Imprint of the Heart: Artistic Journey of Huang Xinbo
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The Patriotic Heart: The Sino-Japanese War Years (1937-1945)

“Woodcut artists shall unite with determination and passion, dip their carving knives in vivid blood, and carve a way out for the oppressed nation, so that the starving, the downtrodden, and those contorted faces, which we are so used to seeing on our woodblocks, can become happy and healthy again.”

──Huang Xinbo, Lamentations, 1936

Following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident of 1937, the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in full force. Japan began its full-scale invasion of China. Art became a weapon to unite the people, promote resistance and rally for national salvation. During those turbulent years, Huang Xinbo worked as a special correspondent at the Salvation Daily in Guangzhou. At the same time, he joined the Communist Party of China and was put in charge of propaganda and publication for the Political Bureau for War Zones. Putting his talents to good use, he took up the job of designing publication covers while creating caricatures and propaganda paintings. In the ensuing years, he travelled from Guangdong to Guangxi, in accordance with the arrangements of the Political Bureau. Besides taking up the responsibilities of educating through art, Huang also led the All-China Woodcut Association of Resistance in Guilin, producing many woodcut publications while organising various exhibitions. Through the impact of art, Huang hoped to arouse nationalist sentiment in the people, urging them to stand against the Japanese invasion and to unite in saving the country. 

The war brought years of misery and turmoil; and Huang Xinbo was inspired to express his indignation through his art. For the purpose of political campaigning, he did not limit himself to printmaking, but also took on many other art forms, including propagandist paintings and caricatures. The more than 200 woodcuts produced in this period illustrate his sophistication in both artistic concept and technique. Having shaken off the influences of European and Russian printmaking, Huang’s unique personal style was truly taking shape. For his efforts in imbuing literary ideas into his visuals, allowing images to exalt the imagination and invite critical judgement, Huang was honoured with the epithet, “the poet of the carving knife.” Whether inwardly despondent or crying out in despair, the characters depicted through Huang’s knife prompt us to reflect on the source of calamity and injustice, while also bring solace to the victims. His work, He is Not Dead (1941), was created to commemorate the fallen compatriots of the South Anhui Incident. The compelling image of a powerful gun placed beside a foot, sticking out from a pile of corpses, demonstrates the artist’s grief and indignation. It also serves as a requiem for the dead, cultivating a serene and calm feeling of solace.

After the South Anhui Incident, Huang Xinbo journeyed to Hong Kong, attending events organised by the Hong Kong Division of the All-China Cartoonists Association of Resistance. Following the fall of Hong Kong in 1942, Huang was forced to flee with his wife and newborn daughter to Guilin via Macau and Taishan. Later that year, Huang co-organised a major art exhibition, “Hong Kong in Distress,” with artists that included Yu Feng and Yang Qiuren. The exhibition focused on depictions of life in exile during the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War, and created a profound impact on the community. Firewood Carrier (1942) is a self-depiction during the time of his exile, collecting wood to save money on fuel. Huang explained that the intent of his work was not merely to portray the level of the hardship he endured, but also to convey a message of hope, using the allegory of a flame bringing warmth to comfort the people. During the most difficult period of the war, Huang created the woodcut series, Songs of the Heart (1943). Rather than literally depicting tragic scenes at wartime, Huang crafted a series that is peaceful, placid and poetic in its imagery. Through his art, Huang hoped to break apart the barriers that separated people from each other and promote love and harmony. Poetic, philosophical and allegorical, his works portray the nobility of a people in wartime, anticipating and hoping for a bright future. They breathe life to his conviction of the artist’s duty to “carve a way out for the oppressed nation”.

In 1944, Guangxi Province became a strategic target for the Japanese army, and once again, a large number of scholars and cultural workers dispersed. Huang Xinbo ended up joining the British Psychological Operations Unit in South East Asia, in the Allied Forces. In 1945, after victory was declared, Huang returned to Hong Kong and became a journalist at the Chinese Business Daily. While producing a number of woodcuts and publishing news reports, Huang also took up oil painting in an attempt to render the world of people in a new medium.


  • Series Silent Combat No. 20

  • Series Tales of the Occupied Territory No. 3

  • Series Tales of the Occupied Territory No. 8

  • He is Not Dead