Imprint of the Heart: Artistic Journey of Huang Xinbo
Recently Visited

A First Probe into Humanity: The Embryonic Years (1933-1937)

“These works, now no more than tiny buds, herald the vibrant growth of trees to come. They are works worthy of remembrance.”

── Lu Xun, Preface to Wood Engraving, 1934

Huang Xinbo’s career in printmaking began when Lu Xun (1881-1936) launched the Modern Woodcut Movement in the early 1930s. With its start in Shanghai in 1931, the movement promoted woodblock print works sympathising with the people’s suffering and called for their awakening. Though he was a writer, thinker and artist with an acutely modern thinking, Lu refused to dismiss the traditions of his people. Committed to the development of Chinese woodcut, Lu hoped that, by incorporating elements of Western printmaking technique, he could break new ground for its counterpart in China. To achieve this, Lu introduced many European woodcut works to China. He also advocated that the artist be solely responsible for the entire woodcut production process, which was traditionally divided into designing, carving and printing. By combining the process of creative design with printmaking craftsmanship for which they could complement each other, it could elevate the artistic content and style of woodcuts into “creations of art”.

In 1930, the young Huang Xinbo was admitted to Taishan County Secondary School. He was active in various school activities, also displaying a passion for literature and the social sciences. After the Manchurian Incident in 1931, he published a large number of poems and essays in newspapers and magazines. Furthermore, his participation in anti-Japanese campaigns to save the nation led to his expulsion from school. In 1933, Huang travelled to Shanghai, a city richly infused with culture, to attend high school. He enrolled in the Faculty of Painting and Woodcut at the New Asia Art Education Institute, which laid the foundation for his artistic career.

In 1934, Huang Xinbo was admitted to the Shanghai Art Academy, where he practised sketching and oil painting and self-studied in printmaking. That same year, Huang and his colleague Liu Xian published Wood Engraving, in which one of Huang’s works, Push, bylined “Yi Gong”, was selected by Lu Xun to be included in his Woodcut Records, the first anthology of the new generation of Chinese woodcuts. Lu also recommended that Huang created 13 illustrations for Ye Zi’s novel, Harvest, as well as the cover design for Tian Jun’s novel, Rural August. Huang’s artistic talents were coming to the fore.

Under the influence and encouragement of Lu Xun, Huang Xinbo was exposed to many Western painting styles and techniques, including expressionism, symbolism, and the new Russian Woodcuts. He joined the MK Research Society, and together with his friends, spent much time communing with the poor and disadvantaged. The image and lives of the working class became important motifs for Huang’s woodcut. The early works of Huang exhibited the strong influence of many Western painters, especially that of the Russian artists. Gradually, his works began to draw heavily on the styles of Mexican revolutionary painters Diego Rivera (1886-1957) and José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949), featuring rougher, simpler shapes, with exaggerated and distorted figures that are highly symbolic. He also appreciated the work of American woodcut artist Rockwell Kent (1882-1971), whose application of dramatic light-and-dark contrasts enhanced the poetic quality of a piece.

In 1935, while studying in Japan, Huang Xinbo encountered many classic Japanese woodcuts. Using burins he acquired there, he began to experiment with wood engravings (Note: a printmaking technique that involved the use of the end grain of harder woods as matrices to create highly detailed images). The fine and delicate lines that resulted from wood engraving enabled Huang to add poetry to his works. His wood engraving works included Strike Down the Invaders (1935) and Nie Er the Composer (1935), both of which draw from the style of Russian woodblock prints. In 1936, Huang contributed to “The Second National Woodcut Touring Exhibition”, which was graced by a visit from Lu Xun, who held discussions on wood engraving with Huang and other young woodcut artists. On 19 October, Lu passed away. Grief stricken by the loss of a great teacher, Huang lamented the passing of Lu in his works, In Memory of Lu Xun (1936) and At Lu Xun’s Funeral (1936). As Huang professed in his preface to Road Monuments, “Whenever I see woodcuts of Chinese and foreign origin, I am reminded of Mr. Lu Xun. The passing of our mentor has further increased our responsibilities.” Lu’s death reaffirmed Huang’s commitment to use his carving knife to sculpt reality, and awaken the revolutionary spirit within his people.


  • Series Ordinary Story

  • "Outside the Electric Fence" No. 1 and Illustration No. 5 for Ye Zi...

  • Strike Down the Invaders

  • Nie Er the Composer