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Ancient Methods and New Knowledge : The Art Market and Traditional-Style Painting Practice in Early Republican Beijing : 1911-1937


In the early twentieth century, traditional-style painting practice was profoundly affected by the rapid changes sweeping through Chinese society. As traditional-style painting was excluded from art educational system and expelled from governmental supports in the first two decades of the twentieth century, the art market became one of the most important institutions for artists to revitalize traditional constructs through their active involvement with modern practice. The art market was not only an economic and social force conducive to individual painter's publicity and celebrity, but also a cultural space formalizing collective judgments, meanings, and relationships, which in turn shaped the image of traditional Chinese painting in modern art history. This study of the marketing mechanism in early Republican Beijing presents an alternative to the visual approach that has largely dominated scholarship of Chinese art history. Through delving into the socio-economic dimension of painting production and consumption, this dissertation examines the formation and development of the art market in early twentieth-century Beijing and investigates the measurable impacts that the marketing mechanism exerted on traditional-style painting characterized with adherence to the ancient subject matters and styles. Moreover, taking the art market as a jumping-off point, this dissertation redress the oversimplified and stereotyped vision that underestimates painting styles in early Republican Beijing as a belated and conservative antithesis to the innovations exhibited in painting produced in southern China. It argues that the art market in early Republican Beijing was an institution embedded in specific social, historical, intellectual, and cultural contexts. The determining and formative roles that urban cultural elites played in shaping and directing the art market made it an irreplaceable agency for traditional-style painters to affirm Chinese cultural and national identity as the country was integrated into the modern world and to define a cultural China as the political authority eroded in the post-imperial era

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