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11 Shui Tianguang from Chinese Historical Figures 1966 – 1976

Xu Weixin

Oil on canvas 200 x 250cm
Courtesy of Xu Weixin

The series Chinese Historical Figures 1966-1976 comprises of nearly one hundred portraits of men, women and children. The paintings are large monochromatic oil paintings of individual head and shoulders. Each painting is accompanied by a biography of the person depicted, supplied by a relative or edited from published record. The biographical narrative in each case is structured around events that occurred between 1966-1976, or, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) and its immediate aftermath, with some reference to where people are now, and what has happened to them subsequently. Since June 2009, the biographies have been painted onto the portrait by the artist or by a relative of the painting’s subject, in a manner reminiscent of classical Chinese portraiture and connoisseurship where the artist, or the owner of a painting might add a poem, a thoughtful inscription, or just a name to the painting’s surface. In the first iterations of Chinese Historical Figures the biography was positioned as a didactic at the side of the painting. Xu introduced the later technique of writing onto the painting’s surface, one must surmise, to intensify the historical intent and memorial nature of the series, and to extend its temporal and spatial reference to the moment of writing. The writing signifies survival. To achieve this, whenever possible living relatives of those portrayed write/paint the biography onto the completed image (the text of which they may or may not have provided in the first place). Some biographies are testimonials that breach space and time, in the creation of an emotional claim on the past itself whilst also reiterating the rights of the family, the record of individual suffering, and the subjectivity of survival. (extracted from SH Donald, ‘Monumental Memories: A Comparative Discussion of Xu Weixin and his Pedagogic Art’, Chinese Historical Figures, 1966-1976)

Shui Tianguang (1939 -1976)

・In 1939, Shui was born in Lanzhou City, Gansu Province.
・Shui graduated from Lanzhou Girls School in 1959 and from Chemical Department of Northwest Normal University in 1964.
・From 1965 to 1966, Shui participated in the “Four Clean-ups” Movement in villages. Shui was engaged in painting and publicity.
・In 1967, Shui was relocated to become a middle school teacher in Lintao County of Dingxi Prefecture, Gansu Province.
・In the spring of 1976, during the movement of “criticizing Deng Xiaoping and countering the right deviationist trend to rectify correct verdicts”, the Party Secretary at the Middle School of Xintian Commune indicated that Shui had openly opposed an editorial entitled “Reverse the Verdict Against Deng is not Welcome” and had advocated to “Reverse of verdicts against Deng and it must be a popular reverse”. The leadership of the school then summoned students to launch criticism, humiliation and a good beating on Shui. On March 22, the leadership of the school declared that Shui disappeared. 50 days later, her body was found, covered with injuries, in the waterfront of Tao River.The autopsy report noted that her head and chest had been injured while she was still alive. An injury caused by a blunt object in her right ribs was found.
・In the report submitted from the school’s Revolutionary Committee to the supervisor’s authority read, ”Shui Tianguang is a typical capitalist intellectual whose vision toward the world has never been changed…while our revolution has deepened and we have made great progress in the criticizing movement against Deng Xiaoping and Rightists, Shui Tianguang fell into water and was drowned.” In the diary she left behind, some lines and essays were considered as criminal evidence against her:
・“The sky of my homeland is shrouded with clouds. We can only hear the voice of the truth, if we give away our blood and sacrifice our lives”, “Speak out the truth, I shall never lie”, “Amongst this crazy barking, I shall make the voice of humankind fly high”.
・Shui Tianguang was the daughter of Shui Zi, a scholar, educator and social activist. After the PRC was founded, Shui Zi was Member of Northwest Military Committee, the Standing Committee Member of the First Gangsu Political Consultative Conference and Vice Director of Gansu Revolutionary Committee.