact that Japan continues to relive the trauma of being publicly referred to as “12 year olds” by the former conquerer and protector, Genera MacArthur.  Was the image of the two side by side so piercing that the Japanese internalized by the relationship in the photo?  Anyone who see’s the photo cannot fail to notice the contrast.  This image has long been seen as that of guardian and innocent boy/girl.  
#5 MacAthur & Hirohito
Ambivalence and ambiguity associated with 14 year olds function as potent metaphors for the national image in present day Japan.  What lies ahead is hope that this narrow passage created by the image of the shojo can evade appropriation by the movement refered to as infantile capitalism.
*oddly i couldn’t find a decent photo of hirohito at disneyland.

Jul 29
Akira Yamaguchi, In Flames, 2001

Akira Yamaguchi, In Flames, 2001


#1 Anonymous, Procession to Edo of the Daimyo of Owari, 1800

#2 Akira Yamaguchi, Show the Flag, 2003

Akira Yamaguchi is a contemporary Japanese artist.

Yamaguchi’s painting style combines contemporary oil painting techniques with the traditional Japanese composition style known as Yamato-e which is a style of Japanese painting inspired by Tang Dynasty paintings and fully developed by the late Heian period. It is considered the classical Japanese style.


Jul 28

Not really art related, just timely.

Tokyo 1964 - Tokyo had been awarded the organization of the 1940 Summer Olympics, but this honor was subsequently passed to Helsinki because of Japan’s invasion of China, before ultimately being canceled because of World War II. The 1964 Summer Games were the first Olympics held in Asia, and the first time South Africa was barred from taking part due to its apartheid system in sports.  The 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo celebrated Japan’s progress and reemergence on the world stage. The new Japan was no longer a wartime enemy, but a peaceful country that threatened no one, and this transformation was accomplished in less than 20 years.

Japan placed 3rd with 29 medals, 16 gold, 5 silver, 8 bronze.

Korea placed 27th with 2 silver, 1 bronze.

Taiwan competed with no medals and mainland China did not compete neither did North Korea.

Seoul Olympics - These games were the last for two of the world’s “dominating” sport powers, the Soviet Union and East Germany, as both ceased to exist before the next Olympic Games.  North Korea, still officially at war with South Korea, and its allies, Albania, Cuba, Madagascar and Seychelles boycotted the games.  Hosting the 1988 Olympics presented an opportunity to bring international attention to South Korea.  In an attempt to follow the model of 1964 Tokyo Olympics as a rite of passage for the Japanese economy and re-integration of Japan in the family of nations in the post-war era, the Korean government hoped to use the Olympics as a “coming-out party” for the newly industrialized Korean economy. The South Korean government hoped the Olympics would symbolize a new legitimacy of Korea in world affairs. The Olympics gave a powerful impetus to the development of South Korea’s relations with Eastern Europe, the USSR and with the People’s Republic of China.  The desire not to taint the Olympic Games with military dictatorship and riots served as an impetus for Korea’s transition to democracy.

South Korea placed 4th with 33 medals, 12 gold, 10 silver, 11 bronze.

China placed 11th with 28 medals, 5 gold, 11 silver, 12 bronze.

Japan placed 14th with 14 medals, 4 gold, 3 silver, 7 bronze.

Mongolia placed 46th with 1 medals, 1 bronze.

Beijing 2008 - A variety of concerns over the Games, or China’s hosting of the Games, had been expressed by various entities, including allegations that China violated its pledge to allow open media access,  various alleged human rights violations, its continuous support of repressive regimes.  It ended up being a success.  

China placed first with 100 medals, 51 gold, 21 silver, 28 bronze.

South Korea placed 7th with 31 medals, 13 gold, 10 silver, 8 bronze.

Japan placed 8th with 25 medals, 9 gold, 6 silver, 10 bronze.

Mongolia placed 31st with 4 medals, 2 gold, 2 silver.

North Korea placed 34th with 6 medals,2 gold, 1, silver, 3 bronze.


Jul 27

South Korean family planing posters.

#1 (1970’s) They’re not different because they’re girls. Let’s have only two kids and raise them well

#2 (1980’s) Our country is an overcrowded space

#3 (1970’s)  We’re all the same human beings - This poster is a clear criticism of traditional Confucian family values and the discrimination they imply. The man is wearing the traditional Korean hat on top of his Western style suit while his wife wears the traditional hanbok dress. His arms are filled with symbols of traditional values: property, offspring, inheritance and parental authority. The word on his hat means: head of the household.


Jul 26

Socialist messages are often found in more traditional asian art forms.

#1 Woodblock print on paper of a dog chasing a child, watched by a priest outside a church. Pyongyang, North Korea, ca 2002.

#2 Yang Zhiguang - Mao Zedong at the Peasants’ Movement Training School 1959 ink and color on paper


Jul 25

Socialist Realist art in North Korea developed under the influence of the Soviet Union and China.  Art theorists in North Korea divide world art history into two kinds: peoples art, reflecting the needs of the public, and reactionary art, reflecting the ideology of the exploiting class.  

All artists in North Korea are registered as members of the Korean Artists Federation and receive monthly salaries for which they are expected to produce a certain number of works.  The principal institution for training artists is the Pyongyang University of Fine Art. It is extremely difficult to enter but it guarantees preferential treatment after graduation.

Its major subjects include the heroic days of anti-Japanese resistance, the Korean war, postwar recovery, socialist nation-building, the masses and of course the leaders.

#1 Dae-Tong Road. Hong Yong’il, 2000

#2 Evening on the Seaside. Hwang Inchae, 1998. 

#3 New Classroom. Hong Ho-ryol, oil painting, 1954


Jul 23
calligraphy by An Jung-geun.
An Jung-geun (1879–1910) was a Korean independence activist, nationalist, and pan-Asianist.  An assassinated Ito Hirobumi, the Resident-General of Korea and wounded two other Japanese colonial officials.
An’s Japanese captors showed sympathy to An. He recorded in his autobiography that the public prosecutor, Mizobuchi Takao, exclaimed “From what you have told me, it is clear that you are a righteous man of East Asia. I can’t believe a sentence of death will be imposed on a righteous man. There’s nothing to worry about.” He was also given New Year’s delicacies and his calligraphy was highly admired and requested.  After six trials, An was sentenced to death by the Japanese colonial court in Ryojun China. Ironically An Jung-geun was an admirer of Emperor Meiji of Japan.
The assassination of Ito by An was praised by Koreans and many Chinese as well, who were struggling against Japanese invasion at the time. Well-known Chinese political leaders such as Yuan Shikai, Sun Yat-sen, and Liang Qichao, wrote poems acclaiming An.
An’s calligraphy works have been respected not only for their calligrapher’s artistic skills but also his honourable spirit, which is reflected in his works.  He would leave on his calligraphy works a signature; the handprint of his left hand that was missing the last joint of the ring finger, which he had cut off with his comrades in 1909 as a pledge to kill Ito. Some of the works were designated as National Treasures.
The posted piece has all of these characteristics and is entitled ”Unless reading everyday, thorns grow in the mouth.”

calligraphy by An Jung-geun.

An Jung-geun (1879–1910) was a Korean independence activist, nationalist, and pan-Asianist.  An assassinated Ito Hirobumi, the Resident-General of Korea and wounded two other Japanese colonial officials.

An’s Japanese captors showed sympathy to An. He recorded in his autobiography that the public prosecutor, Mizobuchi Takao, exclaimed “From what you have told me, it is clear that you are a righteous man of East Asia. I can’t believe a sentence of death will be imposed on a righteous man. There’s nothing to worry about.” He was also given New Year’s delicacies and his calligraphy was highly admired and requested.  After six trials, An was sentenced to death by the Japanese colonial court in Ryojun China. Ironically An Jung-geun was an admirer of Emperor Meiji of Japan.

The assassination of Ito by An was praised by Koreans and many Chinese as well, who were struggling against Japanese invasion at the time. Well-known Chinese political leaders such as Yuan Shikai, Sun Yat-sen, and Liang Qichao, wrote poems acclaiming An.

An’s calligraphy works have been respected not only for their calligrapher’s artistic skills but also his honourable spirit, which is reflected in his works.  He would leave on his calligraphy works a signature; the handprint of his left hand that was missing the last joint of the ring finger, which he had cut off with his comrades in 1909 as a pledge to kill Ito. Some of the works were designated as National Treasures.

The posted piece has all of these characteristics and is entitled ”Unless reading everyday, thorns grow in the mouth.”


Jul 22

Imagine a person tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered,with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green.  Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government-which, however,already has denied all knowledge of his existence.  Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man. -Sax Rohmer,The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu (1913)  

Yellow Peril  was a colour metaphor for race that originated in the late nineteenth century with immigration of Chinese as coolie slaves or labourers to various Western countries, notably the United States, and later associated with the Japanese during the mid 20th century, due to Japanese military expansion.  

When The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu was published in London in 1913, Sax Rohmer (1883-1959) moved from literary obscurity into a fame that lasted for almost fifty years.    The central, recurring conflict of these thrillers- Dr. Fu-Manchu’s schemes for global domination-rewrot the master narrative of modern England, inverting the British Empire’s racial and political hierarchies to imagine a dystopic civilization dominated by evil Orientals.  Although the rhetoric of these novels exalts twentieth-century England as a source of a desirable quality  relating to progress, knowledge, and virtue. Dr. Fu-Manchu’s near-total appropriation of sociopolitical and technological systems points to the negative capabilities of industrialization and modernization.  

Rohmer’s Fu-Manchu novels forge an intimate connection between racial identity and the various promises of twentieth-century modernity. In translating the conditions of Western modernity into a battle for racial dominance, Rohmer gives expression to the cultural anxieties and dislocations that high modernist authors were concerned with. Rohmer’s depictions of a premodern, barbaric, and anti- Western China exist with anxieties about China’s very own modernization.

In 1911, the year in which the first Fu- Manchu stories were serialized, sociopolitical revolution in China ended the Manchu dynasty and Confucian social order, resulting in the founding of Sun Yat-sen’s Chinese Republic in 1912 and eventually leading to the formation of Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist China in 1928.  

The racial oppositions that heighten the Fu-Manchu novels’ melodramatic aesthetic also create a discursive space for Sax Rohmer’s complex negotiations of English modernity. By pitting Fu-Manchu’s loathsome criminal genius against England’s inherent goodness, Rohmer’s novels make a dual critique of the modern West’s obsession with innovation, global sovereignty, and the acquisition of knowledge.  

Rohmer’s unwitting representations of English failure, whether at the level of individual characters or of larger social structures, are the points where the Fu-Manchu novels intersect most provocatively with the narratives of high modernism. 

Fu Manchu has been made into a bunch of films and inspired many villains in different media.


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