Cui: The Unspeakable Red
In Cui's China Red series, he depicted a long list of women in traditional red Chinese costumes, with emphasis on their complicated hair make-up, full lips, almond-shaped eyes and Mongolian-styleflat noses. His water-and-ink realistic Chinese lady paintings is deeply characterized by Western Oil Paint skills, which brought vividness of Modern Culture to these traditional women figures. Cui also created the combination of Shanshui, Bird-and-Flower and Sketching from life, which helped him in avoiding the two major problems of contemporary Chinese water-and-ink: Petrified orthodoxy and extreme experimentalism. His truthfulness and directness in artistic expression has everything to do with his local identity of Northern China.
However, as we contemplate the complicated history of China, we must declare first the connection between China Red and Chineseness. In contemporary conceptions, China red is inseparable from China, in the level of Kungfu, Great Wall and Chinese Characters, forming a collection of culture stereotypes. This conception is nothing like General Tso's Chicken: it is from Chinese Culture. Chinese population around the world widely acknowledges China Red as a Proud Tradition in bridal costumes.
But was it always like this? In the early stage of Chinese civilization, the Zhou Dynasty, bridal costumes was made in black with stripes of yellow, according to formal records. This tradition was passed on to the Unified China under Han Dynasty. In the coming barbarian invasion, White took over as matrimonial color. After that, in the proud Tang Dynasty and the most civilized Song Dynasty, the ceremonial color for women is somewhere on the chromatography between green and blue. The first appearance of China Red in formal occasions on women, as it manifests in Cui's paintings, was in Ming Dynasty (1400s-1650s), which was interrupted by the following invasion of Manchu barbarians. The China Red was not made an "official" color until the early half of 1900s, when China was liberated from Manchu Emperors and people started to seek certain identity color to hold onto, much like what happened later in the 1980s in Northern China.
However, it is unfair to judge Cui's China Red series as a complacent approval of stereotypes. Multiculturalism not only studies the origin of culture specialty, but also respects the power of "acculturation". In the time of Globalization, Muslim in Egypt can feel inclined to Pharaoh's Pyramids; Turkish Greeks can be proud of Aristotle's traditions. Similarly, As China's Red in historic progress, it can also represent a greater symbolism ofmagnitude. Yes, the Red may not be very China, nor can it fully represent all of China. Nonetheless, it's already a powerful symbol of Culture Significance and Historical Importance. Cui's endeavors to use China Red as a culture symbolare successful and worthy of praises. His China Red series truly reflected the fullest China in its broadest meanings, which is also a wonderful artistic tribute to Northern China's new national identification since 1980s. Last but not least, the beautiful women in his paintings are aesthetical wonders for contemplation all by themselves!