Starting from the Academy: The Exploration and Inquiry into the First “China Woodblock Printing Youth Program”

TEXT:Emily Zhou    DATE: 2021.7.27


The “China Woodblock Printing Youth Program” was launched by artist Chen Qi, who is also a professor of China Central Academy of Fine Arts, at the end of 2019. The program intended to facilitate the development of Chinese young woodblock printing artists and promote the industry of woodblock printing in China through holding annual exhibitions featuring woodblock printing, academic seminars, and organising publications as well as establishing archive rooms, among other activities. The program is expected to be of ten-years duration so it can contribute to the long-term development of woodblock printing in China.

On 26 of June, 2021, “The Fourth Generation of Image & Medium—China Woodblock Printing Youth Program 2021 Annual Exhibition” opened at the Asian Art Center (Beijing). The exhibition invited Duan Shaofeng as the curator to display more than forty woodblock printing artworks by ten artists including Cheng Guoliang, Gu Yiming, Huang Yang, Lian Zhuoqi, Liang Yejian, Shi Lei, Wang Yan, You Yu, Yu Wufeng, Zhang Xiaofeng. 1

Exhibition View of “The Fourth Generation of Image & Medium—China Woodblock Printing Youth Program 2021 Annual Exhibition”

Meanwhile, three themed forums developed from the exhibition were held on 25 and 26 June, 2021, namely, “Backflow and Interflow”, “Case Study and The Ecosystem”, and “Image and Media”. The three forums focused on the history of Chinese woodblock printing education, the current creative position of young artists as well as the future of China woodblock printing and invited art history scholars, critics, curators, young artists to discuss issues.

After two-year preparation and getting over the challenges brought by the pandemic, the launch of the first annual exhibition and the related forums undoubtedly boosted the further development of “China Woodblock Printing Youth Program”. However, it also gradually revealed many questions brought up by the exhibition theme, presentation style, artist section and artwork connotation, etc., that were worth discussing and solving. Furthermore, all these questions were precisely in line with the challenges, dilemma and opportunities faced by the development of China woodblock printing nowadays.

Exhibition View of “The Fourth Generation of Image & Medium—China Woodblock Printing Youth Program 2021 Annual Exhibition”


I. Reviewing the History: How to Define the Fourth Generation?

The exhibition “The Fourth Generation of Image & Medium” put forward a notion of “the fourth generation” of Chinese woodblock printing artists, and introduced the two concepts, “image” and “media” to refer to two aspects that young artists and teachers within the academies need to be aware of during their creative and teaching practice. However, when we consider the education history of woodblock printing in China while proposing the notion of “the fourth generation” it is controversial which resulted in one of the topics for discussion within the three forums. The controversies of this proposal are inseparable from the development and educational practice of woodcut, engraving, printmaking, woodblock printing in China.

According to the article “The Fourth Generation: Born at the Right Time” written by curator Duan Shaofeng, “After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the teaching of woodblock printing has been passed down through four generations, and today it has formed the fourth generation of people born in the 70s and 80s.”2

Exhibition View of “The Fourth Generation of Image & Medium—China Woodblock Printing Youth Program 2021 Annual Exhibition”

From curator Duan Shaofeng’s point of view, the “fourth generation” is in an era in which image and medium are ubiquitous. Woodblock printing in this era proposes new challenges for artists due to the highly developed technology and digital media. Encountering such an era, artists are forced to reconsider the function of the rapid spread of prints because of its plurality in the traditional context. Moreover, printmaking’s previous social function such as “proving history through images” that was once featured by the “New Woodcut Movement” in the special period is gradually replaced by other new media. Under these conditions, where is the vivosphere for woodblock printing currently? When woodblock printing was developed as an independent category of art to be explored, practiced and inherited, how should the tradition, techniques and concepts behind it connect and resonate with young people born and growing up in this new era?

The conflicts around the notion of “the fourth generation” could be foreseen. Specifically, is the definition of the first three generations sorted through by the initiator and the curator accurate and authoritative enough? Can the selected ten artists fully cover the appearance of the “fourth generation” of woodblock printing artists? All these questions are still worth discussing. Nevertheless, it is convincing that taking “the fourth generation” as the starting point, all these controversies and discussions have proposed concrete requirements for art practitioners, educators and inheritors of woodblock printing in terms of sorting through and researching the history of this traditional art language, which is also an indispensable section in the process of currently pursuing the long-term development of woodblock printing.


II. Dual Identity: Artists and Young Teachers


Cheng Guoliang “Bamboo · Space Series No.1” Image Size: 80x182cm; Overall Print Size: 98x197.5cm Woodblock Print, 2021


Gu Yiming “Leaning Sun of Spring No.1” Image Size: 38x25cm;Overall Print Size: 48.5x37cm Woodblock Print, 2018


Huang Yang  “The Sixteenth Year of Wanli” 448x714cm(19.3x28cmx592) Woodblock Print, Mixed Media on Paper, 2014-2017 

If we look carefully into the selected artists this year, it is not difficult to observe the common feature—all of them are both artists and young teachers within the academies. For the first exhibition of “China Woodblock Printing Youth Program”, it is precisely the organisers’ intention to focus on the group featuring young teachers of woodblock printing in different academies in China. On the one hand, they are the inheritors of academic woodblock printing; on the other hand, they will be the academic backbone of woodblock printing in the future.


Lian Zhuoqi “Mesmerized under Flowers Shade · Sliced Snow ” Image Size: 59.5x88.6cm;Overall Print Size: 69x100.8cm,Woodblock Print, 2021


Liang Yejian “A Piece of Withered Tree”  Image Size: 79.5x109.2cm;Overall Print Size: 94.2x125.4cm Woodblock Print, 2017


Shi Lei “Morning Flower without Evening Pick No.12” 98x98cm Woodblock Print, 2020

It can be seen from the dual identity of the participating artists in the first annual exhibition that the education and inheritance of woodblock prints within the academic system might play a more significant role than individual artistic practice.

In order to present participating artists’ creation and thinking in a clearer way, besides the exhibition, the second forum “Case Study and The Ecosystem” held on the morning of June 26 invited 10 artists to share their artworks, creative thoughts and methodologies. By doing so, this forum expects to outline a rough appearance of the current education situation of woodblock printing in China, and hopes to form a consensus of future woodblock printing education in China. This explores the common problems and special characteristics and traditions in different areas.

There might be more problems brought up by the theme of the exhibition and presentation, which were concentratedly discussed by participating guests in the three forums. For example, as some of the guests mentioned, if the exhibition this year focused on the realm of woodblock printing education, while the exhibition seemed merely to present creative outcomes, how could creation embody teaching then? Although the organizer has integrated the exhibition with forums and publications, can it clearly show the connotational and techinical development and change of woodblock printing and further deliver them to a wide range of audiences? 17.jpeg

Wang Yan “Treasure Ship I” 98.3x199.5cm Woodblock Print, 2019


You Yu “Realm” Image Size: 117.8x86cm;Overall Print Size: 129.3x103cm Woodblock Print, 2019


Yu Wufeng “Run to the Distance” Image Size: 90x60cm;Overall Print Size: 115x67.5cm Woodblock Print, 2017


Zhang Xiaofeng “Rainbow of Some Day in 2020 I”  230x145cm Woodblock Print, 2020

While for most of the participating works this year, the so-called “literati character” is a noteworthy feature, which might be caused by the tradition and history of woodblock printing in China, as well as the delicate control of water as a medium and the special printing techniques during the creative process. It also reminds us to reflect on the development of new media in the current era, how should contemporary connotations and concepts fuse with the traditional technique? How could the imprints that bear traditional culture and memories combine with the current social picture? Obviously it is hard to solve all these problems in a single exhibition; however, it definitely proposes some worthy directions in terms of artistic and teaching practice of woodblock printing for reference.


1 Exhibition Text of “The Fourth Generation of Image & Medium—China Woodblock Printing Youth Program 2021 Annual Exhibition”, Asian Art Center Beijing, 2021.

2 Duan Shaofeng, “The Fourth Generation: Born at the Right Time”, 2021.


Text by Emily Weimeng Zhou, edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO

Image courtesy of the organiser.