1942: Chen Hengan of Guiyang

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Once I reached Guiyang, I noticed that all the shop signs were written by the same person. The construction of the calligraphy was roundish and had a style like Yan Zhenqing. The signs all had the signature of the Mayor, perhaps to make them more prestigious. The real artist was Chen Hengan. When I was in Guiyang, he was a perfect local host and he treated me very well. Although he lived in Guiyang [implying rural and backward], he could still hum lines from the Beijing opera and he was quite rhythmic in his dance moves. His even eloped, which at that time it was considered a very modern thing to do. For him and his wife to be so modern at the time of the Resistance War and for them to be able to entertain friends from the art world, it was not an easy task.

I drew a set of “Guiyang in Cartoons” because the Guiyang city government was promoting literature and art, they wanted this set to be kept permanently at the public education center and would be exhibited once a year with free admission for Guiyang residents. Originally they wanted to pay me (I declined), I left the paintings at Chen Hengan’s home and then left Guiyang for Guilin. I did not expect that the Guizhou authorities were serious about trying to convince me to live in Guiyang and were prepared to give me a piece of land to build a house in the famous suburb of “Hua Xi” as a thank you gift for the paintings. Instead I asked them to build an art museum, little did I know that my idea was to become reality.

The art museum was opened on October 10, 1943. It was between the science museum and the library, together the buildings formed the cultural center of Guiyang. The first art museum director was Chen Hengan.

Once, Chen Hengan asked me to his home to try the 150 year old garlic that his family had preserved. Rare things were precious and he only invited close friends or relatives to try this delicacy. When we opened the cellar door, there was an air of seriousness and anxiousness among the participants. After the dust had settled and some flies shooed away, there was silence as the cellar was revealed, a heavy soil scent floated up. The mud sealant was removed from the container and then a wine scent flow out.

Chen Hengan said, “this garlic was buried by my great-great grandparent’s own hands in this cellar and the house above has already been rebuilt three times”. As he was now the head of the family, he had the first right to pick out the garlic. The garlic was like broken pieces of paper and was very crumbly, there was some stickiness as well and melted instantly in the mouth. It was rather tasteless and I had no idea what I was eating. Everything will pass and all matter will turn into nothingness.

To commemorate the event of the sampling this old garlic, Chen Hengan sang a section of the Beijing opera, “shilang tanmu” and his wife added the “mei pai”. For that occasion, I brought a print of Baishoutu or “100 Shou Painting” by Wentong Shuji as a thank you gift for him.

 

Download PDF: Manhua Guiyang (in Chinese)

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