Porcelain and Painting
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Close Friendship and Brotherhood

Chao Shao-an and Yang Shanshen had known each other since the 1940s. From the 1950s to 1970s, they maintained a close friendship when they were both at the peak of their creative energy. They often held joint exhibitions, and early examples were the two in Xinchang and Taishan, Guangdong, in 1945. Also in the same year, they formed the Today Painting Association with Gao Jianfu (1879-1951), Chen Shuren (1884-1948), Guan Shanyue and Li Gemin (1882-1978) in Guangzhou. In 1946, Chao and Yang held a joint exhibition at the St. Francis Hotel in Hong Kong. The following year, they displayed their paintings of roses in the Zhongguo Jindai Shuhua Hui (Chinese Contemporary Painting and Calligraphy Showcase). In 1969, they appeared on an interview at Rediffusion Television Hong Kong to talk about their art. In 1983, they took part in the joint exhibition, “Chinese Painting: Works Painted in Co-operation by Four Masters of the Lingnan School: Zhao Shaoang, Li Xiongcai, Guan Shanyue and Yang Shanshen”, at the Fung Ping Shan Museum of the University of Hong Kong. These records stand testimony to the close partnership and continuous artistic exchange between Chao and Yang throughout their career.

Yang often visited Chao in his Lingnan Art Studio on Prince Edward Road to discuss matters of art or to spend leisure time together. Chao would invite Yang to add to his work, or let Yang begin a painting and he would add to it. They loved to play mah-jong in their leisure time, with regular participants to make up the four-in-a-game including Chen Jinghong, Zhang Shaoshi, He Jingyong and Tso Wing Shui. Such was the background of companionship for the joint paintings of Chao and Yang.

Chao had the idea of developing painting on porcelain – this actually was first begun by the founders of the Lingnan School, Gao Jianfu and Gao Qifeng. The two had produced paintings on porcelain ware for the Guangdong Bowu Shanghui (Art Object Traders’ Association of Guangdong) in an attempt to find a new medium for ink painting, and also to preserve the works by kiln firing. Chao had written a letter to Yang inviting him to paint on some porcelain dishes and exhibit them. Yang did some painting on porcelain when he stayed in Guangzhou, but exhibiting the works did not materialise. This letter, published in the Anthology of Letters Collected in the Chunfeng Caotang, also shows how close the two artists were:

…I would always hold you in high regard and assist you in any way I can, especially when it would benefit art education. I am sure you would think the same…Do come to my studio, not just for the Qingming festival, and you can stay at my place (we are like brothers, so don’t stand on ceremony). We can do paintings on porcelain dishes. Say if each of us can paint fifty, and jointly we paint ten more, they can all be completed in ten days' time. An exhibition on painted dishes would be the first ever in Hong Kong. The response will be good, and it does not take too much time. It will be a pioneering act and a very good contribution to the porcelain industry of China. But please have some works ready as reference in order to show them the best. Please do not tell anyone about this. The trip to Taishan can wait until autumn or later. It depends on your decision. All expenses [while you are] in Guangdong will be on me of course.” [Note 1]

Chao’s invitation to Yang to visit his Lingnan Art Studio to paint on porcelain dishes describes their close friendship as “we are like brothers” and promises that “all expenses” would be on him. He had also said that while he may not be able to help other artists of the Lingnan School, where Yang was concerned, he was always ready to chip in a part. It was definitely a very close, almost sibling-like relationship between them.


1 Letter in Chinese, published in Tang Wai Hung (ed.), Anthology of Letters Collected in the Chunfeng Caotang (Hong Kong: Chunfeng Caotang, 1999), pp. 115-117.


  • Chao Shao-an and Yang Shanshen demonstrating in interview

  • Chinese Painting: Works Painted in Co-operation by Four Masters of ...