Artist & Work

  • URBAN=Work & Shop

Zhao Yannian

Born in 1924, deceased in 2014, Hangzhou

The first time he read Lu Xun, Zhao Yannian was 14. He had no inkling of who Lu Xun was. As a teenager, the impression that Lu Xun’s writing left on him was the author’s cynicism with Chinese reality, embalmed in absurd expressions from Ah Q, like “sons hitting fathers” and “what’s yours is mine”.

In 1966, as spring turned into summer, the Zhejiang Art Academy was completely covered with dazibao (big character posters) in all shapes and forms. Zhao’s works, source materials and woodblocks were confiscated. He was not the only one that this happened to: a raging tide was sweeping up the whole of society. But, Lu Xun’s works were not banned. For the heartbroken Zhao facing such lawlessness, they were “a ray of light amid infinite darkness”. Zhao wrote in “The Causes of The Story of Ah Q” that he only got to know and understand Lu Xun “20 or 30 years afterwards”. He thought at that time, if he could pick up the carving knife again, he would want to depict the titular character Ah Q – that fusion of earthy, unsophisticated peasant and cunning vagrant, the compatriots whose misfortune he mourned for and whose docility angered him. So, in 1974, Zhao started to create woodcut illustrations for Lu Xun’s short stories and essays.