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1 Good Friends

Liu Dahong

2008
Oil on canvas 40 x 50cm
Shanghai
Courtesy of Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

Zhang Ailing (1920-1995), author of Lust Caution, and Lu Xun (1881-1936), author of The Diary of a Madman, supposedly epitomise very different aspects of modern Chinese literature. Lu Xun (Zhou Shuren) used the short story form to describe the darkness and defeatism of a China struggling with the demons of inequality, superstition, internal wars and external aggressors. Zhang used the short story to probe life under occupation in Shanghai, and to suggest the vagaries and anti-political inconstancies of human passion. In this painting, Ailing, the precocious woman poet of human frailty, cradles Xun, the esteemed writer of revolutionary despair (constantly misinterpreted as hope). The painting challenges the received value placed on emotions, generations, and gender. Ailing takes the position of maternal wisdom, and Xun that of both an old friend, and a child needing her protection.