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Zhao Yannian was born in Huzhou, Zhejiang province. In 1938 he studied at the Shanghai School of Arts, and joined the All China Association of Anti-Enemy Woodcut Artists in 1941. In 1950, he began to teach at the East China branch of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou. Zhao lost his post during the Cultural Revolution and resumed his teaching duties in 1972. He is particularly well known for his portraits of Lu Xun and illustrations for Lu Xun’s novels, such as the ones on display here. Zhao’s woodcuts are mostly in monochrome, with strong contrasts, reflecting the social conflicts of the times in which he lived.

When Zhao lost his post at the Central Academy and was tortured in criticism sessions during the Cultural Revolution, he realized the striking similarity between the so-called ‘revolutionaries’ and those described in the True Story of Ah Q by Lu Xun. First published in 1921, the story is considered a masterpiece of modern Chinese literature, as the first work to fully take personal flaws as symptomatic of the Chinese national character. The national character is represented here by Ah Q, a man from the rural peasant class with little education and no definite occupation.

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