Ink Bamboo in the New Light: the Art of Dong, Yifang (1925-2006)

Ink bamboo has been a major motif of Chinese literati painting since the 12th Century. Ever since then, the ink bamboo has become a pictorial symbol of the most salient characteres of Chinese scholars: humility, integrity, self-control, and resilience. Soon after 1949, however, this time honored tradition came to an abrupt halt as paintings of ink bamboo, along with the other three plants symbolizing various characters of traditional Chinese scholars, the plum blossom, the orchid and the chrysanthemum, were severely criticized and eventually banned in mainland China. The late Chinese artist, Dong, Yifang (1925-2006), first studied traditional Chinese paintings and became well versed with various genres of Chinese painting. As China moved into the modern age, he also studied western paintings. From 1949-1976, he created images of the new China dictated by the new regime. After 1976, artists gradually regained some freedom in their choice of subjects. Dong returned to traditional Chinese paintings and started creating images of ink bamboo in an entirely new light as none had ever seen. His understanding and his technique of rendering the light, especially the back lighting on the bamboo grove brought the images of bamboo to a new height that was not achieved by literati artists before the modern time. This paper will examine Dong Yifang’s paintings of ink bamboo to delineate the evolution of this unique genre of Chinese painting against its unique historical background and comment on the ahcievement of Dong Yifang.


  • East Asian Studies