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Zeng Shanqing [Tseng Shan-ch’ing]free

(b Beijing, July 20, 1932).
  • Ann Barrott Wicks

Chinese painter. Born into a modest family, Zeng’s early manifestation of artistic talent led to his acceptance at the age of 14 to the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, where he studied oil painting with Xu Beihong and Wu Zuoren. An exceptional student, Zeng graduated in 1950 and taught classes at the Academy. In 1952 he transferred to Qinghua University where he taught painting and art history and met his future wife, Yang Yanping, then a student of architecture.

A prominent young artist, Zeng was an early target of official criticism. His powerful paintings of the dark, massive bodies of sunburned fishermen were accused of ‘uglifying the masses’, and in 1963 he was placed on the government’s list of ‘black painters’. Between 1963 and 1972 he was sent to various rural areas for ‘re-education’ through hard physical labour. It was 1977 before he was allowed to resume teaching. In 1978 he was appointed associate professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. In 1986 Zeng and his wife emigrated to the United States.

Figures and horses in coloured ink on rice paper are the primary subjects of Zeng’s work. In his paintings he explores minute aspects of the daily activities of Tibetan herdsmen and women living on the grasslands of Qinghai. His focussed, up-close accounts of herding, riding, drinking and eating capture the bold, free spirit and physical strength of the plains people. Zeng’s work Praying (coloured ink on rice paper, 96 × 49 cm, 1990) typifies his treatment of figures. The faces are abstract, but convey strong character; work-hardened hands are enlarged and ennobled. The colourful clothing and jewellery of the plains dwellers is described in bright washes of red, blue, green and orange splashed over the basic black, grey and brown tones of the people and their garments. Zeng’s sympathetic renditions of these people and their animals express his first-hand experience with outdoor toil, and his admiration for those who endure hardship as a way of life.


  • Cheng Zui. “Paean of Power: An Introduction to the Oil Paintings of Zheng Shanqing.” Artist [Hong Kong] 27 (1982).
  • Cohen, J. L. The New Chinese Painting, 1949–1986. New York, 1987.
  • Wicks, A. B. “The Modern Brush: Traditional Chinese Painting Since the Cultural Revolution.” Twentieth-Century Art and Culture 1, no. 1 (Fall 1989): 46–56.
  • Sullivan, M. Art and Artists of Twentieth-Century China. Berkeley, 1996.